The Alt-Right Found Its Favorite Cartoonist—and Almost Ruined His Life
Bigfork, Montana isn’t even a town. It’s an unincorporated community with a population south of 5,000, the kind of place where people still wave when they pass each other on the street. Scandal rarely makes its home there. So imagine the shock when, during the summer of 2015, the owner of a local art gallery received a flood of emails claiming that one of the artists she was featuring, was a Nazi mass murderer. She sent an email to the artist in question, Ben Garrison, who lives in even tinier Lakeside, 20 minutes away: I want you out of this gallery today. “I tried to explain,” Garrison says, “but she was so rattled I had to leave. And that cost me. That’s what they’re after. To destroy your peace of mind and means of making a living.”
Garrison isn’t a Nazi, or a murderer, but the self-described libertarian’s political cartoons have made him a darling of the so-called alt-right. In Garrison’s work, “social justice warriors” are pudgy, pink-haired, and squalling; mainstream media outlets are metaphorical trashcans and dinosaurs; Islam is a murderous wolf devouring politically correct sheep. Hillary Clinton’s a corrupt witch, and President Trump is muscular, square-jawed, and beige, with flowing yellow hair. Garrison’s work appears regularly on Alex Jones’ Infowars. His cartoons have been shared by provocateurs like Mike Cernovich, Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, and (once, briefly) Kylie Jenner. He’s been called racist, sexist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic. Yet “they”—the people setting out to ruin his life—weren’t progressives. They were hyper-conservative 4chan trolls and actual neo-Nazis.
Former Breitbart editor and troll king Milo Yiannopoulos once called Garrison “the most trolled man in internet history.” (And considering Yiannopoulos has taken part in some of the largest, most vicious trolling campaigns in internet history, he ought to know.) But in 2009, when his career as an internet cartoonist began, Garrison was just a 52-year-old graphic artist with an obscure blog. “I was furious when the banks were bailed out, so I decided to draw a few protest cartoons,” Garrison says. “But the Nazis didn’t think I went far enough.”
Garrison’s cartoons started out as conventionally libertarian, if a bit conspiracy-minded: anti-big bank, anti-Federal Reserve, pro-Ron Paul. But internet anti-Semites (or at least, people fishing for a reaction) started splicing Garrison’s work together with the work of Nick Bougas—aka “A. Wyatt Man,” a director and illustrator responsible for one of the web’s most enduring anti-Semitic images.
Garrison tried to set the internet straight with posts like this one from his personal blog:
But the vicious cycle intensified. The more Garrison fought the defamation, the more the trolls—spearheaded by 4chan, 8chan, and an army of extremists commanded by neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin, founder of hate site The Daily Stormer—smeared his reputation. In their capable hands, the then-unknown Garrison transformed into the most vicious man on the internet, with a long list of nicknames. The most popular of these was Zyklon Ben (after zyklon b, the gas used in Nazi concentration camps), but the web is still littered with threads calling him Ben “One Man Klan” Garrison or Ben “Not White? Shoot On Sight” Garrison and other bits of jingly hate speech. The trolls even got a Fox News affiliate to talk about the fictional Nazi version Garrison by flooding the comments section during the Baltimore riots. “The meme was more successful than I was,” Garrison says. “If you typed my name into Google, you’d only see posts about how I was racist, and a photoshopped picture of me in a Nazi uniform.” Which is what that gallery owner saw before she cut ties with Garrison.
Garrison’s employment troubles didn’t end with just one gallery. According to him, the trolling campaign was so successful he spent the next five years with no income. He became obsessed with stamping out the defamation, but trolls are difficult and expensive to sue, and Garrison worried that his efforts to report those harassing him had gone too far. “I became an SJW myself,” he said. “A libertarian against free speech! So I talked to my wife and we decided the best thing to do was to share the real cartoons enough to outspread the fake ones.” So he busted out his sketchbook, and Garrison’s wife, Tina, became his full-time social media manager.
It worked. Garrison’s Twitter account has over 80,000 followers, many rabidly pro-Trump and eager for Garrison to provide the triumphant portraits of their leader the mainstream media denies them. His cartoons constantly trend on alt-right social media platforms like Gab. Through Patreon, he’s even become a modest financial success, though he’s quick to point out that the platform doesn’t reward his worldview as much as others’. “Pro-tranny cartoons get 15 to 20 grand a month, but conservatives, we don’t get that kind of break.” [WIRED preserved
Still, thanks in part to the support of alt-right figureheads like Mike Cernovich, Garrison’s income continues to swell. “I commissioned a lot of work at above market rates and promoted him heavily,” Cernovich says. “He’s a great-hearted person who deserves to succeed. His work is both family-friendly and politically audacious. That’s a hard style to pull off.” Garrison has a similarly warm relationship with pro-Trump YouTube personality and alleged cult leader Stefan Molyneux, and frequently includes prominent “alt-light” figures like InfoWars’ Paul Joseph Watson and Yiannopoulos in his cartoons.
For a trolling victim to promote arch-troll Yiannopoulos seems illogical, but Garrison doesn’t see it that way. “When Milo got shut down on Twitter, I did a cartoon about it because it’s the same thing that happened to me: He lost his voice,” Garrison says. That he was using his voice to stir up a racist trolling campaign against actress Leslie Jones doesn’t phase Garrison, and he doesn’t even see it as real trolling. “He does a little trolling, maybe, but with a twinkle in his eye,” he says. “But I’d rather him stick to arguments than that flaming stuff.” (That “flaming stuff” he’s referring to is being openly homosexual on Real Time with Bill Maher.)
But maybe it shouldn’t be surprising Garrison embraces the hypocrisy and trollishness of far-right internet culture. It chewed him up and spat him out in its own image. See, Garrison credits his success not just to his novel trolling defense—don’t just ignore, drown out until search algorithms silence them for you—but also to the trolls themselves. “I tried to understand their frustrations,” he says. “Let’s face it. They really do live in their parents basements. They go to college and get into debt. And they can’t get a girlfriend because the feminist movement has gotten to such proportions that it’s impossible for a man to have a relationship.” Trolls taught him how to weaponize internet culture, and his cartoons are steeped in and tailored to its worst fringes. “Without them, I’d still be an obscure Montana crank,” he says.
And, whether you’ve heard of him or see his cartoons before or not, Garrison is now anything but obscure. “My most influential cartoon got a tremendous response from people in Europe and Italy and Germany, and was translated into several languages,” Garrison says. (It’s the one that depicts Islam as a murderous wolf, and was timed at the height of Brexit debates.) “It asked, do we really want to have this endless Muslim immigration? Is that really good for Western civilizations’ culture?”
That’s wrong, and racist, and colored in with shades of ethno-nationalism. But much like the Trump campaign that drew him to the center of the alt-right internet conversation, Garrison’s distortions appeal to poor, white, disenfranchised voters like himself. Plus, Garrison and his classic editorial cartooning style—which Cernovich calls “all American”—give their ideology a “traditional,” pseudo-intellectual veneer. No wonder alt-right heavyweights want to work with him: his cartoons are Pepe the Frog memes for grownups.
via Wired Top Stories http://www.wired.com
June 19, 2017 at 07:18AM