On the surface, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is about as innocent as you can get. It's a cartoon television show based on a line of children's toys centered on a group of magical horses. But on the internet, nothing is sacred. Since its inception in 2010, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has had an adult following. Those fans are mostly white, mostly male, and often identified as bronies. According to The Atlantic, within that subculture, Nazis and white supremacists have existed for years and members of the community are using the current moment to push out the extremists.
How do racists end up a small but prominent portion of a subculture surrounding a kid's cartoon series? To oversimplify the situation, the brony community is split into two factions. There are the adults who truly, genuinely enjoy the My Little Pony universe and are invested in the show and its characters. And the edgelords who take pleasure in the irony of being grown adult men who are into a children's show that is considered stereotypically "girly." Within the latter group exists white nationalists and other extremists. This should not come as a surprise, given the white male-dominated Brony faction's origins on 4chan.
According to The Atlantic, there have been racist pockets of the community since the very beginning, and they often show up in online message boards and imageboards dedicated to the show. One of the most popular destinations for these parts of the fandom is Derpibooru, an imageboard where users can upload My Little Pony fanart. While much of the content on the site is benign, it’s easy to fall into rabbit holes of darker content created by the edgier parts of the community. Graphic, violent images abound on the platform and can be surfaced with a quick search. Images of the ponies being killed, mutilated, abused, and even lynched can be found. Often, the characters being attacked in these images are meant to represent marginalized communities.
Following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and the nationwide uprising against police brutality and racial injustice, the My Little Pony fanart community has seen an influx of content commenting on the topic. Plenty of the images express support for the Black community and other marginalized groups that are disproportionately subject to police violence. Often on those images, the comment section is inundated with hateful messages.
This behavior isn’t new, but the community is finally starting to push back against it. Moderators have taken to more strictly regulating the boards, now quickly removing some content and comments that express racist views. That has, in turn, led to new resolve from white supremacists within the community. There has been no shortage of racist imagery uploaded to these sites from white nationalists and Nazis. They often depict black ponies as violent rioters and spout conspiracies about racial equality movements like Black Lives Matter.
This sort of racism and extremism is not limited to the My Little Pony community. Plenty of groups online have dealt with their own form of this problem. In 2016, the sci-fi community was faced with an alt-right uprising. After years of complaining that the world of science fiction writing had become too politicized and populated with a "social justice" ideology that promoted diversity within the field, factions of conservatives and far-right extremists decided to hijack the Hugo Awards, one of the biggest annual honors within the industry. The groups, calling themselves the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies respectively, tried to rig the voting to push authors that had politics that more closely aligned with theirs, even though the actual quality of the writing was widely panned. The end result was voters choosing "no award" rather than gifting Puppy-backed authors an honor that they didn't deserve.
These attempted takeovers from extremists happen regularly in all sorts of niche communities. The smaller the group, the easier it is for white nationalists, racists, and extremists to target and attempt to upend them with propaganda that often comes in the form of shitposting. A quick, cursory search through r/HobbyDrama, a subreddit that documents drama happening in small online groups, produces dozens of examples of Nazi propaganda permeating communities. In one example, a user lays out how Neo-Nazis invaded a Discord server dedicated to bird watching and started making radical, discriminatory posts calling for genocide because it is "good for birds." In another, the background of a prominent Star Wars costume maker is revealed, and it turns out the creator is an avowed Nazi who regularly posted antisemitic content and pushed far-right conspiracy theories.
These racists and extremists often survive within these communities by couching their radicalism in edgy humor. This allows some who are more permissive to simply dismiss the content as an attempt at off-color jokes rather than a person's genuine beliefs. This is actually a documented strategy used by alt-right and white supremacist groups to deliver their messages and propaganda without being banned or removed from communities.
This type of behavior has been allowed to exist online, often ostensibly guided by the principles of free speech. But it's becoming clear to some members of these niche communities that the content they are seeing is not just edgy humor. It is actual white supremacist propaganda. Those members are starting to take a stand, realizing that allowing the content to remain runs the risk of vulnerable people in the community falling prey to the extremist ideologies being shared. They'll likely need a little bit more than the magical power of friendship if it's a fight that they're going to win.