IN AUGUST 2017, THOUSANDS OF FAR-RIGHT PROTESTORS ARRIVED in Charlottesville, Virginia, for the violent Unite the Right rally, where protestors chanted that they would not be replaced nor permit the oppression of the white race (McLaren 2018). Much of the discourse and advertising for the rally, and indeed for the far right in general, occurred online and incorporated memes that circulated widely across social media (Sonnad 2018). Such meme-driven right-wing phenomena are not unique to the United States; Europe has also seen an increase in right-wing politicians (Bremmer 2018) and far-right, anti-immigration militant movements. In Canada, a similar rise in right-wing politics is exemplified by direct political engagement by conservative parties with anti-immigrant groups (Bellefontaine and Trynacity 2018). These groups use social media to organize events, build communities, and construct identities.
In this chapter, I present an ethnographic case study on the meme making and sharing practices of the “folk right movement” and advance the argument that these practices are fundamental to their identity construction. The data presented were collected between May and November 2018 during digital ethnographic fieldwork in the folk-right community. My analysis of their meme practices is supplemented with off-line ethnographic work conducted in early 2019.
The memes described in this chapter are not meant to represent the totality of folk-right meme sharing practices; rather, they reflect dominant cultural values and attitudes within the community and are a primary mode for transmitting these ideologies. The genre of memes included allude to the perceived racial purity and mythological strength of northern Europe (see Andersen 2018), and use extreme speech (Udupa and Pohjonen 2019) to promote anti-immigration, anti-Abrahamic, and nativist-oriented sentiments, culminating in what I refer to as a “white pagan nation fantasy.” This is marked by not only anti-immigration and anti-Islam rhetoric but also an intense anti-Christian stance. This complex, and at times contradictory, process of identity construction makes the folk right a challenging and fascinating culture for anthropological inquiry.
Why the North? National Socialists, White Supremacists, and the Folk Right
Early on in my study of the folk right, I identified “Nordicism” (Bergmann 2017)—and “Northern-ness” more broadly—as prevalent themes when studying far-right communities. These refer to the use of northern European culture, history, mythology, and spirituality as a means of constructing a collective identity. Such themes are vital to consider as the far right moves from national identities to cultural and ethnic ones (Pasieka 2017).
This shift is not without precedent. The far right sees the world as one in crisis, and as Volquardsen (2014) argues, the North becomes attractive in precarious times. It is still conceptualized as a space of enduring whiteness, which is difficult to contest, even in today’s globalized society (Nielsen 2019), and thus appealing to the folk right. Moreover, this attraction to Nordicism and Northern-ness has been documented in far right groups in North America since the late twentieth century (Gardell 2003; Ridgeway 1995) and can be traced back to Germany in the late nineteenth century. As anthropologist Karla Poewe (2006) notes, the National Socialist movement in pre–World War II Germany also sought an authentic German (Nordic) identity in which they could take pride. They looked to Germanic and Nordic culture and ancestry for an identity that fused race and religion, which culminated in the völkisch movement. However, as Zernack (2011) notes, much of the Germanic identity had already been borrowed from the Icelandic and reimagined as a Germanic history. This points to a long history of white nationalist movements looking to the North for new identities, and the folk right continues this process.
The folk right is a small subculture that has emerged from within the far right. Given the networked nature of the far right and its technological practices, the boundaries between right-wing groups are porous, and both members and content move back and forth between groups and platforms (e.g., Twitter, Gab, Minds, and Voat). These movements are contested, and animosity between the folk right and Christian-based alt-right members is not uncommon; this creates friction within the broader movement.
The movement has a geographically diverse membership. Although members are often unwilling to reveal their off-line identities, their social media bios, usernames, and post content reveal a clear American focus, with a smaller number of Canadians and Europeans. This might seem strange at first for a nationalist movement, but what binds these individuals together is a shared interest in and commitment to European cultural heritage and the folkways of their ancestors. The users may be from different regions today, but their ancestors shared a common place: northern Europe. They express this connection through music, imagery, literature, and memes, and there is repeated contact between the members and a high level of participation on the forums. It is this process of sharing and connecting that contributes to the identity construction of the folk right.
