Populism and Media 

This week’s sources centered on the role of media and its construction of conditions for populist formulation, in particular now with the global network society. I think this week’s focus ties in really well to some of the themes explored last week regarding online conspiracy theories. The network society and social media platforms have changed messaging completely – from who it comes from to how quickly it spreads. 

As mentioned in Des Freedman’s “Populism and Media Policy Failure”, media failures have contributed to the rise of populism. This has happened as a result of far-right populist politicians and movements securing high levels of visibility thanks to often complicit media outlets and unregulated digital platforms. 

The networked society is different than the legacy media outlets which came before it as it provides a level of interconnectedness that the world has never seen before. Anyone and everyone have access to sharing information online whether it be true or not. Legacy media was much more focused on reputation and providing credible information. Whereas now, big tech companies are more interested in clicks and profit and are not held accountable for the spread of misinformation on their platforms. 

As can be seen with populists like Trump or Le Pen, mass media and online platforms give them a platform that would not have had previously which has allowed them to reach more people. Having this platform where your ideologies can reach thousands in a second, paired with the lack of fact-checking online is a dangerous combination. 

Based on the Digital Services Act, there are steps being taken in order to combat the spreading of false information to manipulate people. However, I can’t help but think that the online world has become so complex and so fast-paced that no legislation would be enough to keep up with it. 

The Populist Playbook

By: Andreea Gustin

This week centered on conspiracy theories and how they have become a part of the populist playbook in Europe. The last few weeks of the course, we’ve look at themes that have had transnational aspects. This week’s theme is no different as can be seen with Mark Scott’s article, QAnon goes European, which details how QAnon crossed the Atlantic and has become a part of protest, populist and conspiracy groups in Europe. 

It was interesting to see how this American conspiracy theory has integrated into different areas and groups within Europe and how social media and the network society has played a role in QAnon increasingly making their way into the existing online communities and protest movements across the continent. This new interconnectedness we are seeing as a result of the global network society and social media platforms has made it easier for conspiracy groups to spread information like wild fire and to target many different kinds of individuals and groups that they might not have otherwise reached. 

This is a very fitting time to talk about the role of conspiracy theories. As we’re navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been spending a lot more of their time online, as discussed in the Scott article, and it’s led people to come across a lot of disinformation, anti-vaccine content and other conspiracy content. I don’t necessarily believe that people spending more time online is automatically making them fall for conspiracy theory traps, but I do think that the new complexities of fake online sources and conspiracy theories have made them harder to spot now-a-days than it was traditionally. Foreign and unpredictable situations like the current pandemic make a perfect breeding ground for conspiracies. 

Multicultural Europe?

By: Andreea Gustin

This week’s sources centered on multiculturalism in Europe. Specifically, the readings highlighted how Europe sees cultural pluralism and mass migration as a threat to its national identity. We’ve seen this theme throughout the course – pure “European-ness” is celebrated and anything that does not fit into that identity is seen as lesser-than and as a threat. What even is European-ness? And why does this notion of superiority still exist in today’s age? 

Nilüfer Göle’s Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam, points out that Muslims belong to Europe in a variety of ways; as original inhabitants, citizens of Europe, converts, migrants, or political candidates. The visibility of Islamic religion in Europe has become a controversial issue in the last three decades, and it has inspired public expressions of resentment and fear, leading to a legislative politics of prohibiting or excluding the religious symbols and practices of Muslims in many European countries. Muslims in Europe have been subject to “othering” and an “us versus them” mentality. We know based off of our discussions of the Jewish population in WW2 that this kind of discourse is highly troubling and dangerous. El-Tayeb’s writings support this idea of Muslims being portrayed as the Other in Europe by focusing on the positionality of queer Muslims.

Based on the sources this week, it becomes clear that “European” identity is actually based off the idea of exclusion. It’s not about who is a part of it, but who is not. These divisive ideas being spread by both citizens and governments across Europe will continue to polarize the continent and continue the historical mistreatment and neglect of minorities. 

The Nouvelle Droite in the Post-War Period

By: Andreea Gustin

This week’s readings centered on far-right movements taking place in the post-war period, specifically the Novelle Droite (ND) the far-right political movement which emerged in France in 1968. The sources focused primarily on the French and Portuguese Nouvelle Droite but they showcased how transnationalism shaped this movement. This created a European-wide political culture of the revolutionary right in an anti-fascist age. 

Following WWII, the far-right was in a period of transition. They had to re-define their ideologies, beliefs and goals in the post-war world. In Transnationalism and the French Nouvelle Droite, author Tamir Bar-On outlines how Nouvelle Droite leader, Alain de Benoist, sought to create a new political paradigm for a new millennium. Benoist recognized that times had significantly changed post-war and that the ‘new’ Europe was “firmly anti-fascist politically and culturally more liberal and left-wing”. 

