Most mornings for the past five years, 62-year-old Jeffrey Guterman has woken up in his Florida home, made coffee in his kitchen, and sat down at his computer to tweet out taunts to the president.
“You excreted on democracy,” he wrote recently.
“You are lower than slime,” read another sharp-witted missive.
But that beloved morning ritual ended on January 8, when Twitter suspended Donald Trump’s account — effectively nuking not only the president’s 56,000 tweets, but the platform on which a generation of quick-twitch reply-guys built their names and audiences.
Say what you will about Trump’s reply-guys, a well-known (if much-ridiculed) breed. Since the earliest days of Trump’s campaign, a devoted retinue of both critics and fans have fought to respond first to the president’s every tweet — a manic endeavor requiring, at minimum, a good Wi-Fi connection, a lot of free time, and some patience for caps-locked rants and misspellings.
Many of Trump’s early reply-guys eventually burned out or changed tactics; others have long since been booted from Twitter themselves. But dozens of otherwise ordinary anti-Trumpers, like Guterman, still draw hundreds of thousands of followers to their online tilts, and they’re facing an unclear future without their archnemesis. “I guess I’ll go read a book,” tweeted Jeff Tiedrich, perhaps the king of the reply-guys and the publisher of a leftist politics blog, in the hours after Trump’s suspension.
“It’s a new era for Twitter now,” Guterman said. “I don’t think there’s any need anymore for me to do this.”
A semi-retired mental health counselor with loosely centrist politics and an avuncular air, Guterman was the rare nontechie to join Twitter at its genesis: He opened his account in 2006 after reading an article about Obvious Corp., its corporate parent. Initially, Guterman tweeted about subjects related to his profession: addiction, depression, self-help, the occasional quote from Sigmund Freud. But as Trump’s campaign gained steam in late 2014 and 2015, Guterman became increasingly vocal about his politics.
Tweeting vitriol at Trump was “therapeutic,” he said. (“Yes, that’s my profession — and I would use that word.”) He also quickly learned, as BuzzFeed put it in 2017, that responding quickly, if not quippily, to the president’s tweets ranked among the fastest “growth hacks” on Twitter.
Millions of people read Trump’s posts each day; score in the top few @-replies, said Angela Belcamino, another regular replier with 162,000 followers, and you’re guaranteed a built-in audience many, many times the size whatever your schoolyard insults or Biden TikToks could otherwise muster. Landing in that prime real estate is also fairly straightforward, if competitive: Aspirants need only turn on notifications for Trump’s tweets, and pounce with a rebuttal the instant their phone pings them.
“The goal is to reach the most people and make the most impact,” said Belcamino, an actress who once appeared briefly in Orange Is the New Black. But the ultimate objective isn’t clout, she added, quite sincerely — it’s substantive civic engagement.
These days, Belcamino and her cohort are engaging, substantively, with other blue-checks: Twitter-savvy Democrats, like Andrew Yang or AOC, and the obvious Republican targets. You’ll find familiar handles — @DevinCow, @goldengateblond, @johnpavlovitz — in the @-replies of Georgia Rep. Marjorie Greene and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. Jeremy Newberger, a documentary filmmaker with more than 82,000 followers and the rare distinction of writing generally noncringey replies, said he anticipates tweeting for “at least six more months” at the “leftovers and lickspittles” of the Trump administration.
Meanwhile, stalwarts like Andy Ostroy, a former marketing executive with more than 85,000 followers, have begun deploying the hashtag #Trump in lieu of The Donald’s handle. The reach of these tweets isn’t nearly as long as their hundreds of replies to Trump, but at this point the reply-guys already have an established audience.
“Trump probably fueled a lot of momentum for a lot of people early on, but the medium has outgrown him,” Ostroy said. “Now I see him as just one source of my attention.”
Some reply-guys are also enjoying their time away from the Twitter limelight: the sudden sanity of their notifications, the new time for other endeavors. Belcamino has launched an OnlyFans page and is working on her memoirs. (Her OnlyFans description: “That girl from Twitter.”)
“I keep getting asked this question by friends: ‘What are you going to do when he’s gone?’”
Ultimately, there was little glory in tweeting at Trump, Newberger said. For all his followers, he’s never made any money off his account and his wife rolls her eyes when he talks about it. Worse, Newberger recently called the FBI when a user who took issue with his @-replies to Trump tweeted threats to Newberger’s wife and children.
“I keep getting asked this question by friends: ‘What are you going to do when he’s gone, are you sad?’” Newberger said. “I am not sad. I am really not sad. Please let me stress this.”
Guterman, for his part, has already pivoted to other satellites in Trump’s political orbit: His son Donald Jr., for one. His recent tweets to Don Jr. include badly photoshopped pictures of Trump with a dog collar around his neck and Sharpies up his nose.
But Guterman is looking forward to getting back to his other hobbies, such as posting historical photos from newspaper archives at 30- or 60-minute intervals. In recent months, tweeting at Trump had become a “sideline” to this other work, he said, which spares him the stress and agita of fielding his own replies from Trump supporters. Trump’s suspension also, in some ways, saves him from himself: In the five years he’s tweeted regularly at Trump, Guterman has twice been visited by the Secret Service.
“I might occasionally send a reply to anybody who tolerates this conduct,” Guterman said. “But I think really the interest for me and the need has sort of worn off, in terms of directly attracting Trump. And I’m appreciating the quiet.”