Opinion

And while “globalist” may be one of the alt-right’s favorite slurs, Hope Not Hate conclusively shows that the alt-right is itself now a global movement with regular interaction among far-right figures from Scotland to Sweden to Seattle. Mr. Hermansson’s story offers vital insights into these groups’ tactics and their sometimes bizarre practices. During his time undercover, he hung out with heavily armed Holocaust deniers and attended gatherings where extremists drank mead from a traditional Viking horn and prayed to the Norse god Odin. In Charlottesville, he marched alongside hundreds of young neo-Nazis and white supremacists before he was sprayed with Mace by a counterprotester and witnessed the car attack that killed Heather Heyer. In Britain, Mr. Hermansson attended a private dinner of extremists where Greg Johnson, a reclusive leading American far-right figure who is editor in chief of Counter-Currents Publishing, explained the need to “mainstream this stuff — or, more precisely, we need to bring the mainstream towards us.” Mr. Johnson later expressed confidence that this process is working. “I see the upward curve in web traffic, and the upward trend in quality and quantity of younger people getting involved,” he told Mr. Hermansson in conversation captured on hidden-camera footage. (During that same chat, he said he believed in ethnic homelands and favored telling Jews, “You need to go to Israel or we’re going to freeze you out of our society.”) This goal of mainstreaming is an abiding fixation of the far right, whose members are well aware of the problems their movement has had with attracting young people in recent decades. At one point in Mr. Hermansson’s footage, Colin Robertson, a far-right YouTube personality who goes by the name Millennial Woes, explained to an older extremist the importance of putting forward a friendly, accessible face: “If we don’t appear like angry misfits, then we will end up making friendships with people who don’t agree with us,” he said. Some of Mr. Hermansson’s most arresting footage comes from a June meeting with Jason Reza Jorjani, a founder, along with the American white nationalist Richard Spencer and others, of the AltRight Corporation, an organization established to foster cooperation and coordination among alt-right groups in Europe and North America. Mr. Hermansson and Mr. Jorjani met at an Irish pub near the Empire State Building, where the baby-faced Mr. Jorjani imagined a near future in which, thanks to liberal complacency over the migration crisis, Europe re-embraces fascism: “We will have a Europe, in 2050, where the bank notes have Adolf Hitler, Napoleon Bonaparte, Alexander the Great. And Hitler will be seen like that: like Napoleon, like Alexander, not like some weird monster who is unique in his own category — no, he is just going to be seen as a great European leader.” More shockingly, Mr. Jorjani bragged about his contacts in the American government. “We had connections in the Trump administration — we were going to do things!” he said at one point. “I had contacts with the Trump administration,” he said at another. “Our original vision was the alt-right would become like a policy group for the Trump administration,” he explained, and the administration figure “who was the interface was Steve Bannon.” Unfortunately, he told Mr. Hermansson, the political establishment was “disconnecting us from the Trump administration, almost completely.” (In June, Mr. Bannon hadn’t yet left the White House and returned to Breitbart, the popular and ardently pro-Trump far-right outlet he had led before his time working for Mr. Trump.) When I called Mr. Jorjani, he was cagier about his “connections” and “contacts” in the White House. All he meant, he said, was that he had been in touch with people who had a direct line to President Trump, though he wouldn’t say who. Asked to comment, a White House spokeswoman said, “We have no knowledge of any conversations or contact with this person.” Either way, Mr. Jorjani said, with the ousters of Michael Flynn in February and then Mr. Bannon in August, he now views the alt-right’s efforts to carve out a place in the White House as having failed. (Mr. Jorjani resigned from the AltRight Corporation in August.) If Mr. Jorjani wasn’t exaggerating to Mr. Hermansson, and he did have a relationship with White House officials, that would certainly be alarming. But even if he was exaggerating, it’s still important to understand how messages like his could travel from the far reaches of the right-wing internet and all the way into — or close to, at least — the White House. 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. This apparent moderation partly explains why they tend to have much bigger online audiences than even the most important alt-right figures — and why Hope Not Hate describes them as “less extreme, more dangerous.” Alt-light sites like Breitbart, formerly home to Mr. Yiannopoulos, as well as Prison Planet, where Mr. Watson is editor at large, draw millions of readers and are key nodes in a hyperkinetic network that is endlessly broadcasting viral-friendly far-right news, rumors and incitement. Fluent in the language of online irony and absurdism, and adept at producing successful memes, alt-lighters have pulled off something remarkable: They’ve made far-right ideas hip to a subset of young people, and framed themselves as society’s forgotten underdogs. The alt-light provides its audience easy scapegoats for their social, economic and sexual frustrations: liberals and feminists and migrants and, of course, globalists. The alt-light’s dedicated fan base runs into the millions. Mr. Watson has more than a million YouTube followers, for example, while Mr. Yiannopoulos has more than 2.3 million on Facebook. If even a tiny fraction of this base is drafted toward more extreme far-right politics, that would represent a significant influx into hate groups. 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. And if you’re one of those newcomers happily playing the part of infantryman in the “meme wars” that rage daily, maybe, along the way, one of your new online Twitter buddies will say to you, “Milo’s O.K., but have you checked out this guy Greg Johnson?” Or maybe they’ll invite you to a closed online forum where ideas about how to protect Europe from Muslim migrants are discussed a bit more, well, frankly. Maybe, if you’re really lucky, you’ll eventually discover a whole new political movement to join. All of which can explain why members of the hard-core alt-right are watching the explosive success of their more moderate counterparts with open glee, unable to believe their good luck. “I’m just fighting less and less opposition to our sorts of ideas when they’re spoken,” Mr. Johnson, the Counter-Currents editor, told Mr. Hermansson. His optimism, unfortunately, appears to be well founded. Continue reading the main story
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