Jessie Singal writes:
Last September, Patrik Hermansson, a 25-year-old graduate student from Sweden, went undercover in the world of the extreme right. Posing as a student writing a thesis about the suppression of right-wing speech, he traveled from London to New York to Charlottesville, Va. — and into the heart of a dangerous movement that is experiencing a profound rejuvenation.
Mr. Hermansson, who was sent undercover by the British anti-racist watchdog group Hope Not Hate, spent months insinuating himself into the alt-right, using his Swedish nationality (many neo-Nazis are obsessed with Sweden because of its “Nordic” heritage) as a way in. It wasn’t always easy. “You want to punch them in the face,” he told me of the people he met undercover. “You want to scream and do whatever — leave. But you can’t do any of those things. You have to sit and smile.”
What he learned while undercover is one part of a shocking, comprehensive new report from Hope Not Hate that sheds light on the strange landscape of the alt-right, the much discussed, little understood and largely anonymous far-right movement that exists mostly online and that has come to national attention in part because of its support for Donald Trump.
As a result of the growing influence of the far-right social-media ecosystem, once-moribund hate groups in both the United States and Europe — groups that mostly existed long before “alt-right” entered the vernacular — are enjoying a striking uptick in recruitment.
This latest wave of potential members is young — teenage and 20-something men (they’re mostly men) appear to be exhibiting interest in far-right ideas in numbers that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. These young men are being radicalized largely through the work of a popular group of new far-right internet personalities whose videos, blog posts and tweets have been consistently nudging the boundaries of acceptable conversation to the right — one of the explicit goals of racist extremists everywhere.
And while “globalist” may be one of the alt-right’s favorite slurs, Hope Not Hate conclusively shows that the alt-right is itself now a global movement with regular interaction among far-right figures from Scotland to Sweden to Seattle.
Mr. Hermansson’s story offers vital insights into these groups’ tactics and their sometimes bizarre practices. During his time undercover, he hung out with heavily armed Holocaust deniers and attended gatherings where extremists drank mead from a traditional Viking horn and prayed to the Norse god Odin. In Charlottesville, he marched alongside hundreds of young neo-Nazis and white supremacists before he was sprayed with Mace by a counterprotester and witnessed the car attack that killed Heather Heyer.
In Britain, Mr. Hermansson attended a private dinner of extremists where Greg Johnson, a reclusive leading American far-right figure who is editor in chief of Counter-Currents Publishing, explained the need to “mainstream this stuff — or, more precisely, we need to bring the mainstream towards us.”
. . . .
“If Mr. Jorjani wasn’t exaggerating to Mr. Hermansson, and he did have a relationship with White House officials, that would certainly be alarming. But even if he was exaggerating, it’s still important to understand how messages like his could travel from the far reaches of the right-wing internet and all the way into — or close to, at least — the White House.
The extreme alt-right are benefiting immensely from the energy being produced by a more moderate — but still far-right — faction known as the “alt-light.”
The alt-light promotes a slightly softer set of messages. Its figures — such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson and Mike Cernovich — generally frame their work as part of an effort to defend “the West” or “Western culture” against supposed left-liberal dominance, rather than making explicitly racist appeals. Many of them, in fact, have renounced explicit racism and anti-Semitism, though they will creep up to the line of explicitly racist speech, especially when Islam and immigration are concerned.
This apparent moderation partly explains why they tend to have much bigger online audiences than even the most important alt-right figures — and why Hope Not Hate describes them as “less extreme, more dangerous.” Alt-light sites like Breitbart, formerly home to Mr. Yiannopoulos, as well as Prison Planet, where Mr. Watson is editor at large, draw millions of readers and are key nodes in a hyperkinetic network that is endlessly broadcasting viral-friendly far-right news, rumors and incitement.
Fluent in the language of online irony and absurdism, and adept at producing successful memes, alt-lighters have pulled off something remarkable: They’ve made far-right ideas hip to a subset of young people, and framed themselves as society’s forgotten underdogs. The alt-light provides its audience easy scapegoats for their social, economic and sexual frustrations: liberals and feminists and migrants and, of course, globalists.
The alt-light’s dedicated fan base runs into the millions. Mr. Watson has more than a million YouTube followers, for example, while Mr. Yiannopoulos has more than 2.3 million on Facebook. If even a tiny fraction of this base is drafted toward more extreme far-right politics, that would represent a significant influx into hate groups.
According to researchers, the key to hooking new recruits into any movement, and to getting them increasingly involved over time, is to simply give them activities to participate in. This often precedes any deep ideological commitment on the recruits’ part and, especially early on, is more about offering them a sense of meaning and community than anything else.
Intentionally or not, the far right has deftly applied these insights to the online world. Viewed through the filters of alt-light outlets like Breitbart and Prison Planet, or through Twitter feeds like Mr. Watson’s, the world is a horror show of crimes by migrants, leftist censorship and attacks on common sense. And the best, easiest way to fight back is through social media.
The newly initiated are offered many opportunities to participate directly. A teenager in a suburban basement can join a coordinated global effort to spread misinformation about Emmanuel Macron, France’s centrist president, in the hopes of helping far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Anyone who wants to do so can help spread the word about supposed mainstream media censorship of the Muslim “crime wave” the far right says is ravaging Europe.
These efforts — a click, a retweet, a YouTube comment — come to feel like important parts of an epochal struggle. The far right, once hemmed in by its own parochialism, has manufactured a worldwide online battlefield anyone with internet access can step into.
And if you’re one of those newcomers happily playing the part of infantryman in the “meme wars” that rage daily, maybe, along the way, one of your new online Twitter buddies will say to you, “Milo’s O.K., but have you checked out this guy Greg Johnson?” Or maybe they’ll invite you to a closed online forum where ideas about how to protect Europe from Muslim migrants are discussed a bit more, well, frankly. Maybe, if you’re really lucky, you’ll eventually discover a whole new political movement to join.
All of which can explain why members of the hard-core alt-right are watching the explosive success of their more moderate counterparts with open glee, unable to believe their good luck. “I’m just fighting less and less opposition to our sorts of ideas when they’re spoken,” Mr. Johnson, the Counter-Currents editor, told Mr. Hermansson. His optimism, unfortunately, appears to be well founded.”
Read the entire shocking article at the link!
Think that a return of Naziism is impossible in our lifetimes? Not if these evil dudes have anything to say about it, And, they well might. That’s due in large part to the GOP’s acceptance of Trump, his inappropriate hate speech, and his pandering to the worst undercurrents in American politics and society which has assisted the mainstreaming of hate and racism as a legitimate political and philosophical stance! Shrugging it off as “it’s just Donald being Donald” or even applauding his willingness to be “politically incorrect” is only making things worse.
And, if some of this sounds familiar, it should. It’s pretty much the same false narratives that guys like Trump, Sessions, Miller, and Bannon have been spreading: migrants and Latinos are drug peddlers, rapists, and criminals who endanger American communities; migrants steal jobs from Americans; Muslims and refugees are terrorists and even those who aren’t are a drag on our society; multiculturalism weakens the “homeland,” laws protect Muslims and gays but not (white, straight) Christians, etc.