New research finds unprecedented levels of cross-border cooperation between extreme right groups

New research released today by ISD, a counter-extremism NGO working to stem polarisation and hate, reveals increasing collaboration between extreme right groups globally. The report, titled The Fringe Insurgency, shows how extreme right groups have  opportunistically bridging ideologies and adapting their tone to manipulate legitimate social grievances – immigration, freedom of speech, and terrorism – in order to reach and radicalise the mainstream.

Researchers from ISD spent three months undercover on previously underexplored online forums including 4chan, Gab and Discord, to examine the tactics being used by extreme right groups to mobilise around key events. In particular, they examined mobilisation around the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, attempts to manipulate the German elections and the ‘Defend Europe’ movement to block refugees entering Europe, all of which significantly raised the profile and support for extreme right narratives.

The research shows how extreme right groups are employing sophisticated technology and tactics, which were originally developed to protect and unify communities, to quickly cooperate across borders, radicalise and disrupt democratic processes. These include crowd-funding platforms, custom-made social media platforms and even the use of leaked military and intelligence resources from GCHQ and NATO to run campaigns against their own governments.

ISD analysed 50 platforms around the world, identifying thousands of pieces of content created and distributed by extreme right groups including British counter-jihadists, German Identitarians and American white supremacists. This analysis exposed the extreme right’s strategy to create a mass movement through the radicalisation or ‘red-pilling’ of normal people or ‘normies’, particularly focusing on the radicalisation of generation Z .

Key findings from the report:

  • Extreme-right groups across the globe are actively collaborating to achieve common goals, such as keeping refugees out of Europe, removing hate speech laws and getting far-right populist politicians to power.
  • Campaigns around the Defend Europe mission in the Mediterranean and the Charlottesville rally received financial and operational support from numerous European and North American countries. Alternative online platforms, some created explicitly for use by the extreme right, provide mechanisms for transnational knowledge exchange, fundraising and coordinated information operations.
  • Their strategic, tactical and operational convergence has allowed the extreme right to translate large-scale online mobilisation into real-world impact. Through coordinated grassroots activities, they have been able to influence elections, attract worldwide media attention and intimidate political opponents. Reconquista Germania, an extreme-right channel on the app Discord set up to disrupt the German election, counts over 5000 members from across the globe.
  • High levels of opportunism characterise today’s extreme right, as seen in the cooperation between ideologically disparate strands such as racially and culturally oriented nationalists. Extreme-right groups actively seek to overcome ideological and geographic divergences for the sake of expanding their influence, reach and impact. Their communication materials are tailored to different audiences and highlight topics ranging from white nationalist activism to freedom of speech protection.
  • The most extreme fringe groups attempt to penetrate new audiences and mainstream their ideologies by using less extreme groups as strategic mouthpieces. Their aim is the creation of a ‘mass movement’  through the radicalisation of ‘the normies’ (average people who consume ‘mainstream’ media), in particular Generation Z.
  • Extreme right networks use military and intelligence resources such as leaked strategic communication documents from the GCHQ and NATO to run campaigns against their own governments. By staging sophisticated operations in the style of military psychological operations (or ‘psy-ops’), they seek to disrupt democratic processes in Europe, as in the latest example during the German election where coordinated extreme-right efforts dictated social media conversations and the top trending hashtags for a period of two weeks.

Julia Ebner, Research Fellow at ISD and co- author of the report commented:  “To date, responses to the extreme right have focused on removing extremist accounts and content but this alone is not sufficient. When you block content on one platform, groups simply migrate to others to coordinate. Instead, we need to combine takedowns with efforts to map the tactics of extreme right groups, so we can better disrupt their online coordination and offline action.”  

Jacob Davey, Research Coordinator at ISD and co-author of the report added: “The weaponization of social media by the extreme right represents a concerted effort to radicalise generation Z. To stop these efforts we need a response which matches the extreme right in sophistication and scale. They are mobilising across borders and across ideologies. We need to understand convergence and divergence between these groups, to address the global threat they pose”.