Did The Trailer for Tucker Carlson’s Documentary Reference a Nazi Meme Co-opted From a Bigfoot Writer?
On Friday, April 15, Tucker Carlson’s websites released a trailer for The End of Men, an episode in the upcoming episode of Tucker Carlson Originals produced by Fox News. Following a viral tweet by Nikki McCan Ramirez of Media Matters, the montage ending the clip was quickly the subject of widespread mockery for, among other things, its perceived homoerotic undertones and the appearance of “red light therapy” on a man’s genitals.
But many in tune with extreme far-right propaganda flagged far more problematic elements. Some noticed that imagery of muscular men as the core subject matter to a film was also done of Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl. As someone who spends considerable time going through modern neo-Nazi internet memes, I can tell you with confidence that it’s also a really, really common theme in modern neo-Nazi propaganda.
Other elements in the trailer were pointed out to be indicative of right-wing manosphere trends. Imagery of milking a cow (apparently without a bucket), consuming raw egg, and lifting weights outside are all common imagery in modern fascist movements that operate using propaganda saturated with imagery of a romanticized past. However, most of these are also not uncommon outside of the far-right, and it’s not like Rocky Balboa got the idea to drink raw eggs in his workouts from browsing Nazi meme pages. Separately, the themes aren’t necessarily exclusive to the political movements that have an unhealthy fixation on them.
However, the script narrated in the clip that Ramirez tweeted sure sounded a lot like a phrase that is established to be co-opted by fascists. The on-screen text in the full trailer that appears before the narration even more so.
MADE STRONG MEN
MADE GOOD TIMES
MADE WEAK MEN
MADE HARD TIMES
IN THE CURRENT YEAR
THE CYCLE CONTINUES”
Specifically, it sounds a lot like a phrase known from a popular meme favoured by the far-right:
“Hard Times Create Strong Men,
Strong Men Create Good Times,
Good Times Create Weak Men,
Weak Men Create Hard Times”
So, how did a phrase co-opted by Nazis end up being used seemingly unironically in a Fox News trailer? Like with many viral internet trends, and especially those born from online far-right activists, finding the answer might not be possible, but at least the origins of the phrase aren’t a secret.
Hard Times Create Big Feet
George Michael Hopf is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and one author that certainly doesn’t fit into a genre trap.
His best known writing is the dystopian fiction series The New World. In interviews, he describes themes tackled in his novels not as though they are distant concepts, but rather informed anxieties about modern America. Following The New World Hopf co-authored two books detailing alleged encounters with cryptids, starting with Beyond The Fray: Bigfoot in 2019. “Beyond The Fray”, itself a reference to “iNTO THE FRAY [sic]”, Hopf’s cryptozoology podcast, would later become the namesake of Hopf’s publishing house that centred on books about cryptids and paranormal encounters.
Neither cryptid hunting nor post-apocalyptic fiction is unique to the last decade. Neither, for that matter, is exploring post-apocalyptic narratives. It’s not like Red Dawn was made in a bubble. Fiction is a reflection of reality, and sometimes that reality includes fears about Nuclear war, fears about attacks of infrastructure, and anxiety about surviving it all afterwards.
But, some of Hopf’s work had the unfortunate displeasure of being published alongside a time when the internet’s alt-right and extreme-right wings were developing into their own tangible political movements. Among those developments came right-wing fascination with accelerationism, a broad term for strategies that push force actions to bring about societal collapse.
Following the momentum of the alt-right’s push for a Trump presidency in 2015 — not long enough after the events of Gamergate for the movement to consume itself — the mid to late 2010s saw a variety of far-right ideologies adopt narratives of said impending collapse. Among the more palatable movements to anti-authoritarian Americans was the Boogaloo movement, now the punchline to jokes in extreme-right wing spaces where it’s treated as a pipeline from Libertarianism to Fascism. At the forefront of the neo-Nazi Iron March forums was the resurgence of Siege, the writings of now-convicted sex offender James Mason, who argued for accelerationist strategies in the white power movement in the 1980s, before accelerationism itself even came to be a term. In 2021, Canada listed Mason as a terrorist entity. He is the only American individual to be designated as such.
As the shitposting legions of the modern far-right met with old neo-Nazi ideas, the long appropriated concept of the Kali Yuga also returned in far-right spaces, including on Iron March.
So, with extremely online far-right movements growing an interest in both fascist interpretations of the Kali Yuga and American accelerationist narratives, it makes sense that someone with an informed interest might take interest in one particular line of text from the 2016 novel Those Who Remain, the conclusion to Hopf’s The New World series.
Indeed it was in Those Who Remain that Hopf wrote the now-infamous quote “Hard Times Create Strong Men, etc.” (you get the idea).
And in 2016, memes of the quote made the rounds of the internet’s far-right.
Tracing The Cycle
Like almost any internet meme with staying power, “Hard times create strong men etc.” memes, which have since grown into their own genre, aren’t easy to trace. In fact, the communal meme encyclopedia website Know Your Meme’s entry on the meme doesn’t even mention Those Who Remain.
In November of 2021, Joe Rogan even shared a meme with a direct quotation of the line and a caption describing his interpretation of the Kali Yuga. What made Rogan’s invocation of a concept well-documented Nazi favourite more worrying is that when he did, it was in a popular format of the meme that labels the top right-corner of a political axis, the corner in which fascism resides, as “Strong Men”.
Though the Kali Yuga has been endlessly re-contextualized in far-right movements, it is important to note that the concept itself does not belong to fascism. However, when it’s mentioned only in reference to the “strong men” in the cycle that the quote from The New World describes as being authoritarian right-wing, it’s hard to separate the phrase from its appropriation by the far-right.
Likewise, the concept proposed in the quote is not specific to Hopf or the extremists who appropriate his language. In 2020, historian Bret Devereaux referenced the quote in a piece for Foreign Policy. In it, he coined the rationale behind the quote “the Fremen Mirage” and pointed to Dune as an example of a work of fiction that assumes the myth as reality. However, use of the whole quote in memetic format is now tangentially associated with the movements who use it. Devereaux links to a Google Image Search of the phrase to demonstrate the genre of memes that have stemmed from the phrase. Though Google shows fringe spaces far less than major ones, it doesn’t take long to find explicitly hateful memes and memes that use overt elements of fashwave, a style of design initially created to accompany electronic Nazi music that has since expanded to incorporate more serious, less ironic imagery.
Weak Memes Create Strong Narratives
So, as best as any meme can be tracked, it seems like the meme about a supposed cycle went through a cycle of its own. From influences in post-apocalyptic fiction, to a fascist birth, to mainstream meme relevance, Hard Times, Strong Men finally settled into a solidified space in the internet’s right-wing manosphere. So solidified, that even after making to it mega-influencer Joe Rogan, one of the largest media personalities in the United States, it still manages to soar even higher. It’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever know how exactly the meme came to be used by Fox News, but one thing’s for sure: After a stamp of approval from Tucker Carlson’s brand, it’s safe to say the meme’s bubble has long burst.
An email was sent to G. Michael Hopf for questions about the legacy of Hard times, Strong Men memes. I received no response.