Disrupting the digital divide: Extremism’s Integration of Offline / Online Practice

Ashley Mattheis | INTERVENTIONEN – Zeitschrift für Verantwortungspädagogik | Ausgabe 14/2019

Extremist practices are increasingly bridging the offline and online milieus. Often, however, in the media, in policy, and in legal frameworks, these two environments are thought of as distinct and separate spheres (Szmania and Fincher 120). Moreover, the offline sphere is generally presented as “real,” while the online sphere is presented as “virtual,” or somehow less real (ADL “Real World”). This tendency stems from multiple factors including a long history of representing technology in either dystopic or utopic frames, difficulty in defining and explaining the distinctions between the two spaces as they become more integrated generally, and the limitations of existing policy and legal frameworks in relation to addressing the online sphere. Research, however, suggests that people experience these spaces – offline and online – as coextensive spaces of living their daily lives (Castells 118, Singer and Brooking 25).

In its offline aspect the broader right-wing movement is comprised of a range of groups and ideological variances that have traditionally had difficulty coalescing into a coherent movement with broad appeal (Michael “New Face” 264). US right-wing extremist groups have broadly and publicly discussed using the strategy of leaderless resistance. They have, however, had difficulty in developing it and deploying it effectively (Michael 264). In its online aspect, right-wing extremist practice is focused on spreading ideology, recruiting and radicalization, and building transnational communities (DHS “Strategic Framework” 10). This online practice has been successful as “[e]xtremist networks have become increasingly international” because “[n]ew media has made it easier for members of extremist groups and movements to connect through their shared perceived victimhood that is tied to a common identity – be it on the base of race, religion, political affiliation or class” (Ebner 127). The success of the integration of offline and online practices leverages the maturation of web-based technologies which have made the potential for the development of a form of leaderless resistance more real (Berger “Evolving”).

Within this context and in concert with the technological affordances of social media and web-based platforms, right-wing extremism is interacting with other forms of extremism. Such interactions include building interconnections with ideology recently identified as male supremacist extremism from the “Manosphere,” a loose online network made up of Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs), Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOWs), Pick Up Artists (PUAs) and Involuntary Celibate (Incels) misogynist online cultures (Waltman and Mattheis 17-20). Right-wing extremisms are also interacting with Jihadist extremism through “a paradoxical mixture of competition and cooperation,” (Ebner 140) inclusive of borrowing motifs for violent propaganda and tactical practicessuch as using vehicular attacks.

The interaction between offline and online practices is increasingly important for right-wing extremist groups and adherents because it enables the advancement of their goals in ways groups have been unable to achieve through direct action (Garfinkel 13). Understanding this interaction is urgent given the success with which extremist ideologies and practices are shifting normative culture through online media. Moreover, the current difficulty that predominantly online expressions of right-wing extremism – such as the Alt-Right – have in building unity with more traditional groups in offline milieus offers an opportunity to develop effective responses before a coherent unity emerges (Mattheis “Digital Hate”).

Therefore, this paper explores the integration of offline and online behaviors through two primary effects: 1) through the deconstruction of organizational structures including the strategy of leaderless resistance, lone actor violence, and self-radicalization and 2) through the dispersion and normalization of ideological variants in relation to online interactivity. The integration of offline / online practice promotes this diffusion of organization because it establishes networks irrespective of geography, temporality, or common language while it provides access to a vast array of extremist media and communities in which people can become immersed. It also promotes the dispersion of ideology by making it flexible and participatory. This makes the ideology more broadly appealing and increases the potential for individuals to identify with a somewhat “customized” version (Koehler 129).

Deconstruction of organizational structures poses a problem for conceptual concreteness and policy understandings of terrorism which rely on traditional understandings of “groups” as geographically emplaced, hierarchical, and associational through direct contact and relationships in order to pursue criminal action. Deconstructed, diffuse webs of actors is, in fact, the purpose of the strategy of leaderless resistance and its goal of creating “lone actor” (lone wolf / solo actor) violence through “self-radicalization” as articulated by Louis Beam in the early 1980s. This process of organizational disorganization has been enabled by the integration of the use of web-based platforms and is increasingly amplified by the affordances of social media platforms developing over the last few years (Berger “Evolving”).

