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The digital corners of white supremacism

2021-01-18T01:13:50.309Z

During the Trump presidency, right-wing groups in the United States have grown and radicalized under the cover of fringe platforms, but also through the exploitation of traditional networks.



Kevin Greeson loved dogs and motorcycles and said he was ready for battle.

With a Christmas tree in the background and a box of ammunition at his feet, he proudly displayed an AR-15 assault rifle in each hand and two pistols in his pants.

"I wish these sons of bitches would come to my neighborhood," he wrote in December when he posted that photo on Parler, a social network populated by Trump supporters and right-wing extremists.

“Let's take back this bloody country!

Let's load our weapons and take to the streets! ”It said in another publication.

On January 6, everything became real.

Groups of Trump fanatics stormed the Capitol headquarters in Washington, where legislators were preparing to ratify Joe Biden's victory in the last election.

The balance was five dead.

Greeson, 55, was one of them.

Greeson's family, a sales agent in Athens — a small community in the southern state of Alabama — described him as a loving father and husband.

"He was excited to be there," they said in a statement, "he was not there to participate in the violence."

On social media, Greeson was a follower of conspiracy theories about the pandemic, championing militias and rooting for the Proud Boys, a group of white supremacists that has been targeted in the wake of violent protests in Washington.

The only trait that the man posting in Parler and the offline man describing his family seemed to have in common was their predilection for Trump.

The attack on the Capitol was "a clash between dark digital fantasy and reality," wrote technology journalist Farhad Manjoo.

It was not the first to occur during the Trump administration, but never before has the scope and danger of the radicalization phenomenon that the tycoon and his allies have openly nurtured since he launched his campaign for the presidency, and that companies have been so evident. Technological technologies have been fostered and exploited in a systematic way.

Nor is it that it was an inaccessible secret.

Three days before the uprising, on The Donald - an online forum of staunch Trump supporters - a user wrote: "After attacking the Capitol, I'm going to spend the afternoon at the Air and Space Museum."

A day earlier, on 8kun —a virtual forum without rules or content moderation that its creator has described as “the ass of the Internet” - a user posted: “We are going to attack government buildings, kill police officers, kill security guards, kill officials ”.

During December, people planning to travel to Washington on January 6 shared a poster on Facebook that read: Operation Occupy the Capitol.

In the 30 days leading up to the insurrection, according to a media analysis company cited by

The New York Times

, the phrase "storm the Capitol" was used online about 100,000 times.

“The great paradox is that theoretically we live under surveillance, but of course: what you are looking for is defined by the objective of the person seeking.

We are under surveillance by companies that want to optimize screen time, not by companies that want to find terrorists, ”explains Spanish author and journalist Marta Peirano, who researches and writes about technology and power.

In September of last year, the draft of a report by the United States Department of Homeland Security was leaked to the media, stating that lone attackers and small groups motivated by "social, ideological and personal factors" would represent "the greatest terrorist threat" to the United States. country in 2021, with white supremacists as "the deadliest threat."

After the attack on the Capitol, a senior FBI commander said at first that they had "no imminent signs of violence," but this was soon disproved: The

Washington Post

revealed that, a day before the assault, an FBI office in Virginia had warned that extremists were preparing to travel to Washington with violent and "war" intentions, based on information they had gathered online.

"Congress needs to hear windows being smashed, doors kicked in and blood spilled from its Black Lives Matter slave soldiers and anti-fascists," the publication obtained by agents reads.

Days later, the FBI ended up admitting that it had gathered intelligence information on a possible attack, but that it never distributed a formal report so as not to violate the “freedom of expression” of the protesters.

The margins of terror

"Welcome to Gab, a social network that defends freedom of expression, individual freedoms and the free flow of information online," says on its home page the platform that, these days, has become a favorite refuge for the right-wing users kicked out or self-exiled from other online sites.

Since Amazon, Google and Apple decided last week to stop hosting Parler - a popular social network among conservatives and Trumpists - for inciting violence, Gab has been receiving an average of 10,000 new users every hour, as published Andrew Torba, CEO and founder of the site.

But Gab, created in 2016, had already had its moment of stardom during the Trump administration: on Saturday, October 27, 2018, before entering a Pittsburgh synagogue, opening fire and murdering eleven people, Robert Bowers posted one last anti-Semitic message on his Gab account, where he used to post Nazi conspiracy theories, racist slurs, and images of his target practice and weapons.

Almost a year later, another website used as a haven by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and right-wing extremists, 8chan, was back in the news: in August 2019, half an hour before opening fire and killing about twenty people in a In the El Paso, Texas mall, Patrick Crusius published a supremacist manifesto there where he blamed Latino migrants for "stealing jobs."

After the El Paso massacre, the 8chan site - which that same year was linked to two other white supremacist attacks by users who said they had become radicalized there - lost its domain and web hosting and had to reinvent itself as 8kun .

