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Creating a New Normal. The Mainstreaming of Far-Right Ideas Through Online and Offline Action in Hungary: Online Actions and Offline Consequences in Europe and the US

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Abstract

How have digital tools and networks transformed the far right's strategies and transnational prospects? This volume presents a unique critical survey of the online and offline tactics, symbols and platforms that are strategically remixed by contemporary far-right groups in Europe and the US. It features thirteen accessible essays by an international range of expert scholars, policy advisors and activists who offer informed answers to a number of urgent practical and theoretical questions: How and why has the internet emboldened extreme nationalisms? What counter-cultural approaches should civil societies develop in response?
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... Notably, the internet has proven important for the dissemination of farright discourse into mainstream public debate (Ekman, 2015;Karl, 2019;Schwarzenegger & Wagner, 2018;A. Winter, 2019) but more than that, the internet is often used actively and skilfully by the far right to help increase their legitimacy and appeal to less radical audiences (Daniels, 2009;Gerstenfeld et al., 2003;A. ...
... Among the most important efforts by the far right online as well as offline are those which help normalise or 'mainstream' far-right ideology (e.g., Feischmidt & Hervik, 2015;Karl, 2019;Mondon & Winter, 2020;A. Winter, 2019). ...
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Background: This thesis explores the far right online beyond the study of political parties and extremist far-right sites and content. Specifically, it focuses on the proliferation of far-right discourse among ‘ordinary’ internet users in mainstream digital settings. In doing so, it aims to bring the study of far-right discourse and the enabling roles of digital platforms and influential users into dialogue. It does so by analysing what is communicated and how; where it is communicated and therein the roles of different socio-technical features associated with various online settings; and finally, by whom, focusing on particularly influential users. Methods: The thesis uses material from four different datasets of digital, user-generated content, collected at different times through different methods. These datasets have been analysed using mixed methods approaches wherein interpretative methods, primarily in the form of critical discourse analysis (CDA), have been combined with various data processing techniques, descriptive statistics, visualisations, and computational data analysis methods. Results: The thesis provides a number of findings in relation to far-right discourse, digital platforms, and online influence, respectively. In doing so it builds on the findings of previous research, illustrates unexpected and contradictory results in relation to what was previously known, and makes a number of interesting new discoveries. Overall, it begins to unravel the complex interconnectedness of far-right discourse, platforms, and influential users, and illustrates that to understand the far-right’s efforts online it is imperative to take several dimensions into account simultaneously. Conclusion: The thesis makes several contributions. First, the thesis makes a conceptual contribution by focusing on the interconnectedness of far-right efforts online. Second, it makes an empirical contribution by exploring the multifaceted grassroots or ‘non-party’ dimensions of far-right mobilisation, Finally, the thesis makes a methodological contribution through its mix of methods which illustrates how different aspects of the far right, over varying time periods, diversely sized and shaped datasets, and user constellations, can be approached to reveal broader overarching patterns as well as intricate details.
... The second section, 'unmasking', is somewhat more complicated, seeking to bring background assumptions and practices that underlie far-right communication to the fore. For example, where the first section discusses more overt issues related to far-right communication, such as how trolling allows for ironic distance and thereby plausible deniability when confronted (May and Feldman 2019) or how the far-right Jobbik party uses a variety of communications strategies to mainstream their views (Karl 2019), the second section confronts less straightforward questions, like what makes a symbol (e.g., Pepe the Frog) a far-right symbol despite its creator's intentions (Miller-Idriss 2019) or the visual language of far-right memes (Bogerts and Fielitz 2019). ...
... Even when considering far-right communication that is not trolling, such as the wholesome images the Jobbik party uses to communicate with mainstream Hungarians (Karl 2019), the appropriation of non-racist or non-fascist imagery (Miller-Idriss 2019), or the response to the murder of Keira Gross 3 (Darmstadt, Prinz, and Saal 2019), one can draw similar parallels, if perhaps not as extreme as the wholesale rejection of truth as a useful concept. The felicity with which one could say, 'This image is merely a celebration of Hungarian values', 'There is no connection between a clothing brand (Lonsdale) and neo-Nazis', or 'I'm only asking questions about the status of the Keira investigation and why details are not forthcoming', all seem to rest on a similar background claim that the speaker ought not be taken literally, probably should not be taken seriously, and taking the speaker either literally or too seriously reveals a defect within the interlocutor rather than the speaker. ...
... While the role of mainstream media coverage in far right success has been a crucial topic for a long time (de Jonge, 2019;Ellinas, 2018;Szabó et al., 2019), scholars have only recently begun exploring also the digital media strategies of far-right actors themselves (Simpson et al., 2015). Recent contributions have explored the transnationalisation of far-right communication online (Caiani & Kröll, 2015;Froio & Ganesh, 2019) and the ongoing 'mainstreaming of the extreme' in a post-digital environment, where the disruption of digital technologies has already taken place (Fielitz & Thurston, 2019;Karl, 2019). With some important exceptions, such as a recent study of the media platforms of Casa-Pound and Les Identitaires (Gattinara & Bouron, 2019) and a study of alternative media in Norway, Denmark and Sweden (Nygaard, 2019;, most analyses of far-right communication online have focused on social network platforms, which provide easy access to big data for analysis (Bobba, 2019;Crosset et al., 2019;Froio & Ganesh, 2019). ...
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