Methods: Virtual Ethnography
While the use of Nordicism has been well documented off-line, little anthropological attention has been turned to online manifestations of this phenomena. Given that the folk right emphasizes online connections, I use virtual ethnographic methods to experience and understand the everyday life of this community (cf. Boellstorff et al. 2012; Pink et al. 2016). To achieve this, I focused on participant observation, which meant posting, commenting, voting, and sharing alongside the folk-right users (Tikka and Sumiala 2014).
As Postill and Pink (2012) note, this approach results in a constant cycle of catching up on content; participating in the community; exploring other parts of their network; and archiving, downloading, and saving the experiences. My day would often begin on Gab and include brief visits to YouTube, Twitter, or Minds, where I would collect and catalog dozens of memes and the corresponding comments as screenshots and engage in asynchronous chats. This activity diverges from but complements social media analysis and quantitative analyses of large data sets. Ethnographic methods, like participant observation, “allow us to refigure social media as a fieldwork environment that is social, experiential and mobile” (Postill and Pink 2012, 3). While this approach limits my ability to make generalizations about the far right, it did allow me to explore why the folk right held particular values and how they were communicated.
Ethnographic Field Sites
Following Bowman-Grieve (2009) and Castle and Parsons (2017), I chose to focus on social media platforms because these sites allow for a more participatory approach to fieldwork. While selecting a single platform was appealing for an in-depth study, the nomadic nature of the users rendered such an approach problematic (Postill and Pink 2012). This was due in part to the volatile and unpredictable nature of censorship, bans, and de- or no-platforming, which necessitated a multisited approach (Falzon 2016; Marcus 1995). Consequently, my data include content shared by the folk right on Twitter, Gab, Instagram, Voat, Minds, and Facebook.
From Twitter to Gab and Beyond
Although this work began on Twitter, where I followed Nordicism-inspired hashtags and accounts, the folk right became increasingly vocal in criticisms of the platform’s censorship practices. These, the group argued, were discriminatory and favored leftist accounts. As a result, users created new or backup accounts as a precaution, dedicated their time to new platforms, or endured periods of inactivity. All of this was disruptive to participant observation, as I spent much of my time remapping the movement.
Many users relocated to Gab, which promised to be a free speech alternative, and it quickly became the central focus of this project. The platform’s interface is reminiscent of other sites: it is aesthetically similar to Reddit, and users can post content to subforums, but users can also follow other users and post to their own timeline, as on Twitter. This allows individuals to create a network of communities and users that share similar interests. I subscribed to a variety of Nordicism-related forums and several content producers on other platforms, and their interactions alerted me to new places for exploration.
While diverse in terms of content and users, Gab is known for attracting the far right (Grey Ellis 2016). The site received heavy criticism in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting (October 27, 2018) because the shooter used the site to broadcast his intended actions. The site was subsequently no-platformed, which meant all necessary infrastructure was restricted, and the site was rendered inaccessible for a time (Thompson 2018). As a result, many of the users I followed migrated to other far-right sites like Minds and Voat. In the days leading up to the shutdown, many users shared their alternative platform accounts accompanied with pleas to find one another in the new spaces. Comments such as, “I’ve set up a back up on Minds.com, if they pull the plug, come and find me,” were frequent. Others highlighted that this was not the first time they had to move their community: “I haven’t posted anything on [Minds] yet. If Gab goes the way of the Dodo, or worse, the way of the corporate cuck, I will be posting there. I hate starting over, but one needs clear land to build a solid home. One cannot build anything of note when it gets burned down every half year.”
They also expressed frustration with the perceived Jewish control of the platform. In response to one user asking how many times the Jewish community would “demand we get wiped off here,” another noted that “there seem to be a lot of our kind of people already [on Minds]. It’s decentralized, so (((controlling)))1 it is naturally a little more difficult.” This confirmed that because the folk right was nomadic, dispersed, and continually making contingency plans, a multisited approach was necessary. This volatility makes for interesting ethnographic explorations and encourages a deep level of participation to quickly identify and map out new sites of engagement. These migration patterns have continued since my fieldwork in 2018, with users circulating among Gab, Twitter, and Telegram, and many identitarian groups have been banned from Facebook and Instagram following the Christchurch terrorist attacks.
