Fantastical News and Where to Find It

Theo Brant, ‘22

November 2018

The midterm elections which took place earlier this month happened in a time of great cultural and political divide. And these elections made people emotional and susceptible. It is, therefore, no wonder that news sites like Breitbart have become more fantastical than ever and it is because of their hair-raising high circulation that it is necessary to understand what is happening on them and what makes them appealing to an audience. For the sake of this article, I have called such sites “fantastical news” because of their imaginativeness, remoteness from reality, and to avoid the term “fake news” which only describes news contrary to one’s beliefs. But why does the sensationalism of Alex Jones and of Breitbart appeal to such a wide audience and why do their audiences take what they say as fact?

In an article published on the eve of the midterm, Breitbart claimed a group of New Black Panthers in Atlanta intimidated voters to support Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams, who may become the first black woman to be the governor of Georgia if she wins the runoff election against Brian Kemp. The article featured a picture of four black men, two of whom were holding rifles and one man holding a sign reading “Stacey Abrams for governor.” The article claimed that they were intimidating voters, however, they did not approach polling places and have said they were not acting on behalf of any political campaign (according to a Snopes fact check). Why would Breitbart publish such an article? Because it sounds like something out of an action movie and that attracts bored readers. It also attracts readers because it supports the worldview held by white supremacists and racists that African-Americans in public positions is a threat to their way of life. But there was another eye-catching aspect of the article. The picture was posted on a Facebook group called “Army of Deplorables.” The name of the group attempts to turn the insult “basket of deplorables” (coined by Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election) into a badge of honor in a way similar to liberals wearing the title “nasty woman.” Both turn an opponent’s taunt into a unifying label. By referring to themselves as an “army,” they imply power in numbers and take pride in the aspects which make the “deplorable” (racism and misogyny). They post racist memes, retweet Bill O’Reilly clips, and express anti-liberal sentiment. Their hatred with Hollywood is obsessive and absurd, one user commenting, “Phuk hollyweird and their ant-American pedophile regime.” Why do they feel this way? Their alt-right heroes, particularly Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, and Alex Jones, are all laughing stocks. As followers of these men’s ideologies, they feel laughed at by those with--as human forehead and senior adviser to the president Stephen Miller so eloquently put it--“cosmopolitan bias”. Clearly, the men behind the tiki torches are emotionally fragile and feel left behind by contemporary society.

By far, the most fantastical of fantastical news sites is “News Punch.” The tagline of this website is “where mainstream fears to tread” and its homepage consists of tightly packed articles with titles such as “Number of Witches Spikes Rapidly Across US as Liberals Reject Christ”, “German School Forces Girls to Wear Hijabs”, and “Skid Row’s Homeless were Bribed with Cash in Massive Voter Fraud Plot.” On the eve of the election, News Punch published articles generally centered around two issues: gun control and voter fraud. One article, “Georgia Democratic Party Under Investigation for Voter Registry Hack” covered Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s investigation against Stacey Abrams. However, according to CNN, there was little basis for this investigation and that the problem was not with Abrams, but with the state’s election system which was overseen by Kemp. The aspects of this article which makes it appealing to followers of the alt-right are obvious. The first is partisanship. The alt-right is simply the new phase of the Republican party and so, of course, they will publish articles which seem damning towards Democrats. The second is racism and the fear of Stacey Abrams, a black woman, becoming governor. Since the end of the Civil War when millions of slaves were emancipated, their political power became a major preoccupation of white southerners. During Reconstruction, Georgia saw sixty-nine black men serving in the state legislature and dozens attended the state’s constitutional convention (according to Georgia Encyclopedia). The white Georgians used terror as a means of regaining political control and one quarter of black legislators were killed. African-Americans were legally disenfranchised and excluded from politics in 1908. This fear has continued to this day, and this was evident by the backlash against candidate Stacey Abrams.

We see the alt-right’s rejection of “cosmopolitan bias” in their seething hatred of “hollyweird.” The Dc Gazette, a fantastical news site which claims to be the “best conservative news source,” published a laughable thinkpiece about how the fashion magazine Marie Claire excluded conservative women in their article “50 Influential Women and Why They’re Voting in the 2018 Midterm Election” by only including “Hollywood liberals”, how this shows a general trend amongst women’s magazines, and why this trend should be a rallying call for conservative women. Titled “By Excluding Them, Marie Claire Reminds Conservative Women Why They Should Vote,” the article suggests Republican women who could have been added to the Marie Claire list. By voting, they can counterbalance the influence of Hollywood feminists. But this article is obviously hypocritical because the Dc Gazette doesn’t publish liberal and left-wing voices but criticizes another publication--a fashion publication, no less--of being partisan. What is clear from this article is that conservative women feel left out of the world of fashion and feel unrepresented by Hollywood. They don’t see Hollywood as a place of evil liberalism, they see are just experiencing some fomo and because of this find themselves in a cultural war against them. Their weapon of choice in this cultural war: voting.

Laughable as their stories are, fantastical news sites are a unifying force of the alt-right. They were present in the 2016 election and they were present in the 2018 midterms. And the results of the midterms are an important measure of how effective of an adhesive fantastical news really is. The way SNL’s mocking of Trump is an adhesive for liberals which encourages them to vote, fantastical news plays a mirroring role in the conservative world. They are the voice of all of the Trump supporters and their rhetoric is to be understood if we are to understand America’s social climate. And where fantastical news sites are exclusionary, liberals need to find means of communication which are inclusive in order to attain a broad electoral base in upcoming elections.