October 19, 2022 - 10:15am

Recently, Daily Wire columnist Matt Walsh threw some fuel onto a simmering intra-Right-wing cultural conflict by referring to anime — animation produced in Japan that often deals with science-fiction or fantasy themes — as “satanic.” “I have no argument for why it’s satanic,” he explained, “it just seems that way to me.”

Setting aside the truthfulness of this claim, Walsh’s provocation speaks to a major tension in American Right-wing politics that has existed at least since the “alt-Right” emerged as a small but influential force behind Donald Trump’s 2016 victory. Reared in the aesthetics of video games and extremely online culture, many on the alt-Right used images derived from manga (Japanese comics) and anime to create compelling “God Emperor Trump” meme images. Indeed, one of the movement’s catchphrases — “Trump will make anime real” — began its life as a part of a 2012 meme in support of Right-libertarian American politician Ron Paul.

This is an interesting fissure, and one that is directly related to other emerging divisions between cultural conservatives and the alt-Right regarding anime and other pop cultural products that appear overly violent, sexually titillating, or outright heretical. For example, former manosphere influencer and alt-Right figure Mike Cernovich — now a mainstream Right-wing figure — has distanced himself from the movement’s aesthetics, stating that anime, horror movies, and heavy metal “open demonic portals via a spirit of fear” (even music with lyrics, he claims, can “hypnotise” the listener into endorsing progressive views). 

Dozens, if not hundreds, of articles have attempted to explain the nexus between Right-wing politics and anime, just as a link was sought between fascism and heavy metal. The fact that this discussion is couched in language not dissimilar to the “satanic panic” of the 1980s warrants notice as the broader Trump-versus-Ron DeSantis primary challenge appears to be heating up as conservative Catholics and Evangelicals find themselves choosing between the two. Will Trump be painted as the candidate of “godless anime” by certain critics?

These divisions in the Republican party are growing. From vaccination status to gay rights to the wall between church and state, the gulf between cultural conservatives, Right-liberals, and anti-woke dissidents is widening. Unlike the Left, which is riven by internal divisions, the Right thrives on comity, even in its alt-Right or “post-Left” spheres where remaining “frens” has been considered a priority. 

But now these rifts have spilled out into the open, with conservative commentator Pedro Gonzales admonishing certain sections of the Right that “whines about moral panic” of the sort Matt Walsh has engaged in. Given that the soul of the nation and its commitment to family values is rotting away, Gonzales warns, there is no space to compromise with ‘barstool’ conservatives. Anime, as one cause among many for this supposed rot, represents contested territory between these factions. 

These divisions will become more, not less, significant in the wake of America’s 2022 midterm elections. Regardless of whether the Republican Party achieves major legislative and gubernatorial gains — the likelier outcome — or stumbles badly, order will need to be reestablished. As a result, some people within the alt-Right — those who helped propel Trump to victory in 2016 — may find themselves on the outside looking in.

Oliver Bateman is a historian and journalist based in Pittsburgh. He blogs, vlogs, and podcasts at his Substack, Oliver Bateman Does the Work