Nazis infiltrate ‘My Little Pony’ fandom

How did the fanbase around a children’s show preaching kindness and acceptance become a home for White Supremacists and the far Right?

THE UNICORN Rarity displays a Black Lives Matter sign. (photo credit: DILARUS)
THE UNICORN Rarity displays a Black Lives Matter sign.
(photo credit: DILARUS)
Toxicity exists to some extent in almost every fandom and subculture, but some can stand out among the rest. This is the case with innocent-seeming ones, such as the one surrounding the popular My Little Pony franchise.
Primarily marketed at children, specifically young girls, the franchise is best known for its line of toys and associated animated TV series, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. But despite its target audience, the franchise has a very large fan base of – primarily male – adults, who call themselves “bronies.”
Many of these bronies seek to embody the values of friendship and kindness that the franchise promotes. To that end, some have even formed fundraising organizations and charity movements. One of these organizations, the Brony Thank You Fund, has promoted a charity venture to help collection and distribution of N95 respirator face masks amid shortages due to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, a number of bronies view being part of the fandom as something ironic or edgy, and it’s many of these who use the fandom as an outlet for racist, white supremacist views.
As mentioned in a recent report by The Atlantic, the subculture started around 10 years ago on the 4Chan imageboard website, but they soon made their own online platform, Derpibooru, by 2012. This was an attempt at making a safe, judgment-free platform where fans could share their love of the series and upload fan art.
To that end, the site moderators avoided censorship, allowing users to share whatever they wanted. This, in turn, led to Nazis.
“This is a fan community that has prided itself on a permissiveness and pushing boundaries and cloaking themselves in irony and the idea that they can make the mainstream uncomfortable,” Anne Gilbert, a University of Georgia media studies instructor and expert on the fandom, told The Atlantic. “That has been a source of pride.”
As seen in the site’s tags, a large number of artwork was tagged with “racist,” though other notable tags existed. The culture has led to numerous popular works of fan art that have propagated far-right views. These range from innocuous images of characters sporting Make America Great Again hats, to full-blown Nazi imagery. Most prominent among the latter includes one well-known fan character among the culture, the swastika-sporting pony Aryanne.
The association of the My Little Pony fandom with the far Right has been going on for a few years. However, it recently came to a head following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests.
MULTIPLE CHARACTERS from ‘My Little Pony’ are seen presenting signs for Black Lives Matter and pro-LGBT activism. (Dilarus)MULTIPLE CHARACTERS from ‘My Little Pony’ are seen presenting signs for Black Lives Matter and pro-LGBT activism. (Dilarus)
Following these protests, new art posted by different Derpibooru users were hit by downvotes and angry comments from fans, who said that the art and fandom shouldn’t be used as a mouthpiece for anything political. This is, of course, despite the prevalence of Make America Great Again hat-sporting artwork, as well as art that depicts Black Lives Matter protesters as rioters.
This, naturally, led to discussions on freedom of speech and expression. Though it should be noted that the site’s lack of moderation is likely not motivated by political ideology. Rather, it is likely due to the fact that while over 900 images were tagged as racist, there were over half a million images that were sexually explicit.
MAINSTREAM ATTENTION was brought to the controversy when Blake Henry, who goes by the name Wootmaster online, spoke to The Atlantic. This was following the Black Lives Matter controversy.
Some of the fans saw the presence of white supremacists in the community as a startling new discovery.
“I recently became aware of the prevalence of white supremacy in the fandom when I started creating art in support of Black Lives Matter, and proceeded to see it be downvoted en masse on Derpibooru,” one artist named Dilarus told the Magazine. “I was surprised as I have experienced the fandom as a place of tolerance and inclusion until that point.
“I began speaking with other artists, and we discovered that there were concerted efforts to downvote political messages in support of causes like BLM. We then discovered there were over 3,600 images tagged ‘Nazi’ on the sight, and their user scores [the sum of positive votes minus the total negative votes] were often positive.”
However, as many others within group will testify, the presence of the far Right and Nazi-fueled ideology is nothing new. Rather, it has been part of the fan base for a very long time.
“The main issue is not even that it exists in the fandom at all, because there will always be white supremacists, racists and anti-LGBT sentiment in fan communities, even one based around a show that directly contradicts those values,” Henry told the Magazine.
“The issue is how widespread the problem is here compared to other communities. Years of a misguided desire to remain ‘apolitical’ in the face of a changing world has left the My Little Pony community with a large population of people who have simply accepted right-wing extremism as normal.”
Indeed, the amount of white supremacist and racist ideology prevalent in the fan base is unprecedented, especially considering the humble and kindhearted origin of the source material.
