Travis M Andrews
THE WASHINGTON POST – Topher’s first TikTok to come close to a million views arrived last November. He’s wiping down his kitchen counter while wearing a short-sleeve hoodie. Eminem’s hit single Without Me plays in the background, and the words “Veterans: ‘I’m so glad I got out of the military’” pop up.
He then glances at the television, where United States (US) President Donald Trump is announcing the creation of the Space Force. The frame changes, and suddenly Topher is clad in a stylish jean vest over a purple hoodie, wearing what looks like Geordi La Forge’s VISOR from Star Trek. This Air Force vet is ready to serve – again.
The TikTok contains many of the elements that have made Topher one of the leading conservative voices on the platform. Though his videos are a bit more pointed these days, he hasn’t stopped using comedy, hip-hop and affability to share his opinions with his more than 620,000 followers.
In his view, “journalism has not been dependable in a very long time … mainstream media won’t tell if they’re conservatives or if they’re left-wing. They say they’re neutral, but they’re not neutral at all,” he said by phone in his deep baritone, from his home in Philadelphia, Miss., where he lives with his wife, Alicia, and daughters Myra-Jaze and Bobbi-Kristina. “Before I give my opinion, I don’t say it’s truth. I say it’s my opinion.”
All the better if he connects with young people who might be too afraid to express their own beliefs, including other Black conservatives.
“It’s okay to think differently. It’s okay to go against the herd mentality,” Topher said. “The biggest accomplishment I’ve felt is when young people come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you’ve encouraged me or emboldened me to go out here and speak on my beliefs. You’ve made it okay for me to go and say, ‘No, I think abortion is wrong.’ “
He didn’t set out to be a political activist. He isn’t even particularly comfortable with the word, saying, “I don’t like titles.”
Topher, 29, grew up as Christopher Townsend in the Mississippi Delta, before spending six years in the US Air Force, where he worked as a cryptologic language analyst until April 2017. He’s been performing hip-hop for two decades, in songs like Twenty Twenty, which repeats “Donald Trump ‘20” in the chorus. But as a conservative Black man, the search for an accepting home where he could share his viewpoints took a bit longer.
“I was being vocal (about politics) on Facebook, and of course Facebook is where all your family and friends are,” Topher said. “When I spoke on issues, I got a lot of backlash. In order to keep the peace, I stopped voicing my opinions there.”
Topher first learned of TikTok at the online video convention VidCon in 2019, but he wasn’t particularly interested. “I saw a lot of the youth doing weird stuff, like dancing and stopping. I was like, ‘What in the heck is going on?’ “But he was eventually persuaded when rapper Andy Mineo launched a contest on TikTok to create a video for one of Mineo’s songs.
“I was just going to use the green screen and make comical videos,” he said of his plans on the platform after that. But after posting funny shorts for a while, he came upon a video showing “very biased viewpoints” about Trump’s views on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programme (SNAP) benefits. He felt the need to respond “and offer a counter talking point”.
“The feedback I got was different from what I was used to,” he said. “It was very positive. People were agreeing with me. I was like, ‘Wait a minute! Man, this is nice. I can express myself without being called a traitor.’ “
He continued creating political TikToks, often with a news article in the background, as he scrolls through it and highlights details he finds relevant. He began donning his signature red hoodie and Santa hat, which he later retired in favour of a red beanie.
Things really picked up in February, when a loose collective of creators called the Conservative Hype House asked him to join. They bounce ideas off each other and take turns posting videos to the 1.5 million followers of the TikTok handle.
The account was created by Cam Higby, who keeps an eye out for like-minded influencers. He invited Pastor Greg Locke after Locke had Roger Stone come to his church in Mt Juliet, Tennessee, to share his story of converting to Christianity. It’s a symbiotic setup, with the house getting exposed to each influencer’s followers and vice versa.
“I would do specific videos for them, and we would tag me, and I would get a few hundred people to jump over to my page,” Locke said.
A Republican political technologist who worked as the Digital Director on Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign Eric Wilson credits the CHH’s popularity to the members “figuring out a way to engage the users in the vernacular of TikTok” and applying the “vocabulary, formats and techniques to their unique perspectives”.
When Topher joined, he was already popular, but his follower count has jumped more than threefold since then. An assist from actor Terry Crews didn’t hurt.
Topher sees some of himself in Crews, who received backlash after tweeting, “Defeating White supremacy without White people creates Black supremacy. Equality is the truth. Like it or not, we are all in this together.”
Topher feels similarly and feels an obligation to speak out.
“I know right now it’s not cool to be White and say Black Lives Matter (BLM) isn’t doing the best. If you even hint at Black Lives Matter not being a good organisation, you’re (labelled) a racist,” he said. “I’m not saying I’m being used as a token, but I do have the freedom to dissent on a topic that a lot of people can lose their jobs over.”
So Topher wrote a song titled Crews, in which he raps:
“I feel like Terry Crews
“I became a target all simply for my views.
“I’m willing to go and die on this hill … Terry Crews.
“I questioned BLM and that’s all it took.
“Now they call me Uncle Tom, you ever read the book?
“I’m seeing Black supremacy everywhere I look.
“Exposed their whole agenda dawg and I left ‘em shook”.
Crews posted his own TikTok featuring the song, which has gotten more than four million views.
Then, come October, the Veterans for Trump Coalition invited Topher to ride the Team Trump tour bus and campaign around Las Vegas with American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp and Republican National Committee Co-Chairman Tommy Hicks.
“Topher is my favourite political TikToker,” said Tyler Bluntman, another member of the CHH. “He is calm. He is collected. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him get super triggered when people disagree with him or say foul thing to him. You’ve got to understand, when you are a Black man on the conservative side of politics, we get called all kind of crazy names … crazy racial slurs.”
Bluntman knew Topher through social media but didn’t join TikTok until April, at his convincing. He’s since racked up more than 300,000 followers. In some ways, Bluntman is the yang to Topher’s ying.
Where Topher speaks calmly, Bluntman’s confrontational. Where Topher seems more traditional, the latter is quick to express his love of recreational drug. So naturally, as the laws of the Internet dictate, the two recently announced that they’ll be co-hosting a podcast.
Topher said he’s heard from fans on both sides of the aisle. Even when people disagree with him, they seem to generally like him – which certainly isn’t the case for all conservative pundits. He credits that to his inspiration, the late Ravi Zacharias, an evangelical Christian and best-selling author of religious books.
“I loved the way he presented information, even on difficult topics. Even in debates, you didn’t feel any animosity. You didn’t feel like he was trying to control your mind. You just really felt like he was genuine and wanted you to know something that might change your life, so he was more willing to listen,” said Topher, who’s trying to follow in his footsteps.
“I’m not shouting at people. I’m not Alex Jones-ing people,” he said. “I try to keep it honest.”