Online Radicalization, Offline Violence

How Offline Violence Builds In The Online Space

Recent mass shooting events reveal how online radicalization can have a deadly real-world impact. This ActiveFence report investigates how white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups exploit online platforms to fuel the radicalization process – download the complete report below.

Mass shootings committed by radicalized white supremacists shake and shatter lives, communities, and entire societies. These attacks, even if described as “lone-wolf,” seldom, if ever, occur in a vacuum free from external influence. Many of these killers share ideological links with other mass shooters, even if acting on opposite sides of the globe.

Gab has widely been associated with neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other far-right extremist groups

A Chain Reaction

Sometimes, this link is overt, as in the case of Patrick Wood Crusius, who murdered 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas (August 3rd, 2019). In his manifesto, uploaded online before carrying out the attack, Crusius expressed his support for another infamous mass shooter, Brenton Tarrant. Roughly five months before Crusius’ attack, Tarrant murdered 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand (March 15th, 2019).

Crusius was not the only killer whom Tarrant had inspired. John Timothy Earnest, who murdered one and injured several others while attacking a synagogue in Poway, California (April 27th, 2019), mentioned Tarrant in his own manifesto. Earnest also noted Robert Bowers, who conducted the deadliest antisemitic attack in the history of the United States, killing 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (October 27th, 2019).

For Tarrant, inspiration came from Dylann Roof, a radicalized white supremacist who murdered nine Black Americans in a church in Charleston, South Carolina (June 17th, 2015). In his manifesto, Tarrant mentions Roof by name, noting that he had read many of Roof’s writings and those of “many others.”

The dissemination of journals and manifestos written by mass shooters is particularly dangerous, as they contain both calls and justification for violence. They also include detailed instructions for the perpetration of violent acts. These texts can and have inspired further killings, which is observable in the chain reaction of mass shootings mentioned above.

A Common Thread

Ideologically speaking, each of these killers was motivated by a common belief in conspiracy theories that have become a trademark of white supremacist thought: “The Great Replacement” and “white genocide.” Crusius, Tarrant, and Earnest are also connected by the websites they frequented—platforms such as 4chan and 8chan (now 8kun), which have become notorious for hosting extreme far-right content. Similarly, their manifestos were all initially spread online through 8chan.

On the other hand, Bowers primarily used Gab, another platform known for hosting far-right views, to post and share antisemitic and anti-immigrant slogans and memes with virtually no pushback from other users. Instead, this behavior was often encouraged. Notably, Bowers uploaded his final Gab post, an antisemitic and xenophobic call to arms, just before carrying out his attack.

Most experts consider radicalization to be a process by which an individual is socialized into an extremist way of thinking, which can potentially culminate in the violent acts described above. The online space offers an easily accessible, yet often concealed location for this dangerous process to occur unchecked. Research into the online radicalization process suggests that the online space is creating echo chambers of political thought. Freed from opposing views, users can encourage each other while they normalize and amplify radical sentiments, potentially leading to offline violence.

In the circumstances of the aforementioned attacks and other similar attacks, it is impossible to ignore the role that the online world has played both in radicalizing these individuals and allowing them to radicalize others. It is also fair to say that much of the hate that drove them to such horrific acts had likely been consumed online, and in turn, before committing these acts, they made sure to contribute back to the toxic ecosystem that helped inspire them.

The more an individual exists within this parallel reality, the more the nihilistic fantasy can bleed into the real world. What begins as speech can metastasize into violence and end with the needless loss of life.

A Lasting Threat

With life increasingly happening through the medium of the screen, online radicalization will likely remain a significant problem in need of proactive solutions. Indeed, the online ecosystem is increasingly becoming more radical as more niche groups have found a space to express themselves online. While tech companies seek to keep their platforms as safe as possible, hate continues to flourish and spread online. The consequences, as seen above, can be deadly.

It is not an overstatement to say that this process was sped up in 2020, as lockdowns meant almost all group interactions needed to occur online. As a result, while recent violence in the US has triggered outrage amongst many, it has also fueled the fire within white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups, which celebrated the violence, attacked the victims and promoted dangerous conspiracies that could lead to further violence.

In light of this, ActiveFence has compiled a report examining how white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups exploit online platforms of all types to promote hate and empower the radicalization of individuals. The full report reveals in-depth how these online communities shape a parallel reality for their members to live within, unchallenged.

Members of these communities shop online together, selling and purchasing literature and resources for the race war, for which they await and agitate. They play games online together, acting out murderous fantasies and dehumanizing their political opponents. They fundraise together to support their thought leaders. They even produce their own music. The more an individual exists within this parallel reality, the more the nihilistic fantasy can bleed into the real world. What begins as speech can metastasize into violence and end with the needless loss of life.
ActiveFence works with some of the world’s largest tech companies, helping keep these dangerous echo chambers off of their platforms as we battle online hatred and offline violence.

For more details and examples, download the complete whitepaper.

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