President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech was not well-received among members of the far right.
Patrick Casey, the leader of the white nationalist group Identity Evropa, labeled the speech “embarrassing,” while neo-Nazi Mike Peinovich said Trump was “pander[ing] to every group that hates you,” a phrase echoed by self-described American nationalist Nick Fuentes, who accused Trump of “pander[ing] to the enemy.” There was one section of the speech, however, that turned the far right disappointment into full-born rage.
Toward the end of his address, Trump mentioned last October’s mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. “We must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism, or those who spread its venomous creed,” Trump said. “With one voice, we must confront this hatred anywhere and everywhere it occurs.”
Three of Trump’s State of the Union guests were also named in his speech. The president singled out Pittsburgh SWAT officer Timothy Matson, who was injured seven times by the alleged shooter, Judah Samet, a Holocaust survivor and synagogue member who lived through the horrific ordeal, and a second Holocaust survivor, Joshua Kaufman, praising them for their bravery.
Trump’s focus on anti-Semitism, coupled with his remarks on how he wanted to see large amounts of legal immigration, left the far right spaces on 4chan and 8chan — which were fervently supportive of Trump during the 2016 election — apoplectic.
“I’m going to be sick,” one 4chan user wrote.
“Pack it up, it’s over,” added another.
The backlash was notable, given the far right’s previous support of Trump’s racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Anti-Semitism in all forms is part and parcel of the far right ecosystems seen on 4chan, 8chan, and Gab, the “free speech” alternative social media platform which was used extensively by alleged Pittsburgh shooter Robert Bowers in the run up to the attack. Bowers allegedly posted on the website just a few minutes prior to the shooting, writing, “Screw your optics I’m going in.”
Under the Trump administration, however, this mix of virulent anti-Semitism, white nationalism, and neo-Nazism has filtered into the real world, often with deadly consequences. In addition to the Pittsburgh attack there have been multiple other far right attacks, successful and foiled, during the Trump administration’s tenure. These include five murders committed by the de-centralized neo-Nazi terror group Atomwaffen, the white supremacist murder of a homeless man in New York City in March 2017, and the murder of Heather Heyer at the Unite the Right rally in August 2017.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, individuals linked to the far right were responsible for every extremist-related murder in the United States in 2018, bar one.
Trump, despite his call to confront anti-Semitism at the State of the Union, has consistently fanned the far right’s flames. In August, he tweeted that he was going to examine the large-scale killing of white farmers in South Africa, a popular talking point in white nationalist circles that was later picked up by the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement. He has also repeatedly blamed billionaire philanthropist George Soros for issues supposedly funding migrant caravans traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border from Central America, playing into a commonly used anti-Semitic trope seen on the far right.
Last October, Soros, along with several high-profile Democrats and CNN, were mailed a series of explosives by alleged bomber and Trump super-fan Cesar Sayoc, who cited many of the same baseless talking points in a number of online threats.
The Trump administration has also cut down on grants designed to help law enforcement mitigate the threat posed by the far right. Days before the Pittsburgh shooting, for example, it pulled funding from the Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Violent Extremism Program, which previously allocated $10 million for regional law enforcement agencies to tackle the far right.