Despite their centrality to contemporary internet cultures, memes are difficult to define. First coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976, the term was used to describe cultural replicators that reproduced, imitated, and transmitted a cultural phenomenon (McGrath 2004). More recently, Shifman described memes as “pieces of cultural information that pass along from person to person, but gradually scale into a shared social phenomenon” (2014, 18). Davison provides an even simpler definition: “An Internet meme is a piece of culture, typically a joke, which gains influence through online transmission” (2012, 122). Although this points to the importance of transmission as well as growth, a meme does not need to go viral to be effective; indeed, many folk-right memes are shared less than a hundred times.
To understand folk-right memes, I use a multimodal analysis that attends to the imagery, text, content, and context of the memes and to the commentary by users (Doerr 2017). Such an approach allows me to explore the content, form, and stance of the folk-right memes (Shifman 2014). These three aspects are replicated, remixed, and adapted through the meme-making and sharing processes, and identifying why specific aspects are retained or remade provides insight into the values of the folk right.
In this chapter, content refers to the ideas or ideologies represented in the meme. The memes I have selected, for example, reflect far-right sentiments such as anti-Abrahamic and anti-immigration discourse. Form is the representation of these ideas, which are experienced by the user through aural and visual components. Given the sharing practices of the folk right, I have chosen memes with static, northern European–inspired images such as heathen symbols or Viking motifs rather than video- or audio-based memes. Stance refers to the positioning of the creator in relation to the reader and may refer to style and tone of communication (e.g., ironic, mocking, sincere), which can be unique to the community or group of users. As a result, stance can produce ambiguities and inconsistencies in meaning when memes move between groups or when new users enter folk-right spaces. A seemingly pro-Christianity meme, for example, may be shared ironically, and it is up to the audience to know the stance and intended tone of the meme.
Figure 9.1 “Looking to the Past for a Greater Future” meme created by Gab user and circulated in a folkish group dedicated to folkish paganism. Meme collected November 9, 2018, on gab.com.
The importance of understanding stance was highlighted during my fieldwork in Iceland (January 2019), where I showed a selection of Nordicism-inspired memes to practicing universalist Norse pagans.2 They noted that although the content and form of the meme itself may be agreeable (figs. 9.1 and 9.2), such as those that highlighted the geographic representations of European paganism discussed below, it was the surrounding discourse, indicating the stance of the poster and the community more broadly, that changed how they viewed the meme. This example illustrates how significantly the comments, captions, and interactions with users contribute to an understanding of the meme’s stance and my analysis of extreme speech.
Figure 9.2 “Make Europa Great Again!” meme circulated on Gab in folkish, identitarian, and National Socialist groups. The meme remixes MAGA with National Socialist imagery. Meme collected August 19, 2018, on gab.com.
As Bangstad (2013) notes, telecommunications infrastructure such as the internet facilitates the growth and naturalization of nativist ideologies beyond national boundaries. Such infrastructures promote the global circulation of extremist ideologies and hate speech through various means, including humor and memes. The latter facilitate the normalization of hate as they blur the line between objectionable and acceptable (Haynes, chap. 11) and are easy to dismiss as frivolous, trivial, and simplistic (Conway Morris 2003). Consequently, when challenged, users can claim that memes are “just a joke” and signal their disinterest in debating the subject. Indeed, those who attempt to criticize the memes are scorned for not understanding the joke (Hervik 2019). This is amplified by the inherent anonymity of memes. As Davison (2012) notes, memes eschew attribution, and this helps users who wish to engage in discriminatory or offensive discourse to avoid punitive measures from peers or authority figures.
Beyond making far-right rhetoric more palatable, sharing bigoted or derogatory memes for the “lulz” helps establish a collective identity for the folk right. The community can incorporate parts of its culture that members feel are oppressed or marginalized in other, often off-line spaces (e.g., “illegal runes, illegal memes”) and “get a good laugh” out of the process. Part of their sense of community and belonging is rooted in sharing and appreciating deviant or objectionable jokes.
