Download the full report: Generation Identity (PDF)
In June 2020, the U.S. State Department announced that white supremacist terrorism is “a serious challenge for the global community.” That same conclusion has been reached by other American government agencies including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the National Counterterrorism Center, as well as foreign security organizations such as Europol. DHS has specifically pointed to the propaganda pushed by the international white supremacist network Generation Identity, the subject of this report, as motivating white supremacist violence.
At this point, it is well accepted that white supremacy is as significant a threat for generating mass casualty terrorist acts internationally as other forms of extremism. Yet, there is a double standard when it comes to how online platforms treat content produced by white supremacists compared to content by Islamic extremist groups like ISIS or Al-Qaeda. For the latter, deplatforming is the accepted and, actually, demanded strategy, one pushed by the American government, the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, and the major technology platforms.
Not so for white supremacist groups. Enforcement of bans on these groups and their acolytes is much more haphazard, despite their proliferation of propaganda such as the Great Replacement, which similarly inspires terrorism and argues that white people are being genocided in their home countries. Groups that push this idea, in particular Generation Identity (GI), are rampant on Twitter and YouTube even though such propaganda has inspired six mass attacks since October 2018. These included the mosque attacks in Christchurch, NZ, and attacks staged at two American synagogues, an El Paso Walmart, a synagogue in Halle, Germany, and two shisha bars in Hanau, Germany, where the shooter is believed to have been targeting Muslim immigrants.
It would be inconceivable for social media platforms to allow ISIS propaganda to spread and grow unchecked, but that is exactly what is happening with Identitarianism (the ideology that underpins Generation Identity). Research by the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism (GPAHE) found 67 Twitter accounts for Generation Identity chapters in 14 countries with nearly 140,000 followers. Those numbers do not include the accounts of individual Identitarians, such as GI’s unofficial leader and head of the Austrian chapter Martin Sellner, who has nearly 40,000 followers on Twitter, or accounts for GI coordinated activity, like Defend Europe, which has 27,000 followers. GPAHE found 25 such accounts totaling more than 400,000 followers. (All data available on request.)
On YouTube, GPAHE found at least 12 countries represented by 31 GI chapters with about 86,000 subscribers. These numbers do not include the large Identitarian presence of individuals like Sellner who has 69,000 subscribers, the hundreds of videos posted by GI adherents, or the number of times Identitarian proponents have appeared on other channels. For example, Identitarians made frequent appearances on the American Renaissance channel (135,000 subscribers) until it was banned in June 2020. It is impossible to determine how quickly the material is proliferating because we have no comprehensive baseline data from prior years. However, even in the weeks leading up to publication, the accounts summarized in this report have gained followers.
This analysis certainly undercounts the number of Identitarian accounts thriving on Twitter and YouTube.
Disturbingly, these platforms push viewers toward similar content on Twitter and YouTube and toward even more extreme content on unregulated platforms such as Telegram. Because Identitarianism is very much a youth movement, Twitter and YouTube serve as important gateways to further radicalization of young white people, particularly males, into white supremacy. The growth in the number of white supremacists worldwide can be laid at the feet of tech companies who allow this material to thrive on their platforms.
It is time for this to end.
Why Does This Content Stay Up?
The policies at Twitter and YouTube do not go far enough and allow for far too much interpretation to adequately battle a white supremacist threat that security agencies around the world have repeatedly said leads to mass violence.
For example, Twitter claims that “there is no place on Twitter for terrorist organizations or violent extremist groups and individuals who affiliate with and promote their illicit activities.” Their terrorism and violent extremism policy says that it is “informed by national and international terrorism designations.” Additionally, Twitter states it will “examine a group’s activities both on and off Twitter to determine whether they engage in and/or promote violence against civilians to advance a political, religious and/or social cause.”
Without an official international terrorism designation (something almost never applied to white supremacist groups which have, historically and wrongly, been seen as domestic formations regardless of their international nature), Twitter requires groups to meet three criteria before labeling them violent extremists. Two are highly subjective (have engaged in, or currently engage in, violence and/ or the promotion of violence as a means to further their cause, and target civilians in their acts and/or promotion of violence). The third criteria is that the group considers itself to be extremist, which of course almost no groups do. That so many Identitarian groups are thriving on Twitter, even though their ideas have inspired terrorists (one of the GI chapters received a donation from the mass killer Brenton Tarrant) and despite members of Identitarian groups having been arrested for engaging in violence, means these policies are inadequate or not enforced.
