Reddit restricts pro-Trump community over violent threats

The community, named r/The_Donald, has more than 754K subscribers and describes itself as a “never-ending rally dedicated to the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump.”
Image: Donald Trump
People wait for President Donald Trump to arrive at a rally at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, on June 18, 2019.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins

Reddit restricted its largest pro-Trump community Wednesday after some users threatened to harm politicians and the police because of the political impasse in Oregon.

The community, named r/The_Donald, has more than 754,000 subscribers and describes itself as a “never-ending rally dedicated to the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump.”

Reddit said the community’s page, known as a subreddit, was being quarantined over “significant issues” including “threats of violence against police and public officials.”

Visitors to the subreddit are now being greeted by a page that identifies the group as a repeat policy violator with a toxic symbol, along with the message, “Are you sure you want to view this community?” and a call to help vote down and report rule-breaking content. The quarantine also restricts the subreddit from appearing in popular feeds and search recommendations. Reddit also removed a custom styling that the community had been using to hide the downvote button on posts.

“Over the last few months, we have observed repeated rule-breaking behavior in your community and an over-reliance on Reddit admins to manage users and remove posts that violate our content policy, including content that encourages or incites violence,” a representative for Reddit wrote in a letter posted by a moderator for the pro-Trump community. “Most recently, we have observed this behavior in the form of encouragement of violence towards police officers and public officials in Oregon.”

The subreddit has been the source of many viral political meme campaigns, some of which have even been tweeted by the president. Daniel Scavino, the White House director of social media, regularly monitored /r/The_Donald for shareable content, according to reports. In 2016, then-candidate Trump hosted a Q-and-A session on r/The_Donald. Trump 2020 campaign director Brad Parscale tweeted in 2016, when he was the 2016 campaign’s digital director, that he visited r/The_Donald “daily.

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The quarantine follows a report by the liberal watchdog Media Matters that detailed several comments responding to the Oregon governor’s call for police to return Republican state senators who had fled to Idaho to escape passing climate change legislation. The report cited messages glorifying violence as “good” and “the only way we're going to get any peace in our lives.” Other commenters suggested getting ready for an apparent uprising, including, “No problems shooting a cop trying to strip rights from Citizens.”

Joan Donovan, director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center, said such comments might once have been written off as innocuous, but should now be taken seriously.

“These kind of posts on social media are no longer going to be taken as an expression of speech but expressions of intent,” she said.

For years, researchers including Donovan have pointed to /r/The_Donald as a haven for extremists and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Citing previous instances in which members of The_Donald had doxxed members of the public and harassed journalists, Donovan said that “a place like Reddit is a strong way for groups like The_Donald to coordinate and remain in the background while they plan how to spread to other platforms.”

The move by Reddit to restrict the community’s post was hardly a surprise to the group’s moderators.

“They’ve wanted us gone,” one of /r/The_Donald’s longest serving moderators, who goes by sublimeinslime, told NBC News. “Pretty much the rest of Reddit wants us gone.”

“I want to be unbiased when I say this, but the fact is that we aren’t treated the same way other subs are treated,” the moderator said.

Reddit has recently been cracking down on subreddits used by extremists. The site banned r/frenworld last week, a subreddit for white nationalist, neo-Nazi and alt-right memes. The subreddit had evaded a ban for months by using codewords, like replacing the word “murder” with “bop” in conversations about genocide.

Robert Allam, a moderator of dozens of Reddit communities, told NBC News that Reddit “must have reached a tipping point after years of complaints and admins ticketing reports, as well as negative media attention.”

Allam said the pro-Trump community had caused problems for Reddit for years.

“I guess it had to eventually happen,” he said. “And it just did.”