The horrifying world of Ben Garrison, Trump’s cartoon propagandist
Gather now, fellow Americans, and gaze upon the works of Ben Garrison, alt-right cartoonist, propagandist, and cognitive dissident par excellence! Journey into the mind of a die-hard Trump supporter, and despair.
Especially famous on Reddit’s satirical /r/forwardsfromgrandma, which mocks cringeworthy Facebook memes and e-mail forwards from both overly liberal and overly conservative elders, Ben Garrison’s cartoonist career is the Trump voter archetype. A middle aged voter, born in an age where the system was not particularly trustworthy, he has evolved from jaded skeptic to conspiratorial lizardman hunter to white nationalist propagandist. His journey is that of millions of people who make up the middle band of the Trumpian Republican Party.
Before we go any further, we need to dispel the likely Ben Garrison image searches which paint him as an overt anti-Semite. These acts of vandalism were intended to expose Garrison’s white supremacist leanings and discredit him; instead, they turned him into a alt-right martyr and made him go viral. Liberals, take note! If your side really is the more moral one, you goddamn better act like it.
It’s not that Garrison is particularly noteworthy: most of his cartoons seem to be shared ironically by giggling liberals, who just can’t believe what they’re reading. In that he shares similarities with The Onion’s satirical Kelly editorial cartoons — the rants of a middle aged white male upset that he is both aging and increasingly being told what to do by people who are not traditional white males. But while Kelly will digress into pet bugaboos and project them onto politics — as he did recently with a cartoon pining for a “Trekkie” to be represented at the Oscars — Garrison is a Trumpian political creature through and through, on message, on time, and under budget (presumably because no one is paying him for this).
Garrison is also deadly serious. Kelly earns chuckles from Onion echo chamber readers who see him as everything annoying about their cranky father, uncle, or grandfather — a relatable, if disagreeable, chump sitting at a lonely desk. Garrison is a White House communications job away from Der Sturmer.
As liberals have spent years smugly — and yes, cleverly — retooling Garrison’s name to better illuminate his wretched worldview (personal favorite: “Ben ‘If they’re brown, mow ’em down’ Garrison”), Garrison’s beliefs have taken over the White House and the American nuclear arsenal.
The Ron Paul libertarian
In August 2009, Garrison began producing cartoons for his personal website in reaction to the bank bailouts and early Obama economic policies. In his own words on his FAQ:
Ben began drawing cartoons in 2009 to protest the central banker bailout, bloated government and the slide toward tyranny. Ben’s cartoons have been seen by millions of people around the word. Ben is not part of the mainstream media and editors do not tell him what he can and cannot draw.
Hear that, Internet? The Lizard people and their Chemtrails don’t tell this cartoonist not to notice that quantitative easing is just a fancy way of admitting governments invent money whenever they like!
Ben began his works as a typical rural Tea Party activist, outraged that the government would provide billions to banks but nothing to the mainstreet screwed over by them. In the first few years of the Obama era, this was the great refrain from the Right: the explosion of public debt, combined with Obama’s Big Government mentality, would produce an American fascism. We saw it in Glenn Beck’s tears, in Bill O’Reilly’s rants, in Fox News’ skyrocketing ratings. It was greased by GOP operatives who believed, correctly as it’s turned out, that they needed only to enrage their base to win elections.
Seen above is Garrison’s first posting on his personal website. It is not all that unreasonable in its central message: the piggy central bankers hoarding humanity’s wealth is a common complaint of both Left and Right.
For many Tea Partiers who would become Trumpistas, the bailouts represented yet another betrayal by a system that had left behind their coal mines, their factories, their small towns, and their ways of life. It was of course lost on most middle-aged Tea Party folk that they could have prevented this by never voting for Ronald Reagan, whose neoliberalism gutted them. But Garrison was not one of them.
The Lizardman Hunter
As seen above in a 2014 cartoon, Garrison understood that the system was very much stacked against everyone but the two parties’ special interests. Take a good look at those bricks. “Militarized police?” Isn’t that a “Black Lives Matter” complaint? The “War on Terror?” What’s that hippie nonsense doing in there? “Crony capitalism?” Was he listening to an Elizabeth Warren podcast?
