The events in the United States in the first week of 2021 made internationally visible rhetoric and symbols that have been proliferating online for some time. Images, words and actions that emphasised how online expressions of far-right/ ‘alt-right’ ideas, including antisemitism, and Holocaust denial and distortion, can have real and deadly consequences.
In our March 2021 online discussion, we invited academics focusing on the ‘alt-right’s’ relationship with the digital, from social media to gaming, and those working in organisations who have been developing campaigns and reports on antisemitism, and Holocaust denial and distortion online to speak about this area of increasing concern.
Our first speak Dr Robert Topinka discussed alt-right rhetoric online.
Dr Robert Topinka is Lecturer in Transnational Media and Cultural Studies in the Department of Film, Media & Cultural Studies at Birkbeck, University of London. He is currently working on the AHRC-funded project ‘Political Ideology, Rhetoric and Aesthetics in the Twenty-First Century: The Case of the “Alt-Right”‘. His work on the alt-right and reactionary digital politics has appeared in New Media & Society and b2o: an online journal. More broadly, he researches the history and present of media, race, and urban life. He is the author of Racing the Street: Race, Rhetoric and Technology in Metropolitan London, 1840-1900, (University of California Press, 2020).
Our second speaker Dr Ceri Oeppen spoke about the alt-right and gaming communities.
Dr Ceri Oeppen is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Sussex. Her primary specialism is the geography of migration, including the ways in which migrants and refugees maintain connections across national borders via transnational activities, whilst also integrating in places of settlement. She has a particular interest in migration and displacement from Afghanistan.
In addition to her more-established ethnographic work on migration, she is developing a new area of research that builds on her work on community, transnationalism and inclusion/exclusion of minority groups, in order to reflect on the current conjuncture in cultural politics – particularly associated with the rise of the so-called ‘alt-right’ in western liberal democracies. Ceri is currently exploring these issues in the context of online and offline gaming communities (including e-sports).
Next, Gideon Taylor discussed the Claims Conference’s #NoDenyingIt campaign.
Gideon Taylor has served as the President of the Claims Conference since June 30, 2020. Previously, Mr. Taylor was pro bono Chair of Operations and Treasurer at the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) from 2013 – 2020, representing world Jewry in pursuing claims for the recovery of Jewish properties seized during the Holocaust in Eastern Europe. Mr. Taylor formerly held the role of Executive Vice President of the Claims Conference from 2000 to 2009 and served on the Claims Conference Board of Directors immediately prior to his current role as President. Mr. Taylor began his career at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), where he held several top leadership positions including Assistant Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Program and Budget. Mr. Taylor is the Co-Chairman of the Board of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland and is a member of the Board of Directors of the New York Jewish Community Relations Council. The Claims Conference ran the #NoDenyingIt campaign in 2020, in which Holocaust survivors addressed Mark Zuckerberg in a series of short online videos pressurising Facebook to remove Holocaust denial and distortion from the platform.
Finally, Dr Joe Mulhall discussed some of the findings of Hope not hate.
Dr Joe Mulhall is a Senior Researcher at HOPE not hate, the UK’s largest anti-fascism and anti-racism organisation. He is a historian of postwar and contemporary fascism and completed his PhD at Royal Holloway, University of London. He sits on the Board of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust in the UK. He has published extensively both academically and journalistically and appears regularly in the international news media and gives talks around the world about his research. In 2020 he published two books, British Fascism After the Holocaust: From the Birth of Denial to the Notting Hill Riots 1939-1958 (Routledge) and the co-authored The International Alt-Right: Fascism for the 21st Century? (Routledge). His forthcoming book is Drums in the Distance: Journeys Into The Global Far Right (Icon Books: 2021).
After the formal presentations, members of the audience posed a few questions to our speakers.
Q1. How do we see alt-right antisemitism interacting with antisemitism on the left, particularly in digital spaces?
Q2. Are there any studies into the extent to which different platforms might support different forms of extremism?
Q3. How deliberate is alt-right recruitment in gaming communities?