‘What’s Not to Like?’
Trolls Hijack White-Power Sites to Discuss Color Swatches
A team of Reddit power users is taking over subreddits across the site—and transforming communities like WhitePolitics with posts about shades of gray and laundry.
You probably wouldn’t be surprised to see a post blaring “WHITE POWER” at the top of a web community named WhitePolitics.
And you might expect that “white politics” community to be hosted on Reddit, where public-relations people for the website respond to the existence of Nazi subreddits by calling them “expressions of the open internet.”
But there’s one surprise: When you click on “WHITE POWER,” it shows a 136 kilowatt power generator. That power generator is white.
The post below it, titled “Why whites must be separated from blacks,” is about laundry.
On WhitePolitics, according to a stickied post on the site, “racism is now banned,” and it is now a place to “hail the greatest of whites, Swiss Coffee!”
“It’s hilarious. What’s not to like?” Ianna Urquhart, a moderator at r/WhitePolitics and r/Whites, told The Daily Beast.
WhitePolitics switched over from a largely dormant, headless white-supremacist forum on Tuesday. The community is just the latest that Urquhart and a team of semi-organized Reddit power users have taken away from white-supremacist, transphobic, or straight up neo-Nazi groups in order to make terrible puns and wreak havoc.
Urquhart and several of the moderators of r/WhitePolitics point to the neo-Nazi subreddit r/Stormfront as their template for turning a subreddit from hell into a G-rated source of information. The r/Stormfront community, which was initially banned by Reddit administrators for serving as a sister forum to the Ku Klux Klan-affiliated site of the same name, has been rededicated to “firsthand reports of severe weather” for the past five years.
The takeover was completed with tongue firmly glued to cheek by a user named “NotCOINTELPROAgent,” a nod to the covert FBI surveillance projects that used to track public figures the bureau deemed subversive.
When NotCOINTELPROAgent was asked by Reddit administrators why he wanted to revive the subreddit, the user replied, “I like the term ‘storm front’ better than ‘weather geeks.’ It's more clever. Think ‘militant weather geeks.’” It now has an Illuminati eye as part of its logo.
Urquhart and a loosely connected group of moderators have since taken a similar approach to potential hate forums where moderators have gone AWOL and a takeover can be requested.
Take, for example, r/Trannys, which now shows close-up shots of car transmissions. (Urquhart identifies as trans.) r/Whites, these days, exists to “discuss shades of whites, off-whites, and light grays.”
Site rules state that moderators of subreddits need to be inactive on Reddit as a whole for 60 days for a community to be forfeited. Users can then make a plea to administrators on r/redditrequest to adopt it, provided the prospective new moderator has a plan.
That’s how Urquhart nabbed her biggest get, she says: a high-profile takeover of r/Faggots. On Oct. 30, 2016, alt-right agitator Milo Yiannopoulos made a formal request with Reddit administrators to take over the subreddit. Yiannopoulos, who is gay, was in the middle of a university speaking tour called the “Dangerous Faggot Tour.”
Several others made requests to helm the community since its moderator had gone missing. But nobody had an idea as clear and high concept as Urquhart.
“I told them that if they made me mod instead of Milo, that I would use my mod powers for good instead of evil and extol the wonders of bundles of sticks and questionable British meat products. I think I made them laugh because they did indeed make me the top mod,” said Urquhart, who said she identifies as queer. “I mean, what’s not to laugh about pics of bundles of sticks in a sub called r/faggots?”
Llim, who helped take over WhitePolitics with Urquhart and didn’t give a full name, said such escapades are one of the better ways to make sure hate speech is at least a little bit more contained on Reddit.
“A common defense for allowing the existence of the hate subreddits is that ‘free speech must be protected,’” said Llim. “Reddit is a privately run website, and you have no right to free speech on a private website. As moderators, we can restrict speech as we see fit on any subreddit we moderate, and we do when said speech is hateful in nature.”
Urquhart said she remembered the response when Reddit execs very publicly closed down the racist subreddit r/coontown and the transphobic subreddit r/transfags in 2015. That may have accidentally done more harm than good, she said.
“They just shut ’em down one day, and then all of those people dispersed into all of these other communities,” she said.
That’s why, she said, it’s better to stop them before they start—and to have a sense of humor about it in the process.
“Now, they’ll still have their own hate subs. They’re always gonna find them. But it’s easier if they’re all concentrated in one place, so you know where the bad ones are,” she said. “It’s better to have them out in the open.”
Fellow r/Whites moderators have taken down fully fledged communities. The user GodOfAtheism turned r/PunchableFaces, a subreddit with 45,000 subscribers that was previously dedicated to making fun of strangers’ pictures on the internet, into essentially an empty space. GodOfAtheism also turned r/PUA, a pickup artist community, into a group exclusively focused on physically lifting objects.
GodOfAtheism declined to be interviewed for the story, which Urquhart said she understands. Reddit can be a tough place to navigate when you lose your anonymity.
But while Reddit does have plenty of true white power hubs, like the swastika-bedecked r/EuropeanNationalism, Urquhart said there’s too much good on the site to give up on it.
“Hell, I met my wife on Reddit on the r/asktransgender sub that I mod,” she said.
Just this week, Urquhart got control of r/Faggots_must_die. She’s going to turn it into an anti-smoking subreddit.