An Exploration of the Linguistic and Visual Practices of Far-Right Militia Groups in Online Messaging Boards

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Sociology, Philosophy, Anthropology

Abstract

This project seeks to expose and analyse the visual and linguistic practices of image boards that have been known to play a central role in the formation of militia movements linked to numerous recent incidents related to far-right extremism. By combining cutting-edge computer assisted content analysis of the full textual and visual content of these forums with in-depth interpretive examination of sampled threads, this project will enhance the understanding of how these websites relate to the development of far-right militia movements and their associated identities.

This research takes place at a time when these groups have experienced unprecedented growth in global visibility and membership. The far-right has always been characterised by hostility, purporting
through carefully constructed crisis narratives that left-wing liberalism and social change pose an existential threat to the white population and traditional values, fears which have seemingly been legitimised by the progressive globalisation of the modern age and the election of polarising public officials who freely regurgitate far-right talking points. Consequently, these groups have been granted an unprecedented degree of public recognition and support, armed with the means to more freely communicate their ideas to a wider audience and to actively seek connections with like-minded individuals to form powerful communities.

In collaboration with the University of Exeter, I intend throughout the duration of the 1+3 award to identify and contextualise online patterns of far-right ideological expression on the chans, investigating how far-right militia groups and similar organisations exploit the technical structure and subcultural language of these sites to craft compelling extremist narratives. While a body of literature has begun to emerge to explain the role that /pol (for "politically incorrect") boards play in the far-right online ecosystem, similar work needs to be done on the /k boards, boards dedicated to the discussion of firearms. This constitutes a serious research gap in our understanding of the far-right online ecosystem, especially given the nuances and idiosyncrasies of the different types of boards and the differences in their respective narratives and subcultures. Combined with the increased frequency of far-right inspired attacks, this makes the work being proposed here both necessary and timely. Specifically, this project would (1) develop computational and interpretive methods that will reveal the most important linguistic and visual patterns of these /k boards and (2) utilise social theories to explain these patterns, thereby underlining the role of identity and cultural practices in the constitution of these movements. In doing so, this project would have four, inter-related, research questions:

1. What are the main patterns of interaction on these /k boards?
2. What are the characteristics of the textual landscape of such boards?
3. How do the above relate to known theories of community formation?
4. What do the three questions above tell us about the online formation of these groups and their offline mobilisation?

Although rooted in the study of extremism and theories of social behaviour, this research focuses specifically on the ways in which the internet enables the activities of the far right, seeking to understand
where and how online communities form and interact and thus bearing relevance to the ESRC's emerging focus on human interaction and ways of being in the digital age.

People

ORCID iD

Simone Long (Student)

Publications

10 25 50

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2596060 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2021 30/09/2025 Simone Long