U.S. President Donald Trump's recent outburst of tweets daring four Democratic members of Congress to "go back" to their countries of origin have been roundly condemned as racist by the Democrats and even some members of his own party.
Trump attacked the lawmakers by charging that they "hate our country," and should leave if they are unhappy. Three of the women were born in the U.S. The fourth - Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota - was born in Somalia but immigrated to the U.S. as a child and became a U.S. citizen. All four are among Trump's fiercest critics and have called for his impeachment.
On social media and the outer fringes of the internet, however, white nationalists and other extremists are applauding Trump's searing remarks, with some saying they validated their decision to vote for him in the 2016 presidential election.
Andrew Anglin, founder of the popular right-wing website The Daily Stormer, heaped praise on Trump.
"This is the kind of WHITE NATIONALISM we elected him for," Anglin wrote on his website.
Anglin, who like many within the white nationalist movement has vacillated in his support for Trump, suggested that the president's tweets were aimed at solidifying support from his base ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
"This is what elected Trump, and this is what will always be the best way for him to gain support," Anglin wrote. The controversial neo-Nazi was ordered by a judge on Monday to pay more than $14 million to a woman for subjecting her to an anti-Semitic "troll storm."
On Twitter, where he goes by Ludovici, Anglin then tweeted polls asking readers whether Omar is an American citizen and should "go back to the country where she came from."
Banned white extremists
The comments paled by comparison to what transpired outside the traditional social media spotlight. On Telegram and other platforms where white extremists banned from Twitter and Facebook congregate, the reaction was even more severe.
On GoyTalk, a right-wing podcast, the hosts greeted the comments as a return to form on the part of Trump.
"Trump's racist again! He won me over,"one of the hosts said. To which a co-host said, "He'll win me over when he actually strangles her [Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, one of the four progressive lawmakers] on stage."
Joanna Mendelson, a senior investigator with the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish advocacy organization, said "the violent rhetoric encouraging strangulation takes the racist and xenophobic sentiments to another level."
Megan Squire, a computer scientist at Elon University in North Carolina who studies the "extremist of the extreme" on the internet, said she was surprised by her findings.
"They never stop surprising me with just how outlandish their comments are," Squire said.
Trump's first three tweets about the lawmakers were among his most divisive, generating more than half a million likes. While likes on Twitter don't necessarily suggest approval, "that's a big number," Squire said.
Even for a president known for making all manner of racially insensitive and other offensive remarks, Trump's comments stood out for their naked racism and xenophobia, recalling some of the darker chapters of American history during which immigrants were subjected to similar "go back to your country" slurs.
House Democrats approved a resolution late Tuesday that condemns Trump's "racist remarks that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color."
Trump had urged Republicans in Congress to reject the resolution, writing on Twitter that his comments "were NOT racist." All but four Republican members of the House voted against the Resolution. Republican Congressman Dan Meuser called it "a ridiculous slander."
The apparent support for Trump's utterings masks deep fissures that have emerged within the American white movement over the president and his policies. While some groups such as patriot militias and religious conservatives have not wavered in their support, more extremist groups such as neo-Nazi organizations have distanced themselves from Trump, angry over his support for Israel and failure to implement tough immigration policies.
"They're glad Trump said it, but they're still mad at him for other things," Squire said. "They're mad at him about Israel because, of course, they're anti-Semitic. They're mad at him about immigration, that he hasn't fulfilled his campaign promises, so they feel let down."
Echoing the white nationalists' mixed feelings toward Trump, Patrick Casey, leader of the white supremacist group the American Identity Movement, tweeted Monday: "My reservations about the administration remain, but Trump escalating his attacks on these four horrid women - women who simply do not belong in America, let alone in our government - is more than a little satisfying."
Mendelson said Casey's tweet encapsulates the changed relationship between white supremacists and Trump.
"The white supremacist movement is by no means monolithic in their views of Trump," Mendelson said. "In 2016, many embraced President Trump as their knight in shining armor, who was essentially carrying the mantle of their white supremacist ideals. But over time, many have been greatly disenchanted with his execution of these ideals, whether it's building the border wall, or whether it's his alliances with Israel and Jews."
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.