Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and presidency have been major sources of entertainment for the past year and a half. Though most previous US presidents have been criticized and mocked, the intractable users of the internet have taken to ridiculing Trump like never before. Well-known comedy shows and series including “Saturday Night Live,” “the Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” and “South Park” regularly parody the media star President. His stormy and egotistical personality has opened the floodgates as comedians, entertainers, news outlets, and online communities now have an array of opportunities to openly take the piss out of the Donald.
In the digital world, Trump’s rise to power facilitated the creation of an idiosyncratic Facebook group: Christian Conservatives For Trump (CC4T). Created in November of 2016, CC4T’s outward aim is simple, as the page’s ‘Our Story’ states, “Conservative Christians for Donald J Trump. A Group For Supporters of Conservative Politics, Christian Values and our President.” More compelling is the message underneath this statement from the supposed admin:
“MY NAME IS JEFFREY AND I HAVE LIVED IN GEORGIA AND MISSOURI AND NOW FLORIDA. I AM A CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICAN WHO IS FEDUP WITH WHAT WE GONE THRU FOR 8 YEARS WITH THAT TERRIST IN ARE WHITE HOUSE AND NOW TRUMP IS GOING TO MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN AND THE ATHETITS LIBTARDS NEED TO SHUT UP!”
Jeffrey, who also refers to himself as “Mr. Conservative,” is the architect behind the page. He is at the helm of content creation and is responsible for its many disconcerting features, including the profile and cover photo. CC4T’s profile picture is a photoshopped image of Jesus Christ holding up a pixelated photo of Trump. This photo-within-a-photo within another photo creates an artificial labyrinth—one of the first layers of CC4T’s dreamscape. The cover photo is equally quirky. The same portrait of Trump is used again but this time the middle of the Confederate flag accompanied by the phrases “Support President Trump,” “Conservative Politics,” “Christian Social Issues,” and “Christian Values.” This abstraction sits in the top right-hand corner of a much larger picture of Trump at a podium holding up what appears to be a genuine “Christian Conservatives For Trump” poster.
Most posts are written in all-caps and demonstrate disregard for proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling. They take the form of the grossly popular modern-day meme and are distinctly pro-life, pro-Trump, pro-Christian, anti-marijuana, anti-Obama, and Islamophobic. On the surface, CC4T looks like a safe haven for stereotypical conservative and nationalistic die-hard Trump supporters. To the contrary of my initial observations and generalizations, the case turned out to be quite the opposite.
With the page growing quickly and receiving hundreds of likes, comments, and shares everyday, Jeffrey is incredibly difficult to get a hold of. After weeks of attempting to connect with someone at CC4T via private Facebook messaging and public posting, Jeffrey finally responded. He did not give his real name. He assured me that the page is troll-like in nature and pointed to the fact that CC4T is technically listed under the categories “comedy club” and “just for fun” in the “about” section of the page. Despite this, the page reviews are mostly divided between one-star and five-stars; users either praise CC4T or offer caustic remarks of serious disapproval. It would appear as though the page’s “love it or hate it” effect is dependent on an individual’s taste in humor, as well as the ability to perceive it. Jeffrey claims to be a proponent of satire peppered with occasional trolling, but there are subtleties and distinctions to be made between the two forms of humor.
Trolling involves the propagation of provocative material with the intent to produce an aggravated emotional response (along with a schadenfreude mindset to take delight in the ensuing havoc). Satire is different in that its appeal is not directly tied to provoking people. Satire is the deployment of humor (sarcasm, hyperbole, caricature, ridicule, etc.) to shed light on and criticize people and ideas. Audiences that engage with satiric material probably know that the content may be upsetting for some individuals; but unlike trolling, the aim of satire is not to get a rise out of people, but rather to critique the current state of politics and other topical issues. To troll is to deceive your audience; satirization is to include your audience. Well-known examples of modern-day satire include the television series South Park and the pseudo-news organization The Onion. A blatant case of trolling was when Canadian comedians (“The Masked Avengers”) called Sarah Palin in 2008 pretending to be the French President at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy. Nevertheless, CC4T blurs the lines between each farce to create an even more controversial result.
Jeffrey tends to publish his homemade memes daily. They usually feature misspelled text in large block letters, a picture or series of pictures to accompany the text, and the signature “Christian Conservatives for Trump” trademark in the bottom left-hand corner, as well as the “my-conservative.com” link to Jeffrey’s website in the bottom right-hand. His memes are also accompanied by a solid paragraph of explanation. The result is one that is satirical in nature, because Jeffrey attempts to make a mockery out of current events by presenting fake over-the-top Christian and conservative-leaning opinions. Jeffrey also trolls in the comments of his memes by egging on users that appear to believe his rhetoric. With the same tactics he uses in all of his writing, Jeffrey berates those that completely miss the joke in order to try and get more of a rise out of them. This cycle of satire and trolling is what fuels CC4T. The loyal fanbase even imitates the way Jeffrey writes by trolling newcomers in the exact same manner. CC4T’s community of satire-enthusiasts and trolls both enjoy Jeffrey’s memes as well as the naive ignorance of some individuals that take them seriously.
I was fortunate to be able to shoot off some questions to Jeffrey shortly before he was hit with a thirty day ban on Facebook for publishing an offensive “stop the war on Christmas” meme.