Photo: Nahel Abdul Hadi/Unsplash

The integration of offline / online practice has also led to the dispersion and normalization of ideology due to the incorporation of online communicative norms and practices which reconfigure ideological discourses through users’ manipulations of cultural attachments. These practices work through processes of media production and sharing that rely on ideological and cultural borrowing (appropriation of content and practices of other groups) and bricolage (admixtures of available content that generate new meaning out of existing elements). Such practices are not exclusive to online behavior but are rather “a way for social actors to engage actively or strategically….to respond or adapt to ‘global modernity’’s complexities, diversity and contradictions” (Altglas 490). As such, bricolage is a function of human creative practice. Their use, however, is widespread in everyday interactions on social media. These practices can be most clearly seen in memes production which is predicated on blending cultural forms and touchstones in novel, ironic, and often humorous frames. The goal of these practices is to make content highly consumable and shareable leading to broad dispersion (Singer and Brooking 186-87). Regular exposure to such content as it disperses including participation through sharing, cross-posting, and repurposing can rapidly normalize embedded ideas,

To explore these effects of offline / online integration, this paper unfolds in several sections. The first section takes up the topic of organizational deconstruction and describes the effects of offline / online integration as applied to leaderless resistance, lone actor violence, and self-radicalization. The second section takes up practices of ideological dispersion – borrowing and bricolage – providing a discussion of the ways that online communicative practices impact the reproduction of right-wing extremist ideology making it highly consumable, flexible, and participatory. The third section outlines a framework for understanding current offline / online integrated practice through a framework of intimate publicity. This is followed by a fourth section which details how extremist ideology is spread through its intimate public by leveraging affective attachments points. The final section concludes the paper by briefly detailing two research reports and three radicalization stories that support the utility of the intimate public framework developed in earlier sections.

Organizational Deconstruction:

Leaderless resistance, championed early in the 1990s in US white supremacist extremist circles by Louis Beam, is a strategy that is deconstructive of organizations by design. It does this specifically in relation to the threat of government oversight in order to evade criminal statues and law enforcement through a framework of flattened hierarchy. Deconstructing the organizational “center” by diffusing action through unrelated small “cell” tactical groups and individuals (lone actors) prevents government intervention because there are no organized structures or leaders to attack (Beam). Lone actor terrorism (also called lone wolf, solo actor, and in some cases homegrown violent extremist) is a practice where individuals (seem to) work individually to plan and commit terror attacks. It further deconstructs organization structures by supplanting hierarchy and group structure entirely (Beam). Indeed, such individualization of violent acts is conceptualized as the penultimate outcome of the strategy of leaderless resistance (Berger “Evolving”). However, the success of the strategy of leaderless resistance and the concept of lone actors are debated (Berger “Evolving”, Burke, Sweeney 628)

In an attempt to clarify the conceptualization of leaderless resistance , M.M. Sweeney identified four primary criteria in the scholarly literature: “leaderless resistors cannot be members of organizations they represent; leaderless resistance is a tactical manifestation of an organization; the goal of leaderless resistance is to insulate members and leaders from prosecution; and leaderless resistance arises from organizational failure” (621-22). Sweeney then applied these criteria to a unique case – the Phineas Priesthood – of “truly leaderless” actors within US right-wing extremist culture (622-26). Ultimately, Sweeney’s findings indicate that a lack of clarity around the notions of organizations versus ideology lead to misunderstandings of leaderless resistance and “lone wolf” or lone / single actor violence, which are most often not “truly leaderless” violence (628-29).

