Digital Mayhem Fuels the Seeds of Far-Right Youth Extremism In The UK

Jake Rooke

The pandemic of lies online is costing lives. The pandemic has also increased anti-social behaviour from extreme radicalization which will extend long after the lockdowns. The UK’s youth seem to be a target audience.

Parents, teachers and groups such as Hope Not Hate, the Expo Foundation, and the Center for Countering Digital Hate are concerned that British youth returning to school next week have been exposed to extremist content online. The fact is, the far-right is exploiting the interchangeability and complexity of the online sphere. This interchangeability has fostered an everchanging lingo and glossary of new far-right symbols.

            A neo-Nazi teenager, that set up FKD GB, a splinter group of banned National Action, was convicted of terrorism offences in January 2021. This teenager was radicalized and groomed online through forums such as Telegram, 8Chan (now 8kun) and GAB. The teenager has also influenced other youths, including Paul Dunleavy, 17, from Rugby, who was jailed last year for preparing acts of terrorism.

The online radicalization of youth has only ballooned during the pandemic.

Civil society and not-for-profit organizations, such as Owen Jones’ Hope Not Hate have taken the lead in battling online radicalization. Jones recently created a guide-book for teachers that focuses on new age internet-driven neo-Nazi symbols, logos, memes, and a appendix of common terms used by the far-right online.

The Expo Foundation, 2021 State of Hate: Far-Right Extremism In Europe, reported on a complex interwoven web of conspiracies that the far-right is promoting online in the UK. These include traditional anti-Semitic conspiracies with a contemporary twist, such as Covid-19 and 5G being Jewish plots. Other conspiracies include the typical anti-immigrant schemes, such as the government and the elites’ promotion of the ‘Great Replacement’ of white Britons. This was widespread in 2020 during BLM. Other simpler conspiracies include ‘immigrants bring diseases’ and Britain is being ‘invaded’ by illegal migrants crossing the Channel in little dinghy boats.

Although we can thank organizations such as Hope Not Hate and the Henry Jackson Society for their commitment to tackling radicalization and terrorism online, the UK government and Big Tech need to step up. The government’s ‘Prevent Strategy’ is outdated for the digital era, focusing on groups, instead of individuals and ignoring realities that Big Tech has a large role to play in preventing hate and radicalization of youth online.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate powered by young people, indicates in a study, major social media companies are not doing enough to tackle misinformation and radicalization online. The study indicated that out of 756 examples of misinformation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, only 9.4% were removed. It is quite clear that Facebook, with a stock increase of 23% since the end of 2019 is running off like a bandit, while grassroots groups, civil society, teachers, and parents are fighting the good fight.

Back in 2019, Sacha Baron Cohen described Facebook as the ‘greatest propaganda machine in history’, arguing that the company, which does not vet political ads for truthfulness, would have allowed Hitler to run propaganda on its platform. Google’s YouTube isn’t much better, riddled with far-right ‘stars’, such as Paul Joseph Watson, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) and recently, two silly blokes, Alan Leggett and Nigel Marcham, who watch out for Channel dinghy boats. YouTube also allows these individuals to promote their far-right pages and platforms such as Telegram, festering right-wing extremism into an echo chamber.

As a result of the lockdowns, British youth have spent much of the last year stuck inside, online, doom-scrolling. When a teacher assigns a project on the Holocaust or a study on Islam for instance, a student, researching online largely unsupervised could be exposed to extreme right-wing misinformation. This innocent exploratory process can lead a student to an alt-education, with Holocaust deniers and as well as far-right podcasters promoting extreme radical views on youth. Social media, search engines, and alt-platforms use algorithms, which then push impressionable youth down a rabbit-hole, increasing susceptibility of grooming by radicals. Moreover, many young boys, feeling isolated have turned to the incel movement online, which holds dangerous views on women.

Some recommendations include a research initiative by the Commission for Countering Extremism to examine the most effective ways to counter the distribution of online extremist content on alt-tech platforms. Additionally, regulatory agencies such as the Office of Communications and the Independent Press Standards Organization should be reformed and given more responsibilities.

Coming out of lockdown, it cannot be business as usual. No generation has had such an overabundance of information, nor has any generation in the digital age been subjected to a pandemic and numerous lockdowns. The combination, with a lack of government oversight online is a fertile environment for the radicalization of UK youth.

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

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.

The use of Tourism and Symbols as a way to Propagandize the Romanticized Version of Far Right Extremism, and Why it’s Appealing

Written by Emma Bronsema

In the 1960s, tourism was used as a way to propagandize political agendas. Film and souvenirs in this industry showed the supposed developments and improvements of the Spanish nation under Franco. They were used as a way to justify his rule and ideology. Appearance and perception was everything. The usage of symbolism and actions found within material objects, film and music was, and continues to be, a way to advertise identity traits to which one should aspire to. It congregates like-minded people, and fosters a sense of community and meaning. Not only are these objects reflections of identity, but have the power to shape it, and frame the way people think and act. 

In the context of right wing extremism, the symbols found on material goods brings together people who share a romanticized version of fascism. Rather than focusing on the marginalization and lack in certain civic rights, people yearn for a patriotized, nationalistic version of the past – for a society that painted itself to be full of opportunity, freedom, prosperity, and ran efficiently.  Although there are different fascist groups, they can work in tandem with one another. This includes participation in protests and movements to which the members have close ties and similarities to those in the other group. 

For some, these extremist groups provide people with a sense of community, a home where they are surrounded with people with similar ideologies. There is a social side of fascism. Some tourists even travel to interact and develop relationships with these people who have similar views. For others, it is a way for some to climb a social ladder, a way for them to become popular and almost a celebrity within their world. Often it has to do with memorabilia they have, or shrines with specific pictures and symbols they displayed. Lastly, these groups provide a way to justify and express their disagreement with the current state of their nation. It validates their seemingly unpopular opinion, as it goes against mainstream thought and politics.

Works Cited

Shelley Baranowski, Strength through Joy: Consumerism and Mass Tourism in the Third Reich (Cambridge, 2004), pp. 1-10, pp. 162-98 

Justin Crumbaugh, “Prosperity and Freedom Under Franco: the Grand Invention of Tourism” in Destination Dictatorship: the Spectacle of Spain’s Tourist Boom and the Reinvention of Difference (SUNY Press, 2009), pp. 15-41. 

Cynthia Miller-Idris, “The Extreme Gone Mainstream” IIITMedia lecture, May 2018 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHYcakSDUCE 

Inside Spain’s Fascism Fandom https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqKSXPiGe7U