Deplatforming “the People”: Media Populism, Racial Capitalism, and the Regulation of Online Reactionary Networks

Van Schenck, Reed
Media, Culture & Society

This essay contributes to a materialist theory of media populism by criticizing America First, an influential U.S. American reactionary live-stream hosted by Nicholas J. Fuentes, and its Groyper fans. Fuentes has expanded his online presence despite the deplatforming, or administrative suspension, of his social media accounts on account of his antisemitic, antiblack, and sexist hate speech. To understand the ideological ramifications of deplatforming populist influencers, I read clips from America First into the economic and infrastructural context of U.S. far-right subcultures. I argue that media studies must attend to bourgeois digital platform management as a technology which reproduces the undemocratic conditions of racial capitalism. The deplatforming of Fuentes facilitates the ascent of reactionary populism by reinforcing possessive individualism, or a white masculine fantasy of unmediated access to the public. “The people” of populism functions as media whose lost presence naturalizes sovereign violence against marginalized people. Media populism illustrates the need for to move beyond the dichotomy of “mainstream” versus “fringe” platforms to consider the material affinity of bourgeois digital publics and white nationalist provocation.