President Donald Trump surprised lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on Wednesday, when he appeared to endorse the idea of expanded background checks as part of a “beautiful” comprehensive bill that would also feature age restrictions on buying certain weapons and removing guns from the hands of the mentally ill. In the bipartisan meeting, Trump also accused Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) of being “afraid of the NRA.”
Trump has a well-documented history of flip-flopping between Republicans and Democrats on important issues. Nonetheless, the backlash from conservatives and the National Rifle Association (NRA) to the president’s comments on gun control was swift. “Strong leaders do not automatically agree with the last thing that was said to them,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) said. “We’re not ditching constitutional protections simply because the last person the president talked to today doesn’t like them.” The NRA meanwhile called the proposals “bad policy that would not keep our children safe.”
But the reaction was noticeably less diplomatic on the Trump-friendly part of the internet. Breitbart labelled Trump “The Gun Grabber” and accused him of ceding the Democrats’ “Wish List.” The article had nearly 16,000 comments, with the top-rated comment calling the gun control proposals “an outright betrayal by this president of the constitution and everyone of us who elected him to stand up for it.”
But if Breitbart commentators were outraged, it was nothing compared to r/The_Donald. The pro-Trump subreddit and one of the biggest internet communities supporting the president. There, Trump’s bipartisan meeting triggered a fury which The_Donald posters took out on both the president and each other. “What the actual fuck was that? That was certainly not 4D chess pedes,” one user named malikobama1 posted. “That was honestly just a terrible move. Between that an immigration my patience is truly wearing thin.”
“I really hope Trump is doing this to our guns just cos he’s weak enough to falter after being paid by the Dems. This is pathetic,” wrote smurfkipz. “Does this guy even hold any values at all or just money?” Meanwhile, “FitFinanceFella” paused for a moment to wish Hope Hicks — whom he wasn’t sure whether or not lurked on The_Donald — the best of luck in her future endeavors.
The amount of anger made the moderators on r/The_Donald step in and remove a copious amount of comments from the thread, including those from longtime pro-Trump posters. According to Removeddit, nearly 40 percent of the comment thread was removed by the subreddit’s moderators, while four percent was deleted.
The_Donald is an incredibly important part of the pro-Trump internet ecosystem. It has nearly 600,000 subscribers, and acts as a key node between more obscure, hateful sites like 4chan’s politically incorrect board and Gab and more well-known social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. During the election, Donald Trump hosted an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on the site, and the sub-reddit mobilized on several occasions to spread pro-Trump memes and comb through the hacked DNC emails.
But the site also has a penchant for conspiracy theories and threats of violence — which violates Reddit’s content policies. During a Question & Answer session last December, one user linked 45 different examples of violent comments on The_Donald, all less than 30 days old. They included posts like “shoot Muslims on sight,” “death to all leftists,” “Deport the dreamers, hang the politicians who support them,” and so on. But even with these examples of violence, and Reddit having to overhaul its voting system to prevent The_Donald spam, the subreddit remains active.
The_Donald posters shouldn’t worry too much though, because if the president’s recent record on immigration is anything to go by, he will again flip his position on gun control and propose a more hardline, gun-friendly policy. On September 5, for instance, Trump ordered an end to the DACA program, but the next day told reporters that he wanted “a great DACA transaction where everybody is happy.” On September 13, Congressional Democrats said they’d made a deal on DACA after a dinner with Trump at the White House, but the next day thepPresident tweeted that there was no deal.
To summarize, it’s perfectly possible that Trump will again flip to supporting the NRA’s priorities and opposing substantive action to address gun violence, and the good folks of r/The_Donald and their “God Emperor” will be back on good terms.