By Jason Wilson
The Guardian (5/23/17)
Earlier this month, hundreds of “alt-right” protesters occupied the rotundaat Boston Common in the name of free speech. The protest included far-right grouplets old and new – from the Oath Keepers to the Proud Boys. But there were no swastikas or shaved heads in sight.
Instead, the protest imagery was dominated by ostensibly comedic images, mostly cribbed from forums and social media. It looked a little like an animated version of a favorite “alt-right” message board, 4chan.
At least one attendee was dressed as the cartoon frog, Pepe (a character co-opted by the movement against the wishes of its creator). Others carried the flag of “Kekistan”, the imaginary country created 4chan members. Kyle Chapman, the man who became the “based stick man” meme after attacking anti-fascists armed with a gas mask and a Captain America shield, also addressed the crowd. The same crowd later confronted a counter anti-fascist protest in the street.
Until recently, it would have been hard to imagine the combination of street violence meeting internet memes. But experts say that the “alt-right” have stormed mainstream consciousness by weaponizing irony, and by using humour and ambiguity as tactics to wrong-foot their opponents.
Every “ironic” repetition of far-right ideals contributes to a climate in which racism, misogyny, or Islamophobia is normalised.
Last week, the Data & Society Institute released a report on the online disinformation and manipulation that is increasingly shaping US politics. The report focused on the way in which far-right actors “spread white supremacist thought, Islamophobia, and misogyny through irony and knowledge of internet culture”.
One the report’s authors, Dr Alice Marwick, says that fascist tropes first merged with irony in the murkier corners of the internet before being adopted by the “alt-right” as a tool. For the new far-right movement, “irony has a strategic function. It allows people to disclaim a real commitment to far-right ideas while still espousing them.”
Marwick says that from the early 2000s, on message boards like 4chan, calculatedly offensive language and imagery have been used to “provoke strong reactions in outsiders”. Calling all users “fags”, or creating memes using gross racial stereotypes, “serves a gate-keeping function, in that it keeps people out of these spaces, many of which are very easy to access”. …
(Art from Wikipedia.)