Charlie Kirk's Culture War, Groypers, Nickers and Q&A-trolling
Since mid-October, Charlie Kirk’s Culture War college tour has been increasingly haunted by the Groyper and nicker Groyper Q&A trolls. These offline trolls use the Q&A-sessions that are part of the Culture War show format to frame Charlie Kirk as a fake, 'anti-white' conservative. A new chapter in the alt-right's cultural war re-emerges in full force.
Charlie Kirk’s Culture War Tour
The 24-year-young Charlie Kirk presents himself as the new cool conservative kid on the block and is hyped as the new conservative wonder-boy. Kirk is also a regular writer for Breitbart and his discourse and the tactic of university tours remind us of the role Milo took up in the 2016 election.
Kirk is also the founder of Turning Point USA (TPUSA), a billionaire funded ‘non-profit’ organization that wants to ‘identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government.’(TPUSA, 2019). TPUSA claims to ‘be the largest and fastest-growing youth organization in America’ (TPUSA, 2019) with already 400 chapters at different universities.
Kirk has strong ties with the Trump campaign, for which he worked in 2016 as a social media manager. In 2019, Kirk expicitely bragged about trying to get 1 million students to vote for Trump. Even though, as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, TPUSA should be non-partisan, it is clear from Kirk’s history, his discourse, and TPUSA's initiative Students For Trump that Kirk can indeed be understood as Trump’s man on campus.
In the wake of Trump’s re-election campaign, Charlie Kirk with guests like Rob Smith, Rand Paul and Donald Trump Jr. have embarked on a ‘Culture War’ college tour. This college tour is clearly aimed at raising support for Trump and constructing Kirk and Turning Point USA as edgy and in tune with youth culture. In the communication about the tour, Kirk himself is stylized as a fifties kind of reborn Elvis, embodying an American nostalgia. The graphic style is reminiscent of an edgy eighties neon-light cool, which is also quite common these days among new right activists and influencers.
Not a coincidence, that TPUSA is described in mainstream media as making conservativism cool, that is exactly the set-up. The whole campaign explicitly positions itself as edgy conservative right in the American Culture Wars against ‘the left.' Even more, it takes up the same Gramscian or metapolitical understanding of culture wars as Milo, Bannon, and Breitbart: culture wars as a battle for hegemony (Maly, 2018). In the words of Kirk: 'Politics is a byproduct of winners and losers of the culture war. To save the culture we must win.'
Q&A-trolling Charlie Kirk’s culture war
The Culture War college tour started on 7 October at the University Of Nevada in Reno, after which the show moved to Grand Canyon University in Phoenix on 21 October, the Colorado State University in Fort Collins and the University of Iowa on 23 and 24 October. The next day, the tour stopped at the University of New Hampshire. During these last stops of the tour a new phenomenon became visible. More and more new self-declared ‘dissident right’ activists used the opportunity of the Q&A sessions of the show to frame Kirk and what they see as 'The Conservative, Inc.’ as imposters and fake conservatives.
The old divide and infighting between the alt-right and the alt-light re-emerges but now in a new format, with a network of radical nationalists. These activists go by the name Nickers – in the sense of fans of extreme right YouTube personality and host of America First Nick Fuentes – or Groypers. Groyper is a meme that first appeared in 2015 on 4chan. It started its life as a version of Pepe the Frog resting his chin on interlinked hands, which then morphed into a figure of its own. Groyper was, again on 4chan, given a new life as a ‘toad, who is friend with pepe’.
In 2019, the Groypers can best be understood as a (new) network of young radical Christian conservative activists, shitposters and trolls circling around the Twitter account of @thatgroyper. Many of them use ‘Groyper’ in their profile name. They are white nationalist, deeply conservative, Christian new right revolutionaries opposing the US alliance with Israel, LGBTQs and the left in General. The Groyper network is know as to coordinate targeted harassment against 'cucks' and 'faggots'.
The Groypers and the new branch of Nicker Groypers are highly visible on Twitter, even though most of them have a limited number of followers. Since mid-October 2019 they have gone offline and use the Culture War Tour Q&A sessions to launch a far right ‘Groyper war’ against Charlie Kirk, 'The Conservative, Inc.,' and Trump. This phenomenon reached a first climax on 29 October 2019, when Kirk’s Culture War Tour stopped at Ohio State University.
As usual, the Culture War rally was live streamed via Twitter and Facebook. Interestingly, most viewers of the livestream were not watching the stream through TPUSA’s social media accounts but on the Dlive-channel of rising far new right America First vlogger Nick Fuentes. Fuentes uses the affordances of Dlive.tv for double screening (Chadwick, 2017) on steroids and broadcasts live comments on top of the remediatization of Kirk’s performance. Fuentes gained far more traction than Kirk: around 4,000 people watched Fuentes commenting on the official TPUSA stream, while only 400 watched TPUSA’s stream.
The reason for this uptake was by then obvious. Nick Fuentes’ audiences – nickers, zoomers and Groypers – were hoping that, just like during the Culture War show in Colorado, Groypers would use the Q&A sessions to troll Kirk. According to Fuentes, this first Q&A-troll intervention in Colorado less than a week before started ‘a great crusade by the nickers, the Groypers, by all kinds of right wing people to expose Charlie Kirk (as) a fake conservative, civic nationalist, Conservative Inc.’ (Fuentes, 2019). Since then, there was a steady escalation of Q&A trolls asking Kirk extreme right and white nationalist questions.