To understand this normalization of hatred through humor and the corresponding construction of a folk-right identity, I use extreme speech as a framework. Extreme speech is appealing for a number of reasons. It moves the discussion beyond the legal connotations and normative assumptions bound up in “hate speech” and similar terms and moves my research away from the “categorize, contain, and combat” process often associated with hate speech research (Gagliardone 2019). Moreover, as Udupa and Pohjonen (2019) argue, extreme speech recognizes the constant negotiation of what counts as hate speech and attends to the cultural and digital contexts of online vitriol. Therefore, extreme speech opens up pathways for understanding why the folk right engages in these meme-making and sharing practices and what it means for that community, and this framework parallels my use of ethnographic methods because it also obligates me to privilege why and how in my inquiries. Finally, it allows me to explore how memes can be understood beyond destructive utterances or simple bigotry (Haynes, chap. 11); instead, they can be seen as generative.
“Nothing Could Be Healthier Than European Tribalism”: On Nativism and Anti-Immigration
In early May 2018, I was introduced to the term identitarian. Although not as common as the #altright or #MAGA hashtags, the term appeared frequently enough to pique my interest in identity formation in far-right groups. The identitarian movement began in France in the late twentieth century and purports to focus on the reclamation of Europe for ethnic Europeans. It is active across Europe, with growing numbers in North America (Zúquete 2018), and has gained traction with tech-savvy millennials who collaborate on social media through retweets, memes, and off-line meet-ups. The movement is concerned with three overarching issues: (a) the “Islamization” of Europe, (b) globalization, and (c) the “Great Replacement” (Generation Identity, https://www.generation-identity.org.uk/). This movement has been associated with the March 15, 2019, terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, as the shooter released a manifesto that detailed his concerns with the Great Replacement (Besley and Peters 2020).
At its core, identitarianism demonstrates a growing anxiety over the changing demographics of Europe, and the folk right echo these concerns for Europe despite being a largely North American phenomenon. This is partly because the West looks to Scandinavia in times of crisis, and the folk right movement sees current migration trends as a crisis for white identity (Volquardsen 2014). The remixing of the MAGA meme into a MEGA—“Make Europe Great Again”—meme (fig. 9.3) demonstrates this international investment and anxiety.
Figure 9.3 “This is Europa” map meme circulated by Gab users in folkish groups. Meme collected August 21, 2018, on gab.com.
Through this meme, the folk right advocates for what it calls “retribalization,” which seeks to organize society by ethnic groups. This process goes beyond typical identitarian discourse in its assertion that Christianity cannot save Europe or North America, which harkens back to the frustration of the National Socialist movement (Poewe 2006). In advocating for retribalization, the folk right creates what I call the “white pagan nation fantasy,” in which Europe should be divided into biologically based ethnic groups (e.g., Celts, Germans, Norse) and governed by those of pagan spirituality. Whereas the MAGA memes refer to 1950s America, MEGA memes reach much further back in history to a more distant time and ancestry.
Several variations of the MEGA memes include the “This is Europa” meme (fig. 9.2), which circulated on Gab, Twitter, Facebook, and Minds. In this meme and its variations, pagan symbols were placed over a map of the European continent to indicate the branch of paganism that was historically present in each region. Some include text (e.g., “This is Europa” and “The old gods are not forgotten”), whereas others allow the symbols to speak for themselves. My participant observation revealed the meme’s circulation; however, it is difficult to quantify how many times it was shared and liked across platforms. The meme aggregation site Meme indicates that when this image was added to its database on December 2, 2016, the image had amassed 959 likes on Facebook alone (“This is Europa,” n.d.). The meme was shared on Gab in August 2018, which also demonstrates its longevity.
