- This is a weird problem to have for a show that’s all about friendship and acceptance.
Remember ten years ago when My Little Pony suddenly gathered a following of thousands of grown, adult people? If you don’t, then here’s a newsflash for you – it happened.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is the third TV iteration of the popular toy and media franchise. The cartoon started airing in 2010, and quickly attracted an enormous fandom of not only children but also adults.
Now, a decade later, the show’s popularity has waned, but it still has a surprisingly active online community. These My Little Pony fans – or “bronies,” as they call themselves – share their love for the show mostly through online discussions and by creating fan media, like art and music.
But recently this community has had to struggle with a surprising problem. Namely, they’re trying to decide what they should do about their small but vocal minority of white supremacists and straight-up neo-Nazis.
Let’s just take a step back here and try to process this. My Little Pony – a media franchise primarily aimed at little girls whose message revolves entirely around “let’s all be friends” – has an issue with neo-Nazi fans.
Guess it’s true: 2020 never ended and we’re living in some kind of a twisted parody of reality now.
From the Depths of the Internet
So how did this all come pass? To understand that, we have to take a step back and look to the fandom’s origins.
The whole brony phenomenon was born on the internet. After the cartoon started airing 11 years ago, some grown-up cartoon fans had a realization that “hey, this show’s actually pretty good.”
They then got online and started spreading the word about the new My Little Pony on forums and chat platforms. Little by little, the rainbow-colored miniature horses started gathering a following.
One of the more significant platforms in this early phase was the notorious discussion board 4chan. Pony conversations started taking up so much space across the entire website that 4chan’s moderators at the time even opened a new sub-forum to contain the messages.
Now, if you recognize the name 4chan, there are basically two options – you’re either a user yourself, or you’ve heard about it on the news. The website has made headlines as a supposed breeding ground of white supremacists and other alt-right nutjobs.
While the effects of the website are often exaggerated and sensationalist, 4chan’s largely unmoderated nature does let users post all manners of unsavory material. This includes fringe and extreme political views from both sides, above, and below the aisle.
There are also dozens, if not more, websites that function identically to 4chan, but are much smaller and have even less moderation. The same pony invasion that happened on 4chan also took place on them.
So, there we are. The seedy corners of the internet were suddenly flooded with pastel ponies and their hordes of fans.
It’s no wonder, then, that some white supremacists also got swept up in the deluge. Even if the show espouses a message that’s pretty much in direct opposition to their beliefs.
Hate is Magic
The white supremacist ideas within the My Little Pony fandom are mostly expressed through fan art. This takes many forms, from artist putting words in the mouths of the cartoon’s main characters to them coming up with their own pastel Nazi ponies.
(Author’s note: never figured I’d end up writing that combination of words.)
Much of the fandom’s art is collected on a website called Derpibooru. The site even has a “racism” tag that at the time of writing has 705 entries.
The site’s functionality allows users to hide this tag if they don’t have to see such content. But it also works the other way around, and anyone could specifically search for the tag if they wanted to.
“Derpibooru became a playground for the right-wing posters who could upload their art,” Blake Henry, a musician and My Little Pony fan known online as Wootmaster, told The Atlantic.
We should probably note that white supremacist content on Derpibooru makes up a tiny fraction of all art uploaded to the site. But it definitely exists.
It’s not all about art, though. There also exist multiple blogs (which we won’t name for common decency) themed around My Little Pony that espouse similar hateful ideologies.
In extreme cases, the fandom collides with real-world violence. The perpetrator of the Indianapolis FedEx shooting in April 2021 killed nine people – and was a My Little Pony fan.
“I hope that I can be with [the My Little Pony character] Applejack in the afterlife, my life has no meaning without her,” the shooter reportedly posted on Facebook before the act.
Now, this person was clearly unhinged in several ways. But the police did find white supremacist materials on his computer.
Will They or Won’t They?
And what’s the fandom itself doing about this? Historically, the bronies have basically fallen into two camps.
The first one has been of the opinion that free speech is free speech. If anyone gets a chuckle out of a racist pony, it’s all good.
The second camp has simply chosen to look away and try to pretend the Nazi ponies don’t exist.
Some users on sites as Derpibooru have started pushing back, though. At times, this push has taken the form of more politically charged fan art, such as that supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
But it seems such works have been quickly downvoted to oblivion, to borrow online vernacular. Some users lash at these drawings, saying that you shouldn’t bring politics into ponies. That’s despite themselves favoriting pictures of ponies wearing MAGA hats.
Derpibooru itself has tried to moderate racist imagery. The site has published a message supporting BLM protests, and taken down pictures mocking the movement – although only momentarily.
It seems the bronies have to make up their own minds about what they want to do. Will they follow freedom of speech even to its most extreme, or will they put their hoof down and say neigh to hate?