Illustration by Dhabia Al Mansoori.

The Making of a Cult: Humor and the Alt-Right

How the alt-right weaponizes seemingly harmless and apolitical humor to draw in unassuming audiences to the center of its discourse.

Mar 28, 2021

Wearing a full suit and tie below a slick blow-dried cut, Nicholas J. Fuentes looks well composed and cheeky. He broadcasts through smirks and smiles to more than 9,000 daily viewers on his podcast — America First. Following bans from most mainstream platforms — with the exception of Twitter — he has started using alternative ones such as Podbay, Alt-censored and until recently, DLive.
Fuentes’ ultimate goal is to support a perspective known as the Cultural Marxism Conspiracy. This phrase — originating from 1920s Nazi-Germany, is used to deride all aspects of a progressive society. This includes non-white ethnic heterogeneity, acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community and religious tolerance. Perhaps the moment his mask truly slipped was when he forwarded Holocaust denialism, by asserting the impossibility of the extent of the genocide.
“It doesn’t really sound correct to me,” Fuentes remarked. “If it takes one hour to cook a batch of cookies and you have fifteen ovens … and you do it 24 hours a day every day for five years, how long would it take to make 6 million? Well it certainly wouldn’t be five years. The math doesn’t seem to add up there … [and] If you look at the soil storage, it’s not really deep enough for mass cookie storage … So, no, not buying it.”
His use of the word “cookies” is not only to subvert those who may report his account for hate speech, as some may assume. Additionally, it is one of many examples of his use of "humor" to subtly make his ideas more appealing to the average viewer. Through the use of such a tactic, white nationalism takes the form of a nasty pill that shadowy figures are infusing comedy into — in the hopes that this will make it easier to swallow.
Andrew Anglin, editor of the Neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer explains it himself in leaked writing:
“The unindoctrinated should not be able to tell if we are joking or not. There should also be a conscious awareness of mocking stereotypes of hateful racists. I think of this as self-deprecating humor … Packing our message inside of existing cultural memes and humor can be viewed as a delivery method. Something like adding cherry flavor to children’s medicine.”
Anglin goes on to explain that once the joke is told, by simply repeating certain terms and phrases, the discourse is affected. Through repetition, these ideas become increasingly more reasonable, even if disagreeable to the general public.
While Fuentes’ “joke” may sound too heinous to be digested by an apolitical audience, this notion underestimates both the power and quality of perceived humor in the contemporary psyche. Fuentes’ speech doubles as both antisemitism, as well as a classic example of edge-lord, absurdity-derived comedy. In the example, the words can be perceived as based around not the tragedy, but rather the absurdity of the Jewish victims being represented by something as innocuous as a cookie. This type of humor — one where the comedy is derived from the obviously false nature of the statement — is not uncommon. In fact, it is readily available and has no political angle.
Perhaps the most applicable example includes memes involving Millie Bobby Brown. The format of the meme — posted primarily by apolitical LGBTQ+ accounts for apolitical LGBTQ+ viewers, includes an image of Brown with a text of absurdly homophobic behavior. Examples include memes, TikTok videos and images referencing Brown shooting, running over, or otherwise brutalizing LGBTQ+ individuals, often accompanied with slurs such as “F#ggot” or “D*ke”, among others.
In these examples, the joke is not the homophobia itself. Rather, it is the obvious contrast between the innocent persona of Millie Bobby Brown and the abhorrent nature of extreme homophobia. Other versions of this ironic humor — where comedy is derived from the obviously false nature of the statement — are shown in many examples. Among these include satirical memes feigning belief of the flat-earth theory, and even the early stages of the Pepe the frog meme — where a sad frog was bizarrely displayed as ironically antisemetic.
This otherwise apolitical humor has unfortunately been leveraged by the alt-right to their significant advantage. They appear hyper aware of the success of it as a recruiting device. The key difference however, between those who enjoy the Millie Bobby Brown-style humor, is that Fuentes and the alt-right unironically believe the harmful contents of their comedy.
Let’s take another look at Funetes’ special brand of comedy, keeping in mind this tactic. This time, he is comedically remarking on a hypothetical sponsor of his white nationalist podcast. The (nonexistent) sponsor is Bubly™️ — a brand of soda pop.
“Bubly™️ is the official sponsor of America First. They endorse everything we say … The official sponsor of the only pro-white, anti-race mixing [podcast] … Bubly™️ says, hey, wait, we can’t just kick these immigrants out … we can’t segregate based on race … [not] without cracking open a can of blackberry Bubly™️ on me!”
Here too, similar to the prior comment by Fuentes, the joke appeals not only to bigots such as himself who unironically oppose race mixing and immigrants — but also to a wider audience that enjoys absurd irony. His joke taps into the improbability of a mainstream company endorsing Fuentes and his alt-right perspectives. Here, the notion of them being comfortable with such an advertisement is itself presented as humorous. In this manner, Fuentes brilliantly blurs the line between what is irony and what is truly believed, to the point where it can be rationally interpreted in both ways.
And as Anglin also explains, even if such a perspective fails as a comedic device to draw viewers in, the existence of such "humor" still pushes the anti-minority perspective to be more applicable in discourse. For the alt-right, there is truly no downside to this tactic.
“The goal is to continually repeat the same points, over and over and over and over again. The reader is at first drawn in by curiosity or the naughty humor, and is slowly awakened to reality by repeatedly reading the same points,” Anglin’s leaked instructions note.
The evidence presented in this piece is not to say that any type of subversive humor is intrinsically proto-fascist. In fact, it's the apolitical nature of this comedy style that makes it able to be weaponized. This phenomenon is one of many examples of the need to be aware and critical of the media we all consume. It exemplifies how easy it is for an individual to unexpectedly wander into the open arms of the alt-right.
Ari Hawkins is Editor-in-Chief. Email him feedback at
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