An SPLC analysis of Twitter activity in 2016 found that extremists drove the messaging behind Donald Trump's promise to build a wall on the border with Mexico.
During his presidential announcement speech last year, Donald J. Trump introduced one of his campaigns flagship promises: to build a wall between the United States and Mexico.
“I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me,” he told a crowd gathered at Trump Tower in New York City. “I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
Particularly on social media, that campaign promise became one of the most often repeated of the candidate’s vitriolic catchphrases. A Southern Poverty Law Center analysis of extremist content on Twitter has documented 55,451 uses of the hashtag in 2016.
Of those tweets, 60% (33,005) were unoriginal, or retweeted, content. This trend held true for other popular hashtags derived from the Trump campaign’s at times conspiratorial messaging –– hashtags such as #hillaryshealth and #draintheswamp.
Usage of #buildthewall, possibly because of its central focus in the Trump campaign’s messaging, was more steady than other hashtags investigated. Of the top ten hashtags used in tandem with #buildthewall, three were explicitly racist: #whitegenocide, #waronwhites, and #antiwhite (sixth, eighth, and ninth, respectively) – more than any of the other hashtags that were investigated.
Notably, despite the volume of usage of #buildthewall, the campaign never trended among the identified community of extremists and users using extremist rhetoric. This indicates that the hashtag had sustained popularity, but usage never spiked like with #hillaryshealth and #draintheswamp. This is supported by the omnipresence of “the wall” during Trump’s presidential campaign.
More explicitly racist accounts –– four out of the top ten, in fact –– used #buildthewall in the period studied than other hashtags, such as #hillaryshealth or #DrainTheswamp. Two of that top ten appear to have been suspended (@WLMM12 and @jack_jdcagle). Users @WhiteStorm14ws, @NorvinHobbsWS, and @RainbowCh1ldren – the fifth, sixth, and tenth most frequent users among identified extremists – all outwardly promote white supremacist causes in their account handles or descriptions. Both @WhiteStorm14ws and @NorvinHobbsWS’s account descriptions feature #whitegenocide and appear to be run by the same individual. @RainbowCh1ldren, who is also a frequent user of #whitegenocide, has an account description that reads, “Fewer and fewer white in our lovely new rainbow nations.” The account also regularly promotes The Mantra, a 241-word white supremacist attack on multiculturalism penned by Robert Whitaker –– and spread by propaganda created by Tim Murdoch of White Rabbit Radio –– that advocates for ethnostates.
The top ten accounts in the extremist community most mentioned in conjunction with #buildthewall are much closer to the mainstream than those promoting it most heavily. Of the ten most mentioned accounts, only two are overtly white supremacist and both have been suspended: @Ricky_Vaughn99 and @WLMM12.
This is the third installment in an ongoing series analyzing Twitter hashtags during the latter quarter of the 2016 Presidential election.