Until this week, when President-elect Donald Trump named one of the alt-right's new nabobs his chief strategist, perhaps the highest purchase gained by the ascendant movement was a six-episode, 15-minute sketch comedy show on Adult Swim called Million Dollar Extreme Presents: World Peace.
Now, as America processes the news that Trump, the alt-right's hero and avatar, will become the most powerful person in the world, a group of Adult Swim talent — actors, directors, writers, and producers — is desperately trying to convince the network's powerful boss, Mike Lazzo, not to renew the show for a second season.
"They're gathering a long list of complaints from people," said a source connected to the network. "All of these complaints will hopefully be able to keep a second season from happening."
BuzzFeed News spoke with three sources who have regularly worked with Adult Swim, the late-night cable network owned by Time Warner that's famous for its zany, cult-favorite comedies. All three sources spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of harassment by the online community surrounding Million Dollar Extreme, the sketch comedy group behind World Peace, and by members of the group itself.
Indeed, the relationship between MDE and its community is a major reason for the cancellation campaign. Sam Hyde, MDE's most prominent member, is something of an icon on the alt-right websites where the show's fans congregate. (He moderates a subreddit devoted to the group.) In these forums, thousands of fans gather to decode World Peace's complex, if winking, symbology, which many devotees are convinced expresses an anti-progressive, pro-white ideology. It is because of this alleged dog-whistling — as well as what they claim are harassment campaigns from Hyde and his followers online — that the three sources say they and others want Lazzo to cancel the show.
According to one source with knowledge of the network's operations, it's likely that Lazzo is already aware of the show's solicitations of the alt-right. The same source said that the Adult Swim standards department repeatedly found coded racist messages in the show, including swastikas, which were removed ahead of broadcast. None of this was enough, according to one of the sources, to convince Lazzo not to air the show.
"Lazzo makes every decision there. A lot of people at Adult Swim have been on him, trying to get it not renewed," said the source. "I know at least one person who is very high up there who was furious about it before it came out."
Indeed, anger about the show, boiling over now, dates back at least to May, when Adult Swim announced during its annual presentation to advertisers that the show would be part of the network's fall schedule. At a company party afterwards, unhappy conversations predominated.
"People with shows were aware of it and angry about it," one of the sources told BuzzFeed News.
Now a few of them are going public.
On Monday, the actor and comedian Brett Gelman — who has appeared on several Adult Swim programs including Brett Gelman's Dinner in America — announced over Twitter that he was severing ties with Adult Swim over World Peace and Lazzo's defense on Reddit of the network's lack of shows with female creators.
"The show is an instrument of hate," Gelman told BuzzFeed News.
And in a since deleted tweet, actor Zandy Hartig of the network's long-running Children's Hospital implored Adult Swim to "please get rid of MDE and Sam Hyde. He's an embarrassment for you and for me as someone who was very grateful to you."
Hartig and Gelman have now joined Tim Heidecker, who rose to fame on the Adult Swim show Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! as objects of scorn on the MDE internet. Heidecker, who has publicly ridiculed the alt-right, posted on Facebook yesterday that "I love and respect my friend Brett Gelman and I support his decision fully."
Reached for comment, Adult Swim referred BuzzFeed News to a statement the network gave about World Peace in August:
Adult Swim’s reputation and success with its audience has always been based on strong and unique comedic voices. Million Dollar Extreme’s comedy is known for being provocative with commentary on societal tropes, and though not a show for everyone, the company serves a multitude of audiences and supports the mission that is specific to Adult Swim and its fans.
On Reddit, a poster who identified herself as Adult Swim Senior Director of Programming Kim Manning described the show as "a source of HOT, HOT debate around the office...it has been for a long time...If you watch the show we produced, it's not an alt-right speak piece...We argue about it a lot around the office. That's all I can really say."
Sam Hyde did not respond to a request for comment, but earlier today, in a series of tweets, he asked his fans not to harass Adult Swim employees:
Ultimately, whether the show comes back for another season is up to Lazzo, who sources say enjoys causing a stir. "I don’t think he's down with the alt-right," said one source. "I think he's a left-leaning guy. But when he sees someone pushing buttons — he’s very anti-establishment — his instinct is that he’s doing something right."
Joe Bernstein is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Bernstein reports on and writes about the gaming industry and web culture.
Contact Joseph Bernstein at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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