Riccardo Marchi’s article demonstrated the success of the adoption of the Nouvelle Droite agenda in Portugal. Although each of the sources this week had their own approach regarding the Nouvelle Droite, whether it be a case study or a look at the movement’s history and ideologies, they showcased the common ideas and values which resonated across European borders. 

For me, this week’s sources were interesting in seeing how the far-right was re-invented after the war. I think we often place ‘the far right’ under one umbrella. However, this showcased how there was a new right which emerged following a dark period in history. Although commonalities still existed, it shows that those on the right understood that the same approaches they once had were no longer acceptable in a post-war world. 

A March for Hate: Madrid’s Far-Right Gathering

By: Andreea Gustin

We hear it all the time: the past is in the past. But is it really? I find myself questioning the validity of this saying now more than ever. Recently, it feels as though elements of the past are creeping into our present. However, the problem here lies in the fact that many people are celebrating the past without the historical understanding of what that truly means and the weight that it carries. 

Last month in Madrid, the people of Spain witnessed something that has become all too common throughout Europe recently. In shades of a much darker time, neo-Nazis’ marched through the streets to “honour” the Blue Division, the Spanish troops who fought with the Nazis. Upon seeing this, I couldn’t help but ask myself: Who are these marchers really honoring? 

The march took place near a cemetery where veterans who fought alongside Hitler’s troops are buried. About 300 attendees proceeded behind a banner of the Blue Division shield which read “Honour and glory to the fallen.” Participants made the Nazi salute and sang fascist songs. In a speech addressing the crowd, a young woman was recorded saying: “It is our supreme obligation to fight for Spain, to fight for Europe, now weak and liquidated by the enemy. The enemy will always be the same, although with different masks: the Jew. […] The Jew is the culprit and the Blue Division fought it.”

Spain is known to be one of Europe’s more “liberal” countries in which public expressions of admiration for Nazi Germany, anti-Semitic rhetoric and large far-right gatherings are relatively uncommon. This is due to the fact that many people have bitter memories from the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, who sided with the Nazis during World War II and then ruled over Spain until 1975. But Spain, like many European countries, has seen a massive and sudden rise in right-wing populism in recent years. In 2019, the Vox populist right-wing party entered parliament for the first time as the country’s third-largest party, with 52 out of 350 seats.

Regardless of the fact that this may have been a relatively small group of marchers, any signs of allegiance to Nazism or fascism are more than worrisome. Over 75 years after the end of the war, we seem to have arrived at a time where people have forgotten just how dangerous these ideas really are. Shortly after World War II ended in 1945, and the pictures of the piles of human bodies and the bombed-out cities were seen across the world, no one in their right mind wanted to be associated with the Nazis. Europe went through a process of denazification in an attempt to hastily scrub away any remnants of a shameful past. 

But now, decades later, people have either forgotten or were never taught about where this kind of hatred really ends. Those who continue to blame the Jews, like many who attended this rally, are following a time-honored tradition. Make no mistake. Jews are always the first victims of hatred, but they are never the last. The Nazis went after the Jews first, but when it was all over, the entire continent was devastated and upwards of 60 million human beings were dead. 

Now why is this group of hateful marchers even worth discussing? Because we all know that these extremist gatherings can look exciting to some people who weren’t taught the truth about the past. And we all know where this ultimately leads. 

We live in a time of upheaval once again. These marchers who are supposedly “honoring” the Blue Division are only further perpetuating these ancient hatreds. It is as if they are marching out of a nostalgia for a past that they know nothing about. Many of these marchers do not understand the weight of their actions. Many of them are so focused on spreading their hate-filled ideologies that they ignore the unimaginable pain many have suffered. There is nothing honorable about the Blue Division. No one wins when this kind of hatred surfaces. Learning, acknowledging and accepting historical wrong-doings is the only way we can stop history from repeating itself. 

Nazism’s Lessons and Legacies

By: Andreea Gustin

Following a period in history as cruel and as heinous as the holocaust, it is impossible to move forward without acknowledging the past. This week’s sources centered on the lessons and the legacies of Nazism. I think often times, when taught about the holocaust or the events of WWII, the question of what happened next is often left unanswered. As a history student, once this period in history has been covered, we close the book and we move on to the next. However, this week shows the reality of the impacts of these events. For many, the pain does not stop just because the holocaust did. They are not able to close the book on this chapter because for them, it is a pain and a trauma that will follow them for the rest of their story. Smith’s essay, “It Takes A Village to Create a Nation’s Memory”, gave us a glimpse into how it felt for Jews to face the difficult past upon returning back to Germany as we saw with Hugo Spiegel. Personally, this was the source that stood out for me this week. I wish that we got to learn more about how Germany moved forward as a nation however, I think through the individual story of Hugo Spiegel, we got to see how ordinary citizens coped and came to terms with the horrors that occurred in order to move forward with their lives while still fighting for the remembrance and the acknowledgment of the terrors committed. Ultimately, this source demonstrated how Germany could not face it’s past alone. The Jews returning home was critical to Germans confronting the wrong-doings and working alongside the Jews in their community to commemorate the past. 