Although this meme is not the most severe example of extreme speech in this community, its mild—if not innocuous—aesthetic makes it such a powerful vehicle for the folk right’s ideologies. It does not include antisemitic or Islamophobic language or imagery; however, the meme and its associated comments still evoke an anti-immigrant and nativist ideology through text and symbols. The posters sincerely declare that Europe is a collection of pagan cultures that one can ethnically and geographically locate. Moreover, the explicit invocation of the “old gods,” referring to pagan gods, precludes immigration and globalization, as the folk right argues that spirituality and biology are intrinsically linked. One Gab user remarked that “the biggest lie is that spirituality transcends race. Spirituality is one with biology. The world has wide racial diversity. Thus, our spirituality and worldviews will be distinct. Universalism is the enemy of the #Ethnos. #BloodandSoil is the ONLY truth. #FolkRight.” Thus, a nonwhite person is unable to practice a European pagan faith and thus is unwelcome in Europe. The user clearly invokes the language of the völkisch movement by fusing race and religion in their comment, and this discourse was common on memes and surrounding posts. These memes carry a serious and often aggressive tone; they are not ironic or meant to mock pagan religions.
The visual aesthetics, or form, of the meme reinforce anti-immigration and retribalization. The symbols denote what ideologies belong in each region: Scotland is defined by the triquetra, a Celtic pagan symbol, while the historically Norse countries of Norway and Sweden are represented by Odin’s horns. In each case, a pagan religion is associated with a geographically defined ethnic or racial group, and an idea is mapped onto these somewhat fuzzy geographic boundaries. Similar sentiments are prevalent throughout my field sites as users discuss the future of these spaces: “Perhaps I am wrong, but we must clearly define and delineate what our current countries or future homelands are about. What is America? What is Germany? These definitions have been warped, and we see the outcomes. This was done on purpose.”
It is important to remember the identitarian movement’s concern with the Great Replacement, which refers to the demographic shift in Europe due to the influx of non-European immigrants and refugees in recent years. For the folk right, land and spirituality are intrinsically linked, and there is no room—geographically, biologically, spiritually, or culturally—for individuals who are not white European pagans. Indeed, the folk right has little time for immigrants and universalists who do not fit within their “blood and soil” paradigm.
The recurring emphasis on blood and soil dovetails nicely with the white pagan nation fantasy, in which I combine nativist pagan ideology with Hage’s (2000) “white nation fantasy” (see also Nielsen 2019). Hage argues that the white nation fantasy is the belief in white control over government and nation and that immigrants are a source of governmental problems. Nativism, or the preference for one’s own people, has been well documented for generations, as immigrants were deemed “too infected by Catholicism, monarchism, anarchism, Islam, criminal tendencies, defective genes, mongrel bloodlines, or some other alien virus to become free men and women in our democratic society” (Schrag 2010, 14; emphasis added). Nativist discourse deems immigrants unfit to become real Europeans or Americans. The term has, however, migrated from the academy, and it is now widely used by the pagan community to divide universalist (i.e., anyone can be a Norse pagan) and folkish (i.e., only one of Northern European heritage can be a Norse pagan) approaches to faith. Together, nativism and white nation fantasy construct an image of a Europe that rightfully belongs to white pagans and all others are deemed unworthy problems.
The “This is Europa” and other MEGA memes evince this nativist sentiment: Europe belongs to ethnic Europeans, and it is incompatible with immigrants given their race and biology. The MEGA memes, through their mimicry of MAGA, demonstrates this fantasy of control and problem. US President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign was grounded in immigrant-as-problem rhetoric and included travel bans, promises of building a wall between America and Mexico, and increasingly isolationist policies. The MEGA version of white nation fantasy goes beyond Trump’s brand of nativism to one rooted in what the folk right calls the “native European spirituality” or “folk soul” and the National Socialists called volk. It is no longer enough for those in control to be of white European heritage; rather, they must reacquaint themselves with their old gods and traditions.
Despite this nativist approach—and the rampant anti-immigrant ideology—the comments surrounding these memes often include subtle disclaimers that they are not “really racist.” To many, the white pagan nation fantasy is about love for one’s race. There is a denial of racism within the retribalizing discourse, as they believe all peoples should retribalize around the world, so long as it is within their own ethnostates: “I don’t hate anyone no matter their race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, etc. however, I do believe a right to their own culture/own country. I do NOT approve of the outright discrimination against European peoples! #EuropeanPride #ItsOkToBeWhite #folkish #loveyourfolk #heathen.” This sentiment was discussed in depth during a YouTube livestream that featured Stephen McNallen, founder of the Asatru Folk Assembly, which advocates for nativist Norse paganism. Moreover, he and others in the chat and livestream noted that this belief was not racist; they simply prefer their own group. Furthermore, he argued that his mandate, “the existence of our people is not negotiable,” can be used by all races, and therefore renders it a nonracist approach to social and religious organization. This #allpeople approach is an appeal to neutrality, which is a common tactic in the denial of racism (see Vertelytė and Hervik 2019). Thus, within the white pagan nation fantasy, it is possible for the folk right to deny their racism while upholding anti-immigration views.
