Dr. Simon Purdue, Director, MEMRI Domestic Terrorism Threat Monitor (DTTM) Project
This past year was another eventful one, with a number of paradigm-shifting global events fundamentally changing how many viewed the world. Like 2020 and 2021, 2022 also saw international conflict, extreme weather events, outbreaks of disease, and financial crises on national and global levels. As in these past years, this year too extremists took every opportunity to advance their ideology and promote their ideas.
Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, antigovernment extremists, accelerationists, and various other violent extremist groups and individuals were very active in 2022. Some new groups emerged, some changed or evolved, and some faded into obscurity thanks either to dwindling support or legal challenges. Others maintained stability, capitalizing on current events and political turmoil to gain temporary prominence, and using social media effectively to cultivate their membership and support base during quieter months of the year.
12 Months Of Extremism
January 6 Anniversary
Antigovernment and white supremacist extremists in the U.S. marked the first anniversary of the January 6 Capitol insurrection. The anniversary gave many of these extremists a new opportunity to propagate conspiracy theories about the origin of the insurrection and the response to it, with a renewed focus on the Capitol Police’s response to the rioters and particularly on the death of rioter Ashli Babbitt.
Extremists on social media again mourned the deaths of Babbitt and of the other rioters killed that day, with some reiterating their anti-police sentiment and their focus on Babbit’s shooter Capitol Police Officer James Byrd. Others used the anniversary to call for further violence and insurrection, with some predicting a similar event if their favored political party lost in the November midterm elections. With their marking of the second January 6 anniversary, it is clear that this has become a red-letter day for extremists in the U.S., including antigovernment and white supremacist factions.
Canadian Freedom Convoy
In February, Canadian antigovernment extremists were moving towards an insurrection of their own, as the Freedom Convoy took shape, with truck drivers and other key workers organizing a strike and protest over COVID-19 mandates and planning to drive to Ottawa to stage a sit-in outside the Parliament. But this initiative was soon coopted by extremists, and antigovernment, white supremacist, violent accelerationist, and even neo-Nazi extremists began to promote the “Freedom Convoy” as another January 6. Threats against Prime Minster Justin Trudeau and his government escalated, and during the convoy MEMRI DTTM monitoring uncovered dozens of death threats against prominent political figures and public health officials. At the Ottawa protest later in the month, flags with swastikas and other white supremacist and neo-Nazi iconography were seen flying, as the convoy’s extremists took over the protest and made it their own. Eventually, Trudeau declared an emergency, and despite vocal extremists’ online attempts to incite violence, the convoy largely fizzled out.
Russia Invades Ukraine
The first half of the year was most defined, however, by armed conflict in Europe on a scale not seen since the Second World War. On February 24, after weeks of tension and military build-up, Russian forces launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine, precipitating an ongoing war of survival for the Ukrainian nation and international alarm about the long-term goals and short-term instability of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The war was a cause of rejoicing for neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and various other extremists around the world; some celebrated Russia’s move as a stand against the liberal Western order, while others viewed the conflict as the start of a global conflict and the possible collapse of modern society by means of thermonuclear war. There were also those who stood firmly with Ukraine, offering moral, financial, and even physical support to groups with neo-Nazi links, including the Azov Regiment and Right Sector.
It also fanned age-old antisemitic tropes, with many extremists employing the well-used tactic of blaming the Jews, in this case for the conflict. Some argued that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Jewish heritage was not coincidental, and that it was Jewish politicians and elites who would be benefiting from the war. Others claimed that Putin too was Jewish, and that the war represented a conflict between two factions of international Jewish elites. At the same time, there were also those who insisted that the entire conflict was manufactured in order to advance surveillance and security on a global level.
On a more concrete level, the war offered violent neo-Nazis a chance to gain wartime experience and access to training and materiel. It also helped them develop international extremist networks, as many travelled from across Europe and North America to fight alongside their fellow neo-Nazis in the Ukrainian theater. The MEMRI DTTM tracked a number of high-profile violent extremists who reached Ukraine via Poland; some of them even participated in armed combat in Donbass before returning to their home countries. We also saw weaponry crossing borders into western Europe, with drones, firearms, and even rocket-propelled grenades ending up for sale on the Dark Web. The potential for future radicalization and violence is heightened due to this return of fighters and influx of materiel; Western authorities should be monitoring the situation closely as the conflict continues.