Women and The Far-Right

By: Andreea Gustin

This week’s sources allowed us to take a look at both the historical and contemporary appeal of the far-right to women. I’ve had the chance to take other courses centered on Europe during the twentieth century in which I’ve previously learned about the Nazi regime and fascist ideologies. However, I had always felt like there was a gap in my knowledge as none of these courses explicitly covered the role of women. This week’s readings provided a fascinating perspective and challenged my expectations of women’s involvement in the Nazi movement.  

Wendy Lower’s Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields provided a foundational understanding of why and how women participated in the Nazi movement. One early female activist recounted the political awakening of women to the Nazi movement, in which she said “women could not remain uninvolved in this struggle, for it was their future too, and the future of their children” (p.20). During this time period, women were beginning to gain greater independence – they had a youthful energy and aspirations for a better life. They supported Hitler and contributed to his rise in power as they believed it would be benefitting their nation – in turn, these women aided in committing atrocious crimes. 

It was interesting to read the Guardian article afterwards, From Le Pen to Alice Weidel: how the European far-right sets its sights on women, as it showed commonalities of what interests’ women in the far-right today. Although not the entire reason, one of the contemporary appeals for women to the far-right is the fact that they “feel left behind”. It’s incredibly fascinating to see women gravitate to groups which are or once were dominated by patriarchal ideology in order to further their own aspirations. All in all, I think this week’s sources all provided an intriguing look at the critical role women play in conflict and populist movements. 

A Dangerous Game of Hide and Seek: Hate Groups Are Using Social Media as Their New Favourite Hiding Spot

By: Andreea Gustin

We often hear that history has a tendency to repeat itself. As memory fades, events from the past can become events of the present. If recent events are any indicators, American society is inching dangerously close to mirroring events of a century ago – only this time, with a modern twist. Technology and digital media have revived the rhetoric of authoritarianism, fascism and populism. But how is it being used to extremists’ advantage? 

Last week, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released their annual report which showcased that the number of active hate groups in the United States has fallen by 11 percent in the past year. In 2020, the recorded number of active hate groups was 838, compared to 940 in 2019. Although it may appear that the number of active hate groups in the U.S is decreasing, SPLC attributes the drop to the fact that technology and digital media have made these groups harder to track and diffuse. In addition to this, the current COVID-19 pandemic has played a role in limiting in-person activities which has only further driven hate groups onto digital platforms. 

The evolution of smartphones, social media, podcasts and livestreams has made being an extremist a mobile, multimedia experience. Technology has made it easier than ever for extremists to recruit new followers and push their fringe beliefs into the mainstream. This was on full display on January 6, when hundreds of white nationalists’ groups, that had primarily used the internet to organize, stormed the Capitol. Many members of these groups had met online before the event, and their attack on the Capitol showed their alarming capacity for offline violence.

Following this event, social media platforms like Facebook., Twitter and YouTube have all been making a public effort to crack down on extremist content. Despite these efforts, hate groups are now migrating to new platforms like Telegram and Signal, which provide little or no content moderation. Neo-Nazi’s and far-right groups have historically found ways to leverage technological trends in order to find ways to spread hate and organize online. For example, white supremacist groups in the 1990s turned to what was then considered advanced platforms like Stormfront and the Daily Stormer, to spread white nationalist ideas. This ultimately led to the emergence of imageboards, memes and “trolling” – all elements we still see online today. 

The problem here is not only about trying to understand how these hate groups are using technology and digital media. It’s also a matter of trying to understand what this means for our future as it relates to our past. As we’ve increasingly seen over the past four years, the alt-right’s racist messaging, white nationalist underpinnings and anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic sentiments are no longer only showing up in the streets as they once did. Social media has created channels for Neo-Nazis and extremist hate groups to organize and manipulate information to their advantage. 

Recent demonstrations of extreme nationalism and the threats posed to American democracy are drawing comparisons to a dark past. Although certain historical themes of nationalism and authoritarianism are coming up in today’s conversations, many do not understand the alarming power of technology in the current circumstances. History may very well repeat itself, but are we prepared to deal with elements of the past in today’s faceless digital world? 

