Think My Little Pony and white supremacy don’t mix? Think again. ¶Though bronies, the adult male fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, have geeked out about pegasi, dragons, and Fluttershy for years, there’s a new force infiltrating the fandom. Among these bronies, there’s talk of “pony nationalism,” avatars of horses in KKK gear, and posts of ponies with swastikas decorating their rumps.
That’s right: Political division has struck Equestria. In particular, a group calling themelves alt-bronies—as in alt-right bronies—have driven a wedge between themselves and the rest of the fandom, who have been calling for the alt-bronies to leave politics out of their ponies.
“There are people who take it very seriously,” alt-brony @GWSSDelta told me over Twitter DM about his fellow alt-bronies. “They see MLP as a vehicle for a European identity and ideal that resonates with such a huge number of young white men.”
First of all…what?! Secondly, and most importantly, how can alt-bronies exist within a fandom whose motto is literally “Love and Tolerate”?
There has long been a subversive side to bronies. The fandom was born on 4chan after pony fanatics discovered each other on two message boards, one for cartoons and another “random” board. From there, the bronies stamped all over 4chan until they apparently drove everyone insane with their incessant pony posts. 4chan banned MLP-related material from all boards except ones dedicated strictly to the fandom, effectively corralling the group.
The kicker? Though bronies couldn’t post about Rainbow Dash anywhere else, they could post about any topic on the MLP boards as long as it was vaguely pony-related, which opened it up to some pretty freaky stuff amid discussions about Ponyville and Princess Celestia. Most of the community dispersed to other platforms (Tumblr, Reddit, Equestria Daily, Ponyville.net, and so on). Those who remained on 4chan were a different breed.
“4Chan became the outlet for bronies who were going to get into the darker side of the fandom—pornography and things like that,” says Marsha Redden, a psychologist who studies bronies.
Politics seriously entered the discussion around 2015 as the presidential election became impossible to avoid online. As you might guess, there are many liberals among those who worship a series about friendship, magic, and rainbow-shaded horses. However, as with any large group (and there really are a lot of bronies—millions, according to an estimate by HerdCensus.com so, uh, take that with an ocean’s worth of salt), there are also plenty of people with other worldviews. As political talk became more common, the bronies became even more stratified. Eventually, the alt-righters who remained on 4chan spun off into their own movement.
Pushing them further into their sub-subculture? Their rejection by the political establishment, which has made its distaste for bronies clear. Conservative and alt-right figureheads have brought up My Little Pony several times in recent years, mostly to make fun of it. In January 2016, GOP consultant Rick Wilson called members of the alt-right “childless single men who jerk off to anime.” (Which isn’t a direct call-out to the brony fandom, but seems close enough.) In July 2016, Sean Spicer compared part of Melania Trump’s RNC speech to lines from Twilight Sparkle to try to show that it was ridiculous to say Trump had plagiarized Michelle Obama’s speech from eight years earlier. Even the alt-right has talked shit. While on The Jamie Weinstein Show, Richard Spencer compared the small turnout at one of his conferences to the attendee count of BronyCon, saying, “The fact that people are more willing to say that, ‘I am a ridiculous pervert who dresses up like My Little Pony,’ [than] to say, ‘I care about my people and I’m a white man’ shows the power of taboo.”
The alt-bronies have, essentially, banned together as outcasts of two fringe movements, the bronies and alt-right. But what exactly does it mean to be an alt-brony? Just like the alt-right movement itself, there are different flavors, from those who truly seem to believe in white nationalism to those who simply aim to offend.
Some alt-bronies are genuine Trump supporters or alt-righters who just happen to love the show. Others talk about the series as an example of white supremacy; for them, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic exemplifies how they would like to defend their (white) nation, friends, and values.
Nothing pisses off liberal bronies more than seeing their beloved, wholesome characters dressed in Nazi SS gear.
Lots of them live to troll and like using My Little Pony characters to stir up shit in the same way the alt-right uses Pepe the Frog. Nothing pisses off liberal bronies more than seeing their beloved, wholesome characters dressed in Nazi SS gear. Alt-bronies have also championed their own fan-created characters, including meme-favorite Aryanne, a blonde, blue-eyed pony with a swastika “cutie mark” on her haunch.
