Bonus Episode Five Transcript
Bonus Episode: Racist Recruitment through Youtube
YouTube in particular, is an incredibly powerful radicalization tool.
That’s Coalition for Human Dignity veteran Devin Burghart. In the early 1990s Devin was a Coalition for Human Dignity activist who infiltrated Christian identity meetings in rural Oregon and Washington. Nowadays Devin heads up the right wing watchdog organization Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, which collects and compiles data on white nationalism to track and predict racist social trends. I’m Celina Flores
And I’m Mic Crenshaw. In this bonus episode of It Did Happen Here, we engage in some opposition research, and examine how white nationalists mobilize in the marketplace of ideas.
In a previous bonus episode, Martin Sprouse described the role of Maximum Rocknroll as an information hub to connect activists nationally and internationally. At that time, the anti-racist movement also used simple, hands-on, labor intensive methods of organizing - phone trees, chain letters, posters, speaking tours and ad-hoc conferences to get the word out and help communities with racist skinhead problems connect to support and understand they were not alone. When the internet became widely accessible, the need for this type of organizing vanished almost overnight. Many of our ideas, music, art, manifestos and performances that had existed on societal margins became available to anyone with a screen and a signal.
White nationalist organizing went through a similar change. As they went underground in the 90s, and as newsletters, gatherings and phone trees became less relevant, they were early adapters to recruiting on the internet. That is their greatest recruiting tool.
Our data, in a report we're working on about the Proud Boys shows that a large percentage of those Proud Boys who are under 25, the biggest commonality in terms of a radicalization path was being exposed to alt-right YouTube world. Right, it led them down a path that eventually led them to engage in the kind of street violence what the Proud Boys are known for. And it has changed the way we've looked at the role that the internet has played. We used to be more skeptical about the role that it would play in terms of driving movements and shaping things on the ground. All that skepticism has been erased. Pewdiepie is one of those early, we'll call, steps onto a conveyor belt that draws people deeper into white nationalism.
PewdiePie is a piece of shit. PewdiePie the online handle for Felix Kjellberg a Swedish Youtube star who originally rose to astronomical popularity for live streaming video games. In 2019 his Youtube channel had more than 4 billion views.
Does he either ironically, or genuinely plays with a lot of racial and anti-semitic stereotypes, as well as a lot of misogyny. Those things are all ways to soften the ground that makes it easier and makes people more susceptible to people with a harder edge about all of those issues, folks like a Nick Fuentes or a Patrick Casey, who are running different white nationalist organizations. Also, algorithmically it also means that YouTube is probably going to be serving videos that are more white nationalist oriented, that have a similar approach to the world that PewDiePie does. So, in that space, a number of these folks that have tried to operate. Also true for folks who listen to music, right, and watch videos on YouTube. If you’re into metal for instance, there is a chance that you could easily get served up a NSBM video from the algorithms that YouTube is using to promote this stuff.
NSBM stands for national socialist black metal.
It’s a specific musical genre designed to promote really vicious forms of white nationalism and anti-semitism. And it has become part of the Black Metal scene. There are dozens and dozens of NSBM bands that are populated on YouTube and could easily get served up to unknowing folks who are just into that particular genre of music. So all of those things, I think, are of a concern when curated content is being served to us just algorithmically. And there's so much content of a white nationalist nature that exists in these ecosystems.
For those who don’t know, an algorithm is a system of automated reasoning or ‘machine learning’ written into a piece of software to make it more efficient. The algorithm for YouTube is designed to maintain the attention of the viewer for as long as possible. The best way to do this with human attention is through the emotional center of the brain, the limbic system. The algorithm does this by suggesting content related to the original search, and then offering more and more extreme versions. For example, a search for a video on how to get into jogging will, after continuous play, automatically suggest videos on sprinting, then marathon training, and decathlon running.
We're already witnessing white nationalists attempting to rebrand themselves. They've moved from trying to congeal a larger, far right base towards white nationalism under the alt right to a new strategy they’re calling the Groyper Wars.
The Groyper Wars is a far-right white nationalist youth movement that criticizes Republican conservatives–often heckling conservatives in person–for not being ‘pro-white’ enough, being soft on immigration, and pro-Israel–among other things. They brand themselves as ‘Christian conservatives’ rather than white nationalists. Some things they oppose: immigration, globalism, LGBTQ rights and feminism–basically anything outside of a white, male, cis-gendered, heteronormative, able Christian framework. They are skilled at media, and very effective at online propaganda strategies.
The head of the Groyper Army is 22-year old podcaster Nick Fuentes. YouTube banned his channel in February of 2020 for hate speech.
Trying to pitch white nationalism under the banner of America First, to try to engage young people on college campuses, and to try to out reach out to Trump supporters to try to bring them into the white nationalist ranks. And this is not happening from baby boomers. It's not happening from Gen Xers or even Millennials. It's a lot of Zoomers, now driving this new effort to try to push conservatism in a far more white nationalist direction. My wife's a teacher. Kids will say something that is deeply misogynistic or homophobic or racially insensitive, and then they'll just say, “Oh, it was just a joke. I didn't mean anything by it.” And so that kind of attempt to portray white nationalism as just comedic is part and parcel of this Zoomer generation of the folks behind the Groyper Wars. That is their modus operandi is to use irony and memes to push their agenda to a larger audience. And that's a very different challenge from folks with brown shirts and swastika armbands on marching down the streets of Coeur D’Alene. There's no way you can do direct street protesting, to try to get a multi-national corporation like Google to change their policies and procedures about how to deal with white nationalist activity on YouTube. It requires different levels of organizing and intervention to try to change their approach to this. There are some up-and-coming YouTubers who are doing content that is designed to push back against that kind of stuff. You know, folks like Destiny and others who have found a space within the YouTube ecosystem to try to push back against the overt or covert bigotry that white nationalists and the folks cozying up to white nationalists like to promote. Rather than lecturing kids about the kind of activity, help them understand that this stuff is just not cool. And it's harmful. To see both the impacts of the rhetoric that these folks are promoting, and then give them an alternative. It's always part of that push pull strategy we talk about right, that you want to push away the bad ideas, and pull them in a more positive direction. It's harder for a lot of us because we're not of that generation. We've now gotten older. Us old punks now I need to figure out the kind of language and the rhetoric that Zoomers are using and figure out how we can get them involved in this larger fight because it's going to go on, it's going to be the defining issue of their generation and probably the generation after that is how we define who and what we are as a nation. So they're going to be intimately involved in that, whether they like it or not.
Thanks for listening to this bonus episode of It Did Happen Here. There are transcripts, show notes with links, and other relevant content at our website: ItDidHappenHerePodcast.com. You can also listen to the podcast on the KBOO website, on Spotify, and Apple podcasts, and other mainstream podcast platforms. This interview was by Celina Flores, and your hosts were Celina Flores and Mic Crenshaw. This podcast is produced by Celina, Mic, and me, Erin Yanke. Music in this episode is by LG 17 and made available by the Free Music Archive. Thanks to the Marla Davis Fund, KBOO Community Radio, and to the rest of our production team: Icky A, Julie Perini, and Moe Bowstern, and thank you for listening.