Further complicating the evolution of Right-Wing extremist strategy and action is the widespread use of internet technologies and platforms by a variety of participants who may or may not engage with formally organized groups. As such, online participation works to deconstruct organizational structures by diffusing adherence and dispersing ideology through technological media. Here, the notion of “self-radicalization” has been used to designate the seemingly isolated nature of radicalization – independent of “association” with extremist groups or actors – through a person’s engagement with web-mediated platforms (Alfano et al 289-90). This understanding comes from thenature of web and social media platformswhich provide the ability for anonymousand disconnected participation in ideologies because there is no need to establish oneself as an official group member.Self-radicalization, particularly throughonline technology, is also considered aroot cause of recent lone actor violence and the potential realization of leaderless resistance (Berger “Evolving”).

Self-radicalization, however, is a problematic concept in the context of internet culture because it is often used as a term to differentiate between offline and online behavior. As Susan Szmania and Phelix Fincher have noted, “policy makers have often conceptualized online and offline radicalizing environments as separate and distinct” (120). In this frame, offline radicalization is seen as a social process and online radicalization is seen as an isolated – i.e. self-directed – process. Discussionsof “self-radicalization,” then, overlap withdiscussions of “online radicalization” eventhough “self-radicalization” as a concept isnot exclusively correspondent with online practice.

Radicalization online, including the “push” to “individual” violent action, is a social process (Berger Extremism 120, Michael “Lone Wolf” 29, Burke “Myth”, Koehler 119) that is technologically mediated.1 It appears “individual” because it occurs in communities that allow for asynchronous (not occurring at the same time), global communication. Participation is interconnected and interactive including meme circulation, media sharing, and posting / cross posting from a variety of participants and actors who together form an ideologi-cally based “interactive community” (Sing-er and Brooking 169). Moreover, recent changes in extremists’ online behavior in relation to attempts to “de-platform” or regulate extremist content online, show that these participants understand themselves as communities. The move to closed groups, forums, and platforms, attempts to build their own platforms, and some groups’ movements “down the stack” show that participants value and desire to main-tain these communities and connections (Hughes “New Ways”).

In addition to efforts and strategies to maintain online communities, there have been multiple efforts to move such online affiliations offline. The most infamous recent instance of this in the US was the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA in August 2017. Here predominantly online communities such as the Alt-Right and more established “offline” organizations such as the Traditionalist Workers Party, the Ku Klux Klan, and Identity Europa organized as a unified collective. The hope of the groups was to regularize the practice of large rallies to push their political agenda (“White Nationalist”). However, this became an unlikely possibility due to the instability of the interconnections of the groups – particularly the newer Alt-Right groups – and because of negative press surrounding the murder of Heather Heyer, an anti-racist protestor.

Currently, it seems as if the larger coalition has become unsustainable, but the attempt points to important facets of the use of an offline / online framework. Rally attendees and groups used web-based and digital means of communication to organize the event (“White Nationalist”). Thus, the large-scale conversion of online community into offline participation and action is a key – if yet not fully realized – goal. On a smaller scale, many of the more traditional groups also now rely on the capacities of the web and social media to recruit and bring in new participants (Koehler 119-122). This is a shift that corresponds to the more ubiquitous and coextensive natures of web and social media with offline life. In light of this clear integration of offline and online participation, online radicalization requires new ways of understanding the interactivity of offline and online relations. This is essential because the production, circulation, and positive reinforcement of belief an

Photo: Anthony Cider

d participation are happening within ideological “interactive communities” (Singer and Brooking 169) that also bridge the offline and online spheres (Koehler 130-31). This nature of offline/online communities becomes important to understanding shifts in practice – typically considered inspirational rather than associational – such as the sharing of manifestos and the increasing “gamification” of mass attacks, including attackers’ livestreams referencing first person shooter video games and forum posts discussing kill counts (Mattheis “Manifesto Memes”). This type of interactivity online – participating in producing, sharing, posting, and commenting – produces enjoyment and association between participants which poses radicalization online as “a social process of affective networking” (Johnson 101). Such practices and interactions must be understood as associational in the sense that they are interactive “community” reinforcement of radicalization.

