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 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. 

Covid-19, Conspiracies, and the Growing Appeal of the Far-Right in Western Europe

Written by Emma Bronsema

Sign translates to”Stop Corona Madness”

The far-right is becoming more attractive during the pandemic. This is being achieved through the spreading conspiracy theories and participating in the rallies and anti-lockdown protests. Since the start of the pandemic, quarantine regimes have seen an increase in mobilization of right-wing extremists, whose ideologies have been gaining traction through the use of alternative media outlets, the spread of Covid conspiracies, and anti-lockdown protests.

How they are spreading their message

Right-wing messages are often shared through social media platforms. These platforms, full of targeted propaganda, are used to connect and gather people together, as well as to advertise and disperse misleading information. They send out messages and conspiracy theories that play on the uncertainty of the pandemic, and people’s fears and insecurities.

The far-right often uses “alternative media” outlets for their publications, in order to distance themselves from established, elite, and political media. The alternative media uses the same facts but interlace their reports with speculation and suggestions of things that could be true. This includes claims that the virus was lab-created and is not as dangerous as other media outlets would like the public to believe. The mistruths they tell are often subtle and seemingly harmless.

There are also connections made between alternative media with other platforms – including Facebook and Youtube – to gain the perception of credibility and attract a dedicated following. Credibility is also obtained when public figures, such as celebrities, play into the conspiracy theories.

An attractive option for people

As the pandemic ensues and people are under strict rules – as vitally important as the guidelines are – people are continuing to lose faith in the government; especially business owners and workers who are financially and mentally suffering due to the prolonged lock-downs and enforced curfews. Other people are finding the restrictions oppressive and an inhibitor of their normal lives that they desperately long to go back to. People are upset and the far-right preys on this, with the desire to cultivate hatred and mistrust amongst people’s views of the democratic system and its political leaders.

Covid protest in Lepzig Germany

Making themselves visible

Within the last year, especially the last few months, neo-Nazis, QAnon, and other right-wing extremist groups, are participating in anti-Covid restriction protests. The riots that have ensued provide a way for “virus deniers, political protesters and kids who just saw the chance to go completely wild.”

The extremist groups who are encouraging, hijacking, and establishing protests are able to use violence as a way to promote their ideology and gain media attention. They portray themselves as activists that are hands-on and are involved with and act for the people; they refuse to step down, instead they fight for what they believe in. This was shown during the protests in Vienna where Neo-Nazi militants “refused to disband and blocked traffic.”

The European demonstrators encouraged breaking rules – including businesses, saying that they should open “in the spirit of civil disobedience.” However, this is ironic, far-right demonstrators encouraging businesses such as restaurants to break the rules. They want to gain favour of the public but if they are encouraging people to break the rules, how do they expect a committed following of people who will listen to them and comply with their rules and desires for the country.

Historical Imagery and Comparisons

Aside from social media platforms and violence, the far-right extremists use symbols and specific imagery to get attention and spread their ideology. In Belgium, like many European countries, the government is advising mass vaccinations in order to lift lockdown measures. In opposition of this, however, the far-right “used an image of Auschwitz in its campaign against public health measures and vaccinations.” The repurposing and editing of an Auschwitz image was used as a symbol of government control in a time when it was advertised that the government knew what they were doing. Using historical imagery, in combination with social media, accelerates their message and gains them a mass following. Other brandished images are a nod to the Reichsbürger movement – a movement that “rejects the legitimacy of the modern German state.”

campaign poster with drawing of entrance to Auschwitz
The Belgian anti-vaccine add

Lastly, the anti-lockdown riot in Berlin saw comparisons to the Reichstag fire in 1933 – that was used as a way to consolidate power and target communities, allowing the Nazi regime to rise in Germany. Decades later, the right-wing extremists took over the riots in order to storm the Reichstags (government) building. This is important to note as they want to overthrow the current democracy system in favour of a far-right regime, and are using Covid-19 as means to an end.

While right-wing extremists are actively participating in riots, they are attracting large numbers of people with their ideologies. They spread conspiracies and prey upon people’s fears that are a result of tensions with the uncertainty of the pandemic, and the response and measures put in place by the government.

