French Nationalism, Le Pen and The Alt Right

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First Post

In case you missed it, which seems almost physically impossible, Le Pen made it through the first round of the French Presidential election and that’s not exactly great. I’m, honestly, a little worried. Though most polls, pundits and commentators should quell my nerves by predicting an overwhelming defeat for Le Pen, the stakes seem too high for me to be unconcerned.

As bad as the advancement of Le Pen is for Europe, it has provided me with a longer case study of French ‘alt-right’ politics French ‘new-nationalism’. Organisations like Generation Identitaire (GI), a French nationalist youth organisation, provide a tangible example of an alt-right organisation, but it’s very tangibility and structure indicate an operational distinction from the ‘alt-right’ observed during the last US election. Indeed, organisations labeled as ‘alt-right’ by French and international media appear to mostly share only youth and nationalist motivation with the original wave of ‘alt-righters’ in the US. Organisations such as GI and localised collectifs like Banlieues Patriotes, though sharing hard and alt-right policies such as language and religious restrictions, military conscription and forced repatriation, do not feature the political or social tactics of the American ‘alt-right’.

While the American example saw anonymous legions of Trump supporters from all degrees of the right vitriolically and emphatically attacking their opponents online, the youth of the French ‘alt-right’ deliver physical speeches and attend physical protests alongside a strong digital presence. Though their policies and opinions remain borderline extremist, the manner in which the French ‘alt-right’ attempt to propagate their policies are far more traditional and, worryingly, ‘acceptable’.

This presents some new questions with which to assess the ‘alt-right’; does the policy, the youthfulness or the method define a movement as ‘alt-right’? What made the American example so abrasive and infamous?

Moving away from the French involvement in the French elections and toward American involvement. Trump, as of the 22nd of April, endorses Le Pen as the “strongest candidate” for the French. The American ‘alt-right’, though intrinsically hard to measure and assess holistically, appears to support Le Pen in earnest. Breitbart, the infamous right-wing news and commentary website previously chaired by Steve Bannon, supports and endorces Le Pen, while the right-wing, closed social media platform Gab indicates a community of American ‘alt-righter’ firmly invested in an FN victory.

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Perhaps most interestingly, after a flooding of the official subreddit for the FN candidate, /r/Le_Pen, by supportive posts in English, moderators of the subreddit imposed a ban on English in threads, declaring that “It is the final sprint to the election, so we take back control of this subreddit to put it to better use, to convince undecided voters, not to cater to r/The_Donald users… Foreigners cannot really judge on what French voters will find convincing, so upvotes don’t mean anything.”

Though a subreddit is hardly democratic, this indicates that at least a small group of hard-core and relatively powerful reddit users that support Le Pen resent and resist the association of the American ‘alt-right’ with the French, further distancing the French ‘alt-right’ from the American.

The original scope of my research has expanded to include the wealth of information being presented by the French elections. As I mentioned in my previous post, I intend to reassess my previous conclusions about ‘the alt-right’ while recounting any notable developments of the movement. With the French elections, though, and the emergence of French equivalent with it’s various similarities and differences, I have found myself with a fractured understanding of the ‘alt-right’. Necessary to continue is to redefine the ‘alt-right’ while also, if necessary, challenging mainstream media use of the term ‘alt-right’ in certain cases. This will, of course, be reflected in my final research blog.

So far, my research remains predominately a review of media. Though I have utilised academic literature to form a basis of my understanding of political process and theory relevant to my area of study, there is still little academia to be found and that I can access regarding the ‘alt-right’. Recently, though, a great deal of research on Trump and his presidential campaign has been published. Simply due to the gestation and development time of peer reviewed academia this research is published with great delay. I intend to continue reviewing relevant publications and papers in the hope of finding something useful and informative on my research targets.

I am hoping for my research to develop somewhat organically. By this I mean that I hope my research, academic or otherwise, leads me to conclusions and areas otherwise unplanned. That said, though I still intend to focus on the present ‘alt-right’ in America, this latest turn of events in France, and those following the coming election, may lead me to focus more so on France. Only time, and the French voting public, will tell.

 

 

Now What? The Digital Presence of the Alt-Right In The Trump Reign

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Last semester I produced a digital artifact that examined the rise, conditions and methods of the ‘Alt-Right’. Back then, while I regarded the alt-right as a disturbing evolution of nationalism, I still honestly doubted the main stream public support for Donald Trump. Those were the days.