YouTube’s policies are even less defined. Its hateful content policy states that, “Hate speech is not allowed on YouTube. We remove content promoting violence or hatred against individuals or groups based on any of the following attributes: age, caste, disability, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, nationality, race, immigration status, sex/gender, sexual orientation, victims of a major violent event and their kin, and veteran status.” And its Violent Criminal Organizations policy, which references only crime and terrorism, not extremist organizations, states that, “Content intended to praise, promote, or aid violent criminal organizations is not allowed on YouTube. These organizations are not allowed to use YouTube for any purpose, including recruitment.”
Violations of both these policies result in a review that takes into account context. For example, if YouTube deems that content is close to hate speech, the video may be removed and/or some features may be limited. If content fully violates the policies, the creator will receive a warning. Three strikes for repeated behavior within a 90-day period results in termination; however, strikes expire every 90 days.
With policies that are clearly subjective and allow so many chances for extremists to keep their content up, it’s no wonder that YouTube is a favorite platform of the Identitarian movement and the young people who follow it.
The Shooter in the March 2019 terrorist attacks on mosques in Christchurch, NZ, that left 51 people dead, was clear about his motive. In his manifesto, Brenton Tarrant wrote that he wanted to stop what he called the “Great Replacement,” a racist conspiracy theory he’d adopted that argues white people are slowly being genocided in their own home countries due to a plot by elites to displace white people with rising numbers of non-white immigrants.
This concept, originally put forth by France’s Renaud Camus, is now the bedrock idea propagated by the Identitarian movement, in particular Generation Identity (GI), a sprawling, multinational organization with chapters in at least 14 countries and allies in others, including the United States. The reach of Identitarian thinking is much wider than GI, with attendant think tanks, institutes, housing complexes, newspapers, clothing labels, individual supporters, and even bars and boxing clubs where activists congregate.
As Identitarian ideas have spread across the Western world, so too has violence by lone actors motivated to stop the supposedly impending white genocide. Since October 2018, there have been at least six mass attacks motivated by Great Replacement ideas. Besides Christchurch, attacks were staged at two American synagogues, an El Paso Walmart, a synagogue in Halle, Germany, and two shisha bars in Hanau, Germany, where the shooter is believed to have been targeting Muslim immigrants. These attacks left a total of 99 dead.
In September 2019, the American Department of Homeland Security (DHS) declared white supremacy as big a threat as ISIS or Al-Qaeda. DHS further warned that “white supremacist violent extremists have adopted an increasingly transnational outlook” that is driven by connecting with “like-minded individuals online.” DHS specified sharing of the “ethnic replacement” idea as particularly problematic. In June 2020, the U.S. State Department announced that white supremacist terrorism “remained a serious challenge for the global community.”
The Great Replacement also made an appearance during the August 2017 protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, where the unnerving chants of “Jews will not replace us” and “you will not replace us” could be heard as an ominous warning. The weekend left an anti-racist protester dead and several others injured at the hands of white supremacists.
The idea of white people being “replaced” was, by that time, proliferating on both sides of the Atlantic. American white supremacists who were in Charlottesville, such as Richard Spencer, had become steeped in Identitarianism, and European Identitarians — specifically Christoffer Dulny and Daniel Friberg — traveled to Charlottesville to be on hand with their American counterparts.
The white supremacist killers in these attacks did not pick up their ideas of white genocide and the great replacement randomly. The Identitarian movement uses its massive online presence to spread its abhorrent anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant messaging, and to warn of a coming civil war while assiduously recruiting young people into its ranks and ideology. Identitarians’ real-world publicity stunts targeting Muslims and immigrants provide fuel for its online audience in the form of viral images, videos, music, and press coverage, all of which help draw more young people into its ranks.
It is particularly disturbing that a movement whose ideas are linked directly to terrorism and the building of an international white supremacist network conducts its online organizing in plain sight — on Twitter and YouTube platforms, among others. These mainstream accounts are then used to drive traffic to darker corners of the internet. where messaging is even more explicit and offers no pretense of acceptance of Muslims, refugees, and immigrants.