“Blood Calls to the Gods”: Anti-Abrahamism
One of the most striking differences between the general far right and the folk right is the latter’s disdain for Christianity. As the “This is Europa” memes suggest, the folk right does not make space for Christianity in Europe. They refer to it derogatorily as a “sand” or “desert religion,” which references antisemitic and Islamophobic sentiments. Beyond their contempt for the racialized roots of Abrahamic faiths, they also see Christianity as a globalist or universalist religion that is incompatible with their white pagan nation fantasy. Therefore, in contrast to the anti-immigrant and retribalizing memes, which make an argument about what Europe is, the anti-Abrahamic memes construct an identity through what it is not—namely, Abrahamic.
Although folk-right memes vary with regard to form, they often evoke a European warrior or Viking motif (figs. 9.4 and 9.5). These include helmet- and axe-clad Vikings, thunderbolt and hammer-wielding Thor, Odin on a throne, and even a contemporary bare-chested, bearded man with a Mjolnir necklace. These memes argue that a strong, powerful, and ultimately successful Europa requires a revival of pre-Abrahamic European paganism and culture.
Anti-Christian memes are part of a broader movement against Abrahamic faiths in the folk right. While “It’s Okay to Be White” memes began circulating during Trump’s presidential campaign, the folk right has remixed this message to include anti-Christian sentiment and deploys this through #ItsNotOKToBeChristian or #INOTBC hashtags that explicitly invoke a white pagan nation ideology. These memes maintain the ideology of whiteness as ideal while discrediting Christians. This approach is evident in figure 9.4 and similar memes that explicitly contrast the values and attitudes of pagan traditions with Christianity. These images include depictions of Abrahamic faiths fighting among one another on one side of the image while the pagan faiths work together on the other side. These comparisons indicate that Christianity is unproductive, divisive, and disorderly. In contrast, European paganism is neatly delineated based on ethnicity and geography, and thus groups can work together to create a strong and vibrant Europe. This reinforces the regenerative and restorative messages of the “This is Europa” and MEGA memes.
In these memes, Christians are understood as a threat or an enemy, and the tone is often aggressive or critical of Christianity. These memes imply that Christianity seeks to destroy Europa, which places them at odds. Comments on these memes often discussed how Christianity was “anti-ethnos” and how “the problem is #Christianity forever tying us to and enslaving us under Abrahamism.” Moreover, Christianity is no longer seen as an attribute that can be “accumulated and converted into Whiteness” (Hage 2000, 232) in the white pagan nation fantasy. Rather, Christianity is placed on par with Islam as a threat to Europe, and Christians are often accused of being “Jews in disguise.” This narrative creates new alterities through ethnospiritual conflict, humor, and extreme speech.
Nevertheless, this process of defining the folk-right identity in opposition to Christianity is at risk of creating a pan-European group that is at odds with their desire for spiritually based ethnostates. This strategy has been criticized by Christian trolls in the comment sections of many posts, who often repost folk-right memes ironically or with sardonic captions. However, this contradiction is to be expected: American and Canadian folk-right members hold hybrid identities given generations of interethnic marriage, and the folk right subsequently expresses a sense of constitutive displacement in which connection between individual identity and geography is weak or disrupted (Bhabha 2018). Users are encouraged to take DNA tests to trace their roots and will often post the results online for discussion; subsequent conversations often result in “you’re mostly XYZ” summations. This makes a declaration of belonging difficult for many and explains the attractiveness of defining oneself in opposition to a more firmly established identity (Ezz El Din 2019). Extending this opposition to Abrahamic religions in general, this process also legitimizes inconsistent inclusions in whiteness. Mediterranean populations are welcome in the folk right given their Greco-Roman pagan heritage, whereas Jewish peoples are excluded from whiteness due to their faith, despite the similar whitening process both groups experienced (Vertelytė and Hervik 2019).
