RADICALISATION: We’re not neo-Nazis anymore’: Radicalisation strategies in online far-right propaganda and disinformation campaigns

Duration: 
April, 2020 to April, 2023
Funding: 
EU Horizon 2020 - Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions / Individual fellowships

Summary

The European Union (EU) faces a high-level security threat by the re-emergence of the far right, indicated by a recent significant increase in far-right violence (Ramalingham 2014a, Europol 2017): incidents such as harassment, intimidation, vigilante patrols, attacks on minorities and refugees, mosques, synagogues and asylum centres; property vandalism and arson, which are often underreported to the police and by the media. The growing trend of Euro-scepticism and anti-immigration rhetoric of political parties (Ramalingham 2014b), which make up the ‘populist radical right’ and ‘extreme right’ (Mudde 2016) fraction of the EU, has also resulted in increasing levels of harassment of minorities. Such rhetoric has been exacerbated by the climate crisis: recent research in environmental security has identified climate change as a threat multiplier and documented climate change-fuelled violence and conflict in the developing countries of the ‘global South’ (Lyons, et al. 2021). However, the weaponisation of climate change and its exploitation by far-right populist political parties as well as white supremacist groups in the developed countries of the ‘global North’ has received a lot less attention.

This project focuses on the evolution of far- and extreme right ecofascist rhetoric in the global North. Specifically, the main research question is how radicalisation strategies of the European far-right deploy a wide range of nuanced semiotic, linguistic and visual meaning-making resources in order to recruit potential new members, zooming in on exploiting the issue of climate change. An emerging body of research on far-right environmentalist communication (see e.g. Forchtner, 2019) shows that a few years ago the majority of far-right populist parties have demonstrated climate scepticism and have often engaged in anti-environmentalist communication. More recently, climate-sceptic parties have been forced to tone down their climate change denialism due to public pressure. Recent media articles (e.g. Kelley, 2021; Mazoue, 2019) have reported instances of anti-immigration rhetoric in current political discourse, which dress up ecofascist language as concern for the environment. Thus, the primary objective of this study is to identify the linguistic markers and strategies that construct ecofascist rhetoric in a corpus of far- and extreme right materials, including articles published online as well as election programs and manifestos.

Understanding the relationship between climate change and violent extremist radicalization is therefore an urgent priority. More specifically, as far-right populist parties and white supremacist groups may start amplifying ecofascist messages, it will become increasingly important to monitor the evolution of such discourses. As the language of climate scepticism is shifting towards environmental activism in the communication of the far- and the extreme right in the global North, new research needs to carefully observe its potential to move from the fringe into the mainstream.

 

Main results so far

Drawing on Systemic Functional Linguistics, corpus linguistics and Legitimation Code Theory, this project employs both quantitative and qualitative methods in a multidisciplinary approach to explore the linguistic construction of far-right ecofascist ideology, focusing specifically on dis/alignment, attitudes, values, emotions, moral judgements and criminogenic intent in radicalisation strategies and disinformation campaigns. Findings reveal that ecofascist rhetoric relies on the linguistic resources of attitude, persuasion, amplification and obligation. Linguistic markers of ecofascist rhetoric include branding non-white populations as ‘invading foreigners’ and ‘parasites’ and local minorities as ‘foreign species’. They are held exclusively responsible for environmental degradation, when, in fact, recent research (Ma 2020) found that immigrants use less energy, drive less, and generate less waste. Ecofascist ideas are typically clustered together with old Nazi tropes and familiar white supremacist grievances such as immigration, multiculturalism, liberalism and cultural Marxism (among others), constructed as violations of the ‘natural order’, exploitation of natural resources and ‘white genocide’.

The timeliness of this project is indicated by the alarming rate of radicalisation in the EU (High-Level Commission Expert Group on Radicalisation 2018): the use of the internet for the fast-paced dissemination of neo-Nazi, white supremacist and most recently, ecofascist ideologies poses both an enhanced security threat to the EU and an ‘existential threat’ to fundamental European values (Mogherini 2016)such as ‘democracy, non-discrimination, tolerance…’ as per Article 2 of the Treaty of EU.