Research by the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism (GPAHE) found 67 Twitter accounts for Generation Identitarian chapters in 14 countries with nearly 140,000 followers. Those numbers do not include the accounts of individual Identitarians, such as GI’s unofficial leader and head of the Austrian chapter Martin Sellner (who has nearly 40,000 followers on Twitter and 69,000 subscribers on YouTube) or accounts for GI-coordinated activity, like Defend Europe, which has 27,000 followers. GPAHE found another 400,000 followers of 25 such accounts. This data also does not include UK accounts, as the main GI chapter there collapsed last year; however, Identitarian activity coming from the UK continues to be found online. (All data available on request.)
In May 2019, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) identified five large GI chapter Twitter accounts and a handful of small ones totaling 70,000 GI Twitter followers. Based on ISD’s numbers from a year ago, GI Germany’s follower count grew by nearly 20 percent and GI Austria’s by five percent in the last year.
On YouTube, GPAHE found at least 12 countries represented by 31 GI chapters with 86,000 subscribers. These numbers do not include the hundreds of videos posted by GI adherents or the number of times Identitarian proponents have appeared on other channels followed by thousands of additional subscribers. Both Twitter and YouTube push readers to view more extremist content with their suggested accounts to follow and videos to watch.
It is completely unreasonable and untenable for civil society actors and watchdog groups to take on the labor of documenting GI-related activity online. YouTube and Twitter have both the resources and the responsibility to monitor their platforms and to disarm Identitarian and other extremist groups of what is currently a key organizing tool.
Identitarianism as a Security Threat
Twitter and YouTube are allowing this material to proliferate at the same time that intelligence and law enforcement agencies are trying to curtail this dangerous movement and its violence-inspiring ideas.
Last summer, Germany’s Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BvF), the agency responsible for tracking domestic extremism, classified the Identitarian movement as “verified extreme- right” saying its views were not compatible with the German Constitution and democracy. BvF President Thomas Haldenwang said at the time, “These verbal fire-raisers question people’s equality and dignity, they speak of foreign infiltration, boost their own identity to denigrate others and stoke hostile feelings towards perceived enemies.” The move allows the BvF to more heavily surveil and infiltrate the German branch of Generation Identity.
The BvF likely took into consideration Identitarian connections to terrorism and violence when they upgraded their monitoring of this movement. The most glaring example of such a connection was disclosed in the wake of the Christchurch mosque massacres in March 2019. Investigators found that the shooter was steeped in Identitarian thinking and had emailed with Sellner, giving him a €1,500 donation the prior year. Perhaps the second best-known Identitarian after Sellner is his wife, Brittany Pettibone Sellner, an American.
Pettibone Sellner is co-author (with her sister) of the Hatred Day young-adult book series and has a Twitter account with more than 150,000 followers, a YouTube channel with 137,000 subscribers, and a PayPal account to receive funds.
Undeterred by mass violence directly connected to Identitarian propaganda, and not long after the Christchurch attacks, Generation Identity Austria held a protest against the “Great Replacement” in Vienna, calling for “remigration” and “de-Islamization.”
It’s not just the German security services who have Identitarianism on their radar. In 2018, Sellner and Pettibone were banned from visiting the UK on the grounds that their presence in the country was not conducive to the public good. One year later, Sellner was permanently excluded from the UK on security grounds and denied a visa for a visit to the US to marry Pettibone. Dulny and Friberg were banned from traveling to the US after Charlottesville. And in June, Ukrainian security forces raided the homes of neo-Nazi followers of the Christchurch shooter.
In the US, the multiple recent mass attacks by white supremacists have forced a reckoning about which threats the country is most likely to face. In August 2019, the National Counter Terrorism Center quietly added white supremacist violence to its mandate. In recent months, federal law enforcement agencies, including DHS and the FBI, have stated they consider white supremacy as big a threat as Islamic extremism. In February 2020, the FBI announced that it now considered the risk of violence from such groups as “on the same footing” as threats posed to the country by foreign terrorist organizations such as ISIS and its sympathizers. In April, the State Department designated the Russian Imperial Movement (which offered training to American organizers of the Charlottesville riots) and members of its leadership as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists.”