Far-Right Women and Missing Voices

Written by Emma Bronsema

In many fascist societies, women play a large and important role. Historically, their roles and femininity has been overlooked, generalized, and propagandized; they were often marginalized, and their complex stories were simplified. However, it is not shocking that women were involved in nationalistic and war efforts. They were heavily ingrained in society as secretaries, social workers, and educators, to name a few. They were also in close proximity to where these wartime events were taking place; close to power and close to crime scenes. Many people became desensitized to what they were seeing, in addition to being ideologically indoctrinated by what their government propagandized.

In fascist Spain and Germany, women’s roles were often used to sell a story to various audiences – including women of a different political view to portray them as ideal and the better between the two. “Officially” both Spanish and German women returned back to a domestic role after the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War ended. Their stories and accounts of the wars and their contribution often went missing. There were many reasons for this, including the fact that many women did not speak about their actions and the events that took place. Moreover, women’s roles were often propagandized, generalized, victimized, hyper-sexualized, and or given a sympathetic image. Furthermore, many women were difficult to track down because they got married and changed their last names. 

Lastly, their stories were not recorded because they were not regarded as relevant at the time. Women’s roles and experience during the war was not an area of interest for reporters and historians at the time. Another reason for the lack in interest stems from political reasons and change in the government, or women were simply left out of studies done. This resulted in many phenomena that have been suppressed, overlooked and under-researched. As well as the stories that are recorded and get told today are a result of selective memory, where the person telling the story trailers it so it is inline with what their audience would like to hear.

Sources used:

Sofía Rodríguez López and Antonio Cazorla Sánchez. “Blue Angels: Female Fascist Resisters, Spies and Intelligence Officials in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–9.” Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 53, no. 4, (Oct. 2018), pp. 692–713. 

Wendy Lower, Hitler’s Furies (Houghton Mifflin, 2013), pp15-75.

The European Green Deal: A Solution for Post-Pandemic Recovery?

By Jackie Howell

2020 tied with 2016 as the warmest year on record, sparking a need to address climate change. The European Union (EU) aims to combine climate efforts with a post-COVID recovery plan. However, can member-states overcome their political differences and come to a consensus?

COVID-19 highlights the relationship between health, the economy, and the environment. The European Green Deal, introduced in December 2019, seems like the perfect opportunity to address the effects of COVID-19 and climate change. Local and regional leaders are prioritizing a green recovery from COVID-19, as outlined in the ENVE Commission of the European Committee of the Regions’ 2021 work program. Over the next decade, the EU will mobilize €1 trillion of investments to create a clean circular economy, restore biodiversity, and reduce pollution.

Responses to the Climate Crisis

Climate change has already been on most governments’ agendas. In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report detailing the impacts of global warming, arriving at the conclusion: Earth is experiencing a climate emergency.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has prioritized greening the EU economy. In 2019, the European Parliament voted in favour of declaring a climate emergency and committed to becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. The EU also committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to at least 50% of 1990’s levels.

However, ongoing divisions between the East and West and the North and South pose additional hurdles for EU consensus. Dissenters such as the right-wing European People’s Party (EPP) warned against giving this impression of panic, downplaying the urgency of climate change. A few right-wing political groups even advocated to postpone the European Green Deal and refocus on economic recovery.

The 2008 Financial Crisis vs. the COVID-19 Recession

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new wave of green measures, such as renewable energy investments, reductions in fossil fuels consumption, support for electric vehicles, and investments in infrastructure. These green recovery packages are reminiscent of the green stimulus packages launched after the 2008 financial crisis. Can lessons from the past help governments from repeating past mistakes?          

In response to the 2008 financial crisis, the 2008 European Economic Recovery Plan introduced a budget of €200 billion, investing some of the funds in energy efficiency, low-carbon or clean technologies, and green infrastructure. Investments in clean energy helped countries build up competitive industries after the 2008 Recession. For the EU, each $1 in green investment boosted GDP by up to $1.50 across the region. However, the 2008 financial crisis led to a new wave of support for far-right populist parties due to the rise in unemployment and a decline in trust in institutions.

In the case of COVID-19, populist parties are now losing support as the bloc finds it more integrated than before. Even coal-dependent Poland shifted its tone on the Green Deal. However, clashing interests can still constrain the EU’s ambitious climate goals, leading to stalemates and a disintegrated EU.    

