Post-Internet Far Right – review

James Poulter looks at transformations in far-right organising and influence and how anti-fascists can respond

July 22, 2022 · 7 min read
Anti-EDL demonstration in Leicester, UK, 2012. Matt Neale, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Marx wasn’t referring to anti-fascism when he wrote that ‘the tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living’, but it neatly summarises the situation anti-fascists in Britain can find themselves in. Anti-fascism finds it difficult to change, being heavily steeped in the experiences of the past: the horrors of fascist rule in Italy, the heroism and tragedy of the Spanish civil war and the inhuman barbarity of the Holocaust all continue to motivate anti-fascists today.

Since the internet became part of everyday life, however, the threat posed to our society by people on the far right has changed dramatically. These transformations are explored by the podcast collective 12 Rules for WHAT in Post-Internet Far Right, a book that every anti-fascist needs to read.

Change with the times

For anti-fascism to be effective at hindering the ability of fascists to organise, it needs to adapt to changes in fascist organising itself. Post-Internet Far Right therefore tracks new models and developments in far right movements in the Anglosphere over the past decade. The book begins by astutely discussing how capitalist alienation is one of the major driving forces behind the growth of contemporary fascist movements, then analyses some of the ways that far-right groups have adopted tactics that allow them to benefit from this alienation.

The book brings in some of the different conspiracy theories that have recently burst onto the internet, such as the utterly bizarre QAnon, which believes Donald Trump was fighting a secret war against satanic cannibalistic child sex abusers, and the headbangingly paranoid ‘great replacement’ theory, which thinks Jews are conspiring to replace white Europeans. QAnon appeared because of imageboards, the online forums popular with ‘disaffected’ young men that were used by many of the neo-Nazis radicalised online in the last decade. The ‘great replacement’ theory has much older roots in antisemitism, but has been given a new lease of life by the web, where it has mutated and spread.

Post-Internet Far Right identifies the appeal these theories have for people looking for quick and easy ways to understand the often confusing and alarming ‘information deluges’ that come from our timelines, and considers how the internet has accelerated the way these theories travel around the world. The authors situate all these developments within a rich knowledge of fascist theory and practice and ask questions that anti-fascists need to answer.

Neo-Nazi influencers

In recent years, anti-fascism for many has become an identity in itself – one that doesn’t require much thought beyond adopting a set of tactics used by previous generations. Trawling Facebook to identify participants in far-right street protests, and occasionally taking part in heavily policed counter-protests in town centres, comes from an era when the English Defence League (EDL) or its splinter groups were organising street protests and the people who went on them would post about them on unlocked Facebook accounts. Now that the EDL has faded into obscurity and Facebook has belatedly started banning racists, these tactics have become less useful.

These tactics have also become less relevant because of changes in the way the far right uses the internet. In Post-Internet Far Right, the authors identify the way online audiences behave like a swarm, which influencers are able to inspire and manipulate. The book cites the example of former British National Party (BNP) publicity director Mark Collett, one of several figures who has made use of these technological and social transformations to rehabilitate himself as a far-right leader.

Under the leadership of Nick Griffin, the BNP had transformed itself from a group of street-fighting skinhead thugs into suit-clad election campaigners. The party was one of the first British far-right groups to successfully use the internet to spread their message. They went on to win over 50 council seats and get two MEPs elected, winning close to a million votes in the process and very nearly taking control of at least one local council.

As all that was happening, Collett was at Griffin’s side, until he was questioned over a plot to kill Griffin. The plot to remove Griffin was one of the causes of the party’s demise and led to Collett disappearing from public far-right organising. But Collett has adeptly used YouTube to reestablish himself as a prospective leader of a British fascist party, radicalising enough people to form such a party and then using the platform to launch his own organisation.

The internet and everyday life

None of this would have been possible without the largely online growth of the alt-right. Through a weekly livestream called This Week in the Alt-Right, Collect was able to use other influencers, with more followers than himself, to build his own YouTube channel’s subscribers. Collett also produced short clips explaining topical aspects of his neo-Nazi worldview and made thousands of pounds from the success of his videos and livestreams.

By the time he was eventually banned from YouTube, Collett had become leader of the fascist party Patriotic Alternative (PA). After PA’s support emerged from neo-Nazi YouTube subscribers, it set about bringing these disparate individuals together through social events like hikes. Since this book was written, PA has started distributing leaflets in electoral wards where BNP councillors once sat.

PA is now in the process of distributing tens of thousands of leaflets, promoting one of the conspiracy theories that Post Internet Far Right discusses. British neo-Nazis are trying to rebuild a fascist party that might be able to replace the BNP – partly because of a website from San Bruno, California, which was launched in 2005 and is watched by millions of people.

Post-Internet Far Right is a call for antifascists to think about how these technological, social and political shifts have impacted the way fascists and the far right organise. The authors call for a ‘diversity of tactics’ to combat the far right’s spread both on- and off-line. The authors intentionally hold back from setting out a clear strategy they think anti-fascists should follow, but they briefly outline a few tactics used by anti-fascists today, such as: ‘research into and breaking up far-right groups as they form; deplatforming; deradicalisation; assisting people with constructing a leftist view of the world; and “counter-speech” or counterdemonstrations’.

Reading this book will help antifascists understand the past decade of changes on the far right. It asks many questions anti-fascists need to consider. This is a vital contribution to debates in contemporary antifascism.

James Poulter is an investigative journalist specialising in covering the British far right. Post-Internet Far Right is out now from Dog Section Press.

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