For my current digital artifact I intend to re-examine the alt-right, which now exists in what I imagine is a perpetual state of vindication, satisfaction and glee. I intend to use the same resources, media outlets the same social media accounts to re-assess the conclusions and observations I made about the alt-right previously and to expand upon them where possible.

More specifically, I’m interested in observing the approach that the alt-right has to the mainstream media now and comparing that to the approach exhibited by alt-righters prior to the election. As I established in my original digital artifact, large portions of the alt-right and key twitter users, some with over 50,000 followers, obviously and overtly disdained the media for what they interpreted as a persecution of their beliefs. I’m interested to establish whether the previous sense of persecution remains, to what it extent remains and how else this dynamic has been affected by the alt-right becoming a more represented and dominating political force with election victory.

Along the way I plan to reassess and update the sections, or chapters, of my previous study. I will re-investigate the language, update the meme banks and attempt to re-establish what limited contact I had with alt-right social media personalities.

In regard to established academic and journalistic research, I will be re-invoking the research articles I have previously studied, specifically Bartoszewicz’s ’50 Shades of Radicalism’, as well as providing a literature review on the topic. At the time of my original research the alt-right was being discussed and analysed more by journalists, but with the passing of time and the escalation of the Trump ‘situation’ some sectors of academia have begun to assess the alt-right in detail. Though the academic attention is at this stage still relatively light, I intend to scour what research I can find to form a greater understanding of the movement and to comprehend the understanding that academics have of the widely overlooked and complex topic.

As I mentioned earlier, during my previous research I was briefly in contact with the operators of multiple popular alt-right twitter accounts. Unfortunately, the response rate for these was low and when a dialogue could be established the information the operators provided was of little or no value. I intend to attempt this again with previous respondents as well as un-contacted operators. Though a great deal of valuable first hand research could be gathered from this, based on previous experience I do not hold great expectations for this direct method.

Though it might be too much to promise at this early stage, I also intend to investigate, however successfully, far-right cybercultures and their effects on their local politics. This will include an examination of the so called ‘dingo twitter’ in Australia and any utilisation of alt-right iconography in social media leading up to the French general elections next month.

Again, just as before I intend to present my research via a multimedia blog. While I value videos, podcasts and the like for their informative potential, I intend my research to be quasi-academic. As such, the majority of my findings will be presented via simple text with supporting images, videos, tweets, feeds or other limited multimedia. Though hardly the most innovative method of delivery, I believe that this is the best manner in which to present my research.

Of course, all research must present some utility. In my case, I honestly believe that my research contribution will, in whatever small way, provide an insight into the manifestation of xenophobia and neo-nationalism online, an issue that I honestly believe does not receive the academic attention it deserves. Again, I am hardly an academic authority on anything, but this is an opportunity to make a small contribution that hopefully inspires or contributes to a larger research effort.

The manner in which our political systems interact with the expanding mediascape is not only a personal interest, but what I believe to be one of the most important developments of our age. Social media is becoming more powerful and effective in it’s effects on Government policy. As corny as it seems, this can just as easily become a force for the determent of society. It is only though studying and understand things like the alt-right now that we will be able to predict and prevent equally undesirable movements from having an effect on future political process. I am excited to attempt to contribute to this understanding with my research.

 

 

Week 12: The internet of Things and Stuff and Things

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You know the drill; the internet of things is wherein stuff is internetted.

More specifically, the IoT is a concept destined for mass application wherein networks of automated systems manipulate and interact with the physical world. At home this might take the form of a coffee machine knowing from the reduced weight on your bed that you’re getting up, signalling to it that it should make a coffee. Or an automated fridge monitoring its contents and sending you an alert on your phone next time you’re in the supermarket letting you know you’re almost out of beer milk. On a larger scale, the IoT will take the place of human administered logistical networks, traffic networks, delivery, photography, cooking – the possibilities are endless.

Of course, as I mentioned in my last post, there is the possibility of a danger to this network being compromised by criminals, terrorists or state actors determined to cause destruction and disruption on a systematic level. Would you ever network your entire life and take that risk for the sake of convenience?

I’m lazy af, so of course I would.

Week 11: World War 3.o

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So, we’re going to get a little conspiracy theory-y today.

As you may have heard, there was a train crash in NY late last month. Well, what if I told you (redpill.jpeg) that it might have not been an accident?

Some good people out there on the interwebs are theorising that the train crash was a deliberate hack that was predicted, or promised, when this message aired  hours before the incident:

This video seems pretty dodgy, hey? I know, but hey, it’s still spooky, especially the message,

Would you. Could You. On a train?

