Using memes as propaganda, employing sophisticated communication networks for both planning and recruiting, making use of both fringe and private online forums and organizing militias to inspire lone wolf actors for violent action have proven to become tried-and-true tactics by extremist online communities seeking to expand their influence in recent years.
According to the Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI) report, presented by the Rutgers Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience, Network-Enabled Anarchy: How Militant Anarcho-Socialist Networks Use Social Media to Spread Violence Against Political Opponents and Law Enforcement, militant and extremist groups have taken to social media and online forums to plant hateful, anti-Semitic and/or revolutionary ideas in the public eye, which are often disguised with humor or through using coded language.
The privacy of many of these online forums and social media platforms allow these radical groups to shield themselves from view, as well as carry out their mission to share ideology and recruit for militias. Authors Joel Finkelstein, Alex Goldenberg, Sean Stevens, Lee Jussim, John Farmer, John K. Donohue and Pamela Paresky, write, “Organized violent networks that support these ideas generate both lone-wolf and cell-like attacks against law enforcement and the general public. During opportune moments of vulnerability, these groups taken advantage of social unrest over major events such as the COVID lockdowns and George Floyd’s killing. The target of much of the recent outrage in these events has been the most visible institutional manifestation of state authority and raw power: the police.”
The research provides an in-depth characterization of the emerging threats against police by the extreme libertarian-anarchist movements, the Boogaloo, the author says. The assessment proved accurate, with several terror attacks against law enforcement appearing only months after the report.
Driving their research was the questions whether memes and codewords, private or fringe online forums, and hybrid real-world/online militia – the three characteristic tactics that support outbreaks of extremist violence for both Jihadi and Boogaloo extremism – are also prevalent in anti-fascist and anarcho-socialist groups.
The authors analyzed the use and prevalence of memes and other coded language and activity by performing analyses on over ten million social media comments ranging from mainstream platforms (such as Twitter) to fringe online forums on Reddit. Throughout the research, they examined whether the same extremist themes and actions that are characteristic of both Jihadi and Boogaloo extremists—themes such as violent revolution, martyrdom, and having a utopian narrative, and actions such as terror attacks—are also found in extremist groups espousing anti-fascism and anarcho-socialism.
The researchers concluded the following from their analyses:
- An online structure supporting anarcho-socialist extremism appears to be rapidly growing.
- Many of the features of anarcho-socialist extremism seem to parallel the key tactical structures documented in libertarian-anarchist and Jihadi extremism: Use of memes, cloistering in fringe and private online forums and organizing militias.
- The appearance of posts with anti-police outrage and/or memes and coded language increased over 1,000% on Twitter and 300% on Reddit in recent months during social justice protests.
- Extreme anarcho-socialist fringe online forums on Reddit use memes calling for the death of police and memes for stockpiling munitions to promote violent revolution.
- Extreme anarcho-socialist fringe online forums on Reddit underwent growth in membership and participation during the quarantine and recent social justice protests.
- Anarcho-socialist militias which explicitly glorify Martyr narratives, classic authoritarian narratives, and revolutionary narratives are now formally organizing—and are growing. » Groups such as the Socialist Rifle Association have more than doubled in membership since quarantine.
- Both militia and anarchist networks play key roles in the recent social justice protests from controlling perimeters at CHAZ [CHOP] to coordinating nation-wide anarchist-inspired violent protests online.
- Regional feeds for highly interconnected anarcho-socialist militias and violent anarchist networks are proliferating rapidly across Twitter, Reddit and Facebook
- Innovative cyber strategies are being used on Twitter by anarchist networks and shared by socialist forums on Reddit: for example, links for 3-D printed weapons, instructions for using laser technology to blind targets, and real-time online coordination of offline rioting and anti-police violence such as setting fires, throwing projectiles, and using fireworks/munitions.
- Violent anarcho-socialist networks played an active online role in preparing for and coordinating real world riots nation-wide and in real time.
For the full report, please visit https://ncri.io/wp-content/uploads/NCRI-White-Paper-Network-Enabled-Anarchy-14-Sept-1049am.pdf