Challenges to the Green Deal

The EU recognizes that environmental pollution, climate change, and issues of inequality are linked, so the EU is committed to making a “just and inclusive transition for all.” However, public backlash presents a challenge for the EU Green Deal. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel faced pressure from automakers as German car brands faced plummeting sales due to COVID-19.  An overwhelming majority of Europeans and companies support climate action, but their desire to change their own behaviour is quite limited.

While climate change is a less polarized topic in Europe than in the United States, opposition can quickly grow. Far-right parties are increasingly taking a stand on climate change, spreading messages of denialism, inaction, or apathy. The European Green Deal presents far-right populists with the perfect target to divide voters.

COVID-19 is a unique opportunity for governments to create policy that reduces exposure of environmental, social, and economic risks in crises. Lessons from the 2008 economic packages can guide European policymakers in designing green stimulus packages that work for the environment and for all workers. Now is the time for the EU to convince Europeans that climate inaction will only lead to more health and economic crises before it becomes too late.

Capitol Hill Rioters’ Use of Uniforms and Symbols

Written by Emma Bronsema

The apparel worn by the rioters storming the Capitol on January 6th demonstrate how far-right extremists use their clothing, adorned with specific symbols, to get attention, instill fear, and gain a following. They focus on appearance so the public will pay attention and, in some cases, be more receptive and truly listen to their ideas and ideologies. What people see is more impactful than what they hear. It is what turns people’s heads and sticks with them.

Clothing, or the uniforms worn by extremist group members, was, and still is, effective. It provides a way for individuals to advertise their mind state and shared purpose. It can be used as a way for someone to embody another character – to become a person whom they believe should be idolized. Moreover, it allows for people to rebel against what they disagree with, and stand up for their ideologies and views. 

This was seen through the costumes used during the riots; which included Proud Boys logos, sweatshirts with 1776 written across the front, clothing with Q-Anon and Oath Keepers symbols, ranging from discrete to plastered across the front, and many others. There were also some people who wore clothing with anti-Semitic sayings and symbols. This included a black hoodie with “Camp Auschwitz” emblazoned on the front. The symbols adorning these clothing items were meant to break a taboo and resurface painful memories, and the associated fear and emotions.

The popularization and saturation of these symbols are meant to normalize the extremes to which they represent. Members of these far-right groups want to share and spread their ideologies amongst the general population. Through the use of their uniforms and costumes, they are able to gain traction on social media platforms and grab people’s interests and attention. This creates a receptive audience who intentionally engage with the messages they are being fed.

Marketing tactics and quality-made clothing makes these groups accessible, and encourages the normalization of their opinions and ideologies. Through the use of clothing, they are able to foster a sense of belonging and promise relationships and fulfillment. This is especially attractive to those who feel alienated or rejected by the status quo.

The wardrobe choices of the rioters were intentional. Historically, uniforms needed to foster a sense of intimidation and fear. Shaved heads and combat boots was one way to do it. Symbols aided in the provocation of fear, uncertainty, and provided a reminder of a previous time. They are historically grounded and used because of their association with past events and or peoples.

In general, clothing is now more modern and trendy. Hoodies, hats, and shirts fit in with what the general population wears. However, they still have historical roots and allow for loud statements by those who step out of their uniforms with a clear message. 

Some clothing is garish, outlandish and stands out, while others blend in with the crowd and popular styles. Both extremes grab attention and make a statement, but to different extents. The latter is more relatable and makes the individuals in the onlooking audience question the generalizations surrounding the group and what they stand for. In other words, it goes against historical stereotypes of the group to which they belong, and are more open to listening to what they have to say. The former pays homage to their “origins” and those who came before them, sharing similar values. For example, one of the rioters, known as the “Q Shaman”, was dressed to make a large and clear statement. The use of the viking symbolism with the horn helmet and knot tattoos are a nod to the idea of the “aryan” race, and the associations of the vikings with strength, honor, violence, and superiority. 

During the riots, the images circulated through social media and made their way out of the United States to Europe. They sent messages of hatred, of fear, of anti-semitism, of strength of the group, of pain and suffering, of white supremacy, and of far-right ideologies. The fixation, fascination and horror that came as a result of looking at the clothing adorned by the rioters allowed for their messaging to be widespread and gain traction. Out-there clothing demands attention, and their messaging was captured and spread throughout media outlets. Therefore, far-right groups are able to gain momentum through the use of what they wear and the symbols they choose to adorn themselves with.