Some might be old enough to remember the start of the Internet with only .mil and .edu. It was the pre-WWW and pre-Dot-Com age time defined by a black screen and green or amber characters. In this era, right-wing extremists could not use the Internet to destabilize democracy. Today, they can. Recently, Julia Ebner, an undercover cyber agent, spent two years inside right-wing extremist networks. For her work, she adopted five different identities and joined a dozen tech savvy extremist groups – from jihadists and Christian fundamentalists to white nationalists, conspiracy theorists and radical demagogues. This is a distillation of her findings, as reported in her new book, Going Dark: The Secret Social Lives of Extremists
First and foremost, right-wing extremist leaders create a protected and often rather secretive social bubble. This creates an aura of exclusiveness as well as the highly useful in-group-vs.-out-group” structure which establishes a sense of belonging for those admitted to the inner circle – somewhat like refashioning Germany’s Nazi SS. Unlike Nazi-Germany’s SS, today’s right-wing extremists create international hubs, using social networks and even dating apps. These lay the foundation for their growing global network. They also hack into systems. In March 2016, printers across US college campuses, for example, printed Neo-Nazi flyers. In January 2019, right-wing hackers leaked personal details of hundreds of German politicians.
To join one of these secretive discussion groups, the undercover cyber-agent had to send a picture of her hand together with a piece of paper reading MAtR (Men Among the Ruins). Provided the hand is white enough, you are in. So far, no genetic testing proving your Aryan make up is needed. Next to MAtR, right-wing extremists also use WOTAN (Will Of The Aryan Nation), 4/20 (Hitler’s birthday), 88 (the 8th character of the alphabet is H, hence HH for Heil Hitler) as codewords. Men Among the Ruins is the work of Italian right-wing demagogue Julius Evola who wrote about spiritual racism, being motivated by Benito Mussolini and admiring Heinrich Himmler.
To be admitted into the ring of Neo-Nazis, the undercover agent told them, I am white and of Austrian stock. The reply was, you are vetted. She was in. White supremacist forums like the US site Stormfront operate in a similar way. Many right-wing extremists, Neo-Nazis, and white supremacists believe that every single aspect of their lives is ruled by Jews, the infamous global elites, and the cultural Marxists. Hitler’s mythical nonsense of a Bolschevistisches Weltjudentum is kept alive.
Drawing in Newcomers
Once inside the network, the faceless strangers that vetted a newcomer to a Neo-Nazi platform turn into virtual replacements for the latter’s real families and friends. At this point, newcomers start to spend multiple days per week in their new-found right-wing extremist echo chamber. Like many Neo-Nazi groups, many discussion groups have started introducing harsher entrance barriers and background checks while developing specific Neo-Nazi code words. Once in, they rely on humoristic and semi-satirical pictures to camouflage their right-wing views. Occasionally, there is a joke about the Jew who is behind the global financial crisis and other social illnesses. Slowly, the discussion moves towards core Neo-Nazi beliefs like the impeding race war and the collapsing of the democratic system. Both are close and one needs to be prepared for that – ready to fight against the sub-human.
Right-wing extremists also advocate the closure of all borders and the removal of anyone non-Aryan. Not surprisingly, Neo-Nazis like Martin Sellner, the figurehead of many European right-wing extremists, promotes the idea that white Europeans need to resist what Neo-Nazis call the Great Replacement. The Charlottesville Neo-Nazi battle cry was, You will not replace Us! Rejecting multiculturalism, they call it ethno-masochism. Multiculturalism is to be replaced by ethno-pluralism – the l’idée fixe that a plurality of cultures needs racial segregation. This is done out of the fear of what Martin Sellner and entourage calls the gradual replacement of white
people – the so-called white genocide.
Inside such echo chambers, ideologies like whites have been brainwashed into forgetting that they are the descendants of conquerors and settlers who brought civilization to entire continents are conjured up. This is no more than an updated version of Hitler’s Ostplan, i.e. the replacement of Jewish and Slavic sub-humans in the East [Osten] by the Aryan master race. Slowly but surely, the newcomer is becoming full-fash, meaning fully fascist. Over time, far-right world views will become normalized in the mind of the newcomer.
A right-wing extremist strategy
A leading Neo-Nazi figure in making far right ideologies normal – what Canadian expert Henry Giroux calls mainstreaming fascism – is British Neo-Nazi Tommy Robinson. Robinson is the Führer of the English Defense League and one of the world’s most influential far-right leaders. His real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon. He has perfected the right-wing use of a combined offline-plus-online strategy. Unmatched by other right-wing extremists, Robinson has achieved celebrity status. He has a massive online reach which allows him to push right-wing extremists’ media campaigns. Attracted by people like Robinson, people join these right-wing discussion groups.
For this, right-wing extremists have developed a distinctive strategy. To lure vulnerable young individuals into radical networks, right-wing extremists use a range of technologies. They have adopted an aggressive recruitment campaign on social media. Right-wing extremists also employ intense testing phases involving the prove of whiteness, live voice chats, DNA tests and competitions in encrypted apps. It also involves real-world stunts that are often live streamed and turned into trending topics on Facebook and Twitter. This is done to attract attention beyond traditional audiences.