 

Wider societal implications

By investigating extremist online propaganda, the ultimate goal of this interdisciplinary project is twofold: 1) to contribute new knowledge to a range of disciplines, from linguistics and sociology; terrorism, criminology and security studies, including environmental security; to Peace and Conflict Studies, and 2) to lay the foundations for good practice and policy guidelines as well as the planning of educational, prevention and deradicalisation programmes. This focus on far- and extreme right radicalisation strategies is consistent with the policy objective of ‘develop[ing] joint programmes on countering violent extremism and radicalisation’, set out in the European Commission’s document Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger EuropeA Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy” (Mogherini 2016). This study investigates the link between climate change, violent extremism and the language of ecofascist propaganda specifically, alongside well-known white supremacist grievances.  Data analyses have revealed that ecofascist propaganda in particular is gaining traction among far- and extreme-right groups. Young people already sensitised to the climate crisis and often engaged in climate activism are particularly vulnerable to ecofascist radicalisation. An important implication of this study for education and policy-making will be the dissociation of ecofascism from the climate justice movement.

References

Brown, I. & Cowls, J. (2015). Check the web: Assessing the ethics and politics of policing the internet for extremist material. VOX-Pol Network of Excellence.

Europol. (2017). European Union terrorism situation and trend report 2017.European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation.

Forchtner, B. (Ed.). (2019). The far right and the environment: Politics, discourse and communication. Routledge.

High-Level Commission Expert Group on Radicalisation (HLCEG-R) – Final Report (2018). Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Kelley, M. (2021). How the right-wing scapegoats immigrants for America’s environmental problems. One Green Planet. https://www.onegreenplanet.org/environment/how-the-right-wing-scapegoats-immigrants-for-americas-environmental-problems/

Lyons, W. F. Lyons Jr., Kulkarni, T. & Dutil, M. (2021). New leadership approaches for climate change and environmental security. Journal of Peace and War Studies, ISOMA Special Edition 2021: 74-90.

Ma, G. (2020). The Environmental impact of immigration in the United States. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Utah State University. https://doi.org/10.26076/fbja-4t44

Mazoue, A. (2019, April 20). Le Pen's National Rally goes green in bid for European election votes. France 24. https://www.france24.com/en/20190420-le-pen-national-rally-front-environment-european-elections-france

Mogherini, F. (2016). Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger EuropeA Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy. Brüssel, 1-54.

Mudde, C. (Ed.). (2016). The populist radical right: A reader. London: Routledge.

Ramalingham, V. (2014a). On the front line: A guide to countering far-right extremism. Institute for Strategic Dialogue.

Ramalingam, V. (2014b). Old threat, new approach: Tackling the far right across Europe. Institute for Strategic Dialogue.

 

Publications

Szenes, E. (2021). Neo-Nazi environmentalism: The linguistic construction of ecofascism in a Nordic Resistance Movement manifesto. Journal for Deradicalization, Summer Issue 27. 146-192. ISSN: 2363-9849. https://journals.sfu.ca/jd/index.php/jd/article/view/465

Szenes, E. (December 21, 2021). Weaponizing the climate crisis: The nexus of climate change and violent extremism. Voices on Peace and War [online], Peace and War Center, Norwich University. https://www.norwich.edu/news/voices-from-the-hill/peace-and-war/3548-weaponizing-the-climate-crisis-the-nexus-of-climate-change-and-violent-extremism

Szenes, E. & Perry M. W. (submitted and under review). ‘Terrorist recruiters’ vs ‘terrorist slayers’ in Russian information warfare: Weaponizing the Syrian civil war. Journal of Peace and War Studies. Peace and War Center, Norwich University.  

