Here is a podcast I recorded with Al Letson from Reveal about the dark side of “Alt-Tech” – the suite of Internet infrastructure tools being developed for a censorship-free Internet but which are already being used by extremists to spread their hatred.
I’m in the first 15 minutes, and followed by a story about alt-right comics and some good words from a pastor working on the front lines of extremism.
I’ve updated the Facebook co-membership graphs (see original post) for my upcoming talk at the International Conference on Computational Social Science (IC2S2) to be held at Northwestern University in July. (extended abstract – PDF)
This talk will include data through the end of March, 2018.
Once again, larger nodes = more people. Closer placement between nodes on the graph mean more folks in common.
What do we learn? There are some ideologies that are woven much more naturally into the fabric of a “united” far-right, as opposed to other ideologies, which will be harder to integrate.
Upcoming work will look at groups with nativist ideologies, including anti-Muslim, anti-Immigrant, and how those correspond to Anti-Government/Patriot/Militia and White Nationalist beliefs.
Each map “pin” shows which group did the flyering, as well as the link for where I learned of it. These links are usually tweets from the groups themselves or tweets from students who found the flyers. Sometimes I also use news articles, for example from Vice, Inside Higher Ed, USA Today, NPR, and I also have Google News alerts set up for the alt-right groups so when the flyering incidents are picked up in local media, I get those as well.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has a comprehensive guide to symbols used by hate groups, including the KKK and white supremacist groups.
The first time I saw some of these symbols and logos around my own neighborhood, I was very surprised. But the more I looked around, the more I saw. I decided to begin documenting the evidence of far-right “signaling” that I see around my own neighborhood. White supremacy is not some abstract, far-away phenomenon, but is alive and happening right here, right now.
The 3rd National
Sometimes folks with unpopular beliefs want to fly just a little bit under the radar. The “3rd National”, aka the “Blood Stained Banner”, is a popular choice for the discerning neo-Confederate who is worried about what the neighbors will think if s/he flies the regular ol’ Confederate flag. Here is an example of the 3rd National flag, flying on a corner lot located about 3 blocks from my house:
Since the “3rd National” was the last official flag of the Confederacy, you might fly it if you believe that the South never should have surrendered. In fact, this is the flag that flew in front of the “last capital of the Confederacy” in Danville, VA until recently. Every Saturday, “flaggers” still show up in Danville to insist that this particular flag be returned to fly in front of the Capitol building.
Patriots and Militias
On my run one day, I spotted this flag hanging from a window in some student housing one block from Elon’s campus. It has three capital letter I inside a Betsy-Ross style flag.
The “three-percenters” are a Patriot-style militia movement (wikipedia). The name refers to the group’s claim that only 3% of American colonists took up arms against the British in the American Revolution. Examples of militias include:
The NC Tactical Response Force Militia, which has provided security for multiple alt-right/neo-Confederate events such as when ACTBAC protested the removal of the Confederate flag from schools in Orange County.
Speaking of militias, less than 1 mile from my house hangs this interesting flag with red and blue stripes and a white field with 8-pointed stars. (Yes, I spotted this one while running too – I guess runners see things we didn’t really want to see…)
This is the Guilford Courthouse flag, “a North Carolina militia banner” that was flown at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse during the Revolutionary War. How is that anything harmful? Well, sometimes its name is shortened to the “North Carolina Militia Flag”, as explained in this National Parks Service Word doc, and sometimes militia groups decide to fly this flag at their events.
GNN is also promoting the ‘Unite the Right’ free speech rally to be held on August 12 in Charlottesville. This rally has a speakers list full of notorious neo-Nazis, white supremacists, including Matthew Heimbach (Traditionalist Workers Party), Michael Hill (League of the South), and so on.
The contemporary use of this particular flag as a right-wing militia/hate symbol could be confusing to Greensboro-area history buffs who also fly it as a legitimate historical marker of a Revolutionary War event. The question we are struggling with is: Why was it also flown by militia members at the Anti-Muslim “Act for America” event and why is it flown by a group with ties to the TWP and League of the South? Perhaps, like so many other historical symbols (the swastika comes to mind here, also Pepe the frog), this one is in the early stages of being co-opted for a new purpose.
If history buffs don’t want to see this flag co-opted by right-wing militia groups, they need to be vocal about it, and call out its inappropriate use.
While we were protesting the Raleigh anti-Islam event, we noticed that a newer white supremacist group, Identity Evropa, had posted dozens of flyers around the city. They also took credit for posting these flyers on their Twitter feed.
About a month earlier, similar flyers were spotted on UNC-Chapel Hill Campus:
If Chapel Hill and Raleigh seem too far away to bother you, consider that on May 20, 2017, at a Confederate Flag Rally in Graham (right here in Alamance County!) two US Marines acting on behalf of Identity Evropa were arrested after trespassing on a building to drop a banner with a quote from George Orwell and the abbreviation “YWNRU” (“You Will Not Replace Us”), the slogan of Identity Evropa.