This is the first time in history that the State Department designated a white supremacist terrorist group in this manner.
Two years ago, Facebook took action against the Identitarian movement after several members of the Austrian chapter were investigated for potentially running a criminal organization (the investigation ended without charges). Facebook deplatformed the entire network citing violations of policy. Before being blocked, more than 120,000 people followed Generation Identity on Facebook. It should be noted that Facebook took action after a mass murder and the airing of the Christchurch shooting on Facebook Live.
The payment processing platform Stripe banned Sellner in January 2020.
But not so for Twitter and YouTube.
There, the Identitarian movement is thriving. Despite the security threat Identitarianism poses and the terror-inducing views they advance, these two major social media platforms remain prime recruiting grounds for this movement. Identitarian groups specifically target young people, using these mainstream accounts as a key part of a radicalization process that directs potential recruits from Twitter and YouTube toward more extreme material found on the movement’s Telegram and other more underground, unregulated channels. In effect, these mainstream platforms are the gateway for this dangerous movement to recruit and radicalize white youth worldwide into white supremacy.
The Roots of the Identitarian Movement
The modern Identitarian movement was launched in France in 2012 with the founding of Generation Identitaire, an offshoot of the white nationalist Bloc Identitaire. There are now GI chapters in several countries.
Known for provocative anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant actions and a youthful, hipster style, the group’s first major public act was to occupy the largest mosque in Poitiers to denounce “the Islamization of France.” Also in 2012, the French branch of GI posted a slickly produced video on YouTube titled “A Declaration of War from The Generation of National Identity.” Featuring a series of young white people decrying multiculturalism and democracy, the video made clear the group’s racist and anti-immigrant views.
“We are the generation of ethnic fracture, total failure of coexistence and forced mixing of the races... our heritage is our land, our blood, our identity,” reads the video’s subtitles. It ends with “don’t think this is a manifesto, this is a declaration of war.” In its many postings, the video has had tens of thousands of views worldwide.
Identitarians are best known for their anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant publicity stunts, similar to the Poitiers mosque occupation. A classic example was staged by Italian members of GI who, in 2016, scaled a monument to the Italian opera composer Donizetti in Bergamo, stuck a poster on it with the inscription “Islam in Europe—2050,” then covered the statue with a niqab. That same year in Austria, adherents of that branch of GI covered a statue of the Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa with a giant burqa.
The movement is strongly opposed to Muslims and Islam and argues for a new Reconquest of Europe, or Reconquista, the 700-year period in which Christians violently expelled Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula. Followers complain of an “Islamization” of Europe through mass immigration, which they view as a threat to European culture and society. Among other things, Identitarians in France have called for freezing of legal immigration, reestablishment of borders, stopping the construction of new mosques, and outlawing of Islamist organizations. Identitarians also accuse their governments of importing terror by allowing Muslims to immigrate.
Identitarian thinking has metastasized across broad swaths of the West, becoming a worldwide movement that advances the idea that a global elite is conspiring to cause white people to be wiped out in their historic homelands, and that immigrants and refugees need to be repatriated to their countries of origin to stop the so-called Great Replacement. Pierre Vial, an intellectual prized by many Identitarians who runs an Identitarian-like cultural group called Land and People, says the Great Replacement is a “racial invasion of Europe” leading to “all the conditions of a racial war, which will be the war of the XXI century. A war that is under way.” He adds this will be a war “that we will wage in the name of a very simple reminder addressed at the invaders: the suitcase or the coffin.” A key German activist, Markus Willinger, has crudely said, “We don’t want Mehmed and Mustapha to become Europeans.”
In this context, violence shouldn’t be a surprise. Not only has there been terrorism connected to these ideas, but hate crimes against mosques and Muslims in European countries have also risen in recent years. As researchers at Hope Not Hate wrote in 2019, “Despite often preaching non-violence, there is nothing stopping Identitarianism’s followers believing violence is the only feasible response to this alarmist rhetoric.”