Generating Participatory, Flexible Ideology:

The combination of deconstructed organization and the affordances of social media and web-based technologies have further dispersed the ideology of right-wing extremists making it flexible – easily modified in response to participants’ interests – to increase its appeal to a wide-ranging, varied audience. What is important about such flexibility is that it allows for individual identification with the ideology through personal frames of resonance as well as common social frames of resonance. At the level of individual frames, a rich example of how ideological flexibility derived from online cultural frames works is the Christchurch attacker’s manifesto, “The Great Replacement” includes his adaptions of Kipling poems, ironic misdirection including labeling Candace Owens responsible for his radicalization, and use of the “subscribe to PewDiePie” meme (Romano). This also contributes to the variations applied to right-wing extremist ideology that have been expressed in other recently postedmanifestos. Such variation is clear in the El Paso attacker’s “Notification Letter” which identifies with notions of white genocide through US based border politics by substituting “Mexican immigrants” for the “Islamic invaders” typical to Euro-centric white supremacist, identitarian extremism.

At the level of communal frames of resonance, this flexibility is also useful for connecting a multiplicity of right-wing extremist ideologies and ideas to other hate-based ideologies such as the misogynist Manosphere culture online from which violent Incel extremism derives. Such interconnection and ideological transfer have become clear in the last several years through an increase in blog posts and media which interweave the two ideologies through narratives of anti-feminism and the shared belief that women’s equality is destroying society (Mattheis “Digital Hate”). Anti-feminism works as a site of ideological transfer because it is broadly present in socio-cultural life as well as being a mainstay of masculinist online tech cultures. As such, women, particularly feminist women, are already identified as an outgroup making anti-feminist and misogynistic narratives highly resonant in online contexts and thus provide a useful mechanism for spreading and transferring ideology.

Recent reports have also noted a growingpattern of right-wing extremist groups “borrowing” visuals, tactics, and strategies from Jihadist extremist frameworks. We see this for example mirroring between right-wing extremist and jihadist extremist groups and practices such as the group “The Base” which takes its name from the English translation of “Al Qaeda,” the use of vehicles for committing mass attacks between Jihadist and Incel groups, and the use of similar motifs – particularly tactical, military, and first-person shooter motifs – in video propaganda and right-wing extrem-ist attack live streams (Johnson “Striking Resemblance”) This sort of borrowing is also embedded in the practices of what has been called reciprocal radicalization between right-wing and Jihadist extremist groups (Ebner 10-11).

The process by which such ideological flexibility is gained relies on the admixture of various ideological and cultural components in the production of right-wing extremist propaganda, particularly visual images and videos. This blending of content to generate meaning from existing elements is a form of “bricolage” – a sort of ideological pastiche through which users marry existing ideas, imagery, and cultural touchstones in novel ways to create new meanings. Bricolage, in its original conception by Claude Levi-Strauss, was applied to the generation of new mythologies and it was “intended to capture how cultures create something new out of what already exists” (Altglas 477).

The practice of ideological bricolage follows broader internet subcultural norms of visual and textual bricolage and participatory media production and sharing. Ryan M. Milner asserts that “[i]nternet memes depend on collective creation, circulation, and transformation” and that “[t]hey are multi-modal texts that facilitate participation by reappropriation, by balancing a fixed premise with novel expression” (14). Their multi-modal nature follows the multi-modal nature of the internet where the blending of two or more modes of communication including “written language, image, audio, video, and hypertext” allows for more versatile mediated conversations (Milner 24). This can also be seen in the appropriation of signs and symbols such as the “ok” hand sign and the “Pepe” frog image and their rearticulation within a range of media including memes, videos, and selfies among others (Singer and Brooking 187).

