The subreddit PerfectlyCutScreams was once a pure space filled with fun and happiness. Then the Alex Jones fandom stormed through and set fire to it all.
The forum features videos edited at just the right time so they end in someone yelling wildly. It’s simple, joyful internet comedy. Here’s a sample:
For two years, the forum never attracted much controversy. That all changed when redditor Gunner3341 posted a video of Sandy Hook truther and InfoWars host Alex Jones — a man fond of far-right politics, racist conspiracy theories and, yes, loud howls — screaming that kids should be more interested in Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan than Justin Bieber.
He titled the post “Alex Jones Is a National Treasure,” and like moths to a flame, Jones fans flooded the comments to say how funny and prophetic he is.
Mitch, a moderator of the subreddit, tells me in a Reddit direct message that the post was upvoted to the top spot on the page. Twenty-four hours later, with 15,000 upvotes, it’s still No. 1. Jones fans fully brigaded the subreddit, upvoting pro-Jones comments and downvoting anything denouncing him, questioning the “national treasure” moniker or bringing up his past at all.
There’s a reason Jones has been banned from Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Apple Podcasts. Aside from the dangerousness of his claims, Jones is a cunning media operator with the power to radicalize. But since being “deplatformed,” Alex Jones has arguably been less prevalent — a sentiment echoed by Gunner3341.
“It’s a shame he’s been removed from all those platforms. A lot of what he says has some truth, it’s just buried under the rest of his insane conspiracy theories,” he tells MEL. “You have to take everything he says with a grain of salt but how is that different then [sic] anything else on the news?”
Defending Jones, Gunner3341 says, “You can’t believe 95 percent of what he says, but he has been right in the past. Just because something is a conspiracy doesn’t make it crazy. The U.S. came about because of a conspiracy: We conspired against England for our independence.”
It’s not the first time an otherwise innocuous subreddit has swiftly become the target of far-right trolls. Forums like r/ChangeMyView and r/UnpopularOpinion are often rife with Trojan Horse posts packaged as a joke or “just one guy’s opinion,” triggering a flood of comments with conspiracy theories and white nationalism.
For years, Reddit has struggled with how to handle content like this. At first, the site took a decidedly hard-line free speech stance toward explicitly racist content and forums that sexualized underage girls. It eventually cracked down on jailbait and direct threats, but racism, including slurs, is still accepted. CEO Steve Huffman said in 2018 the company aims to “separate behavior from beliefs.” He’d prefer the subreddits set their own standards.
This free speech policy might work in a vacuum, but many argued on r/PerfectlyCutScreams that any post glorifying Jones — or calling him just a “comedian doing an act” — is a gateway to radicalization. “Even joking about him in a good light pisses me off,” user NovaDose wrote. “He took the very existence of children who had died in a school shooting from them … and then incited the harassment of the parents of dead babies.”
The clip’s animator, Brendan Sadaka, has created several short clips of Jones, all depicting him as a cartoonish, ranting lunatic. Sadaka tells MEL he’s an avid listener of Joe Rogan’s podcast, which is the only place he’s listened to Alex Jones speak. Jones is banned from YouTube, but these satirical videos are accepted.
“The first cartoon I made of Alex Jones was based on audio of him ranting about Joe’s use of DMT. This clip caught my attention because of YouTube’s recommendation,” he explains. “I found it quite funny and started thinking of ways I could put him in a completely different scenario with the same dialogue.”
Since that first clip, Sadaka says he combs through YouTube for particularly popular clips he finds funny and “outrageous [with] the potential to be funny when put in a different scenario — like sitting by a fire, cooking dinner, sitting on his porch, etc.”
But Sadaka says he doesn’t have any kind of agenda with his animations. “None of my cartoons really have a purpose other than to make the audience laugh, and they don’t really stem from beliefs, per se,” he tells MEL. “It’s more like seeing media through the lens of a comedian and deciding whether I find it funny enough to work with.”
For now, the subreddit’s moderators are planning to let the drama play out. “I really never got why mods on other subs would lock threads because of political debate,” Mitch tells MEL. “These things tend to die out pretty quickly. In a day or two everybody will have forgotten about it.”
So long as the discussion stays within the post and doesn’t “take over the sub,” Mitch says he’ll continue to keep an eye on it and remove comments that cross the line, “so it can be a discussion rather than a flame war.”
“Threads like these can be tough to make definitive calls on removal or not though, and what sort of action should be taken on the individual user,” he explains. “I’m personally fine with the discussion so long as it’s not being overtly offensive toward a group. … I’ll continue to punish people who act out of line or break rules within the thread, but I don’t see a reason to take action on that level.”
As for adding a “stickied post,” or a post from the moderators that sticks to the top of the thread to alert people who Alex Jones is, Mitch says that’s a bit too “censorship-y.”
“I’m all for letting people express themselves,” he says, “but if one of my mods decided to sticky the thread with a warning or even lock it, I would back up their decision.”