Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar is known for his appeals and hat-tips to extremists, from hanging out with openly white nationalist bloggers to advertising his attendance at a far-right event that was to take place on Adolf Hitler's birthday.
But even some of his supporters appeared surprised at a post Gosar made Tuesday on Gab and Wednesday on Twitter. Gosar posted a meme called “Dark MAGA” that has begun trending among far-right spaces, which contained an apparent reference to the Holocaust that’s popular among neo-Nazis.
The post shows Gosar’s face with a dark red filter. The text reads: “Remember when our government sent planes to Afghanistan and brought over 100,000 Afghans in less than a week? We have in the range of up to 40 million illegal aliens in our country. They can be deported by planes, trains and buses. We could easily deport 6 million each year.”
After the Arizona Mirror inquired about the meme
, it was taken down from Twitter and Gab, and the reference to 6 million was removed in a subsequent repost, though a spokesperson for Gosar denied that the post was intended to reference Dark MAGA.
Rory McShane, a consultant for Gosar, wrote to Phoenix New Times
that Gosar’s team had been unaware of Dark MAGA until media reports. “Suggesting that because a tweet uses a red sepia filter, the Congressman must agree with everyone else on the internet who posts a picture with a red sepia tone is ridiculous,” McShane wrote.
Experts say Paul Gosar's post is a dog whistle for white nationalists.
Daniel Grober is an independent researcher who studies far-right movements online. He and a co-author, Hampton Stall, published a preliminary study
into Dark MAGA in early April. A sample they took of the 4,000 images they scraped showed that more than 10 percent included Nazi symbols. Many more included images of former president Donald Trump.
The researchers wrote that, generally, the Dark MAGA format “delights in and celebrates violence and the terror that fascist organizing might inspire,” and noted that it was growing traction among conservative influencers. Others have described it as a more hard line, violent rebranding of Trump.
Gosar’s post sent off alarm bells for researchers like Grober who have watched Dark MAGA evolve.
“I would think it would be difficult not to see this as an homage, at least, to the Dark MAGA meme format,” Grober said, noting that Gosar’s team was clearly “very online and aware.”
Gosar has served as a Republican congressman in Arizona since 2011, representing parts of Maricopa County and much of rural western Arizona. He has a track record of posting far-right memes
, most famously the video he tweeted of himself murdering Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for which he was censured by colleagues.
For far-right adherents online, the most recent reference was also clear. The post trended on Twitter and garnered many comments while it was online, with supporters thrilled that Gosar had posted the meme. Many remarks contained the hashtag #DarkMAGA.
Gosar’s far-right fans also noticed the “6 million” figure in the post, which Gosar used to describe how many immigrants the United States could, supposedly, deport in a year. That number is often taken as a clear dog whistle by Holocaust denialists and others on the far right.
It might be "possible" that the 6 million reference was coincidence, Grober said. "But in the general zeitgeist, especially around those individuals that Congressman Gosar is known to interact with and appeal to, that's a very specific number," Grober stated.
Six million is the number of Jewish people who were systematically murdered in Hitler's death camps during the Holocaust. Some on the far-right have seized on this number and frequently use it in memes supporting or making light of Hitler and the Holocaust.
"If you were in a neo-Nazi space online, that's what the number would mean to you,” Grober said.
Many who viewed Gosar’s post, judging by the comments, interpreted the post as such. Gosar also posted his meme on April 27, when Holocaust Remembrance Day
began at sunset and continued through the next day.
After the post was taken down on social media, it was reposted with a new number in place of the 6 million — instead, 115,000 a week (which would still add up to nearly 6 million in a year).
Grober noted that the post likely introduced many people to the Dark MAGA format, thus fanning the flames of the white nationalist communities who promote it. Grober said half of the responses to Gosar he saw in his analysis of the post were along the lines of, “Oh, that’s cool; what’s this?”
“It’s about timing and it’s about exposure,” Grober said.
Gosar may have deleted the post — but in terms of exposure, the damage is done.