Prepping for Violence
GI adherents are preparing for violence, seeing a coming civil war as nearly inevitable. Every summer, members from across Europe attend military-style camps in rural France. Training videos online show followers boxing and practicing combat exercises. According to Alexander Durie, a journalist who spent time with the French branch of GI, camp videos he viewed had students lined up in military formation, wearing sky-blue uniforms carrying the group’s lambda logo. (Lambda is “L” in Greek and refers to the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, where 300 Spartans fought to the death for their state.) In another video, trainees wore T-shirts with a quote from the classical Greek poet Homer: “From a fight, only cowards depart.”
Camp students are schooled in what are viewed as instructive moments of European history like the Reconquista, a forced removal of Muslims today’s Identitarians think they need to replay.
This militancy is also central to GI’s online work. In a manual called “The Art of Red-Pilling,” step-by-step instructions for radicalizing potential recruits are provided. “You sow the soft red pill seeds and then you water them constantly. An honest question to start with, a news piece here, an email there, and in the evening an anecdote over beer,” reads the manual. It recommends taking advantage first of grievances over free speech, political correctness, or gender equality as a starting point, slowly drawing in young recruits before radicalizing them with racist ideas.
“We want complete militants,” a French GI leader told Durie.
As his manifesto revealed, the Christchurch killer followed this path of Identitarian radicalization. He wrote that between April and May 2017, while traveling in Europe, he came to believe that his political goals could no longer be achieved democratically and that, rather, “violent, revolutionary solution is the only possible solution.” He came to accept the Great Replacement narrative, his manifesto leading off with, “It’s the birthrates. It’s the birthrates. It’s the birthrates.” He concluded, “Due to the threat of ethnic replacement and our own horribly low birth rates, we do not have 150 years or even 50 years to achieve positions of power,” and he encouraged his readers to “not suffer under the delusion of an effortless, riskless democratic victory. Prepare for war, prepare for violence and prepare for risk, loss, struggle, death.”
Acts of Hate, Harassment and Terror
Though better known for their political stunts and the terrorist acts inspired by their ideas, Identitarian adherents have been involved in less publicized violent incidents. In the last year, Identitarians have traveled to the Greek island of Lesbos to confront refugees who fled there from Africa and the Middle East. News reports have documented Identitarians from France, Austria, the Netherlands, the UK, and Greece attempting to stoke violence on the island. Some have pitched themselves as “Soldiers of the Cross,” supposedly holding the line against immigrant invaders.
Several aid groups on Lesbos announced in recent months that they were suspending work and evacuating personnel because of attacks on staff. Douglas Herman, from the organization Refocus, which teaches media skills to refugees, said “once night falls, there are non-stop attacks on NGOs, on workers, on people who are here as volunteers.” Herman told the AFP news agency that “fascist” mobs were responsible for the violence. The Dutch Boat Refugee Foundation, which provides medical care in the Moria migrant camp on Lesbos, told AFP that aid workers’ cars had been hit with steel pipes by a “small group of right-wing extremists.”
Last August, three French Identitarians were sentenced to jail time and fined for flying a helicopter on the mountainous border between France and Italy to deter migrants (the exact charge was “exercising activities in conditions that could create confusion with a public function”). Generation Identity France was fined for this incident. A few weeks before, around 100 GI adherents had, in the same border region, erected a “symbolic border” and unfurled a banner urging asylum seekers to go back to “your homeland.” Anti-racist activists and some leaders within the French government called for the group to be banned after these incidents.
There have been other troubling events involving Identitarians. According to Deutsche Welle, in 2017, in the eastern German city of Halle where Identitarians had set up a “housing project,” they attacked two police officers with baseball bats and pepper spray, apparently mistaking the officers for left-wing extremists. In other cases, Identitarians have been arrested in Germany and France for violence during protests or GI actions. In 2018, an Al Jazeera investigation exposed French GI members engaging in racist violence and advocating for terrorist attacks against mosques.
The largest coordinated action by Identitarians happened in 2017 when GI activists from across Europe disrupted NGOs working to save the lives of migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean, including blocking an NGO ship in May 2017 in Sicily.
Later that year, several Identitarians joined an effort to charter a ship in the Mediterranean to interfere with more migrant boats. Called “Defend Europe,” the boat action was praised by former American Klansman David Duke, who encouraged his more than 40,000 Twitter followers to donate to the movement (today he has nearly 53,000 followers). The action raised more than $158,000 on the now defunct American crowdfunding site WeSearchr. Brittany Pettibone Sellner was the public face of the effort, but many Identitarians from all over Europe were involved.
