The more prominent figures within the milieu of the alt-right are bolstered by a seemingly large amount of internet traffic and users that help spread propaganda that typically leans towards messages of hate and violence.
One of the key propaganda machines that have been indicated is the board Politically incorrect, or /pol/, on the anonymous imageboard 4chan. Hine et al., (2017) found that the board posts more right-leaning links to news stories and that they have a remarkable ability to make original content which is why it might be viewed as the center of hate online. The authors caution that in their analysis of the 8 million posts they could not tell for certain if some of the hateful speech was sarcasm or trolling, regardless there does seem to be a more right lean to the board and seems to favor the Trump presidency.
Pepe the frog, a popular 4chan meme, was one of the instances of alt-right memetic warfare as they took a rather ambiguous meme and warped it to push their radical agenda, even the original creator of the meme has indicated that his creation is being used against his own wishes and has even sought legal action against those that use the image for hateful purposes. In the case of Pepe the frog the direction of the meme was clearly directed by the alt-right during the 2016 election cycle as Nagle (2017) writes:
As old media dies, gatekeepers of cultural sensibilities and etiquette have been overthrown, notions of popular taste maintained by a small creative class are now perpetually outpaced by viral online content from obscure sources, and culture industry consumers have been replaced by constantly online, instant content producers. The year 2016 may be remembered as the year the media mainstream’s hold over formal politics died. A thousand Trump Pepe memes bloomed and a strongman larger-than-life Twitter troll who showed open hostility to the mainstream media and to both party establishments took The White House without them (p.8).
Though as is the case with meme usage, if it is utilized in one way it can be used with the opposite or even other intentions as well. Pepe is just one example, as it, like other memes, can be edited to serve any political ideology, it took off with the alt-right, becoming a symbol of their movement and to the layperson only being exclusively associated with intolerance and hate. This kind of appropriation was also shown during the Hong Kong protests last year, where protestors adopted the symbol of Pepe as a mascot for their fight.
Though 4chan is not entirely right-wing and seems to host a diverse range of topics and opinions. Beran (2019), found that 4chan initially raided the white supremacist site Stormfront, which inadvertently attracted the site’s userbase to 4chan who flooded the news board, /new/, which was deleted but did not rid the site of neo-nazis, as those that flooded /new/ moved to other boards such as international (/int/) and weapons (/k/).
Stormfront is a white nationalist forum that boasts over 350,000 members and whose front page reads:
The truth is “hate” to those who hate the truth!
We are a community of racial realists and idealists. Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Jewish Nationalists openly support their racial interests, with American taxpayers even required to support the Jewish ethnostate of Israel. We are White Nationalists who support true diversity and a homeland for all peoples, including ours. We are the voice of the new, embattled White minority!
Reading this paragraph shows a dizzying amount of dissonance as they imply that they are for all peoples, yet consider themselves a threatened minority and the true ideal is to keep different races separate because the other races serve their own interests. All without acknowledging the Western European history of exploitation, genocide, and slavery that was committed to serve white interests and which is still practiced in one way or another to this day.
In addition to the blatant projections, which will be met with, later on, the forum seems to be more a real deal than /pol/ as it likely does not have as much trolling or sarcasm laced amongst its user base, though the overlap between the two is probably not surprisingly large.
The discussions within the forum try to give a facade of rigor and rationality. An example of this is a stickied thread titled Bad Scientific Arguments Used By White Nationalists. The idea that they are pushing is further from anything other than fanaticism; a cemented cognition towards race and their interactions with and understanding of it, perpetuating a narrow and unrealistic worldview, that history has shown leads to some of the greatest harms to others.
Going further down, to a site that blatantly embraces neo-nazi ideology, The Daily Stormer. The site helped organize the unite the right rally and had trouble finding a host online shortly after, ultimately forcing them to move onto the dark web on the tor network, at least temporarily, though they are hosted on a .su domain , currently on the clear net. Being pushed from the net raised some concerns about freedom of speech and how it may affect other political movements. It got to the point that the software developers of the Tor project wrote a post about how they were against The Daily Stormer but could do nothing to erase its existence from the net entirely as it goes against their mission of promoting human dignity and freedom all over the world.
The Daily Stormer’s front page is not subtle in its message at all with this banner greeting visitors along with a countdown clock to what appears to be alluding to white genocide.
Their bulletin board service is titled “The Gamer Uprising BBS” and only has over 1,400 members with topics that seem to touch on many issues from white identity, transvestism, feminism, politics, most of which is responded to with vitriol in a regressed manner, with slurs and other unimaginative language. Much of it reinforcing itself, with little in the way of disagreement, a cyclical method of building, and even inoculating one another into the same pattern of thought and emotion.
Next time, recruitment and tricks of the trade.
Beran, D. (2019). It Came from Something Awful: How a Toxic Troll Army Accidentally Memed Donald Trump into Office. All Points Books
Hine, G. E., Onaolapo, J., De Cristofaro, E., Kourtellis, N., Leontiadis, I., Samaras, R., … & Blackburn, J. (2017, May). Kek, cucks, and god emperor trump: A measurement study of 4chan’s politically incorrect forum and its effects on the web. In Eleventh International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media
Nagle, A. (2017). Kill all normies: Online culture wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the alt-right. John Hunt Publishing