It’s easy to make comparisons to the past, but it’s difficult to understand that that is no longer the same world we’re living in. Technological advancements and social media have created new challenges and obstacles to tracking hate groups and holding those involved accountable. The methods once used to combat dangerous nationalist efforts are no longer applicable to domestic online extremism. 

It is only natural for us as humans to attempt to understand modern issues by applying the lens of the past. However, there needs to be a greater understanding of how fascist and nationalist ideologies have developed over time and what role technology plays in these developments. Ultimately, it’s important for us to understanding how our modern issues can differ from those of the past and how this can lead to new consequences not outlined by history. 

References

The Associated Press. (2021, February 1). Report: Hate groups in decline, migrate to online networks. NBC News. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/report-hate-groups-decline-migrate-online-networks-n1256356

Bensinger, G. (2021, January 13). Now social media grows a conscience? The New York Times. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/13/opinion/capitol-attack-twitter-facebook.html

Hatewatch Staff. (2019, September 18). Daily Stormer website goes dark amid chaos. Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/stormfront

Janik, R., & Hankes, K. (2021, February 1). The year in hate and extremism 2020. Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://www.splcenter.org/news/2021/02/01/year-hate-2020

Jimenez, C. (2021, January 20). Far-right extremists on social media aren’t going away — they’re hunkering down. Colorado Public Radio. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://www.cpr.org/2021/01/20/far-right-extremists-on-social-media-arent-going-away-theyre-hunkering-down/

McEvoy, J. (2021, January 7). Capitol attack was planned openly online for weeks—police still weren’t ready. Forbes. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jemimamcevoy/2021/01/07/capitol-attack-was-planned-openly-online-for-weeks-police-still-werent-ready/?sh=622babfb76e2

Molla, R. (2021, January 15). What is Signal, and why is everybody downloading it right now? VOX Media. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://www.vox.com/recode/22226618/what-is-signal-whatsapp-telegram-download-encrypted-messaging

Molla, R. (2021, January 20). Why right-wing extremists’ favorite new platform is so dangerous. VOX Media. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://www.vox.com/recode/22238755/telegram-messaging-social-media-extremists

Stormfront extremist group info. (n.d.). Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/stormfront

Masculinity and The Ideal Citizen

By: Andreea Gustin 

This week, we focused on the topic of Consent, Coercion and Acceptance in relation to gender and sexual identity – specifically how these ideas played a role in authoritarian and fascist regimes in Europe. The sources we covered all centered on the theme of understanding how authoritarian and nationalist regimes used gender and sexuality to create the boundary between the “ideal” citizen and the opponent. 

One of the main focuses regarding this theme was the concept of masculinity. Kühne’s article, Protean Masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich, stressed the importance of, what he referred to as, “hard masculinity” to the fascist ideology in Nazi Germany. There was a lot of pressure on the men to be physically, emotionally and morally tough. This masculinity made up the ideal citizen; strong, aggressive, resilient and in control. 

However, what I also found interesting was the discussion of protean masculinity and “soft” manliness. This, according to Kühne, could be displayed if one was ready to prove – or even better if he had already proved – “hard” manliness. Soldiers were facing difficult and tragic situations and there was acknowledgement that they faced periods of weakness. However, it was not the periods of weakness or “softness” that mattered, but the fact that they were “manly” enough to overcome it. This piece was the one that got my attention the most out of this week’s sources because it was interesting to gain some perspective on the fluidity and ambiguity of the experiences of masculinity in this kind of all-male homosocial setting. 

Leisure and Tourism in Nazi Germany

By: Andreea Gustin

This week’s sources provided a look at fascism from a perspective I had never considered. When thinking of fascism and what made people go along with it, my mind always instantly went to things like force, brutality, harsh restrictions etc. Never did I really consider how tourism or leisure could act as a form of propaganda to appeal to the masses and gain popular consent. Obviously, it is not to say that most people supported fascist regimes during this time, however, as can be seen in sources like Shelly Baranowski’s Strength through Joy: Consumerism and Mass Tourism in the Third Reich, the Third Reich and the Kraft durch Freude (KdF) were able to weaponize leisure and tourism in order to persuade citizens to think that the regime had improved their lives and to further the narrative of German superiority. 

This source showcases how leisure activities and tourism were used to create this idealistic image of leadership under the Nazi regime and internally as well as externally create a sense of German nationalism. Hitler’s regime wanted to give German travellers and those travelling from other countries a look at “Aryan superiority”. However, in reality this was an illusion to make it appear as through their living conditions and lifestyles were of a higher level. After having read this week’s sources, it becomes easier to understand why to some, there may have been some sort of appeal in regards to fascism that went beyond ideology. Leisure and travel were instrumentalized to achieve wider Nazi goals and to create a sense of normality in a way to manufacture and maintain popular consent.