The brony subculture is about as niche as they come, born in internet forums in the early 2010s, an era when hyper-specific interests were the organizing principle of social media. Even so, bronies have long captured the world’s attention. They hold well-attended fan conventions; they’ve been the stars of multiple documentaries. Many of the show’s adult fans genuinely enjoy My Little Pony and the wholesome escapism it provides. Others, however, delight in the irony of their fandom. To them, it’s edgy and provocative to be an adult obsessed with cartoon ponies.
That’s where the Nazis come in. My Little Pony fans primarily express their enthusiasm for the show by sharing their own cartoon drawings of the main characters, which they usually upload to the image boards. The most popular of these sites is called Derpibooru, a combination of a character’s name and a common term for image boards. Derpibooru hosts millions of My Little Pony artworks, plenty of which are simple tributes to magic, friendship, and magical friendship. But a substantial number of them are extremely, jarringly violent. An image that I recently viewed on the site depicts a My Little Pony character presiding over three lynchings and one beheading of cartoons drawn to represent various marginalized groups. Derpibooru even lists “racist” as a searchable category, and more than 900 pieces of art are tagged as such.
For years, this has been the status quo in the world of My Little Pony. In stated deference to principles of “free speech” and openness on the internet, the presence of self-described Nazis within a fandom that idolizes compassion-oriented cartoon characters has become a coolly accepted fact. The community has sorted itself largely into two camps: those who think anything goes as long as someone finds it funny, and those who would rather ignore toxic elements than admit that not everything is perfect.