Over the past week, a coalition of social media–savvy white supremacists and hardcore trolls have lifted the derogatory term "cuckservative" from the fringes of the "alt-right" internet to the cusp of the mainstream political conversation. A portmanteau of "cuckold" and "conservative," the word refers broadly to mainstream Republicans who hold insufficiently conservative or even progressive positions on hot-button social issues like transgender rights, state use of the Confederate flag, and, especially, immigration.
The term's connotations are racist. By alluding to a genre of porn in which passive white husbands watch their wives have sex with black men, it casts its targets as impotent defenders of white people in America. Prominent "cuckservatives" include Jeb Bush, John McCain, and Marco Rubio, politicians who have, in the imagination of the term's promulgators, adopted a false — liberal — consciousness to appeal to the shifting opinions of the American electorate. In this narrative, the anti-cuckservative hero is Donald Trump, who is unafraid to speak a racially inconvenient truth about the dire trajectory of white men. (As Jeet Heer wrote about in the New Republic yesterday.)
The explosion of the movement, which is in many cases explicitly racist, has prompted tortured meditations from some libertarian bloggers and commentators about the place of intolerance in their politics:
[W]hile I have of course known there were racists in, or adjacent to, the conservative movement forever, and have really not denied this (I tend to instead point out, for the sake of context, all those xenophobic bitter clingers in the Democrat Party that so bothered our Lord King Barack Obama in his Glorious Ascent), I am right now thinking that there are more white supremacists than I previously acknowledged, and am currently up in the air as to whether to dismiss this solely as a fringe-of-the-fringe phenomenon.
The precedent here is #GamerGate, a movement that similarly combined retrograde cultural politics and anonymous harassment with the bleeding-edge visual grammar of the meme internet, and impelled a similar round of self-examination among mainstream game writers.
Like GamerGate, and like much of the major harassment on the internet in 2015, "cuckservative" finds its roots in the intersection of web nerd culture and the politics of cultural hate. And just like #GamerGate, even many of the prominent anti- "cuckservatives" — the people who use the term — aren't quite sure where exactly that is.
The Twitter user @Cuckservative, one of the most prominent and active users of the word (he's tweeted nearly 2,500 times in less than four months), told BuzzFeed News that "the precise origin is something nobody in the alt-right has been able to pin down. ... It could have easily been MPC or TRS where I first saw it used, but I can't say with certainty and will definitely not take credit for it."
MPC and TRS are, respectively, My Posting Career, a kind of 8chan-meets-far-far-right-politics forum, and The Right Stuff, a white supremacist blog dedicated to "Reinvigorating dialogue among a disparate and edgy right-wing" and "Inflaming anuses among the childish and regressive left-wing." The Right Stuff, which has an incredibly active commenter community, has clearly played a role in popularizing the movement. But it's deep within a subfourm of My Posting Career where an earlier reference to the term "cuckservative" appears, beneath a copied tweet by the conservative activist Grover Norquist.
This post, from April 28, uses "cuckservatives" in the contemporary way: Norquist has been "cuckolded" by the liberal acceptance of trans people because the trans person in question is within the Republican mainstream on economic issues. But the formulation, "cuckservatives.txt," is a common trope in chans and subreddits (it's a joke about a DOS prompt) and a clue that the term has even older roots.
The first open use on Twitter appears to have been published in January, by @Drunknsage. This same user is also a GamerGater who argued with Brianna Wu, the game developer and symbol of GamerGate harassment.
Last Thursday, @Drunknsage quoted a tweet retweeting his initial coinage, which reads "First known use of cuckservative"; in other words, he took credit for coming up with the word. But @Drunknsage doesn't seem to have been using the term in the now established sense of a conservative politician in thrall to liberal values. That honor seems to go to the Twitter user @stompthewaffle, also known as Ethan Enkisson.
That's right: These aren't garden variety conservatives, for whom reflexive support of Israel has become a core value. Indeed, supporting Israeli foreign policy to the detriment of white Christians is one of the hallmark traits of the "cuckservative"; Enkisson's Twitter is particularly, though not uniquely, anti-Semitic for a member of the movement. (Enkisson is also a proto-GamerGater who was tweeting antagonistically at GamerGate villain Anita Sarkeesian as far back as 2011). So it's fair to say that the term, in its present configuration and with its current associations, is at least four months old.
That "cuckservative" comes from the place where forum trolls, white supremacy, and GamerGate meet shouldn't come as a surprise. As I wrote earlier this month, mobile services like Kik have enabled a new group of young white supremacists who are totally fluent in the art of internet persuasion, for whom irony poses no contradiction to the intensities of race hate.
As @Cuckservative — who told BuzzFeed News he is a 34-year-old trucker from Iowa — put it, "Whatever term you use for the alt-right, it's always been a place where memes and jokes were part of the discussion. I know I'm taking it seriously even if I'm simply stealing Bane quotes and filling them with slurs half the time, and I think everyone else pushing #cuckservative is as well."
In other words, the forces behind "cuckservative" aren't new. It's just the first time they've been aimed at the 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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