Figure 9.4 “This is Christianity; This is Europa” meme circulated by Gab users in a folkish group that emphasized anti-Abrahamic discourse. Meme collected September 11, 2018, on gab.com.
The treatment of Islam in the folk right often diverges from that of Christianity. Whereas Christians are treated with an academic derision, Islam is frequently mocked and belittled. Figure 9.5 clearly evokes what Essed (2013) has termed “entitlement racism,” which refers to how individuals increasingly invoke their right to speak their mind, even if what they are saying is derogatory. The freedom of speech, as well as (digital) assembly, is understood as a license to offend (Finnis 2009), and I contend this is amplified within the white pagan nation fantasy—they have the right to control Europe and, therefore, the right to humiliate.
Figure 9.5 “Allah? Never heard of her” meme circulated by Gab users in anti-Muslim and folkish groups. Meme collected August 26, 2018, on gab.com.
Memes have become one avenue through which far-right and folk-right users explicitly enact this right. The “Allah? Never heard of her!” meme (fig. 9.5) is a clear example of this use. The meme typically includes the text “Allah?” and “never heard of her” over a Norse motif (e.g., Odin or a Viking). The intent, or stance, of the meme is to offend Muslims, first, by using a feminine pronoun for Allah and, second, by indicating that Allah is not worth knowing to the folk right. Allah is rendered irrelevant in the lands of pagan gods.
The captions and comments associated with the memes echoed this desire to offend. One such comment reads, “I figure it’s been a while since we offended anyone. Thank you Anders for the pic submission—Bloodaxe.” Comments on anti-Islam memes like figure 9.5 were more likely to express jarring extreme speech and would include racial slurs including desert-themed plays on the “n-word” and crude caricatures of Muslims. These examples of entitlement racism can be understood as a response to political correctness in which what is considered overly sensitive or racist is increasingly polarized (Hubinette 2014; Hervik 2019). However, despite this explicit racism, the folk right denies charges of racism—members simply do not want immigrants and “Abrahamists” in their white nation. If users are offended by the extreme speech of the folk right, they are dismissed for not understanding the joke or told to return to politically correct spaces like Twitter, just as Muslims are invited to return to the Middle East.
In this chapter, I have introduced the folk right—an emergent fringe group within the tech-savvy far-right movement—and argued that the memes members produce and circulate constitute important sites of inquiry for scholars interested in the intersection of nativism, Nordicism, and the far right. While the folk right shares many of the concerns of the far-right and identitarian movements, folk-right meme-sharing practices evince a slightly different narrative.
These practices cause friction between the folk right and other far-right groups. The most notable point of conflict is the folk right’s disdain for Christianity, which puts them at odds with many groups and individuals in North America. Indeed, much of their time and energy is directed toward criticizing the Christian influence in the far right and fending off attacks from Christian trolls. This element has exacerbated the conflict between the folk right and the alt-right. These conflicts pose a dilemma for the far right in general, as users denounce the infighting. However, the folk right’s emphasis on anti-immigration and anti-Islam rhetoric maintains connections with broader groups within the identitarian movement.
Whether or not this small group can destabilize or undermine a resurgent white supremacist movement has yet to be determined. In the years since my fieldwork, the folk right remains on the fringes of the far right and is increasingly fragmented. What this work has identified is that a growing number of far-right activists are looking to their European history for guidance. This approach, Andersen (2018) argues, constitutes a return to an ancestral knowledge, although, as Gardell (2003) and Poewe (2006) remind us, this phenomenon is not new. However, as the Unite the Right rally, the völkisch movement, and the Christchurch attacks have made clear, a holistic understanding of cultural practices—particularly those evincing extreme speech—is pivotal in combatting the rise of populism and fascism across the globe. The growing folk right movement must be considered a part of the troubling phenomenon.
1. Three consecutive parentheses are used to denote the Jewish community and are another means of avoiding censorship—for example, users might say “(((they))) control the media” instead of the Jewish community controls the media.
2. Universalist refers to groups who do not exclude members on the basis of race or ethnicity.
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