Fuentes' audience was not let down on 29 October 2019. 14 people were allowed to ask questions after the show, of which 11 were Groypers and nickers. They asked questions aimed at framing Charlie Kirk as ‘pro-Israel, anti-white, anti-American, loyal to a different country, anti-Christian, pro-drag queen and an anal sex supporting fake conservative.' All the interventions in the context of this 'Groyper war' were directed towards ‘exposing’ Charlie Kirk as 'cucks' destroying America.
Groyper trolls and data voids in a hybrid media-system
This type of activism is quite sophisticated as it makes full use of the affordances of different platforms in the digital ecology. More concretely, the Groypers use Fuentes' show, his live stream and his own social media against him before his own fans. This sophistication can best be illustrated by zooming in on the Q&A-troll that managed to become the twitter-talk of the evening on 29 October.
For people not in the know, his intervention must have seemed absurd, nonsensical and even a-political. This Q&A-troll, just like the one before him, looked like a MAGA-kid and even like a supporter of Kirk. He wore an ‘I love ISR’ pin and a ‘socialism sucks’ pin in combination with a red MAGA hat. All indexes of him being a Student for Trump and a supporter of Kirk.
His first words – ‘What a racist question that was’ – also seems supportive of Kirk and his guest on stage, Smith. At first sight, the troll seems to agree with Smith’s qualification of the former Q&A-troll’s question as a racist question. Which adds to the interpretation that he is ‘one of them’. That interpretation would soon prove wrong. Let us look at the Q&A session:
Q&A-troll: ‘I have a quick and fun, lighthearted question for you, Charlie. So, you gave a speech in Jerusalem earlier this year? Were there any awesome fun dancing parties that you guys hit afterwards? Cause I heard that Israelis are some of the best dancers in the world. I mean, if you don’t believe me, Google 'dancing Israelis,' – it is insane how good their dancing is. Would you agree or disagree with that?”
Charlie Kirk: ‘Israel is a beautiful country, a great country too.’
Q&A-troll: ‘It is our greatest ally.’
Charlie Kirk: ‘Correct.’
This Q&A-troll’s offline intervention was set up, stylized, and formatted as a digital practice. First and foremost, he intervened as a troll using irony to mock the adversary and to make him look like an idiot. Even without taking into account the digital culture of trolling, the offline intervention cannot fully be understood from an offline perspective. The troll’s performance was clearly produced for digital uptake and addresses not only Charlie Kirk and the audience in the room but all the viewers of the live stream and the mutiple re-mediations of that stream.
Google 'dancing Israelis'
His suggestion to ‘Google dancing Israelis’ directs the online audience towards a data void filled with extreme right anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. This 18-year-old anti-Semitic conspiracy theory is built around the idea that ‘4,000 Israelis’ were absent on 9/11 and 5 were spotted dancing. The Groyper troll here reintroduces this conspiracy theory in the context of a culture war to highlight that Charlie Kirk’s pro-Israel stance is against the American interests.
This type of message-politics can only be understood and work in the online/offline nexus. The troll not only uses Kirk's live stream, he uses Google and the accompanied media-ideology for a new right metapolitical battle (Maly, 2018 & 2019). Searching on Google, for many of us, equals searching for truth (Vaudhyanathan, 2011). The Q&A troll’s intervention uses this media-ideology – if you don’t believe me, just Google dancing Israelis – to wrap this anti-Semitic conspiracy theory in an aura of truth.
What may have seemed like an absurd, non-sensical intervention by many of the viewers, was met with enormous enthusiasm among the Groypers, nickers and alt-righters on Twitter. The Q&A-troll's intervention was immediately extracted from the live stream and remediatized within the Groyper network on Twitter. They started to massively tweet the hastag #dancingisraelis in the hope to get it trending.
Googling dancing Israelis after this event (on 30 October) not only directs users to the existing conspiracy theory, but also shows several highlighted YouTube clips of the Q&A-troll asking his seemingly non-sensical question. As a result, the Goypers and Fuentes – instead of Kirk – are now starting to become the 'talk of the town.'
Kirk’s Culture War Tour, data voids and metapolitics
Offline Q&A-trolling is thus to be understood within the context of a new kind of activism in a post-digital society, which makes full use of the affordances and media logics of a hybrid media system. Groyper Q&A-trolling amounts to performing a digital practice offline. This practice is, as we have seen, not limited to the offline: it carefully hacks the digital communication of their adversary. The Groypers’ offline activism ‘hacks’ Kirk’s own media channels to get their message circulating. It is Charlie Kirk himself who streams the Q&A-trolling interventions towards his own audiences.
To add insult to injury, ‘dissident right’ influencers like Nick Fuentes use the affordances of digital media like DLive.tv to take in Kirk’s audience by re-mediatizing his stream and adding live comments. The Groyper network on Twitter, white nationalists, alt-righters, and nickers use Twitter to live comment and to share memes and little extracts of Groypers ‘demolishing’ Kirk’s performances.
This endless remediatization creates buzz around the phenomenon and serves as a recruiting and mobilizing instrument for future Groypers Q&A-trolling. These future interventions will in turn lead to further information flows. And, eventually, they will probably lead to the amplification of their existence and their metapolitical battle's outreach by the mainstream media, who will feel the need to report on this new type of activism.
Chadwick, A. (2017). The Hybrid Media System. Politics and Power. Oxford University Press.
Fuentes, N. (2019). Nick Fuentes BANNED From Charlie Kirk Politicon Debate | America First Ep. 486. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HvdSZ-v4sxE
Maly, I. (2018). Nieuw Rechts. Berchem: Epo.
Maly, I. (2019). New Right metapolitics and the algorithmic activism of Schild & Vrienden. Social Media + Society.
Vaidhyanathan, S. (2011). The googlization of everything and why we should worry. Berkely, Los Angeles: University of California Press.