He was not totally wrong that neoliberalism trapped all Americans into a narrow set of two choices, neither of whom would, pre-Trump, let you opt out of bank bailouts, free trade, the War on Drugs or the War on Terror.
But while he diagnosed some aspects of the neoliberal disease, he couldn’t help but slip into madness. This is where the Trumpista worldview diverges most deeply with the rest of the body politic.
“Chemtrails” stacks above “Flouride in the water”, while “Agenda 21” holds up a wall with “CFR,” “GMO Foods,” and “TBTF banks”. And what the hell are the “Bilderberg Agenda” and “Cloward-Piven Strategy?” All are the building blocks of the alt-right conspiracy world — which by 2014 had become cornerstones of much of the Republican base.
While Garrison might reasonably complain about the distribution of wealth and the fallacies of the 2008 Financial Bailout, he also peddled the Infowars, Zero Hedge, Breitbart conspiracy nonsense that conflated the neoliberal consensus with outright conspiracy. Why do people die of cancer? Not because of a neoliberal healthcare system that has turned a public service into a for-profit business, but because the government sprays Chemtrails on GOP voters! Why are our choices constricted by two parties? Not a word about the increasingly obsolete Electoral College or the Constitution that demands it; rather, it’s nonsense about obscure academics doing obscure things.
In other words, while Garrison believed the world was broken in many of the same ways as the Left, he disagreed almost entirely as to why. For Garrison, it was a shadow conspiracy of elites using mind control, 50 year old academic theory, and 25 year old UN panels to corral hardworking middle aged Americans like himself into increasingly elaborate forms of social control.
Nearly all this idiocy can be found on Alex Jones’ Infowars, the Bible of the lunatic alt-right. As the media landscape fragmented into echo chambers, Garrison’s work began to represent not just the angry mutterings of a Montantan whose aging imposed upon him an increasing obsession with his own mythical past, but the worldview of a government-in-waiting.
And so this August 2016 cartoon should come as no surprise. It is the first original Garrison cartoon on his site — he had a guest cartoonist produce equally-pro Trump drivel that summer. It coincides with the emergence of the Trumpian movement: one in which Trumpistas delighted in the cries of those who were offended by Trump’s badly-disciplined rhetoric, beginning with Jeb Bush and the GOP elite. For them, “political correctness” was merely code for “lying,” a language of smothering what they considered common sense. Since common sense is neither common nor always sensible, the inevitable fallacies of the Trumpian movement would emerge over time.
Already we had the brickwork of the Garrison-demonstrated, Trumpian alt-right worldview: a place where neoliberalism was rightfully assailed, but in which the proffered replacement was deeply wrong. Garrison was correct in noting that the banks got out of the 2008 crisis too easily; he was wrong to believe it was because of fluoride, Agenda 21, and chemtrails. It was like a cancer patient rightly accepting their diagnosis and then blaming not the toxic waste in their drinking supply but the cell phone towers along the highway. One explanation is certain and the other is just compelling, but entirely unsupported, conspiracy.
Trump represented not a clean break with a billioinaire-favoring past, but an evolution of it: rather than taxing the rich to help restore the middle class, Trump offered to offend the media. For Garrison and those like him, shut out of the mainstream process for their whole lives, that was all they needed.
What is so horrifying about Garrison’s work is that it represents a coherent — though almost completely wrong — approach to the world. It takes reasonable complaints and inflates them to insanity; it espouses nihilism as though it were a cleansing rather than total fucking anarchy. It is a man who sees termites and decides to burn down his entire neighborhood.
Exactly what is the extent of this nihilism? If Trump were impeached, or under even greater siege than he is today, how it would respond? I’m sure Ben Garrison will tell us.
As for both Garrison and Trump, let us hope that they follow in the footsteps of Percy Byshee Shelly’s classical poem:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains.