Rob Rousseau is an emerging young star in America’s most popular sport, getting people to be extremely mad online. The freelance writer, who has contributed to VICE Sports, got his first taste of major-league trolling earlier this year, when he insisted (facetitiously) on Twitter that the “AR” in “AR-15” stands for “assault rifle,” infuriating gun rights folks who knew it actually stands for “Armalite,” the gun’s manufacturer. (He wrote later that this was partially to point out that semantics, not gun violence, was what upset these people.)
But that paled in comparison to his most recent viral tweet, which after being posted a week ago led to several days of rage from too many right-wing outlets to count:
The high-water mark probably came when Fox and Friends, the president’s favourite TV program, featured the tweet and even brought in Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, who has had to deal with the gang in his jurisdiction, to explain that MS-13 was in fact bad. "MS-13's motto: Kill, rape, control... That's what you want dating your daughter?" he said.
Fox and Friends, like some other outlets including Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire, didn’t make it clear that Rousseau’s tweet was obviously a hyperbolic joke spurred by Donald Trump’s calling MS-13 members “animals.” Fox News’s online operation did better at reporting on the context of the tweet in an article whose headline announced, “Writer who declared he’d rather his daughter date an MS-13 member than a Republican turns out to be a troll”—as if that hadn’t been clear from the get-go.
But did anyone actually take the tweet at face value, or was it just a convenient way to advance the idea that the left (usually represented by whatever extremely online writer tweets something over the top) is a death cult that is going to destroy America? Or does no one even believe that idea and is this whole outrage machine just a way to prop up extremely flimsy business models that rely on emotion-driven Facebook traffic? I decided to ask Rosseau about his experience as a cog in that outrage machine:
VICE: Who was the person who you think boosted the tweet and made it viral?
Rob Rousseau: The Daily Wire did a piece on it, and Paul Joseph Watson, fucking Prison Planet, the InfoWars guy, he did a Facebook post on it that went hugely viral on conservative grandma Facebook. That’s when I started getting an absolute torrent of non-stop abuse. People were messaging me and in some cases threatening to murder me and my family—which is ironic considering I compared Republicans to a violent gang of criminals.
Did any of that actually scare you? Or were you able to brush it off?
I don’t care at all if a jillion geriatric Fox News consumers are mad at me. It’s a little more concerning when they take it to the next level and say they’ll track you down and find you. But I’m pathologically unable to give these people an iota of satisfaction, of letting them know it got to me. It is a little intense though.
I hate explaining jokes, but here we are doing a whole interview about a joke so I have to ask, can you break down what inspired it and why you thought it was funny?
Of course there was the controversy over Donald Trump calling people coming into the country “animals” and the conservative backlash to that. So I wanted to do a joke that played on that. The weird thing about it was that all the right-wing guys that get mad at me over this don’t seem to get the concept of what a joke is, or how hyperbolic statements can make some other point. A lot of these people who were mad at me seemed to think that the point of the joke was that I like MS-13, not that Republicans, with the policies they advocate, are way more actively harmful than this violent gang that they’re outraged about.
Do you think they actually don’t understand that it was a joke, or do you think they understand it was a joke but are using it as a sort of tool to tell their followers, “Liberals are bad people”?
The whole conservative media machine is built on ginning up this kind of phony outrage against people and I do recognize that. So maybe the people involved in Fox & Friends did realize it was a joke but didn’t acknowledge it.
Were there any positive consequences to this? Have you seen other media outlets reaching out to you? Has this been good for your brand?
Yeah. The piece that Fox News put out on their website had a bit of Fox News right-wing editorial in it but overall was pretty representative of what I do online, and it has attracted a ton of attention from people who thought it was funny. At the same time, it did prove an interesting point, which is that these are the same people who are going on about how liberals are such sensitive snowflakes who are constantly offended by everything—yet they themselves are looking for anything to get outraged over.
Do you think that if a conservative made a similar joke, would there be similar outrage on the left?
Like, if a conservative said, “I’d rather my daughter date a KKK member than a Democrat”? I’m sure many conservatives do say that. I wouldn’t be surprised at all—these are the same people who go on and on about how awful the Democrats are.
I ask because there are some left-wing people who say that Republicans are the party of death, talking about how many people their healthcare policies kill and so on. So a portion of conservatives might not get the joke for that reason, because there are sometimes semi-serious points made about Republicans killing people.
It is true that it’s not MS-13 launching imperialist wars killing millions of people. It’s not MS-13 fighting every day to take away healthcare from people. It’s not MS-13 that’s leading us toward this impending apocalyptic climate crisis that’s going to kill and displace millions of people. Yes, MS-13’s a violent gang, but in terms of actual body count there’s no comparison.
Is this something you’re going to do again? You probably got a lot of followers out of this, are you going to troll conservatives more?
I think so. I’m going to continue to talk about the things I believe in humourous ways. It would be incredibly stupid of them to continue to take what I say 100 percent seriously. If they want to continue to do that and get mad at me, I’m fine with. I’m extremely clear about what I’m doing on the internet, and if they don’t recognize that, that’s on them.
I mean, it’s probably good for the Daily Wire—they get to do the outrage post off the back of your trolling. Everyone gets a little boost, right?
That’s how conservative media works, that’s how it’s worked for generations. If they want to use me as the evil lib scapegoat to scare their weird reactionary followers about my devious, Satan-worshipping ways, I’m fine with it. As long as no one tries to shoot me over it.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.