An example of visual bricolage through ideological borrowing that makes clear its capacity (and perhaps intention) to manipulate interconnections between forms of extremism includes a meme series developed in relation to the Christchurch attack. This series blends male supremacist, specifically Incel meme visuals and narratives of redemptive violence with right-wing extremist ideology (Mattheis “Manifesto Memes”). It positions right-wing extremist attackers as “Chads,” alpha males who do not suffer the indignity of involuntary celibacy, to argue that mass violence is a pathway to proper masculinity. The series includes multiple memes which compare various violent actors including right-wing extremist attackers, Incel attackers, and jihadist attackers. Comparisons rate the relative success of right-wing extremist attackers and highlight the failures of Incel and Jihadist attackers in order to promote mass violence – specifically aimed at protecting whiteness – as the “right” pathway. Thus, gender is the fulcrum for blending of these two extremist ideologies to promote identification and normalization of their most violent components.

Importantly, bricolage appears to occur at all levels of propaganda production and ideological transfer while borrowing appears to occur primarily within the propaganda of the most extreme, violent actors and groups. In this sense, bricolage is a form with broader use while borrowing is more highly targeted and specific in its appropriation of content, visuals, and topics. Both bricolage and borrowing, as strategic tactics of online communication, make sense within the right-wing extremist framing of the “culture wars” where “[m]aking something go viral is hard; co-opting or poisoning something that’s already viral can be remarkably easy” (Singer and Brooking 191).

Conceptualizing Offline / Online Integration through Intimate Publics:

Photo: Acebarry/Wikimedia Commons

Publics in a traditional political conception are “coherent groups acting with shared concerns and interests within the broader imagined community of the public sphere as part of democratic political processes” (Wessler and Freudenthaler). In online spaces, coherent group structure is limited due to digital cultural norms (Ganesh). Michael Warner and Lauren Berlant provide conceptions of discursive publics that work better with the vagaries of online structures. Warner’s conception of publics articulates them as self-organized “space[s] of discourse,” that function as a relation among strangers, mediated by cultural forms and contingent upon historical context, which come together through “mere attention,” (not agreement) and are thus “the social space created by the reflexive circulation of discourse” (Warner 51- 62). This provides a way to understand online relational structures as publics which are formed through discursive association (attention to circulating discourses including texts, images, etc) and interactive (social), asynchronous participation (reflexive circulation).

Warner, however, argues against the notion that publics are constituted through categorical group membership such as gender, race, or class (58-60). In the cases of right-wing extremism or male supremacism online, where a primary organizing discourse is white or male identity respectively, Warner’s conception requires adaptation. To account for categorical affiliation in publics, Lauren Berlant develops the notion of “intimate publicity” which describes how women form publicness as women in light of their historical exclusion from the participation in the political public sphere (iv-xi). This frame is useful in thinking about how extremist publics focused on white identity or male identity work as integrated offline / online practices by capitalizing on the capacities of social media to circulate grievances.

Intimate publicity, as Berlant defines it, refers to the formation of publicness through the circulation of discourse where engaged individuals have an expectation “that the consumers of its particular stuff [discourses, texts, and commodities] already share a worldview and emotional knowledge that they have derived from a broadly common historical experience (xiii). Thus, publics characterized by intimate publicity cohere through an affective sensibility of shared experience between members even though they are strangers. From this view, extremist “intimate” publics – both right-wing and male supremacist – stick together and break apart in relation to circulating discourses integral to their concerns derived from feelings of common historical oppression; characterized by notions of white genocide or misandry (hatred and discrimination against men) respectively.2

Circulating discourses in this space include existing historical cultural stories, myths, and narratives as well as intentionally developed narratives that are circulated through a range of mediated forms including posts, memes, video games, fan fiction, videos, manifestos and even message-laden clothing.3 The determining factor in extremists’ circulation of specific discourses is whether or not the discourses mobilize affective (emotive rather than logical) attachments that resonate with public’s members’ shared sense of common historical experience. Thus, the individual feels the truth of a discourse rather than deliberating about its veracity. Affective attachments that have been useful for right-wing extremist ideology are: immigration framed as invasion of the west (Great Replacement), recapturing homeland and identity (Blood and Soil), leftist deviance and rejection of “traditional” social and family structure (feminism / multi-culturalism / anti-government), cultural deterioration (non-assimilation), and violence against women (rape by migrant men) and the West (Jihadist terrorism).

