The Echoes of War: The Alt-Right and Internet Strategy (30.09.17)

In certain corners of the internet, the Alt-Right are using violent strategies to build space for their political ideologies. According to Der Spiegel in 2017, ‘they are conducting a hybrid war, with disinformation, fake news, hateful memes and bots, automated accounts that spend their message across the internet’. Utilisation of ‘fake news, hateful memes, and bots’ are evidence of the internet strategies that are shaping political ideologies.  Following Trump’s election victory in 2016 one prominent Alt-Right hacker claimed that the Alt-Right are establishing the new political norms claiming ‘never again will there be an election in which trolling, hacking, and extreme right politics’ don’t play a part. After the AFD received some 13% of the popular vote in Germany the same spokesperson asserted with eerie ambition ‘are you sick of winning yet?’.

 

The Internet has created a new world where the civic landscape is being rebuilt and reimagined. Politics is lagging behind the new methods and language of the internet, however, utilisation of such methods can lead to political gains. Trump’s use of memes and Twitter were strong factors behind his election victory. Similarly, the AfD, a populist far-right party in Germany, successfully utilised social media to become the country’s third biggest party in the September 2017 election.

The landscape of the internet has allowed the rise in Alt-Right views to swell without notice. Gillian Tett has claimed that the liberal media ‘were trapped in such an intellectual echo chamber’ until the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville Virginia. This implies that the liberal media have been in splendid isolation, in contrast, The rising of the Alt-Right has in Foroohar’s view spilt into ‘cultural war’, with Twitter and Google making up the modern battlefield. Whether in conflict or isolation it is clear that the Alt-Right has strengthened both in online and political culture.

USA

On the 9th of November 2016, Donald Trump won the US presidential election. Trump became the first president since Hoover to win the election without military nor political experience. Trump aligned himself strongly with the online Alt-Right, helping disseminate his ideology through internet culture. The Alt-Right’s strong positions online are accompanied by two trends. Firstly, the construction of online space. Secondly, the ideologies use of language and symbolism.

Websites have become the ideological forums of the Alt-Right. In July 2016 Breitbart became the 11th most popular website on Facebook, attracting fervent Trump supporters with the polemic articles that offered huge support to the President.

Currently, they are selling T-Shirts with the words ‘STAND’, implicitly criticising the NFL players who refused to stand for the national anthem and then subsequently were criticised by the President. The strength of the relationship between Bannon, the man who set up Breitbart, and Trump, was demonstrated as the former was originally made the president’s Chief Strategist. After he lost his job last August he returned to Breitbart, pledging his support to the Trump administration.

The significance of Breitbart is part of a wider trend, as white nationalist accounts increased some 600% according to the 2016 George Washington forum. These websites have created online spaces were Alt-Right ideas are shaped and formed, often providing counter-narratives to right-wing mainstream media outlets like Fox News. Trump’s election further proved how potent these Alternative media sources could be, with the President receiving no media support from any of the major American news outlets.

The language of the Alt-Right also offers a significant insight towards the strategies of new political culture.  Firstly, the Alt-Right online is strongly associated with violent intimidating language. For instance, The Daily Stormer, a far-right American media sight, described Heather Heyer, the woman killed in Charlottesville, as a ‘fat childless 32-year-old’.

This has been recognised amongst media figures in Britain. Owen Jones, a prominent Guardian journalist, claimed that he would stop commenting on social media, due in part to the ‘far-right extremists sending ever more creative descriptions of how they’re going to torture and murder me’. Jones also argued that social media no longer appeared a ‘useful tool’ for political debate. This comment suggests that the violent language of far-right media is successfully suppressing informative debate and discussion online. The comments made on Heather Heyer demonstrate how far removed the civic language of Alt-Right media contrasts to the traditional culture of the political system.

Trump has bought the language and symbolism of the Alt-Right to the masses through his Twitter page where he got into trouble for encouraging violence against CNN journalists after retweeting the following GIF:

Clip’s such as the above and memes of Trump as Pepe the frog create politically symbolic representations and resemblances that can easily be disseminated and consumed through mainstream social media avenues like, Twitter, Reddit, and 4chan. Amelia Tait from the New Statesman goes as far as claiming ‘we actually elected a meme as a president’. Thus while the language of violence actively suppresses opposition views, the utilisation of memes provides light-hearted satirical support for Alt-Right ideologues. The use of violent language has become the Alt-Right’s artillery; the meme has become their propaganda poster.

Germany

On the 25th of November 2017 Angela Merkel was reinstated as the German Chancellor, however, the most sensational result was the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) becoming Germany’s third biggest party with 13% of the vote.  The AfD is a strongly anti-Islamic party who attracted support due to their populist nationalist ideology. Once again the utilisation of, firstly internet space and secondly the deployment of Alt-Right symbolism have played vital roles in the party’s success.

The AfD specifically targeted social media in order to make huge gains. According to Stanley-Becker ‘the party’s most useful ally in this effort is the internet’, similarly, Schwarz claimed that ‘the AfD has harnessed the internet as a modern marketplace, where they have given voice to the idea that the political elite of Germany has guided the country in the wrong direction’. There is evidence that the party has channelled the global Alt-Right ideology, as the party employed Harris Media the internet group who aided Trump to victory in 2016. This suggests that the Alt-Right ideology is transnational; an echo chamber of political ideas that can cross languages and borders. This ideology is also strategically dedicated to targeting online space in order to disseminate their views.

Similar linguistic trends are found amongst the Alt-Right nationalist groups in Germany. The AfD labelled Merkel as a ‘perjurer’ and ‘accomplice to torture’, reiterating the Alt-Right technique of personally attacking political rivals. During a presidential debate efforts were made to undermine the political discussion between Merkel and Schulz, leader of the SPD, with the hashtag ‘verraeterduell’meaning ‘traitor debate’. The aggressive counter-narratives are continually spun in attempts to undermine the centrist political leadership and in turn, give rise to a far-right alternative. Sometimes these narratives lead to rank intimidation, as a group called Reconquista Germanica threatened to slaughter members of the Green Party. Such threats are explicitly violent and disgustingly thuggish.

The Alt-Right are shaping the civic landscape of the internet. Violent language is their artillery and memes are their propaganda posters. The Alt-Right are like football hooligans with an increasingly large firm. They are feared and rightly so, yet they are nevertheless thugs who ruin the game of football. At the moment, the AfD are Germany’s third largest party, there is mainstream support for Marine Le Pen in France and Donald Trump is the president of the United States. Whilst it is important that centrist politicians learn from the internet strategy of the Alt-Right it is also imperative that such violent methods are condemned. The Internet has created a new World and it is up to us to create the world we want.

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