The fascists on social media don’t have a following; they’re trying to build one.
The sudden rise of the alt-right is undoubtedly a concern; but perhaps not as big as you might think. And you can stop it getting any bigger without leaving your front room.
A year of interacting with fascists on social media has taught me a few things. First off, a lot of them are bots, automated accounts set up by … well, this may not be the place to speculate.
Second, many of them are the same people operating several accounts. Most haven’t even made the effort to conceal their multiple personas, using similar handles and profile pictures. Even those that have soon give themselves away by using the same boilerplate phrases, or making the same grammatical mistakes.
Why do they bother? Well, the first lesson of movement-building 101 is to create the impression that your constituency is bigger than it really is. There are a lot of weak-minded people around, and a lot more who like the idea of being part of a club. If they think everyone else is becoming a fascist, FOMO will lead them to sign up. And the bigger a movement appears, the more likely it is that those who disagree will be cowed into silence.
Sure, 17 million Brits voted Leave and 60 million Americans voted for Trump. But the vast majority weren’t fascists. Many were disillusioned, protesters, people misled by the media. On the whole, they voted for change — not violent revolution.
The reason the far right have taken to Twitter and Facebook is precisely that they haven’t found enough people in the real world who support their ideas. They don’t have a following; they’re trying to build one.
And the good news for decent folk everywhere is that they’re shit at it. Today’s fascists are, broadly speaking, as dumb as posts. They communicate almost exclusively in slogans and memes, are barely conversant in their native language, and can rarely muster followers in double figures. This generation of Nazis couldn’t organise a putsch in a beer hall. And most of them are either atrophied virgins cowering in their mummy’s basement, pensioners who wouldn’t last a second in a fight, or nihilistic trolls who only believe what they write for as long as it takes to rattle a liberal. Any far-right action right now would basically consist of few fat, shaven-headed football fans on Stella, hoping for a ruck.
Nigel Farage cancelled his march on the Supreme Court in December not on security grounds, but out of fear of an embarrassingly small turnout. Though it may not seem like it at times, decent folk outnumber these cowardly shits by a factor of hundreds to one, and they’re generally younger and brighter to boot.
While I don’t think the fascists have the courage or the numbers to take to the streets at this point, that might not always remain the case. But we needn’t let things get to that point. Nazification is not inevitable.
All decent folk have to do to prevent any further rise of the alt-right is speak up. Stop pretending they’ll go away; start objecting, resisting. If enough voices combine in a huge shout of “NOT ON MY WATCH”, they will remain fragmented, disorganised, disheartened.
Wars and intolerance and hate have been a blight on human history. But the direction of progress is unmistakable. The more tolerant we are, the more successful we are. The more we cooperate, instead of competing, the more safe and prosperous and happy we become. Humanity has achieved its dominance of this planet precisely as a consequence of its humanity.
So, by all means, block a Nazi today. But make sure you (metaphorically) punch him in the face first. Let him know that he is on the wrong side of history; that this petulant little burst of fascism, as Barack Obama put it last week, is a comma, not a period.