Attachments with a discourse may be positive or negative. Within right-wing and male supremacist extremist intimate publicity, positive attachments tend to be articulated through the frame of nostalgia while negative attachments tend to be articulated through the frame of precarity (Mattheis “Digital Hate”). Interestingly, much of the online material developed by these groups in order to further the circulation of their preferred discourses is done to present them as objectively, often “scientifically” true. This accounts for the current increase in the circulation of “racial science” discourses that originated under eugenics research in the 1920s and 1930s, because those discourses purport to scientifically prove the feeling that the white race is superior (Schoen 20-25). Importantly, this process of circulating discourses works particularly well when points of affective attachment are found in less extreme variations in normative social and political discourse (Mattheis “Manifesto Memes”). In this way, affective attachments provide a bridge between offline and online space where extremists can relate to and reinforce the ideas they encounter online because of their offline experience and vice versa.

Building Intimate Publicity through Affective Attachments:

A primary set of affective attachments within the circulating discourses of right-wing and Manosphere extremist ideologies, includes misogyny, anti-feminism, and gender (Mattheis “Digital Hate”, Reaves 1-20, Johnston and True 1-6). A vast array of memes, videos, blog posts, comments, and pseudo-scientific wiki pages are dedicated to explaining how women, feminism, and non-biological explanations of gender are responsible for the decline of men, society, and Western civilization. Thus, this set of attachments is embedded within a whole range of narratives for each group. These attachments, for right-wing extremists, are forwarded specifically through narratives of great replacement theory and white genocide which revolve around white men’s instrumentalization and control of white women’s wombs and reproductive capacities. Among Manosphere groups, including Incel cultures, this set of affective attachments makes up the foundational base of their claims. They are forwarded through narratives about feminism’s oppression of men through “misandry” (gendered hatred of men) and male disposability (the idea that women and society use men and throw them away rather than valuing men as human beings) as features of a gynocentric social order (Wright).4

Both right-wing and Manosphere conspiracy theories ground the fall of (Western) civilization – an outcome of the existential threat facing the in-group – in women’s destruction of the natural social order through their failure to understand and accept their “proper” place. Feminism is posed as a tool created by a hostile force and used (unwittingly by ‘good’ women and intentionally by ‘bad’ women and cultural Marxists) to sow social chaos and convince people that impending social destruction is in reality progressive, positive change. For right-wing extremists, feminism is a tool of the Zionist Occupied Government – a global Jewish network that controls government through media and corporate control (Waltman and Mattheis 10). For Manosphere groups, feminism is a tool of the “Gynocracy,” or a government and legal system ruled by women and women’s interests through duped male proxies where women are not the majority members of governance (Wright “Gynocentrism”). In both cases, feminism was created by design to destroy (white) men and masculinity and will ultimately destroy (Western) civilization unless people (whites, men, and ‘good women’) wake up and take a stand.

This shared set of attachments – misogyny, anti-feminism, and gender – provides a highly mobile (circulatable) framework for radicalization by extending existing social, religious, and political frames of discourse. Thus, extremists’ narratives using gender are highly resonant because they “[fit] neatly into…preexisting story lines by allowing [people] to see [them]selves clearly in solidarity with – or opposition to – its actors” (Milner159). So, constructing ideological materials – memes, videos, texts – for onlineconsumption that draw on and radicalizethrough narratives and images using misogyny, anti-feminism, and gender-based arguments is useful because people canaffectively attach to those argumentsbased on their personal experiences andconcerns. This connection increases theimpact of the material because the reader’s / viewer’s own existing beliefs areengaged to make the materials feel true.The intimate publicity developed fromcirculating ideology through affective attachments, indeed through the manipulation of affective attachments, is amplified by the generation of media throughideological bricolage. Milner articulatesthe amplifying effect of affective contentproduction online saying, “[a]s social media users find ways to express (or exploit)anger, they generate new pieces of content that are propelled through the same system, setting off additional cascades of fury” (162). The example of the Radical Right Attackers as Chads meme series above shows how the process of manipulating affective attachments to gender – specifically dominant (white) masculinity – make racialized hate mobile within theframework of male supremacist extremism.

