Donald Trump and Sudanese warlord Hemedti: The conspiracy no one wanted






Khalid Albaih




As a political cartoonist deeply entrenched in the world of social media, I’ve witnessed these platforms undergo a remarkable transformation over the years.

I’ve watched these platforms transform into arenas where attention often triumphs over truth. In this digital theatre, two seemingly disparate yet interconnected narratives have emerged: the astonishing ascent of Donald Trump in the US and Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti, in Sudan.

Despite hailing from vastly different backgrounds and corners of the globe, the experiences of Trump and Hemedti’s supporters unveil a disconcerting undercurrent of power dynamics and the manipulation of facts.

Even with the strong-rooted system in the US, Trump’s influence combined with misinformation led to an unprecedented attack by armed Trump supporters on American democracy events on January 6, 2022, who stormed the US Capitol.

Now, imagine if Trump had a private army, and in the absence of a robust system in Sudan, the answer is Hemedti, who has either paid or manipulated people to join his army or root for him as his forces ran rampant in Sudan.

Looking back at both social media and offline interactions during this war, I thought of a remarkable parallel between Trump and Hemedti enthusiasts, remembering a friendship from my time as the artist in residence of the city of Copenhagen in 2018.

I met a mixed-race, interesting musician who harboured an interest in what many would dismiss as “conspiracy theories.” Some of these “theories” were as real as the Tuskegee experiment that began in 1932 — a study that neglected to provide effective care as African American men suffered from untreated syphilis, and Assange’s revelations through WikiLeaks, which exposed the real face of America to the world.

These “conspiracy theories” were a great discussion for those who were politically active but sounded like far-fetched crazy talk to most people. He also raised valid concerns about government surveillance, as exposed by Edward Snowden. We were getting along great! And then he went on to mention how he believes the world leaders are an exclusive boys’ club… I nodded in agreement, “and that’s why they hate Trump,” he added, sceptical and surprised; I still nodded in interest, wondering what would come next.

Since then, I witnessed my musician friend’s transformation into an ardent Trump supporter. Daily, he flooded my timeline and DMs with a relentless stream of content from questionable websites, which was taking the conspiracy theory game to new heights at the time, from Pizza Gate to QAnon!

His transformation wasn’t unique; similar shifts in political leanings have occurred in different countries around the same time, with WhatsApp in India spreading disinformation and the same in Myanmar, which led to the genocide of the Rohingya Muslims. Or in Saudi Arabia, where an army of Twitter trolls had orders to attack anyone who dared criticise the kingdom’s leaders, such as dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the columnist for The Washington Post. From then on social media has become a weapon that is actively being used against us while we are busy trying to figure out how it works.

The spider’s web
Despite engaging in months of back-and-forth discussions, my attempts to illustrate how he was embracing the very forces that popularised the term “post-truth” proved fruitless. Research supports the notion that “once formed, impressions are remarkably perseverant.”

This phenomenon wasn’t confined to my musician friend alone; it manifested not just in the absurd responses of Trump supporters on late-night talk show skits, where hosts interviewed rally attendees, but also on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, where outlandish posts thrived, and comments ran rampant.

As COVID-19 swept across the globe, my musician friend escalated from sharing anti-vaxxer videos to accusing me of being a Soros agent since I am, being an Open Society fellow.

Standing by Trump as he denied any knowledge of our old friend Assange. He also made excuses for the Trump and Netanyahu bromance and the controversial move of the US embassy to Jerusalem, all while still expressing antisemitic sentiments. To say we were both confused would be a severe understatement. But I definitely lost a friend.

Several years later, amid the 2018 revolution in Sudan and following the outbreak of war in Khartoum in April 2023, a similar evolution within the Trump fan base echoed loudly.

This time, it was Sudanese childhood friends who transformed into hardcore Hemedti fans, constantly opposing those who transformed into hardcore Sudanese army fans. For the army fans, it was a simple and natural response, mainly standing behind the only institution left in the country or seeking revenge after Hemedti’s forces forced them out of their houses and stole their life savings.

With Hemedti’s fans, it was different. I believe, for some, it followed the same path as my musician friend from Copenhagen. Those with an interest in conspiracies, often more than theories, evolved into teams.

Some blindly followed for tribal reasons, while others, out of their hatred of the old regime which stood for “the man” believed Hemedti was fighting for democracy, conveniently overlooking the Janjaweed militia’s alleged rape videos and testimonies, the rampant theft of houses, banks, and cars in Khartoum over the past six months.

Some believed that we needed to wipe the slate clean and start over, even when faced with the undeniable fact that Hemedti had been part of this very army for 20 years, as corrupt and brutal as it was. He was the army’s partner in the genocide in Darfur and a sit-in massacre, as well as the coup against democracy. No amount of reason or fact-checking could sway their ever-evolving beliefs, as research has shown. I lost some friends.

Are fans of Donald Trump and Hemedti the same?
Two distinct worlds, two distinct narratives, yet Trump and Hemedti, with the help of professionals and filter bubbles and echo chambers created by international players and the greed of social media tycoons, leveraged a common playbook.

They positioned themselves as valiant warriors against an establishment, with the allure of fighting ‘the man’ even though they were the embodiment of the man they were fighting, the elite pretending to fight the elite.

That’s why the worst and most dangerous kind of fans, found among the ranks of Hemedti, the Sudanese army, Trump, and even in the global autocrats’ following, are those privileged few who’ve got nothing to lose and possess no genuine stake in the triumph of democracy. They are the worst kind, the bully’s sidekick, always rooting for the winner, striving to maintain their entrenched privileges, referred to in Sudanese culture as “the men of every government.”

In this landscape, as we’ve witnessed the stubbornness of those who refuse to change their minds or see the other side, perhaps I too find myself ensnared in this cycle. It’s a sobering realisation that amid all this chaos, I too may have lost sight of the potential for genuine dialogue and common ground.

The lines between fact and fiction have blurred, and we must all grapple with our own biases and preconceptions.

Radical ideas for change have become nearly unthinkable. Politics becomes a mere game, not because parties are vastly different, but because it’s akin to supporting opposing sports teams.

In this age of polarised narratives and digital echo chambers, it’s a sobering realisation that even those who strive for impartiality can fall prey to the allure of rigid beliefs.

As we confront this shared challenge, the path to a more informed and harmonious society lies in our collective efforts to bridge the gaps and restore the fading lines between fact and fiction.

Losing friends who think differently widens the gap, and the only winners from these divisions are the Hemedti and Trumps of the world. We need a public square, democratised social media, and an updated journalism structure to rebuild a more united and informed society.

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