Which brings us back to the whole “Love and Tolerate” thing. You may think that white nationalism is in direct conflict with what the bronies stand for. Many bronies would agree with you; alt-bronies have been banned from message boards and fan-art sites, blocked by other bronies on Twitter, and even denied volunteer positions at conferences for posting pics of Nazi ponies.
In this way, alt-bronies say it’s actually their leftist herd members who are in violation of the spirit of tolerance. In the same way that the alt-right has advocated for their hate speech being protected under free speech, the alt-bronies don’t care whether they’re being pushed out for espousing retrograde, often harmful views. They just see it as inappropriate exclusion, period.
“Entry into the fandom isn’t predicated on politics and our ‘membership’ isn’t conditional on your approval,” @Xaekai, another alt-brony, wrote in a Twitter DM. “The fandom is for everyone, and as far as I’m concerned there is no party line to tow. I don’t have to be, or prove, I’m a liberal, 100% LGBTQ-supportive, or think Trump is literally Hitler reincarnate just to be a brony. And that is equality in the truest sense.”
Their marginalization has radicalized them further and many alt-bronies have befriended members of other “alt” subgroups, including the “anime right” and “alt-furries,” who also say that they’ve been ostracized from groups that are supposed to be inclusive regardless of political beliefs. For a while, these alt groups seemed like a club that only existed on the internet, talking Trump and pissing off liberals. But these interactions aren’t just happening online anymore. Alt-furries have caused uproar in the past year by showing up at conventions in Nazi gear. One furry in particular, who calls himself Foxler Nightfire, has come under scrutiny for wearing a armband with a black paw print in place of a swastika over the arm of his corsac fox costume.
And at this year’s Bay Area Brony Spectacular Convention, more confrontation broke out. Every year, bronies descend upon an airport hotel outside of San Francisco to celebrate their love of My Little Pony. It’s normal convention stuff: toy vendors, appearances from voice actors, costume contests. But, this year, something strange happened. The management hired an actor to play a “villain” as part of a running skit throughout the con, and that actor fashioned their character after Trump—mostly by calling to “build a wall.” Some of the bronies seemed to take the joke seriously. Dozens of them showed up in red “Make Equestria Great Again” hats, chanting at one point to “deport the Zebras.” (Zebras, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, represent people of color.)
“Their defense is that they are ‘IRL shitposting’ which pretty much means acting like a jerk as a farce,” a staffer at the con, who asked to remain anonymous, wrote in an email. “Several of these people, most of them former friends, are indeed sexist, racist, and transphobic. It’s doubtful to believe some of them are ‘just joking’ when they have displayed bigotry or ignorance before.”
The non-alt-bronies seem to be tired of it. So why haven’t they divided themselves further, retreating into their own political subcultures to get away from the alt-bronies? Or just quit the fandom outright? What’s keeping them together amid political discord?
“The glue holding everything together is the fact that regardless of what your political beliefs are, under normal circumstances, you’d be deemed an outcast by either major group,” says Capper General, pseudonymous brony co-founder of Horse-News.net. (Sorry to bring glue into this, horse lovers. His words, not ours.) “People call us freaks and masochists. Are you willing to give up on few people who accept you for being fan of cartoon? Is it worth it? Just because you don’t like Trump doesn’t mean a Democrat will like you for who you are if you’re a brony.”
Whatever you think of men who watch My Little Pony, the root of the fandom was genuine: outcasts who came together through the internet to talk about their love of anthropomorphized cartoon horses. Bronies have, until now, been inclusive in a pretty radical way—Redden says that she even knows of people who say My Little Pony and the brony fandom saved them from the brink of suicide. As long as you came into the group with an open heart and willingness to chat about Rarity, you were welcomed.
While alt-bronies are vocal, they still seem to be in the minority: Though Redden knew of plenty of Republican bronies, she had never heard of alt-bronies and was surprised to learn they existed. She said, if anything, she’s observed more diversity at brony events in recent years than ever before.
Still, it’s undeniable that things have turned ugly online and off. So what will win: Love, tolerance, and an influx of new, diverse bronies? Or this wave of white nationalist pony lovers? Only time will tell whether the fandom can ride this one out.