Sunday, 6 November 2016

White Nationalism, Conspiracy, and Anti-Semitism

Our last Sociology Research Seminar Series session at the University of Derby saw Andrew Wilson present his recent conference paper, 'The Thematic Preoccupation Governing Meaning Construction on a White Nationalist Forum'. The focus of his research was the infamous hang out of assorted fascists, Nazis, and racial fantasists, Stormfront. Founded in its present incarnation in 1996, Stormfront is the hub for white supremacism/nationalism on the internet. For instance, between 1st April and 29th June this year, it received two million unique visitors and 3,246,612 page views. 51% of its audience are from the US, and ten per cent hail from the UK.

Andrew's previous experience researching apocalyptic cults, conspiracy theory, and fringe beliefs took him to Stormfront in the wake of last year's Paris attacks. He found that by post six (on a thread of thousands) about the incident a poster was already touting conspiracy theories by way of an explanation, which became the dominant discussion theme. What also attracted Andrew's attention was the convergence of this conspiracy mindset, which is a staple of the far right with a certain species of spirituality, or, as Charlotte Ward and David Voas put it, conspirituality. This is important because for the site's participants as their investment goes beyond the political (and certainly the party political). Their loyalties lie in a transnational ethnicism, a quasi-mystical attachment to a contested and variously understood ayranism which, for its part, is held down by sinister conspiracies.

The performance of conspiritual identity requires the adoption of certain regalia. Anyone who's been on Twitter for five minutes will know that overtly political people tend to fix their avatars or festoon them with ribbons. Stormfront is no different. Typical displays include knights, flags, wolves, Norse Gods, weapons, targets, and a pantheon of Nazis. Some were assembled in a manner akin to Dick Hebdige's celebrated notion of bricolage. What Andrew was interested in was whether there was a correspondence between contributors with certain avatars posting on particular topics via the process of discourse mapping. Picking the five most popular discussions - The Holocaust, National Socialism, September 11th, Illuminati, and Reading, which amounted to 28,808 posts at the time of the study, among the 50 most used words and terms were Jews, People, Germany, Nazism, and Holocaust. As there was a chance the result could have got skewed by extended but relatively neutral discussion of aspects of holocaust history, stripping the thread out of the combined results saw Hitler receive greater prominence. Performing a similar operation by discounting the National Socialism thread, Andrew found the terms 'People' and 'Jews' came top. No matter what was left in or taken out, Jews and Jewishness cropped up again and again. He then performed a Latent Dirichlet Allocation, which identifies word patterns, and found Jews were mostly associated with Holocaust, Nazism, and Conspiracy. In the rarefied world of far right conspirituality, anti-semitism remains the core attribute. At the same time, Andrew began to see patterns emerging, of avatars tending to be active across topics that shared common ground with their motif. Further investigation of these patterns would allow a researcher to identify the in and out groups, what terms and values are likely to repeat, what and who gets labelled friends and enemies, and how this work tries to glue together a collective identity.

Questions were then taken about the place of hatred in these conspiritualities - is being against something enough for these identities? The repeated use of avatars with repeated far right themes, which in turn are anchored by the discourses posters contribute to suggests it is necessary but insufficient. Andrew also noted that despite Europe's far right switching to Islamophobia as their public target of choice, there was little evidence Stormfront's contributors were concerned with Islamism, the Islamification of Europe, or other such nonsense: obsession with Jews and Jewish-controlled conspiracies remained the shared focus of paranoia and hate.

This was an interesting opener into work yet to be done, and Andrew raised a number of interesting questions. Particularly with regard to the status of the white nationalism on display on Stormfront. Because of the transnational understanding of race they operate with, the fusion of conspiratorial politics and pseudo-religion, and, of course, the far right's propensity to terrorism, perhaps it would be profitable it they were viewed as a species of extremism not dissimilar to Islamism.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Picking the five most popular discussions - The Holocaust, National Socialism, September 11th, Illuminati, and Reading, which amounted to 28,808 posts at the time of the study, among the 50 most used words and terms were Jews, People, Germany, Nazism, and Holocaust. As there was a chance the result could have got skewed by extended but relatively neutral discussion of aspects of holocaust history, stripping the thread out of the combined results saw Hitler receive greater prominence.