Reactions To Appointment Of Justice Ketanji Jackson
In March, white supremacists in the U.S. reacted predictably to the appointment of Justice Ketanji Jackson to the Supreme Court, threatening her and the Biden administration for appointing her. Later that month, the same extremists celebrated the death of Madeline Albright, with many referring to the former Secretary of State as Jewish and expressing their hope that more political figures would die.
Brooklyn Subway Attack, Austrian Neo-Nazi Rapper Goes To Prison, Hitler’s Birthday, Crypto Crash
April saw energizing events in the extremist and extremist-adjacent sphere around the world. In the U.S., an attempted terrorist attack at a Brooklyn subway station caught the attention of conspiracy theorists and accelerationists alike, and both capitalized on the violence to promote further division and chaos. The perpetrator himself was revealed to be himself an ideological extremist espousing antigovernment and even neo-Nazi beliefs online, and who was deeply steeped in conspiracy theory. In Europe, prominent neo-Nazi musician and ideologue Mr. Bond was sentenced to 10 years in prison by an Austrian court. Extremist fans of his neo-Nazi covers of popular songs reacted to the sentencing, inter alia by promoting violence against the judge and jury who had handed down the sentence.
Globally, neo-Nazis marked Hitler’s birthday on April 20; as seen in previous years, neo-Nazis baked cakes and held parties for the Fuhrer, celebrating his ideology and promoting the widespread reading of Mein Kampf. Around the same time in the U.S., the extremist “Dark MAGA” movement emerged and gained ground via promotion by a number of high-profile Trump supporters. This movement fused antigovernment, extremist, pro-Trump ideology with the aesthetics and violent incitement of the neo-Nazi accelerationist fringe, and a new swath of memes comparing Trump to Hitler surfaced.
A cataclysmic crash in the cryptocurrency market in April profoundly impacted extremists due to their heavy reliance on cryptocurrency for fundraising and asset transfer. Following their deplatforming from traditional banking and financial services, white supremacists and neo-Nazis had increasingly been using Bitcoin, Ethereum, Monero, and other cryptocurrencies. The total collapse of the LunaCoin token from $116 on April 5 to $0.000017 on May 12 caused a ripple effect, with Bitcoin’s value dropping by nearly half during the same period. Many of the extremists who used cryptocurrency extensively saw their own net worth similarly collapse, and soon resorted to blaming Jewish financiers and the banking industry for their financial woes.
31 Killed In Mass Shootings
May was a tragic month in the U.S., with two separate mass shootings that claimed the lives of 31 people. The first, at a Buffalo, New York grocery store, was perpetrated by an 18-year-old neo-Nazi who had been inspired by previous ideological attacks in Norway and New Zealand. It emerged that he had targeted this particular store because of the neighborhood’s large Black population; the shooter was motivated by anti-Black racism and by his belief in the Great Replacement conspiracy theory. He livestreamed the attack and left behind a manifesto explaining why he carried out the attack. Neo-Nazis and white supremacists around the world celebrated the event and expressed their hopes for more attacks on similar targets. Some extremist conspiracy theorists claimed that the attack was a false flag operation aimed at advancing the security state.
Later that month, in Uvalde, Texas, another teenage shooter attacked an elementary school, killing 19 children and two teachers. The shooter’s online footprint showed an obsession with guns and a dark decline into violence, but no clear ideological affiliation. This, however, did not stop white supremacist extremists and accelerationists from celebrating the attack as they had the Buffalo shooting.
Anti-LGBTQ+ Harassment And Protests
June was Pride month, and neo-Nazis and homophobic extremists ramped up their rhetorical assault on the LGBTQ+ community. Organized groups engaged in harassment campaigns and protests outside Pride events, with members of the white supremacist Patriot Front notably being arrested in Idaho en route to disrupt one such event. The anti-trans rhetoric amongst extremists escalated that month, with many engaging in conspiracy theorizing about child grooming and the transgender community. The MEMRI DTTM published two lengthy reports on the spike in homophobia during Pride month, and the impact of this step change in anti-LGBTQ ideology was noticeable throughout the rest of the year.