The American Federal Emergency Management Agency had a test broadcast scheduled to be sent to TV stations around the country which was not to be broadcast, yet this one NY news channel accidentally broadcast it. They acknowledged the fault and said there was no real threat, but this hasn’t stopped the conspiracy theory from spreading.

Now, the last thing. I haven’t seen anyone link these yet, but I’m sure it’s out there somewhere. In early August, a hacker collective claimed to have broken into the NSA and stolen a whole bunch of US cyber weapons that were designed to damage infrastructure, a la stuxnet, and were offering to auction them off to the highest bidder. This article by the Guardian outlines their plans and how samples given by the hackers seemed to be corroborated by data that was leaked by Snowden. Could this be at all related?

The Stuxnet example proves that cyber weapons exist and can inflict real world damage, but I’m not sure I necessarily believe this is the case here. True or not, this is a good demonstration of the possible ability of cyber war or cyber terrorism to disrupt and even kill.

What do you think? Cyber war? Coincidence? 2spooky4me?

Week 9: Social Media and What Not

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I’m a big believer in democracy. I just want to say that now, because every time I have this discussion I come off sounding all authoritarian. Moving on…

The Arab Spring was a perfect example of how I think social media operates. It is fantastic for the organisation of people, the aggregation of opinions and, as demonstrated by it’s role in the arab spring, great for organizing large scale protests. That said, the Arab Spring didn’t turn out as great as we were all hoping. Why is that?

Well, dear reader, let me hypothesize at you. I believe it is because, though social media is excellent at organizing a mass of people to rebel or protest, it is no system of government. Moreover, when the protesters in Egypt were successful and the revolution was over, the social media movement failed to enforce structure. People were brought onto the streets to destroy a government, and social media was perfect to organise that, but social media could not build a new one.

I probably didn’t explain that right. Here’s a TED talk by one of the chaps that ran a facebook page at the center of the revolution who explains it way better than I ever could.

 

 

Week 10: Resistance and Expropriation

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I stumbled onto some pretty interesting readings this week, but not where I expected to. For another class I was looking for references to support an argument about the enclosure of 15th century Britain and I stumbled across an article titled “Ubiquitous Computing and the Digital Enclosure Movement” by Mark Andrejevic.

Basically, all you need to know about the enclosure movement is that sections of land, previously known as ‘commons’, were slowly but surely enclosed and restricted by the wealthy to allow them to comodify land either through rent systems, grazing and the like. Now, unfortunately, this removed a whole bunch of peeps that lived via subsistence agriculture and, long story short, you have wage labour and a key tenet of capitalism. Not to give away the ending of the article, but Andrejevic links the enclosure or restriction of cyber space to a commodification of information.

Now, the thing about land enclosure was that not only was land already occupied, but if you want to get kinda Marxist, the enclosure of it was an expropriation of that which belonged to everybody. With this in mind, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine a similar expropriation happening in the near future to our beloved internet. The internet is a public asset, and hopefully it will not be seized by those who wish to own it themselves.

 

Reference

Andrejevic, M 2007, ‘Ubiquitous Computing and the Digital Enclosure Movement’, Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture & Policy, vol. 125, pp. 106 – 117

Week 8: Bridges Made of Tweets. No, wait…

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It’s a pretty confronting concept, the internet lynch mob. Especially when it’s a missile strike, not a lynching, and the mob is the chins. It becomes way, way more terrifying.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then check out this article. In summary, though, basically a dedicated network of 4chan users cross referenced screen shots, grabs and footage from Syrian militant propaganda with publicly available geographic and infrastructure data to (at least apparently) locate training camps and forward posts of active militants. This information, either by way of twitter or direct contact, was then passed onto Russian MoD and military intelligence. If everything is to be believed, missile strikes were then carried out based on that data. Spooky, no?

This demonstrates the darker side of what is a generally positive topic for the week. Through the aggregation and interpretation of thousands of tiny packets of information, a user can get an larger, more complete understanding of a situation. Just like one pixel is relatively useless, when thousands of them come together you start to get a clearer picture. In the examples we’ve studied before, this has led to us getting a better understanding of events unfolding on the ground where there was restricted or unreliable traditional media access; allowing individuals on the ground to contribute their data packet, tweet or metaphorical pixel to the larger picture.

This is the same process that allowed the notorious hacker known as 4chin to use thousands of users and independent data packets to create what was, essentially, a military intelligence dossier.

Scary stuff.

References

Steinblatt, J 2016, ‘How One 4Chan Board Is Trying To Fight ISIS In Syria’, Vocativ, June 6, viewed 1/10/16