ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Days before the president tweeted his CNN body slam video, a Reddit user posted one that was nearly identical. Reddit is a site where people post on message boards called subreddits. The White House press secretary told NPR that the president's video did not come from Reddit but offered no further details about the video's origin. The Reddit user claiming to be behind it goes by the name Han Solo with an expletive in the middle.
Sophie Bjork-James teaches anthropology at Vanderbilt University, and earlier today, I asked her about that user.
SOPHIE BJORK-JAMES: We know that they have been posting in Reddit for over a year and are a very active user. They were thrilled to have the president retweet their post, saying, I never expected my meme to be tweeted by the God Emperor himself, which is a common way to refer to Trump in this particular subreddit. This particular user has a long history of really anti-Muslim, anti-Jewish posts. They made a post recently saying 500,000 dead Muslims is a good start; kill the rest, and I'll be impressed. They posted a meme with photos of people who work at CNN with Star of Davids imposed behind them with the leading title, something strange about CNN - can't quite put my finger on it.
SHAPIRO: Just to clarify, you're using the pronoun they because we don't know whether the user is a man or woman.
SHAPIRO: You said that in this subreddit, this thread, that people often refer to Trump as the God Emperor. Tell us about this subreddit.
BJORK-JAMES: The subreddit started during Donald Trump's campaign. It's called The-Donald, and it quickly ballooned into a really active site of some of his core supporters. It currently has over 400,000 members. It's been a place where misogynist, anti-Islam and other white nationalist kinds of language and terms have become very much acceptable.
SHAPIRO: And Donald Trump has actually interacted with this group in an official capacity, right?
BJORK-JAMES: Yes. So during the campaign, Trump participated in - they call them AMAs, or ask me anything, forums on Reddit, which is common. A lot of celebrities do that. Politicians do that. But often they will be posted on a general Reddit forum. But when - during the campaign when Trump chose to do this Q&A on Reddit, they actually only conducted it through The-Donald's subreddit. So they specifically hosted their Q&A with this forum.
SHAPIRO: There seems to be a blurry line between the online community of people who will say provocative or offensive things just to get a reaction and the community of people who translate that to real-world activity in political positions. Do you have any sense which one this falls into?
BJORK-JAMES: I think it's a blurry line kind of as you say. You know, some people might read it just as Trump as a kind of jovial, macho figure who's going to win any contest he falls in, including one with the media. Many journalists will read that as an actual threat of potential violence.
Other people might read that as, you know - if people believe in an anti-Semitic conspiracy that Jews control the media, which a lot of people on this - in this subreddit do, they'll see that as racially loaded in terms of Trump, this figure that's seen as white and masculine, beating down the Jewish press. So it can be read in a lot of different ways. But the implications in terms of anti-free speech or anti-media are pretty significant.
SHAPIRO: Sophie Bjork-James teaches anthropology at Vanderbilt University. Thanks for talking with us.
BJORK-JAMES: Thank you.
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