How the Global Far-Right Makes Use of Social Networking
Founded in 2011 by the Russian nationalist known as Alexander Slavros (believed to be an alias), Iron March was a transnational social networking site and hub of neo-Nazism, neo-fascism and white supremacism until it went offline in November 2017. The site was overt in its hardcore far-right ideology, its slogan reading “Gas the Kikes! Race War Now! 14/88 Boots on the Ground.” “Kike” is an ethnic slur for a Jewish person, “14” references the white supremacist motto: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”, and “88” references the eighth letter of the alphabet repeated twice: “HH”, to mean “Heil Hitler”.
The site promoted neo-Nazi texts including James Mason’s “Siege” and William Pierce’s “The Turner Diaries”, both of which advocate violent action in order to purge the current, corrupt system in order to make way for a white future. Prior to going offline, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) found that Iron March was linked with or offered its support to at least nine openly neo-Nazi and neo-fascist groups across multiple countries, including the Atomwaffen Division of the United States, Golden Dawn of Greece, the Antipodean Resistance of Australia, Azov Battalion in the Ukraine, and National Action in the UK. National Action is the UK’s first right-wing designated terrorist group and its founder Benjamin Raymond was an Iron March administrator. Iron March’s connection with such a wide spread of actors and countries reveals a transnationally inter-connected picture of the far-right today.
In the spring of 2018, a new website called Fascist Forge went live, which according to its founder was intended to provide fascists with an “online platform to make connections, share resources, organize and ultimately further the Fascist Worldview.” More specifically, it sought to “continue where Iron March left off.” To enter Fascist Forum, potential users are required pass a membership exam, putatively to separate the fascist devotee from the inept. Alexander Slavros’ material continues to appear on Fascist Forge, showing the connection between it and its predecessor. The far-right open-source researcher Subcomandante X has documented its activities which include calls from users to take direct action for their cause, such as through radicalising school children, infiltrating left-wing groups and psychologically grooming individuals with a proclivity of violence on other online forums. In one post a user writes, “get a few weakling Reddit pseudofascists and groom them to hate themselves enough to blow it up themselves” which may refer to an infrastructure target. The objective of this rhetoric is clear: make use of social media in order to radicalise and inspire vulnerable individuals into committing violence on behalf of the white supremacist cause.
The question, is to what extent the discourse and ideologies that are so common on these sites translate into actual violence? How can security authorities and researchers distinguish genuine calls for violence from the sea of far-right rhetoric online that is often layered with irony or presented in memes, most of which rarely culminate in a violent attack? In the case of Iron March, there is certainly evidence to suggest that the site has had an influence on real-world events, with the site heavily connected to the birth of the Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi organisation based in the United States that has been linked to several murders in recent years, including those of Andrew Oneschuk and Jeremy Himmelman, who were killed by their housemate Devon Arthurs in Tampa, Florida in May 2017; and Blaze Bernstein, a 19 year-old gay Jewish student who was killed by Atomwaffen member Samuel Woodward – a killing that was widely celebrated by the group online. The influence of Fascist Forge remains to be seen, although it is likely that it has attracted a similar membership base that is prone to – or at least encourages violence.
The global reach that social networking sites such as Iron March and Fascist Forge offer may be advancing the concept of international white supremacist struggle, by connecting like-minded individuals with one another under a common cause and allowing them to share objectives and strategies. Nevertheless, being a member of an online community that caters specifically to white supremacism is not without its own risks; as was discovered by members of Iron March in November 2019, when their personal data was leaked online by antifa hackers, which included their email and IP addresses, private messages and all posts and comments the site ever received. This information remains freely downloadable via a torrent file for anyone to access, including private companies. The home rental site Airbnb subsequently banned over 60 individuals found within the leak from use of their services, stating that “anyone sympathetic to neo-Nazi ideology and violent extremism has absolutely no place on Airbnb.”
In the wake of the leak, members of Fascist Forge and similar social networking sites will likely be more careful regarding the personal information they divulge, with most not wishing to put a public face to their online persona. Moreover, a recent browse of Fascist Forge shows that the site became relatively inactive towards the end of 2019 compared to when it first appeared. Security authorities and other interested parties should therefore remain alert to extremist and terrorist migration across social networks, which remain fluid and reactive to external events.