The action failed and led very quickly to the Identitarians abandoning the boat and having to be rescued by the NGOs. Nonetheless, it galvanized the international far right and demonstrated their capability to work cooperatively on a global scale.
Prominent white nationalist figures in the US had long been eyeing the European Identitarian movement, and Defend Europe catalyzed their interest in GI. Among other publicity, Defend Europe received favorable mention from anti-Muslim Canadian blogger Lauren Southern, the far-right Breitbart News Network (once run by Trump campaign strategist Steve Bannon), the leading American neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer, and praise from white nationalists Richard Spencer and Jared Taylor, who said he was an Identitarian as early as 2015.
A few months after Defend Europe, in August 2017, prominent European Identitarians joined American white nationalists on the ground during the Charlottesville protests.
All indicators are that the Christchurch killer was well aware of GI’s activities and rhetoric. An inscription on one of his guns read, “Here’s your Migration Compact!” As Hope Not Hate points out, this was likely a reference to a UN migration pact that GI campaigned against extensively in 2018. Tarrant’s manifesto also calls for violence against NGOs who have “ferr[ied] the invaders to European shores aboard their own vessels.” Campaigning and working against NGOs that try to protect migrants has been a signature tactic of GI.
In the US, Identitarian thinking has been infused into a number of groups, most notably Identity Evropa (IE, now renamed American Identity Movement, AIM), which specifically patterned itself on the European movement. But many other Americans support Identitarianism.
Atlantic journalist Daniel Lambroso wrote in June 2020 about the American white supremacists he spent time with and their views on Identitarianism. In a visit to Richard Spencer’s apartment in Alexandria, Virginia, Lambroso reported those present “discussed the coming ‘Identitarian’ revolution.” Spencer’s US-based National Policy Institute, which is now mostly defunct, latched on to Identitarianism early. In 2014, the group attempted to hold a major conference in Budapest, Hungary, called the “European Identitarian Congress.” Due to advance publicity, however, the Hungarian government decided to shut it down, jailing Spencer for five days before deporting him. In 2015, Spencer’s group held an essay contest based on the prompt “Why I’m an Identitarian.”
In a 2015 interview with academic José Pedro Zúquete, Spencer said, “There are so many powerful forces bringing us [American and European identitarians] together. The Internet is one; English as lingua franca is another. Also, we share an historical experience of the mass immigration of foreign peoples and our coming minority status...we already share a White Identity, whether we are American, Swedish, Australian, etc. As time goes on, we will
grasp this as well.” Scotsman Colin Lidell, who co-edited the Alternative Right site some years ago, told Pedro Zúquete in 2015, “A transatlantic alliance would be natural and healthy.”
A December 2017 Buzzfeed profile of Alain de Benoist, a leading far-right philosopher and inspiration to Identitarians, revealed that he had spoken at the 2013 conference of Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute. It was de Benoist’s Manifesto for a European Renaissance, translated into English in 1999, which more widely introduced notions such as ethnopluralism (a key Identitarian idea that argues white people belong in Europe and immigrants belong in their home countries) to the English-speaking world. This importing of far-right ideology continued, with key contemporary European Identitarian thinkers like Martin Semlitsch (aka Martin Lichtmesz) speaking at a 2017 conference of American Renaissance (AmRen). Fabrice Robert, one-time president of the Bloc Identitaire, spoke in 2013 at an AmRen conference. (Robert has 8,000 followers on Twitter.) AmRen’s head, Jared Taylor, told Pedro Zúquete that he saw himself as an Identitarian and advocates — often in speeches in Europe — for “a world brotherhood of Europeans.” (Twitter deplatformed Taylor and his organization in December 2017, and YouTube deplatformed American Renaissance in June 2020.)
In 2017, to capitalize on GI’s growing profile in the US, Sellner visited to meet with like-minded members of the far right during Milo Yiannopoulos’ failed “Free Speech Week” in Berkeley, California. During his visit, Sellner met with Lauren Southern and his soon-to-be-wife Brittany Pettibone. They agreed that America and Europe faced the same racial crisis and that their movements only differed in terms of “tactics.” Pettibone reportedly said, “We’ve mastered the online activism and you’ve mastered the in-real-life activism.”
