Johnson’s move comes days after fellow Disney director James Gunn was fired from his post as director of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. Die-hard conservatives Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec had unearthed a series of questionable tweets of Gunn's from years ago that included rape and pedophilia jokes. As the A.V. Club notes, conservative and alt-right personalities were “invigorated” by Disney’s response and have zeroed in on the tweets of other comedians like Michael Ian Black, Sarah Silverman, and Patton Oswalt. Rick and Morty creator Dan Harmon deleted his Twitter altogether after footage of Harmon sexually assaulting a baby doll during a skit was unearthed in this way.
It’s not immediately clear why Johnson decided to remove years of content from his Twitter. The move makes it easy to assume that he, like Gunn, had problematic tweets somewhere in there, and the sweep was a preemptive defensive move. Alternatively, The Mary Sue posits it could have been a blanket direct order from Disney to all of its employees as a different kind of preemptive defensive.
Johnson directly replied to The Mary Sue denying this theory and casting doubt on the former as well, saying there was neither an “official directive” nor had he ever “tweeted anything that bad,” in his own opinion. However, he argued that the content was “nine years of stuff written largely off the cuff” that he assumed wouldn’t last. “If trolls scrutinizing it for ammunition is the new normal, this seems like a ‘why not?’ move,” he added.
No official directive at all, and I don’t think I’ve ever tweeted anything that bad. But it’s nine years of stuff written largely off the cuff as ephemera, if trolls scrutinizing it for ammunition is the new normal, this seems like a “why not?” move.— Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) July 25, 2018
Johnson is no stranger to the alt-right and general internet trolls. The Last Jedi received strong critical praise and demonstrated a strong box office but had a mixed audience response largely due to a vocal group of die-hard Star Wars fans who took issue with his more progressive take on the fantasy film. An alt-right group even took responsibility for tanking The Last Jedi’s Rotten Tomatoes score on the basis that it was “too feminist.” Yet another group, this time men’s rights activists, tried editing out all the women from the movie, but they got it handed right back to them both by the film’s cast and by actual women who created their own all-female cut.