Another Mass Shooting
A third fatal shooting came only two months after those in May, when a 21-year-old man opened fire with a high-powered rifle at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, killing seven people and wounding 48. The shooter’s online activity showed an obsession with violence and a confused but clearly antisemitic ideology. He was an active user of an online gore forum, on which he regularly threatened his own family and posted hand-drawn depictions of violence against women. He was also found by MEMRI researchers to have previously visited synagogues, and had apparently considered attacking a synagogue in the area, which has a very large Jewish population.
In August, antigovernment and anti-police extremism again spiked, as Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence was raided by the FBI after it was discovered that he had removed classified documents from the Oval Office following his electoral defeat in 2020. Pro-Trump and antigovernment extremists called the raid a setup, and increased their calls for violence against the FBI and other federal agencies, coming to a head with an Ohio man’s attack on FBI field office with a rifle and a nail gun. Later that month, after the IRS advertised job openings that stated that IRS agents should be willing and able to use lethal force when required, antigovernment extremists argued that this proved that the government was planning to use force against the American people, and called for violence against IRS agents, the Treasury, and various other federal agencies.
Antisemitism At Auschwitz
The last few months of 2022 saw rising antisemitism, Islamophobia, and homophobia globally. In September, two prominent American neo-Nazis shared on social media a photo of themselves holding up antisemitic signs at the Auschwitz concentration camp and were later arrested. This escapade brought global attention to their propaganda and activism. One of them was revealed by MEMRI DTTM researchers to be making thousands of dollars from livestreams, using a UPS box to collect donations made via check and bank order.
In France, Murder Of 12-Year-Old Lola
The tragic murder in October of a 12-year-old French girl, Lola Daviet, by an Algerian woman, prompted a swell of Islamophobic, anti-migrant, and anti-Algerian sentiment among extremists that spread from France around the globe. The case was leveraged by extremists to promote their own hateful ideology and the Great Replacement conspiracy theory.
Ye The Antisemite And His Mentor Fuentes
November and December saw the rapid decline of rapper Ye – formerly known as Kanye West – into the depths of antisemitism, ushered on by white supremacist influencer Nick Fuentes. Ye was first banned from Twitter for tweeting that he would be going “death con 3 on the JEWISH PEOPLE” before embarking on an alternate media tour that included stops on Tim Poole’s podcast and the Alex Jones Infowars show. On Infowars, he repeatedly praised Hitler and the Nazis, and mockingly claimed that the Holocaust did not happen. Many neo-Nazis and white supremacists quickly embraced Ye as one of their own, arguing for an interracial alliance between Black and white antisemites. Indeed, Fuentes himself, who has a long history of anti-Black racism, fully embraced the idea of a united antisemitic front.
A Year of Evolution, Change, Stagnation, and Collapse
Over the course of 2022, a number of groups had dramatic reversals of fortune. The Proud Boys, for example, remained somewhat relevant in January, playing a role in the commemoration of the January 6 insurrection. However, as of early 2023, the group has largely faded into obscurity, with many former members having been pushed out as a result of legal challenges and the designation of the group as terrorist by the Canadian government. On the other hand, the neo-Nazi Active Club movement, which grew out of Robert Rundo’s Rise Above Movement, has grown almost exponentially, and now claims dozens of local U.S. groups as well as international branches.
On the whole, the white supremacist and neo-Nazi fringe is largely as influential as it was at the end of 2021. While many accelerationist groups have folded due to legal pressure or online censorship – including various Atomwaffen Division-inspired organizations – the nebulous network of anti-LGBTQ+ activists and antigovernment extremists has continued to grow. The movement in general has moved further towards leaderless resistance and away from formalized group structure. Extremist activists are both more active and more violent than they were a year ago, but the groups in which they once operated have largely faded in favor of loosely affiliated networks such as the White Lives Matter movement and the broad anti-tech movement that in recent weeks has been making headlines for attacks on critical infrastructure.
The MEMRI DTTM has published a major report detailing our monitoring throughout 2022 and highlighting key trends and insights. A forthcoming DTTM report will present predictions for neo-Nazi and white supremacism in 2023.
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 Coinbase.com/price/terra-luna, January 5, 2023.