Such vulnerable people are mostly young single men, rarely women like the Canadian statistics student Alana. Unable to find sex and romance, she created a platform labeled Involuntary Celibacy Project or Incel. The shy Incel techie Alek Minassian, for example, killed ten and injured sixteen, some critically, in Toronto in 2018. He justified his act by saying “the Incel Rebellion has already begun!” When Reddit banned Incel from its platform (2017), Incel had 40,000 members. Moving on to Voat, Incels carried on discussing their unfuckability and how to punish all females for depriving them of sex. Like those who are made to think that they are replaced by sub-humans, Incels also believe in male victimhood.
Such online social media platforms are the key to right-wing extremists. They played a role in 90% of all radicalization. Once inside, loyalty to the group is enforced or enticed while ideological adherence remains a key requirement for anyone granted membership. Inside Himmler’s SS, the slogan was, Loyalty is My Honor. But today’ right-wing extremists are not the SS – they can no longer parade openly. Today, members of such chat rooms need to avoid detection. Their leaders advise them to use identity obfuscation methods such as virtual private networks (VPNs), tor browsers, and fake phone numbers on Facebook and Twitter.
In many cases, newcomers are enticed through platforms that offer rather innocent looking advice on how to deal with personal questions around relationships, personal identity, social problems, apprehension, anxieties, etc. These provide general openings into the toxic ideologies of right-wing extremists. The pathway from ideology to action is often rather short.
In 2016, the British right-wing extremist Darren Osborne announced that he would like to kill Muslims. In his trial, it emerged that he acted after reading email newsletters and tweets from the aforementioned Tommy Robinson. Robinson was a member of the British Nationalist Party (BNP). His supporters include neo-fascists performing the Hitler salute and chanting racist lines. Even the well healed US Mercer Family Foundation was supporting them financially. The BNP and Robinson spread targeted disinformation and misinformation.
Much of this creates a right-wing atmosphere defined by fear. The politics of fear can take many forms. In the USA, for example, at least 250 university professors became victims of right-wing online campaigns between early 2017 and mid-2018. Meanwhile, doxxing – the online publication of private or identifying information about an individual with malicious intent on the Internet – started to emerge in the 1990s. Part of hacker culture, it soon morphed into the far right’s favorite revenge tactics. Intimidation tactics are used by the right-wing against many people including journalists reporting on them.
The right-wing strategy is also used to discredit respected news outlets and their reporters. It is part of the right-wing extremists’ information and culture battle. The other part of the strategy consists of spreading targeted disinformation. The l’idée fixe is to destabilize established news sources like CNN, BBC, New York Times, the Guardian, etc. In the right-wing extremist’s information landscape, fact and illusion merge. To achieve that, right-wing extremists follow of four-way strategy:
1) dismiss the opponent,
2) distort the facts,
3) distract from the central issue, and finally,
4) dismay the audience.
Today, there are estimates that up to 100,000 websites are spreading such disinformation. Since the year 2010, over half a billion US dollars have been spent on psychological operations (Psy-Ops) and public opinion influence campaigns using Antisocial Media. The goal is the withdrawal of trust in independent information sources and the slow poisoning of open debate that destroys the fundamental pillars of our democracies. Just as Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels said,
It will always remain one of the best jokes of democracy,that it gave its deadly enemies the means by which it was destroyed.
The work of right-wing extremists to undermine democracy already shows impact. Already in 2013, almost three out of ten US voters thought that a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to rule the world through an authoritarian world government. Republicans were more than twice as likely as Democrats to believe in this conspiracy theory or better conspiracy myths. This is paralleled by the fact that by 2017, two in three Americans get their news from social media. Many already get their “news”(!) from three types of right-wing platforms:
1) platforms created for extremists and used by extremists (WASP Love and Hatreon);
2) ultra-libertarian platforms created by libertarians (Gab, Minds, and 8chan); and
3) hijacked platforms (Discord, Telegram, and JustPasteIt).
Right-wing extremists use these to prepare for their hallucination of in impending race war to preserve peace (!). And…
+ they collect and spread disinformation to fight truth;
+ they exploit free speech to muzzle opponents and discredit critique;
+ they build global right-wing communities to spread anti-globalist messages;
+ they invest in social bonds to encourage antisocial behavior; and
+ they use modern technologies to achieve anti-modern goals.
Today, no internet user is safe from right-wing radicalization campaigns and no election is immune to interference. Right-wing extremists can steal personal data of progressive politicians, spread targeted disinformation, and use blackmail. With the advent of Artificial Intelligence things might get worse. AI can write newspaper articles and books, generate pictures of people who don’t exist and manipulate faces and videos. Right-wing extremists can use these to produce hoax articles, create social bots, change footage, and edit speeches. But even without such sophisticated AI tools, we are already seeing the effects of the tech-savvy extremist campaigns. They have intensified political and societal fragmentation and accelerated a populist right-wing surge across the globe.