Other meme series have been manufactured to mobilized affective attachments to gender in a variety of ways. One of the most disturbing is a set of images of battered and bloody women, appropriated and manipulated from an anti-domestic violence campaign, to promote the narrative of migrant rape of white women in Sweden (Mas).5 This series mobilizes women’s fears of violence and rape and men’s anxieties about being able to protect “their women” – really access to and control over white women’s bodies – as a framework for promoting identification with right-wing extremist ideology. Each of these manipulations of affective attachments through gender works within the framework of intimate publicity by leveraging white / male precarity and explicating the extant dangers leading to ominous threats posed by the continuance of white / male oppression.

Support for Intimate Publics as a Conceptual Framework:

A recent pair of research reports highlights gender, anti-feminism, and misogyny as aspects of violent extremism on and offline. The Anti-Defamation League’s 2018 report “When Women are the Enemy: The Intersection of Misogyny and White Supremacy” offers a view of the online interrelation of misogyny and white supremacist extremism. It argues that “a deep-seated loathing of women acts as a connective tissue between many white supremacists, especially those in the alt right, and their lesser-known brothers in hate like incels (involuntary celibates), MRAs (Men’s Rights Activists) and PUAs (Pick Up Artists)” (5-6). The basic premise of the ADL report has recently been empirically corroborated in the offline context in a report by Monash Gender, Peace, and Security Centre. The 2019 report, “Misogyny & Violent Extremism: Implications For Preventing Violent Extremism” includes the important finding that there is “factors commonly thought to affect support for violent extremism” such as “religiosity, age, gender, level of education achieved, employment, and geographic area” that “more than any other factor, support for violence against women predicted support for violent extremism” (Johnston and True 1). These reports highlight the utility of this paper’s conceptualization of offline / online organizational coherence through the mobilization of affective attachments and intimate publicity.

Similarly, a recent set of popular press pieces from formerly radicalized individuals also shows the utility of gender, misogyny, and anti-feminism as attachment points within the intimate publicity of right-wing and male supremacist extremism. In “What Happened After My 13-Year-Old Son Joined the Alt-Right,”an anonymous mother details the storyof how her teenaged son was radicalized into the Alt-Right online after beingaccused of sexual harassment at school.She notes that “online pals [from Redditand 4Chan] were happy to explain thatall girls lie—especially about rape. …

They insisted that the wage gap is a fallacy, that feminazis are destroying families…. They declared that women who abort their babies should be jailed” (“13 Year Old”). Her son eventually became a Reddit moderator entrenched in Alt-Right ideology before being deradicalized and returning to normal teenaged life.

