Rep. Gosar anime video highlights ties to the online right

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Republican Congressman Paul Gosar (AZ) ignited national fury this week after tweeting a video portraying himself as an anime character killing other prominent lawmakers. But while Democrats are now calling for his expulsion from Congress and his accounts to be banned, the incident has drawn new attention to Gosar’s long association with far-right meme culture.

Gosar first posted the problematic video parodying the opening credits of the popular anime series “Attack on Titan” on Sunday. The video — captioned “Any anime fans out there?” — depicts Gosar as one of the show’s main characters killing Democratic politicians like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and President Joe Biden by superimposing their faces onto those belonging to other characters.

Responding to the video on Monday, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that “a creepy member I work with who fundraises for Neo-Nazi groups shared a fantasy video of him killing me,” likely referring to a summer fundraiser linked to far-right influencer Nicholas Fuentes. She continued, “He’ll face no consequences,” because House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-CA) “cheers him on with no excuses.”

The video was posted onto Gosar’s official congressional Twitter account and was viewed over 3 million times before it was removed. It’s unclear if Twitter or Gosar’s office removed the video as of publication. On Monday, Twitter placed a “public interest notice” over the tweet, saying that it violated the company’s policies against hateful conduct. Instagram also placed a “sensitive content” warning on the video, which was also posted to Gosar’s official account on that platform.

Democratic lawmakers are already demanding that Gosar face additional consequences for the video. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called on McCarthy to “join in condemning this horrific video and call on the Ethics Committee and law enforcement to investigate” in a Tuesday tweet.

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said at a press conference Tuesday, “This should not be happening, and we should be condemning it.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, McCarthy has yet to respond to Pelosi’s statements or those from the White House. His office did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Verge regarding the video and Gosar’s future standing in the Republican caucus.

But Gosar’s video is just the latest example of a long-standing interest in the meme culture that’s popular in far-right internet communities and image boards.

In October, Gosar tweeted a now-deleted meme video depicting the “Doomer guy,” a sad-looking cartoon image of a man, in front of a series of articles with some headlines related to transgender people. At the end of the video, the “America First” logo is displayed over Gosar’s head, a reference to a popular white nationalist movement.

In August, he tweeted an image of himself in front of cacti, all with green lines edited in a reference to a red-pill pro-masculinity meme. In 2019, Gosar’s account tweeted out a thread that spelled out “Epstein didn’t kill himself” with the first two letters in a series of 22 tweets.

This kind of content espouses a kind of rhetoric more often found in image boards than the halls of Congress, experts say. “This is incredibly intentional work,” said Jamie Cohen, assistant professor in media studies at Queens College. “This is by design, and it is internet fluency that is not your typical internet fluency from a member of Congress. This is a far-right influence being broadcast over a public speaker because he’s a public figure.”

Gosar’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding who created the videos published on his Twitter feed. But in a now-deleted quote-tweet from his personal account, Gosar thanked his “team” for their creativity in editing the video.

Gosar’s digital director, Jessica Lycos, responded to the backlash in a statement on Monday, saying, “We made an anime video.” Lycos continued, “Everyone needs to relax. The left don’t get meme culture. They have no joy. They are not the future. It’s a cartoon.”

As pressure continued to mount on Gosar in response to the video, his office put out a lengthy statement Tuesday night calling the backlash a “gross mischaracterization” of a symbolized “battled for the soul of America when Congress takes up Mr. Biden’s $4 trillion spending bill that includes amnesty for millions of illegal aliens.” Gosar continued, “I do not espouse violence or harm towards any member of Congress or Mr. Biden.”

But experts argue that Gosar’s flirtation with right-wing meme culture is still harmful, normalizing extreme content even as it stays within the bounds of what’s acceptable. “When we normalize this type of media, we extend to the outward edges of what can be presented online,” Cohen said. “If he’s not held accountable, the next thing will be edgier and become acceptable.”

“He’s getting very good at expanding the borderlands,” Cohen said.

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