Mack Lamoureux, VICE, October 23, 2017
The extreme right is increasingly sophisticated, globalized and actively recruiting young people, a grim new study says.
The once perpetually fractured eco-system of the far-right, from white nationalists in the US to anti-migrant groups in Europe, has become cohesive and highly adaptable. The Fringe Insurgency, a study published by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, shows that while these movements may differ in ideology and scope, they are increasingly working together. Essentially, the extreme right — many of which state isolationism and nationalism as key ideologies — has globalized.
“There is certainly a real paradoxical relationship in that these very ultra-nationalistic movements started to act internationally and globalize their anti-globalist ideas,” Julia Ebner, one of the study’s authors, told VICE. “I think that’s rather ironic.”
The paper is built upon on three case studies: the Defend Europe campaign, the Charlottesville rally, and the German election. It focused on, but wasn’t limited to, the alt-right, neo-Nazis, Identitarians (an European ethno-nationalist movement which works to preserve of European culture and identity) and counter-Jihadists actions. Julia Ebner and Jacob Davey, the authors of the study, analyzed 5,000 pieces of content from over 50 channels of communication including Twitter, 4chan, and far-right discord channels.
“There was really a need to start figuring out what was causing this explosion in extreme right activism globally,” Davey told VICE. “There was really a need to start getting data behind all of that and see what mechanism is allowing this to happen.
“They’re not all knuckleheads… The big thing here is that they are increasingly becoming more and more sophisticated. It’s a continuously growing and expanding process, if you look closely, they’re constantly learning from each other. They’re becoming more aware of the fact that they can have this greater impact.”
In their research, the duo found a sophisticated ecosystem that is apt at recruitment, propaganda, and mobilization. Utilizing a range of social media platforms, the far right is able to increasingly fundraise, mobilize, propagandize and, most importantly, translate their online activity into real world dollars. More than $200,000 was raised on various online platforms for Defend Europe — the Identitarian anti-refugee mission in the Mediterranean — and the donations came from around the world, not just countries in which the Identitarians exist.
The study paints a bleak view of just how sophisticated the far right has become as the authors suggest the extreme right is a full step ahead of policies set up to counter them. The duo writes, that “analysis illustrated that the extreme right is currently ahead of the curve on at least three levels:” they are early tech adopters, they know how to work together, and they know how to speak to the young. Furthermore, the various far right groups are teaching and learning from each other.
“What we’re seeing, especially from the coalition building from the European Identitarians and the Americans, is that they’ve tried to leverage those different comparative advantages each of them have,” said Ebner. “The Americans have the advantage of the trolling and [online activities] and the Europeans have more of the intellectual backbone of the movement, but also more experience in staging media stunts and rallies.”
Their most recent case study, the German election, is focused on studying a recent trend emerging in the far-right around their world — the far right’s eagerness to disrupt and impact elections. In the French, American, and German elections the far right mobilized extremely active campaigns to various levels of success. Ebner and Davey write in their study that a cohesive unit of European and American far right “troll armies,” were able to drive two of the most powerful hashtags on Twitter in the days leading up to the German election.
While for the moment it appears the extreme right is winning online, Ebner says that not all is lost.
“I think this opportunistic cross-ideology coalition building is one of the most worrying signs because it allows them to mainstream their ideologies, but it could be one of the best opportunities to tap into and expose all the differences exist between them. And to expose what they’re hiding in their outward looking face on social media and what they’re actually writing internally.”