Undercover With the Alt-Right - The New York Times
Last September, Patrik Hermansson, a 25-year-old graduate student from Sweden, went undercover in the world of the extreme right. Posing as a student writing a thesis about the suppression of right-wing speech, he traveled from London to New York to Charlottesville, Va. — and into the heart of a dangerous movement that is experiencing a profound rejuvenation.
Mr. Hermansson, who was sent undercover by the British anti-racist watchdog group Hope Not Hate, spent months insinuating himself into the alt-right, using his Swedish nationality (many neo-Nazis are obsessed with Sweden because of its “Nordic” heritage) as a way in. It wasn’t always easy. “You want to punch them in the face,” he told me of the people he met undercover. “You want to scream and do whatever — leave. But you can’t do any of those things. You have to sit and smile.”
What he learned while undercover is one part of a shocking, comprehensive new report from Hope Not Hate that sheds light on the strange landscape of the alt-right, the much discussed, little understood and largely anonymous far-right movement that exists mostly online and that has come to national attention in part because of its support for Donald Trump.
The extreme alt-right are benefiting immensely from the energy being produced by a more moderate — but still far-right — faction known as the “alt-light.”
The alt-light promotes a slightly softer set of messages. Its figures — such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson and Mike Cernovich — generally frame their work as part of an effort to defend “the West” or “Western culture” against supposed left-liberal dominance, rather than making explicitly racist appeals. Many of them, in fact, have renounced explicit racism and anti-Semitism, though they will creep up to the line of explicitly racist speech, especially when Islam and immigration are concerned.
According to researchers, the key to hooking new recruits into any movement, and to getting them increasingly involved over time, is to simply give them activities to participate in. This often precedes any deep ideological commitment on the recruits’ part and, especially early on, is more about offering them a sense of meaning and community than anything else.
Intentionally or not, the far right has deftly applied these insights to the online world. Viewed through the filters of alt-light outlets like Breitbart and Prison Planet, or through Twitter feeds like Mr. Watson’s, the world is a horror show of crimes by migrants, leftist censorship and attacks on common sense. And the best, easiest way to fight back is through social media.
The newly initiated are offered many opportunities to participate directly. A teenager in a suburban basement can join a coordinated global effort to spread misinformation about Emmanuel Macron, France’s centrist president, in the hopes of helping far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Anyone who wants to do so can help spread the word about supposed mainstream media censorship of the Muslim “crime wave” the far right says is ravaging Europe.
These efforts — a click, a retweet, a YouTube comment — come to feel like important parts of an epochal struggle. The far right, once hemmed in by its own parochialism, has manufactured a worldwide online battlefield anyone with internet access can step into.
#Alt_right #Extrême_droite #Médias_sociaux #Post_truth