The YWNRU slogan was used on banners and in chants at the Charlottesville, VA torch lighting last month. Extra credit if you can spot the “3rd National” in the photo below.
Maybe these newfangled groups like Identity Evropa are too artsy for some folks. For those who want to keep their hatred old-school, the KKK has a long history in Alamance County. Just today I was reading Elaine Frantz Parsons’ book Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction and didn’t even make it past the first paragraph of the “here’s how the KKK got started” section before Alamance County was mentioned (and not in a good way):
Surely the KKK can’t still be relevant in this day and age? In Alamance County? Well, at the same Graham, NC rally – the Alamance County seat, about 10 miles from my house – in the same spot where the Identity Evropa banner was unfurled, and on the same day, we spotted these lovely homemade t-shirts sporting the KKK triangle logo:
The signs and symbols are everywhere if you know what you’re looking for.
Earlier I showed how to extract the postings from a given Facebook page. Here, I will show you how to do some basic text mining on the posts you found. For practice, I will use the messages of a local neo-Confederate group called ACTBAC (“Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County”). Their antics have been covered in local media, but with their re-branding in light of the Trump election and the rise of the alt-right, many people in our area are still wondering just what this group is all about. Perhaps text mining can help illuminate some of their beliefs and strategies for us.
I ran the script on their “ALAMANCEOURS” Facebook page, and it yielded 1017 messages beginning in June, 2015. Here is the spreadsheet (actbac.csv) in case anyone wants to play around with it.
Top 50 words most used in their FB posts
I wrote a program to count frequencies and remove stopwords (stopwords are boring words like ‘a’, ‘to’, ‘it’, ‘is’). Then I highlighted the most interesting words (to me) in yellow. Each word is shown with its count next to it.
From these, we can see many predictable words for a county-based neo-Confederate group (county, state, southern, cause, carolina). However, I was most intrigued by the prominence of the word ‘stand’.
Usage of the word ‘stand’
Stand can be both a noun (“take a stand”) and a verb (“stand up for yourself”). With this group, ‘stand’ is the most common verb used in their messages (not counting stopwords like ‘be’ or ‘is’). My hypothesis is that, as a verb, this word ‘stand’ conveys a lot of the power of their movement. Why?
To help understand how they use ‘stand’, I wrote a program to generate a concordance to show how the word is used in their messages. The first few lines of the concordance look like this:
The word of interest (shown in red) is placed in the center of each line. The concordance then shows each collection of words around that word.
From this, I learned that the word ‘stand’ is used 291 times in 1017 messages, most commonly as follows:
In addition, there are another 41 uses of “stood” and 86 uses of “standing”.
It would be interesting to compare this usage to other Confederate and non-Confederate groups to see whether this is a uniquely ACTBAC thing (I doubt it), or – more likely – it is a rhetorical device used more broadly by all Confederate groups. I would guess that their defensive “stand up for your beliefs, no matter how unpopular” plea has great power in a neo-Confederate setting. After all, the “Lost Cause” narrative also describes a heroic, virtuous South fighting against all odds, and ultimately unfairly defeated in the American Civil War.
Next, just for fun, I wrote a program to build a topic model of the postings. A topic model tells us what words frequently co-occur in sentences, and tries to make groupings of those words into possible “topics”. Inside the program, you can fiddle with the number of topics, and the number of words generated for each.
After running a few experiments, I settled on 3 topics with 4 words each. These topics weren’t terribly interesting, as you can see below, but we can still learn a few interesting things. First, when ‘stand’ is mentioned, it is often used with ‘southern’ and ‘state’, and it seems to be ‘people’ who are doing the standing (makes sense). Additionally, the topic we could call ‘Confederate battle flag’ emerges (labeled Topic 3 below):
The FKRE is the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease metric, which tells you how “easy” a document is to read, and then this number (71.55, or “fairly easy”) can be converted to a grade level metric (7th grade). I also ran an overall readability summary, which integrates several other difficulty measures in addition to FKRE. That one also puts this text at right around 6th or 7th grade.
I hope you enjoyed this quick tour of text mining – perhaps you will find some interesting techniques to use on your own projects!
The Guardian had a great article today that makes explicit many of the connections between the so-called “alt-right” and other predominantly male online movements/communities such as #Gamergate. I’d extend their analysis by adding two more communities: free, libre, and open source software (FLOSS) developers, and pro-Trump communities like the_donald on Reddit. Like Gamergate and alt-right, these are male online communities that have the same predictable speaking style and culture as referenced in the Guardian article:
Prominent supporters on Twitter, in subreddits and on forums like 8Chan, developed a range of pernicious rhetorical devices and defences to distance themselves from threats to women and minorities in the industry: the targets were lying or exaggerating, they were too precious; a language of dismissal and belittlement was formed against them. Safe spaces, snowflakes, unicorns, cry bullies…. These techniques, forged in Gamergate, have become the standard toolset of far-right voices online.