SO WHY are they here?
Some point the finger at where much of the adult fandom originated: from 4Chan.
RARITY endorses the antipolice brutality slogan ‘All cops are bastards.’ (Wootmaster)RARITY endorses the antipolice brutality slogan ‘All cops are bastards.’ (Wootmaster)
“There has always been an undercurrent of hate, because My Little Pony’s fandom first coalesced on 4Chan,” Eliana Summers, who goes by Dexanth online, told the Magazine.
“Over the years, that movement has grown stronger as white supremacists and hate speech proponents have used the fandom as a recruiting ground, to the point that conventions have ended and numerous people have left the fandom because they were uncomfortable with how prevalent and accepted hate speech was.
“Because many other members of the fandom are conflict-averse, there was never enough group willpower to confront it. When someone would try, they would be unable to muster sufficient like-minded allies, and would end up shouted back into silence.”
To this end, Summers has organized FimFightsBack, a movement made to help members of the community unite against hate.
The publicity brought to the issue only further fueled online debates, with many pointing blame at Henry for going to The Atlantic. However, this doesn’t surprise him.
“Anyone who goes against the grain will generally be seen as a ‘troublemaker.’ Most people would rather seek out a soothing peace, even if it doesn’t actually solve the initial problem,” he explained.
“I’m absolutely fine with their being pushback against me. I’m not doing this to be liked. I’m doing it because I’m a black LGBT horse fan who’s tired of the My Little Pony community being used as a Nazi petting zoo.”
Henry had made art of Aryanne in the past, reflective of the genuinely ironic and satirical nature of the character. It was the toxicity of 4Chan culture that caused the meaning to become less ironic, he claims.
“The satirical nature of the character shifted into genuine support for antisemitism, racial hatred and bigotry,” Henry told the Magazine. “I saw this happen from the inside, as I realized that people were simply tossing around terms like ‘satire’ and ‘dark humor’ to describe things that weren’t funny at all and were genuinely hateful.”
Eventually, with tensions boiling, the site took an unexpected step: Instituting censorship.
In an announcement posted to its official Twitter account, the site made clear that they stood with the Black Lives Matter movement and would work to flag any incitement and antagonizing content.
Since this announcement and The Atlantic’s report on it, however, things have changed.
The ban was the subject of poor communication among moderators, leading to some conflicting statements. This includes wishing to remove all Nazi imagery, but also stating that the site would not remove all images of Aryanne.
In addition, users on the site were mixed over allowing the ban at all, with dedicated threads such as The Anti-Censorship DNP Pledge and The Anti-Nazi DNP Pledge both protesting against the site’s approach, and many users began to leave the site for other, newer sites like Ponybooru and Rainbooru.
The backlash has also seen some members make edits of art drawn in favor of Black Lives Matter and ACAB (All cops are bastards), changing their meanings to reflect more reactionary statements, and entire threads on 4Chan were created to harshly criticize the members of the fandom speaking out and fighting against the far Right in the community.
FACED WITH backlash, at the beginning of July, one of the site administrators announced that the site would be removing the previously imposed restrictions.
“In an attempt to curtail the spreading of stuff very much against the message of the show and community inclusiveness, we took the wrong approach and applied censorship without the proper regard for freedom of expression, and this was wrong,” the post read.
This, too, was met with outrage and backlash from many users on the site.
Eventually, the site came out and clarified its position on the controversy, with a site administrator announcing that site’s new updated rules “clearly forbidding images which seem to promote racism or that seem to only exist to rile people up.”
The announcement was praised by many who were hoping to save their fandom from becoming overrun with white supremacists. However, according to Summers, the fight is just getting started.
“This entire Derpibooru affair you could see as an early battle in this larger cultural clash of ideas we are about to engage in much more openly,” she told the Magazine.
In addition, it does not solve the issue of a fan base centered around a show preaching values of friendship and kindness having such a vocal contingent of fans supporting racist and inflammatory ideology.
It is the surprising nature behind this fact, though, that seems to be the reason for far Right’s success in becoming an ingrained part of the fandom: No one outside the community would believe it.
“This is actually part of why right-wing infiltration in [the fan base] has been so successful. Nobody believes it. It’s too absurd,” Henry explained.
“The idea that there are Nazis in the pony community is so absurd that if you talk about it, you get painted as some delusional, paranoid [social justice warrior] that simply has too much time on your hands.” He added that if one were to bring attention to it, “most people outside the community and in the wider world will think you’re nuts and you’ll most likely be harassed and attacked.”
This, he told the Magazine, is what happened to the article in The Atlantic. “Outsiders thought it was just some clickbait,” he explained, “but people inside the community understand.”