The following is an extract from 12 Rules for What’s upcoming book, Post Internet Far Right, published by Dog Section Press. It is taken from the chapter New Organisational Forms. You can pre-order a copy of the book by donating to Dog Section’s crowdfunder here.
As life collided with the internet, traditional far-right parties became seemingly outmoded. The dynamism of internet swarms was able to outpace their own governance, cause shock and outrage, and capture sustained mainstream attention. It made far-right parties seem old, cranky, and boring by comparison. That doesn’t mean they disappeared: in some countries they still remain the dominant force on the far right. And even where they are not as dominant, their effects are still felt throughout it.
But they have transformed, and new forms of hybrid structure have appeared, combining the speed and connectivity, as well as the image-consciousness of online activism, with the organisational consistency of a party. Organisations such as Generation Identity (a pan-European group with local chapters across continental Europe) and the American Identity Movement, previously called Identity Evropa (a group which translated, at times awkwardly, Identitarianism into an American context), are the most prominent examples. Other notable examples include the UK’s Patriotic Alternative, Belgium’s Schild & Vrienden, and Italy’s CasaPound, from whom GI borrowed the idea of a network of physical spaces.
These are the type of organisation that strive to encompass all the aspects of the modern far right that we have discussed so far: largely recruiting young men online, they operate metapolitically to propagate conspiracies such as The Great Replacement, produce reams of content as far-right influencers, operationalise the swarm (which they feed, in turn, with videos and images of their stunts), puff themselves up as the youthful action-focused wing of an intellectual tradition, and participate in street actions and stunts. However, as this chapter and the next will show, this degree of smooth integration is somewhat illusory, and contradictions remain, both internally and with the mass shooters to their right. In recent years, the prominence of these organisations, at least in Europe, has diminished slightly, as the broad base of support for non-electoral far-right politics has ebbed, and thus the social consequences of showing one’s face as part of an organisation dedicated to far-right stunt-making (where the fact of being someone in particular, unafraid to show their face, is integral to the power of the images) have become clearer and more damaging.
In the absence of the sense of ascendency, this above-ground far right was unable to sustain itself for long. Activists who were once proud to show their faces went back underground or were shamed out of the movement entirely. This does not mean that these organisations are gone, only that their newer formations have become more security-conscious and anonymous. Recent forms of far-right organisation have returned to symbol-making without putting their bodies on the line – for example, the Hundred Handers network, which produces highly anonymised stickers with suggestively racist slogans for unknown activists to place in mundane locations.
Nevertheless, the particular formulation of components that new organisations use remains a potent one. The question identitarianism – a form of far-right political thinking which puts the defence of a nested hierarchy of identities at the heart of politics – seeks to answer in the affirmative is: ‘Is it useful, in the age of the internet, for the far right to have long-term organisations?’ It is worth us asking too.
Thinking, by analogy, about the various functions of long-term organisations in the ecosystem of the left might be a useful way to begin. There, organisations are useful for multiple reasons, one of which is their ability to sustain institutional memory, a problem of fringe movements generally. Without it, little gets passed down from moment to moment. The blooming of groups on Telegram, concerned entirely with propagating ‘fashwave’ images, is a function of this lack of institutional memory, and its replacement with a fully mythic sense of the movement’s inherent, but obscured, potency (its unrecaptureable ‘meme magic’). Organisations are also infrastructural: they prevent churn, operate to persuade people to return endlessly to politics, but they also function as containers, spaces for conviviality, and provide established places for new recruits to go when there is a big influx of interest.
At their limits, totalising institutions supply their members with three basic things: total explanation (everything that happens is explicable through the group); total identity (the group clarifies who you are, and membership is the central marker of that identity); and total activity (you have always a clear sense of what to do).
Of course, organisational structure can also be a hindrance to politics: the alt-right, probably the most successful far-right movement of recent times, lacked substantial organisational form. One problem that the US far right faced for a long time before the ‘swarm’ became a viable organisational form itself was that their organisations (Aryan Nations, National Alliance, and so on) were so self-evidently terrible that, when there was a big surge in numbers, it simply increased the size of the existing organisations or formed organisations like them and repeated their mistakes.