And the author was surprised by this?

I think this is pseudo-significant, an artifact of the basic 'given' that most Stormfront users are, well, neo-Nazis or fellow travellers thereof. And so he's picked the five subjects that interest those people the most.

What it seems to boil down to is that neo-Nazis talk about Hitler and Jews quite a lot, and if you strip out a major source of mentions of the word 'Jew' from the sample, suddenly 'Hitler' becomes more prominent.

Well, hold the front page! Am I missing something here?

BCFG said...

I have noticed that the militant secularist ’left’ are fond of selectively pointing out conspiracy theories while rarely acknowledging most of them, which can easily be found daily just by watching or reading the unfree media.

I think conspiracy theories are a staple of the mass media and much leftist talk, especially the militant atheists. For example the Orlando shooting in the US was thought to be an Islamic conspiracy but it seems instead it was the far more mundane matter of sexual jealousy!

Every time a Muslim commits an act it is first understood in terms of some nefarious global network of Islamists plotting to destroy the west, rather than the actions of an alienated and damaged individual. When I hear people like Geert Wilders and the new fascists of Europe they talk about the Islamification of Europe, of the Islamic threat to Europe. 6000 immigrants in Europe becomes a crisis (what is this other than a conspiracy). After 9/11 the conspiracy often forgotten about was the conspiracy coming from the liberal secularists, namely the Islamists were hell bent on destroying ‘our way of life’, which raised the question, if Islamists really do want to strike at liberalism in all its glory why didn’t they carry out the attack in Amsterdam? The likes of Sam Harris and Nick Cohen love to amplify the ideological aspect in hope of drowning out the more pertinent economic and social considerations! This plays into the Western fantasy that the humanitarian West are engaged in a noble struggle to bring universal values to the world against the wishes of dark forces, this is the ultimate conspiracy of our time.

Conspiracy often avoids getting at the pertinent questions; conspiracy suits the West because it avoids throwing a light on their irresponsible and criminal actions. France’s aggressive secularism and thoroughly racist civil society has led many Muslim youth to feel so alienated, as well as consigning its ethnic minorities into a criminal class (which is a common fate of many ethnic minorities in the West and beyond). But rather than view some of these actions in those terms the conspiracy theorists of the secular liberal and neo liberal order claim there are worldwide networks of Islamist groups ready to take over the world and impose Sharia law if we are not careful!

One thing the West is utterly incapable of, from far left to far right, is putting Western values in the dock. Everything springing from Western ideology is based on the preposterous assumption that all is well and good with Western values.

Frankly your claim that the modern fascist is not concerned with Islam or Muslims is such a fabrication, such a denial of the obvious in your face truth I am beginning to wonder what agenda you are serving and am busy formulating a conspiracy to explain it all!

asquith said...

Sad acts of all kinds "left" or "alt-right" will generally resort to antisemitism, how else to explain the fact that they're useless? No question of sorting their own lives out, let's blame Jews instead.

If Stormfront commentors are the master race and superior beings, why are they unanimously losers in real life? Because there's a shadowy international conspiracy against them, obvs.

BCFG the racist would fit right in working at Sids, Roseville etc. I aren't racist or nothing, mar mate, but have you SEEN all these Zionists?

Jon Cope said...

This sounds really interesting. Never heard of LDA before but it seems to have a lot of potential for all kinds of 'mixed' analysis through new communications media. A study of neoliberal discourse on this model (eg. where 'capitalism' is substituted for a range of other 'hooray' terms such as free markets, private enterprise, economic freedoms, freedom of choice, rugged individualism etc.) could be interesting although I reckon the 'avatar adornement'might be less so and this is perhaps the most interesting bit. Keep us posted on how it all proceeds.

Jon C