What made you start the Facebook page “Christian Conservatives For Trump”?
I found myself arguing quite often on local news station Facebook pages with conservatives. I was shocked by some of the things that they actually believed, like PizzaGate, or that Fema Death Camps existed, or that George Soros owned Snopes, just to name a few. To take out my frustrations, I figured I would have a little fun with it, so I created [the] website Mr-Conservative.com and the Facebook page, “Christian Conservatives for Trump,” both of which are run by a fictitious character named Jeffrey along with his friend “Billy” who helps with the technical aspects of running the page and website. For example, Billy helped Jeffrey get back on AOL by replacing his 56k modem which was hit by lightning.
Who is “Jeffery”? What’s his background?
Jeffrey was created based on a number of things: a redneck that I once saw on television who was defending his Confederate flag combined with some of the personalities of people that I had argued with in the past on Facebook. The spelling errors I make are a language in itself; much of it derived from real conversations I had online with some conservatives. My behavior online is based on the interactions I have had with them as well, for instance, when someone provides me with factual information that can be proven, I completely disregard it and tell them to do their “research.”
Your page is listed under “comedy club” and “just for fun,” but you’ve been banned in the past; why is this?
Satire is a funny thing, aside from being “Ha-Ha” funny, it’s funny in that a large percentage of people simply do not understand it. Based on my current rating on Facebook, I have over 1,200 ratings with five stars and over 600 with only one star. Using that figure, it comes out to 1/3rd of the people who have accessed my page and rated it are unable to grasp the concept of satire. These people are passionate on both sides of the table; they either completely love it or outright hate it. The page is absurdly over the top (the spelling, the beliefs, etc.) and it amazes me every time that I make a post the sheer number of people who take it seriously. Things like a photo of half of a pecan accompanied by text stating how it’s an aborted baby’s lungs and that Planned Parenthood is selling baby parts. That specific post got something like 40,000 comments and more than 17,000 shares. Many believed that I was a right-winger trying to fool people by pretending they were real lungs in order to really stop abortions. Thousands of others simply argued whether or not it was a cashew or a pecan. Many people get extremely upset at my over-the-top views [resort] to name calling, swearing, and even physical threats.
What’s your message? Why do you do this and what do you hope to get out of it?
Some people just need to sit back and take a breath. They’re wound so tightly that they are unable to grasp the hilarity of a situation.
Does Facebook have a censorship problem? How do you get around this?
Yes, as I mentioned, many people take this so seriously that they constantly report me. My spam report (which also contains the number of other negative reports for things like hatred, etc.) can range from between 10 reports a day up to 600 reports a day, depending on the post that I make. I’ve shared many images/memes of someone with convincing grotesque Halloween makeup on their face and I have stated that their injury came from a “pot bong explosion.” Those images were reported hundreds of times until finally Facebook censored the image. As far as working around it, there is not much that can be done. Reports are reviewed by Facebook employees and with a third of the people not understanding satire it’s more of a luck-of-the-draw situation. If I get an employee that “gets” it, I am safe; otherwise, it’s a ban. My last ban was for 30 days. The irony of it all is that probably 60 percent of the people are liberals, with only about 40 percent being conservative. None of this is to say that all conservatives are this way; it’s just that a small sect of them have such ridiculous beliefs that it’s impossible for some people to distinguish between their beliefs and satire. I tried to make a Facebook page and website that were a polar opposite of what I had going on (atheist liberals), but the problem there was trying to come up with things that were as outlandish as what some conservatives believe.
Poe’s Law, an adage of the internet age, asserts that it is impossible to create a parody of fringe views and fundamentalism without clear signs of authorial intent. Since all online comments are purely text-based, it is truly challenging to assess the candor of an individual’s statement. Although CC4T is intended to humorously mock certain beliefs and sections of the political spectrum, Jeffrey has been inadvertently punished for going against Facebook’s Policies and Community Standards, a body of rules and guidelines cited to remove content that is deemed inappropriate by Facebook admins. The individual community standards themselves are clear cut (e.g. “We remove credible threats to public figures, as well as hate speech directed at them – just as we do for private individuals”). But when they are used to remove satirical content with no further explanation other than “We removed the post below because it doesn’t follow the Facebook Community Standards,” and no option to contact anyone at Facebook to resolve the issue, Jeffrey has to pay the price of being censored. For other pages affiliated to CC4T, such as Christians For Michele Bachmann and Christians Against Science, being placed in “Facebook Jail” is a common result of testing Facebook’s policies and guidelines by sharing material that may be difficult to interpret. Even with descriptors denoting a comedic and satiric disposition are not enough to keep pages like CC4T safe from a Facebook time-out.
The communities that gather around CC4T are responsible for the page’s steady growth in recent months. Memorable posts that use images of women doing yoga to justify resisting Islam and therefore Sharia Law (or how Jeffrey deliberately misspells it, “Shakira Law”) and disfigured faces to preach an anti-marijuana (“the pot”) agenda draw both fans of comedy and satire as well as Facebook users that take the memes hook, line, and sinker as being serious messages. These two antithetical groups tag their friends to bring reinforcements and invariably go to text-based war with each other. The resulting equilibrium is fascinating; it is a unique cathartic release during a strange time of political upheaval in the U.S.
This article originally appeared in the print edition of our January 2018, issue.