“The Making of a YouTube Radical,” details the story of Caleb Cain’s online radicalization. He pinpoints his entry into extremism online: “One day in late 2014, YouTube recommended a self-help video by Stefan Molyneux, a Canadian talk show host and self-styled philosopher. / Like Mr. Cain, Mr. Molyneux had a difficult childhood, and he talked about overcoming hardships through self-improvement” (Roose). Importantly, he notes that “Mr. Molyneux…also had a political agenda. He was a men’s rights advocate who said that feminism was a form of socialism and that progressive gender politics were holding young men back” (Roose).6 According to the article, Cain has deradicalized also through viewing YouTube videos by anti-fascist personalities like ContraPoints (known offline as Natalie Wynn) whose primary goals is to produce videos that debunk extremist messaging and use YouTube’s algorithm to get it in front of viewers of extremist material. Importantly, this show how a public is made up of those who agree and disagree with the circulating discourses and how they participate in the discourse circulation. The most recent piece, “How Women Fall into America’s White Power Movement,” outlines the stories of Samantha and two other women radicalized into Identity Europa. One unnamed woman who joined Identity Europa then started dating a man in the group noted: “her boyfriend’s view was ‘Women deserve to be subjugated. Women deserve to be humiliated. Women deserve to be raped. Women deserve to be impregnated.’ It wasn’t a joke. … I can’t believe I supported that stuff’” but “‘I thought I was trash, so I didn’t mind when they talked about women being dogs, worthless” (Reeve “Fall”). This woman’s comment highlights how affective attachments to gender – even negative attachments – can be used to engage people. Each of these individuals, who likely never met either off or online, shares an associational relation as members of a public predicated on their attention to and participation in the circulation of discourses, texts, and things tied to right-wing and male supremacist ideology. Their publicness is intimate given the sensibility of a shared experience – a common history of oppression as whites / males – which is expressed through grievances framed as precarity (story one – accusation of sexual harassment, story 2 – troubled past and difficulty relating to women) or nostalgia (story three – the promise of family and safety). The ability to analyze these three stories across a single analytic frame shows a variety of ways people are radicalized into right-wing extremism through gender as a point of affective attachment.Moreover, the stories’details showcase multiple forms of offline / online integration dependent on individual’s access to and relationship with platforms, formal groups, and their personal characteristics such as age and location. In the case of current expressions of right-wing extremism and increasingly violent related forms of extremism such as male supremacist extremism, there are multiple negative effects of this disconnected approach to offline and online practices. These include a lack of focus on and misunderstanding of non-violent extremist participation as action that supports and bolsters violent actors (Szmania and Fincher 122) and processes of ideological transfer between multiple forms of right-wing extremism and externally with other forms of extremism (Mattheis “Digital Hate”). This brief analysis offers an example of the insights that an analytic rooted in publics theory can provide. It also points to the potential for better understanding contemporary practices of extremism through new conceptualizations of integrated offline / online practices. While a publics approach does not solve all the extant problems of definition or conceptualization – particularly those related to the limitations of policy and law in respect to integrated off / online practice – it can help build a case for why policy and law must address the issue differently. For practitioners in the prevention and deradicalization arenas, this analysis and conceptualization hopefully offers insights that can support existing approaches and assist in formulating productive new approaches to your practice.

 

1 “Technologies help shape perceptions and actions, experiences, and practices. In doing so, they help shape how human beings can be present in the world and how the world can be present for human beings.” See: Peter-Paul Verbeek. 2015. “Beyond interaction: a short introduction to mediation theory.” Interactions. http://interactions.acm.org/archive/view/may-june-2015/beyond-interaction.
2 For primary texts which outline contemporary iterations of these ideologies, see: “The Great Replacement” by Breton Tarrant (https://www.ilfoglio.it/userUpload/The_Great_Replacementconvertito.pdf)and “The Misandry Bubble” by Thomas Frey (https://www.singularity2050.com/2010/01/the-misandry-bubble.html).
3 See: Cynthia Miller-Idriss, The Extreme Gone Mainstream: Commercialization and Far Right Youth Culture in Germany (2018).
4 For Incels gynocentrism, misandry, and male disposability are implicit concepts framed through narratives of sexual rejection based on their lacking looks and social status. Here, shallow and superficial women fail to appreciate these men as good guys who revere (hot) women. This narrative frame undergirds the “gentleman” and “saint” labeling of Incels who commit mass attacks. See detailed information on Incels forum wiki: https://incels.wiki/w/Main_Page.
5 See “Rapist Migrant” section debunking the imagery used as appropriated visuals from domestic/intimate partner violence cases: https://observers.france24.com/en/20180105-fake-images-racist-stereotypes-migrants.
6 Stefan Molyneux has since migrated to the Alt-Right as he has incorporated “race realism” into his Manosphere gendered ideology (Roose, Futrelle).

 

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