List of conference presentations

Szenes, E. & Tilakaratna, N.(January 2022). Accessing axiologies: Constellation analysis of white supremacist ideology. Paper presented at the 2022 Legitimation Code Theory 3.5: A new conference for a new time. [virtual conference]

Szenes, E. & Perry, M.(March 2022). Weaponizing the Syrian civil war: Russia’s Twitter war on terror. Deciphering the Russian riddle: National interests and geopolitical competitions, Norwich University 3rd Peace and War Summit, Norwich University, Vermont, USA.

Szenes, E., (March 2022). Weaponizing the climate crisis: Environmental grievances as tools of ecofascist radicalization, in Session 23: Environmental Security. 31st Annual International Conference on Soil,Water, Energy, and Air. Association for Environmental Health and Sciences Foundation (AEHS) West Conference [virtual].

 

Public outreach

April 2021. Research seminar. Transnational eco-fascism: Exploiting the climate crisis. Presented at the Norwich University John and Mary Frances Patton Peace and War Center Seminar Series, Norwich University, Northfield, Vermont, USA. https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=482846339580960

March 2021. Guest Lecture. The language of far right propaganda: Linguistics for critical digital literacy in Texts and Multiliteracies (EKIS2003), Department of Language and Communication Studies, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland.

December 2020. Guest Lecture. The language of the far right: Using linguistics for propaganda analysis in Lingua e traduzione inglese (English Language and Translation) (028LM), Department of Humanities, University of Trieste, Trieste, Italy.

November 2020. Research seminar. ‘Caretakers’ of nature, ‘stewards’ of the land: An SFL-LCT analysis of eco-fascist propaganda. Presented in the 2020 Systemic Functional Linguistics Interest Group Seminar Series.

November 2020. Guest Lecture. From online radicalisation to violent extremism: What’s linguistics got to do with it? in Terrorism (CJ330), Norwich University, Northfield, Vermont, USA.

 

In the media and university news

University News. Norwich University Office of Communications (2022, February 8). Norwich  University Center for Global Resilience and Security announces spring 2022 fellowships. https://www.norwich.edu/news/3609-norwich-university-center-for-global-resilience-and-security-announces-spring-2022-fellowships

Media interview/article. Renczes, Á. & Vedres, P. (2021, August 7). A szélsőjobboldal lehetséges jövője: Így zöldült be egy észak-európai neonáci mozgalom [The possible future of the far right: This is how a neo-Nazi movement in Northern Europe turned green]. Azonnali. Budapest, Hungary. https://azonnali.hu/cikk/20210807_a-szelsojobboldal-lehetseges-jovoje-igy-zoldult-be-egy-eszak-europai-neonaci-mozgalom

Brochure. Peace and War Center 2020 Brochure. https://issuu.com/norwichuniversityoc/docs/pawc_splashpiece_issu_2020/8

University News. Norwich University Office of Communications (2020, November 2). Norwich hosts linguist, visiting researcher on extremism. https://www.norwich.edu/news/2797-norwich-hosts-linguist-visiting-researcher-on-extremism

Media interview/article. Picard, Ken. F.M. (2020, October 27). A Hungarian linguist at Norwich University dissects online far-right propaganda. Seven Days. Vermont, USA. https://www.sevendaysvt.com/vermont/a-hungarian-linguist-at-norwich-university-dissects-online- far-right-propaganda/Content?oid=31681529&fbclid=IwAR3lFWo3- wMBoF57H7vkLbirOn_er9U_mcPaMHPrmhZNaVxnfx5Mmy8-PKg

Supervisory team of the project:

Outgoing phase in the United States (15 April 2020 – 14 April 2022):

Associate Professor William Travis Morris

School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Director

Peace and War Center, Director

Norwich University

Northfield, Vermont, USA

Return phase in Austria (15 April 2022 – 14 April 2023):

Professor Dorit Geva

Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology

Dean of Undergraduate Studies 

Central European University Private University
Vienna, Austria