This US Identitarian venture was soon offered support by a notable European partner in the form of Hungarian Arktos Media, a key publisher of “alt-right” and European New Right texts. Arktos in September 2017 partnered with Identity Evropa to “promote Identitarian literature with [US] students.”
IE/AIM leader Patrick Casey explicitly drew on GI as a model for his group. In a January 2018 post on his MakerSupport funding page, Casey explained how his organization planned “to depathologize ethnic/racial identity,” something he believed Generation Identity “has proven [...] can be done.” Casey viewed his movement as having created its own culture and online memes to appeal to a younger generation.
In June 2020, IE was in the headlines again for posing as an anti-fascist group on a fake Twitter account and suggesting that Black Lives Matter protesters engage in violence. The account advised them to “move into residential areas... the white hoods... and we take what’s ours." That account was deleted.
ISIS Versus Identitarianism Online
The treatment of white supremacy on Twitter and YouTube stands in great contrast to how these platforms have handled other forms of extremism that motivate terrorism, most notably Islamic extremist activity.
Beginning around 2015, Twitter began a mass suspension of ISIS and similar accounts. In 2016, YouTube, Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter launched a shared industry database of “hashes,” basically digital “fingerprints” of extremist imagery so as to be able to identify and curb the spread of terrorist content online. This work would ultimately become the joint tech company effort, Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT). In 2020, GIFCT became a nonprofit institution.
By 2018, Twitter had removed more than 1 million Islamic extremist terrorist accounts. YouTube took similar deplatforming actions and, in 2017, began redirecting users searching for ISIS-type material to Islamic clerics denouncing the group.
A study led by J. M. Berger and Jonathan Morgan, “The ISIS Twitter Census,” found that the deplatforming of ISIS accounts was successful. “The data we collected also suggests that the current rate of suspensions has also limited the ISIS network’s ability to grow and spread, a consideration almost universally ignored by critics of suspension tactics. The consequences of neglecting to weed a garden are obvious, even though weeds will always return.” Graphic online images of beheadings and other violence were also greatly reduced, the study found.
The mass purge of ISIS and similar accounts did not encounter a political backlash or calls that the takedowns violated free speech principles. Indeed, the American government, most recently members of the Trump administration, argued for deplatforming. In other cases, many people, predominantly conservatives, have argued that deplatforming violates free speech rights. This was exemplified by the fury that erupted when Twitter labeled a June
2020 Trump tweet about mail-in ballots as “potentially misleading.”
In September 2019, it was announced that GIFCT would become a standalone organization that will counter all forms of extremist content regardless of its ideological underpinnings.
The question now is, with the US and other foreign government agencies arguing that Identitarian propaganda is inspiring terrorist violence, and with the rise of worldwide white supremacy as a terror-inducing ideology, will these social media platforms treat Identitarian and similar material as they have ISIS propaganda? Or will white supremacist groups continue to get a pass for inspiring terrorism online even though their propaganda does so in the same way ISIS propaganda does? Will this double standard remain?
GPAHE makes the following recommendations to tech companies, in particular Twitter and YouTube, to stop the proliferation of Identitarian and other white supremacist content:
Twitter and YouTube should take immediate steps to deplatform all Identitarian material.
Policies against hate speech and posting by violent extremist groups need to be clearly defined to include white supremacist propaganda and groups. These policies must be rigorously enforced.
Deplatforming organized white supremacist groups must be prioritized, and white supremacy must be recognized as a driver of terrorism at the same level as Islamic extremism by the Global Internet Forum for Counter Terrorism and the major technology companies.
Algorithms and search systems should never recommend white supremacist content, which can lead users down a rabbit hole of hate.
Both AI systems and content reviewers must be trained to prioritize white supremacist material for removal.
Identifying white supremacist and other hate content should not be outsourced to civil society and anti-racist activists. This is the responsibility of the platforms.
There should be no monetization of white supremacist material through ads, and payment processors should not allow their products to be used by white supremacist groups.
GPAHE is a member of the Change the Terms coalition, which has a comprehensive set of recommended corporate policies and terms of service for Internet companies to reduce hateful activities online.