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How 'Make America Great Again' Has Become a Global Symbol for Hate

Illustration for article titled How Make America Great Again Has Become a Global Symbol for Hate
Photo: Joe Raedle (Getty Images)

Donald Trump may not be a full-on, card-carrying member of white nationalism...

Fine, you’re right.

Donald Trump is a white nationalist. Full stop.

He speaks their language, he uses his dog whistle to rally his troops, he sees good people on both sides and has been reluctant on several occasions to call out white nationalism by its name. He’s a xenophobic, racist windbag. And he causes cancer, or does noise from windmills do that?


As such, it turns out that Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hat, which is all the rage with white nationalists in America, has become a global phenomenon worn by white nationalist across the globe.

According to HuffPost, far-right extremists have worn the new-era Klan cap as a nod to their white nationalist roots. Canadian Alexandre Bissonnette, the 27-year-old who stormed a Quebec City mosque and killed six Muslim men in January 2017, wore the hat despite living in a French-speaking province that had nothing to do with the American political landscape.


“The hat and the MAGA acronym have really become shorthand for this white nationalist movement,” said Barbara Perry, a professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and an expert on the far right, told HuffPost.

Perry notes that MAGA symbolism has become “one of the easiest ways to notice online extremists and members of hate groups.”

Illustration for article titled How Make America Great Again Has Become a Global Symbol for Hate
Photo: Oliver Contreras (Getty Images)

“A 2018 study by extremism researcher J.M. Berger that analyzed tens of thousands of alt-right Twitter accounts found the most common word in their profiles was ‘MAGA’ and the most frequent pairing of words was ‘Trump supporter,’” HuffPost reports.


MAGA hats and Trump rally cries have also shown up in places like Britain during anti-Muslim activist Tommy Robinson’s rallies and “on banners in Australia following the terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, and as an accessory for prominent European white nationalists who wear it to troll their fellow citizens,” HuffPost reports.

“In Canada, the MAGA hat is widely seen as a hate symbol—a middle finger to other Canadians, especially to women and people of [color],” Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, told HuffPost. After Canadians went nuts for Hudson’s Bay Company decision to sell “Make Canada Great Again” hats, the nation’s oldest retailer removed the items from all of its stores.


From HuffPost:

MAGA symbols abroad aren’t solely the province of extremists, but they tend to attract a certain type. Anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim politicians, in particular, have adopted the Trump-associated slogans and paraphernalia.

Leader of Italy’s far-right League party Matteo Salvini posed with a MAGA hat on his office shelf and held an “Italians first” rally, while Islamophobic Dutch politician Geert Wilders promised to “make the Netherlands great again.” The anti-immigrant Alternative For Germany party’s deputy leader Beatrix Von Storch, whom German prosecutors investigated for inciting hatred against Muslims, wore a red “Make Germany Safe Again” hat during an election campaign.

Beyond mimicking Trump’s rhetoric to rile up nationalist sentiment in their own countries, the international far right embraces the U.S. president because he helps bolster the narrative of rising support for a global anti-immigrant, anti-establishment movement. When the most powerful person in the world says that “Islam hates us” and attempts to ban Muslim immigration, it’s proof that perhaps other world leaders can achieve a similar goal.

“Trump’s campaign was anti-Muslim, and he has enacted anti-Muslim policies while in office,” said Matthew McGregor, campaign director for the British-based anti-racism advocacy group Hope Not Hate. “He has given the far right encouragement and left them with the impression that things are going their way.”


HuffPost notes that far-right extremists have an affinity for hand symbols, slogans and paraphernalia that make it easier to identify who is in the brotherhood of racism.

Some extremist groups have taken up Nordic symbols; others use thinly veiled references to Nazism, such as “88” for “Heil Hitler,” as a wink to others in the movement. European neo-Nazi groups even sometimes carry Confederate flags in their demonstrations. In that sense, it’s natural that extremists who view Trump as a gateway to white nationalism have embraced his emblems.


“It gives them credibility that if this is from the president of the United States, then it must be all right to have those views,” said Amira Elghawaby, a human-rights advocate and board member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, HuffPost reports.

Trump has helped normalize hate across the globe by promoting hate. It’s his thing. The crazed gunman in the Christchurch attack had a whole section on Trump in his manifesto and claimed that he supported Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”


Even after learning that he was a source of inspiration for the attacker’s views, Trump dismissed the threat of white nationalism and declared immigrants are an “invasion” that must be stopped.

Trump is a white nationalist, and white nationalists know it; it’s why they want to dress in the outfit of the president of white nationalism.


It’s their thing.

Senior Editor @ The Root, boxes outside my weight class, when they go low, you go lower.

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It’s also a tactic as old as the fascists that birthed it: the use of symbolism and icons that can be construed to mean something other than outright nationalism (often racial) and fascism, while also being a knowing wink and smug smirk that implicates nationalism (often racial) and fascism. It’s inherent in right wing troll culture, but it’s pretty old.

The MAGA hat is most definitely a middle-finger to anyone who is non-white, and anti-fascist. Even the people of color who identify as far right know this, but believe themselves to be accepted as “one of the good ones” by their white nationalist peers, safe from any action they would take against their people at large and have a seat at the table (and I would guess that a good number of them are just violent sociopathic fascists whose ideas and beliefs line up quite nicely with white nationalists, save for the white part, but they’ve always been flexible in the early days of their ascent to power. It’s the later days when things turn horribly wrong with their POC and other marginalized allies).

But it can also be painted as wholly innocent, as nothing more than a meaningless hat that “triggers the libs”. But that’s the smokescreen that fascist iconography can work behind. They never have to take full accountability of its inherent message, playing it off as nothing more than a joke, while simultaneously taking full accountability of the message amongst peers and those who see through them. That coyness allows them an easier entry into mainstream culture, and its sanitization of white nationalism is the fruit of that labor. Truly abhorrent, insidious shit.