Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was having an unusual day on the Trump Internet, in that most of the president’s most ardent supporters didn’t seem to hate his guts. Rubio, insultingly nicknamed “Little Marco” during the 2016 presidential campaign by then-candidate Donald Trump, was questioning former FBI director James B. Comey during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday morning. Rubio probed the former FBI director on his behavior with the president, before dropping the line that rose through the Trump Internet ranks as a major victory for its side: “Ever wonder why,” he asked, “the only thing that’s never been leaked is the fact that the president was not personally under investigation?”
“BOOM!” read a headline on the pro-Trump blog, Gateway Pundit.
Well Marco Rubio just ended this whole thing.
— Joe Biggs (@Rambobiggs) June 8, 2017
The message coming from the pro-Trump Internet as the hearing unfolded was simple: Trump and his supporters were winning again. The losers were all of their enemies: the Democratic Party, the mainstream media and Comey.
Donald Trump Jr., who live-tweeted the whole hearing, claimed victory, cheered on by supporters who turned to him and other celebrities in the Trump Internet for insight on how to read the hearings. It was, as most would suspect, quite different from how those outside that particular bubble might read the events of the day.
Loretta Lynch#MSM but especially NYT
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) June 8, 2017
Toward the top of r/The_Donald, a popular Reddit board devoted to supporting President Trump, was a memed version of a photo of Comey watchers sitting in a Brooklyn bar, staring intently and silently at the television. The assumption on r/The_Donald was: These silent observers must be disappointed with what Comey was saying. It was a “liberal tears” meme in the making, without visible tears. “It really is just like election night all over again,” the top comment on the photo read. “LMAO this is too much winning.”
Don’t think Liberals have had a worse day since November 8 2016…and January 20 2017…and…oh wait…every day sucks if you’re a liberal!
— Joey Mannarino (@Realjmannarino) June 8, 2017
Comey’s assessment of a New York Times report detailing alleged contact between Trump campaign aides and Russian officials (“In the main, it was not true”) became one of the most important things Comey said during the entire hearing on the Trump Internet. Even though his testimony also confirmed several other anonymously sourced stories about the Trump administration, that’s not really going to matter on the Trump Internet. What’s more important is that Comey left room to question any mainstream story based on a leak — and how that can be applied retroactively and going forward.
It’s certainly true that Comey had challenging words for the media. In particular, he said:
“The challenge — and I’m not picking on reporters — about writing stories about classified information is the people talking about it often don’t really know what’s going on, and those of us who know what’s going on are not talking about it. And we don’t call the press to say, “Hey, you got that thing wrong about this sensitive topic.” We just have to leave it there.”
For figures like Mike Cernovich, who have built careers as pro-Trump forces facing off against the mainstream press, this statement was another victory. “The fake news media was cucked by Comey. That was the headline of the day,” Cernovich said in a Periscope live stream shortly after the hearing ended. Others, like Bill Mitchell (whose Twitter feed is hugely influential on the Trump Internet), also felt as if Comey’s testimony vindicated what they’d been saying all along:
So Comey just proved that 99.9% of stories based upon unnamed sources in the NYTimes and WAPO were complete bullsh*t.
— Bill Mitchell (@mitchellvii) June 8, 2017
When we reached out to Mitchell to see whether he’d talk with us a bit about how he felt the hearing went, he declined, writing, “Too many fake leaks out of Washington Post. I can no longer support your publication with interviews.”
Another important moment for the Trump Internet was the discussion of Comey’s conversation with former attorney general Loretta E. Lynch, which the Trump-supporting blog Gateway Pundit headlined as, “COMEY ADMITS DEM CORRUPTION.” The story detailed Comey’s description of Lynch’s directive that he refer to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server as a “matter,” a much softer term than the more accurate “probe” or “investigation.” Although much of the Trump Internet treated this statement as new information that would no doubt be buried by the mainstream press, it was actually first reported by the New York Times in April.
This statement also fed into the narrative that developed on Infowars’s live stream of the hearing, anchored by David Knight. When Comey testified about his discussions of the president’s requests for “loyalty,” Knight told his viewers that the subtext of the conversation was really about the Clintons. “There’s a long public record as to who [Comey] is loyal to, that he was a patron of the Clintons,” Knight said. At one point, Alex Jones himself popped into the feed’s commentary to say that Comey was a “political hack” who was working with the Democrats to “overthrow this country for the globalists.”
Another focus point on the Trump Internet: the fact that Comey openly discussed authorizing the release of his notes on meetings with the president to the press. Although, as my colleague Philip Bump explained, there’s little to suggest that Comey actually did anything illegal, the Trump Internet responded by suggesting that the former FBI director should be arrested for leaking.
Some of the more gleeful exchanges among Trump supporters had to do with Comey’s character as a human being. On the Trump Internet, his testimony proved that he was basically a “cuck,” a popular right-wing insult used mainly on guys that implies weakness and femininity. Jack Posobiec, a well-known figure among Trump supporters online, tweeted out a video of Comey testifying that replaced the former FBI director’s words with audio from Kathy Griffin’s news conference. “He broke me, he broke me, he broke me,” Comey appeared to say, in Griffin’s voice. It’s quickly becoming one of the best-loved memes from the hearing among Trump supporters.
On the Trump Internet, the hearing was read as the start of something big. But that “something” had nothing to do with Russia.