On May 10th, the Bulletin of Technology & Public Life published a review of the scientific literature on far-right online radicalization. Among other things, lead author Alice Marwick noted they found, "the internet does not cause radicalization, but it helps spread extremist ideas, enables people interested in these ideas to form communities, and mainstreams conspiracy theories and distrust in institutions (as do politicians & hyper-partisan media)."
On May 13th, Marwick, a professor at NC-Chapel Hill, spoke with Justin Hendrix of Tech Policy Press, explaining that while a lot of disinfo literature uses "radicalization" as a frame to understand white supremacy and far-right terrorists, the fact that the term was popularized during the post-9/11 era makes it unfit for understanding far-right domestic terrorists. More helpful, perhaps, would be a frame of "mainstreaming," because "the lines between mainstream and extremist rhetoric are so porous."
"The political strategy that the far-right in the United States has adopted," Marwick says, "is to try to mainstream their points of view through the Republican party."
Marwick and her colleagues found a person would be more likely to justify the use of political violence if,
You see yourself as having the moral high ground and the other people as being the enemy who, in some way, are victimizing you. 'You’re threatening white culture, you’re taking economic opportunities away from white people, you’re threatening white children, you’re threatening the white family.' All of these things make it more likely that you’re going to justify committing violence against these people because they become a threat to you. Whether or not they’re actually a threat to you is of no consequence. It’s about this threat perception.
"You can see a really clear through line between that type of mainstream rhetoric and taking on these far-right or white nationalist’s or white supremacist’s values," Marwick warned.
We need to stop thinking about this stuff as extremist, we need to stop thinking about this stuff as radical, and start grappling with and reckoning with the fact that ideas that just 10 years ago would have been seen as unspeakable are now things that people encounter every day. … Unfortunately, I think one of the implications of that is that we’re going to see increased justification for political violence and more propensity for things like the January 6th attacks.
The next day, an 18-year-old white man drove two hours to a predominately Black area and shot 13 people, livestreaming the domestic terrorism attack motivated, per a manifesto posted online, by his fear of the "great replacement theory" that white people are under attack from Black, Jewish, Asian, and other non-white/Western/Christian/patriarchal forces.
The killer, who surrendered himself alive and unharmed by police, also embraces the label "eco-fascist," like the white nationalist mass murderers in Norway, New Zealand, and El Paso, who combine a xenophobic white supremacy with anxiety over the climate crisis to conclude that the white Western world needs to be violently defended from the very Black, Jewish, Muslim and otherwise-marginalized people white Westerners have long exploited and abused.
As journalist Talia Lavin, whose reporting focuses on the alt-right, explained in Rolling Stone, the shooter "may have, as he claims, become radicalized by over-enthused browsing of the Internet’s sewers, principally 4chan. But his fixations mirror those of the right wing more broadly, from violent transphobia to a loathing of immigration to a preoccupation with the possibility of civil war."
From Tucker Carlson's nightly hatemongering echoed at the Daily Caller et al., to the attacks on trans people to overturning Roe to building a wall on the Mexican border and slandering "shithole countries," "once you understand an obsession with racial composition and white fertility to be the driving engine of Republican politics, a number of seemingly disparate movements begin to fit together into an ugly whole." Like the New Zealand mass-murderer, the Buffalo terrorist's manifesto began "with a screed on the supposedly apocalyptic consequences of 'sub-replacement fertility rates' among white women."
Given Justice Samuel Alito's line in the draft decision to overturn abortion rights about the "domestic supply of infants," Lavin concludes,
The Republican Party caters chiefly now to those who claim that to be born the wrong color is an act of genocide, and act with appropriate fervor. There has never been a lone wolf when it comes to racist terror in the United States; it suffuses every aspect of our politics and policy, and in latter years the mass howl of fear at change comes from a jaw that drips with blood. As long as we fail to recognize the wellspring of racial animus that animates the right wing in this country, the corpses will continue to accrue.