“The terrifying part of these sites is that it is almost impossible to know who is serious, because they all say the same thing: we want a civil war, they talk about killing, about the weapons they want or have… it is really very very difficult know who's going to go broke, ”says journalist Talia Lavin, author of the book

Lords of Culture Warfare: My Journey to the Dark Web of White Supremacism

.

During the research for his book, Lavin assumed different false personalities and infiltrated virtual forums, chat groups and platforms frequented by extremists to understand how men are radicalized, who are contemporary neo-Nazis.

When asked if it is possible to distinguish violent bragging from a real threat, Lavin speaks of “stochastic terrorism”: “The creation of an environment where there is constant incitement to violence, where groups are constantly described who are focus of hatred and violence that you would like to do, in the hope that someone will take the initiative ”.

The concept of “stochastic terrorism” has also been used to speak of the potential danger of disinformation: the bombardment of fake news and conspiracy theories that can incite or enable random individuals to commit violent acts.

This is how, for example, a 50-year-old mother ends up saying publicly on Facebook that you have to bomb the Black Lives Matter movement or hang the antifa, says Lavin: “The algorithm rewards content that produces a lot of interactions [engagement] and Hate messages or conspiracy theories always get a lot of reactions because they attract people, and then you drag them to see more, and they see more and more ”.

For Andrew Marantz, a journalist for

The New Yorker

magazine

who last year published the book

Anti-social: How online extremists broke America

, “it is true that the worst parts of the internet, per capita, are the most extreme (the chans, Gab, certain parts of Reddit).

But per capita is not the only way to measure it: absolute reach also matters, and is perhaps the most important.

In that sense, it is possible that the greatest damage has been done, and is still being done, on Facebook ”.

Bad acquaintances

According to a survey published by the Pew Research Center last year, one in three Americans say that Facebook is their main source of news.

The data is quite worrying in itself, but in any case it is a gateway to the hard drugs of disinformation.

"In reality, most of the movement happens in the secret Facebook groups," says Marta Peirano, author of the book

The enemy knows the system

: groups that do not appear in search engines and do not appear in recommended ones, where misinformation reaches Nobody finds out about it because they are theoretically protected and invisible, he explains.

After 2016, when the investigation into Russian interference in the United States elections began "and it was shown that the Russians had pierced Facebook with false campaigns and pages and disinformation, and had put themselves at ease there to load the democratic process" According to Peirano, Mark Zuckerberg said that, for that kind of thing not to prosper, the network “was going to favor private groups, which is exactly where people radicalize.

With which Facebook suddenly removed this type of activity from the public space, that is, from the space that could be monitored, and locked them up in private groups ”.

"If you push extreme speeches into the shadows, you allow them to deepen," Marantz agrees, though he believes that removing them from the window "also reduces their reach and makes it harder for extremists to recruit new members."

In his exploration of the corners of white supremacism, Lavin came across radicalized neo-Nazis concerned that federal agents were reading them, but says that is not the case with the Trumpists: “They have never faced a consequence in their lives.

They see themselves as part of a conventional movement, as something perfectly acceptable. "

To discuss how ingrained this conviction was among the Capitol attackers, columnist Farhad Manjoo describes a clip of the riot that went viral, where a woman who introduces herself as "Elizabeth from Knoxville" complains to a reporter because she hardly She tried to put a foot inside the building. She was stopped, pushed out and pepper sprayed.

The journalist then asked her why she wanted to enter the building and she replied indignantly: “We are attacking the Capitol!

It is a revolution! ”.

The episode is somewhat reminiscent of Christopher Cantwell -also known as

the crying Nazi-

, one of the most iconic faces of the white nationalist march that took place in August 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Cantwell is the main character in a great little documentary that Vice News made about that march, where he appears proudly defining himself as someone more racist than Donald Trump and assures that he is prepared for violence: “I carry a gun, I go to the gym all day time, I prepare myself to be more apt for violence ”.

Days after the clashes in Charlottesville, which resulted in one death, Cantwell appears crying on home video upon learning that there is an arrest warrant against him.

He says he is terrified that the cops will want to kill him and swears that even though he has said “a lot of shit on the internet”, he and his group have always done “everything possible to keep this peaceful”.

Charlottesville was one of the many warnings of what was happening with the legitimization of white supremacism under Trump, “but in none of the previous cases were all the democratic representatives of the United States Government at the mercy of two thousand crazy people who had entered the Capitol by force ”, sums up Peirano.

“Actually it has been luck and a warning.

It could have been very very very serious.

These are very angry, very confused, and very desperate people, but dangerous people don't walk into the Capitol and take a picture of themselves on Nancy Pelosi's desk.

Dangerous people really do protect their identity. "

Source: elparis

All news articles on 2021-01-18

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