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 5: Catholic Priests, Cinema and the Communal Space

I’m not the best person to talk to about cinema. Film I love, but the cinema? Nothing appeals to me less than forcing myself out of my small, dark, quiet room only to force myself into a larger, darker, louder room. Especially to watch a film, which I for whatever reason, consider a solo activity. Quite to the disdain of my girlfriend, I’d rather watch the film than cuddle or woo. She’s always trying to kiss me and what not. Just watch the movie, Liv. Moreover the prospect of sharing a space with a bunch of strangers and then relying on their silence to enjoy something really puts me on edge. You can’t trust people. At worst they talk and at best they do that annoyingly loud mouth breathing. People are the worst.

It’s for these reasons that I avoid the cinema, and it is with this predisposition that I rarely enter one. Again, it’s with these prejudices that I enter my discussion of a cinema experience I legitimately enjoyed.

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Brendan Gleeson is and always will be the face of a priest for me. Even before I saw him in the 2014 film Calvary, something about him was just priestly. I was really excited for this film. I love McDonaugh, I love Gleeson and I’m a sucker for depressing comedy. Lucky for me, due to a whole bunch of international limited releases, the film was already screening online. I nabbed myself a copy, locked myself away and gorged myself on the film. It was everything I was hoping for and more.

I loved it. Possibly a little too much, because before I knew what I was doing I made the commitment to see this at a cinema. The old, independent Empire cinema in my home town, Bowral, just happened to be showing it so I ventured up the mountain one day, mustering a likewise inclined friend to attend it with me.

This is where it gets interesting. I was tentative about going into the cinema. I rallied, though, and pushed through the doors. As my eyes adjusted, I was greeted by the beauty of an almost empty theater. There must have been only 6 or 8 other people in there. I was officially excited. As we walked through the aisles, taking the kings choice of seats, I assessed my fellow movie goers and they assessed me. It was a little hilarious, almost like a western of sorts. There was a lot of older couples, all well sunk into the seats. Though the movie wasn’t to start for another 5 minutes, it seemed like they had arrived days early to get the seats they wanted. We were easily the youngest people there by approximately half a century and no doubt our elders were waiting for us to start screaming ‘yolo’ while drinking vodka cruisers.

We sat down in silence. Surrounded by the grumpy, the suspicious and the apparently anti-social I felt at home. Regardless of how accurate my assumptions were, I felt that the people surrounding me were fellow film lovers dragged out of their respective natural environments and forced into the minefield that is the modern cinema by our anticipation and love for this film. We all waited for each other to ruin it for everyone else, but the ruin never came. The room eventually darkened and the film began. Afterwards, when the lights came back on, we all seemed much happier with each other. There were awkward smiles and even a brief comment about the film as we walked out. Just as the film had reached its satisfying conclusion, we had all steered our way through a possibly disastrous social outing and we were all proud of it.

Now, the actual bit that relates this to class. I was always skeptical of the cinema experience and, indeed, I still am. The bad experiences far outweigh the good, but after that screening I understood the ideal of the cinema experience. The ideal that a community, be it you and all your friends or me and a whole bunch of grumpy old people, can come together to share a space and consume the same media at the same time not just for economic or access reasons, but in an attempt to enhance the experience. The communal experience became a multiplier for the film, enhancing the cinematic event to so much more than a simple screening and it was amazing.

I saw the film once more, that time taking some family. Though not to the same level, the experience was still good. Perhaps because the room was a little fuller, perhaps because I was surrounded by people I knew more than strangers or perhaps simply because I had seem the film twice by then, I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ve been hoping for a similar experience that I doubt I will ever have again.

A tad dramatic? Yeah, but this degree is all about making shit dramatic so deal with it.

Week 3: Sex, Drugs and Ethnography

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The cohorts efforts in the ‘memory research’ assignment have yielded a plethora of insightful, entertaining and awkward parent conversations. Countless BCM240 students have taken the plunge and sat down with their parents to discuss the influences that TV had on their social dynamics as it was slowly introduced. Now you’re all caught up, let’s dive in.

A majority of pieces that I read focused on the expansive, almost inclusive effects that television had on social units. Rather than being the death of society, the ultimate degenerator that our parents warned us about as children, the majority of elders reflected on television positively. Almost all blogs that I read mentioned a fondness for the television and the role it took in the home. Rather than dividing and reducing the unit, elders described the television as a binding force. Units would come together, especially in the day of fixed or live broadcasting, to watch a program. Instead of being a simple media item to consume, the program would be a spectacle or activity enjoyed simultaneously by the whole family – a collaborative media performance producing common experiences.

This was not alone as a common factor. Recollections of sitting on the floor to make space for adults, kids not being allowed to watch any TV without the watchful and wary supervision of an adult and countless other commonalities perviate the BCM240 blogs. After the surprisingly positive effects of television, the second most important common trait was the evolving role of the news. Set amidst such historically significant events as the Vietnam war, the space race and the larger Cold War, news became a messenger delivering incredible, amazing and terrifying bulletins straight to the living rooms of people everywhere – even in living colour, as technology advanced.

The Moon Landing, JFK assassination and footage of the Vietnam war all feature in recollections of past broadcasts. Compared to these, frequently, lies on of the most disturbing and instantaneously televised events of modern history, the terror attacks of 9/11.

Research projects like these are incredibly valuable. More than a simple recording of an oral history, projects like these allow for a form of ethnographic advance. As well as allowing the transfer of simple data, ethnographic exchange allows for the recording and propagation of emotional impressions and effects. When this flourishes ethnography becomes a collaborative effort. Either to simply enhance communication or to address and solve a problem, collaborative ethnography emerges to involve not just the researcher trying to understand the subject, but to also feature the studied understanding the researcher. The exchange fosters, in the ideal example, mutual benefit.

In class we have covered a fair deal of this, but I promised sex and drugs, so I’m going to talk briefly about a practical application of ethnography.

After researching and writing about the Hells Angels motorcycle ‘gang’ in 1965, Hunter S. Thompson spent over a year in close proximity with the club. Though functioning at the time as a journalist, eventually Thompson would publish a book on his time with the club in an ethnographic fashion. The book, “Hells Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga”, would later be described by social and cultural geographer Bradley Garret as one of the top five most influential ethnographic works.

If you haven’t heard of Thompson, no description I could give would adequately explain the personified madness. You should research that yourself. The entire Hells Angel book is available online for free, here. I’d strongly recommend reading it drunk, but reading it sober will do in a pinch.

Through a mutual exchange with the gang, Thompson was able to somewhat explain their violent and anomalous behavior “from the inside out” (Garret, 2015). As well, in exchange for the study of their behavior, members of the gang were able to explain and defend their lifestyle and actions. The ethnographic exchange proved incredibly effective, leading to a greater academic and social understanding of the emerging trends of social deviance and criminality. As a result, the book is held in wide regard within both social geography and literary circles.

Of course, the study concludes with Thompson being attacked and beaten by dozens of members of the gang, what they coined as “stomping”.

I guess what I’m saying is that ethnography can be an incredibly effective tool in the exploration of other cultures and people, but some bikers will probably beat you up. I’m surprised that didn’t come up in our classes attempts at memory research, actually.

 

References

Garret, B 2015, ‘Why gonzo journalism is crucial to our understanding of cities and their tribes’, The Guardian, 20th May  < https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/may/20/gonzo-journalism-cities-tribes-ethnographer-hunter-s-thompson >

Lassiter, LE 2005, The Chicago Guide To Collaborative Ethnography, University of Chicago Press, Chicago