How self-publishing, social media and algorithms are helping far-right novelists

Right-wing extremists represent a growing risk around the world. The recent mass murder in Buffalo, New Yorkand the attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019 are just two examples of the many far-right terrorist acts.

Far-right extremists have complex and diverse methods of spreading their messages of hate. These may include through social media, video games, welfareinterest in medieval european historyand fiction. Novels by extremist and non-extremist authors appear on far-right “reading lists” designed to draw people into their beliefs and normalize hatred.

As scholars of literary studies, our research grew out of exploring these reading lists and investigating why extremists write fiction. In 2020, we started looking at how someone who stumbled across an online reading list could access the books and pursue the ideas they contain.

We found a group of approximately 15 novels of self-identified neo-Nazis and other white supremacists known to counterterrorism experts. Others don’t. These books were incredibly easy to obtain, as they were sold on sites such as Amazon, Google Play, and Book Depository.

Publishers once refused to print such books, but changes in technology have made traditional publishers less important. With self-publishing and ebooks, it is easy for extremists to produce and distribute their fiction.

In this article, we have only given the titles and authors of the already notorious books, to avoid publicizing other dangerous hate fiction.

A literature of hate

Far-right extremists have a long and successful history of spreading their ideas and inciting violence by writing and publishing novels. “The Great Replacement Theory”, which would have motivated the mass murderer in Buffaloand which the Christchurch striker adopted in his manifesto, was articulated in 1973 in a French novel, Camp of the Saints by Jean Raspail.

A few years later, the American neo-Nazi William L. Pierce published Turner’s Diaries (1978). The novel is now known as the “bible” of the far right.

Pierce claimed to have sold 185,000 copies of Turner’s Diaries within 20 years of its publication. Exact sales figures for the book and others like it are impossible to obtain. Some that we have identified as having far-right extremist narratives, written by authors with militia ties in the United States, have appeared on New York Times bestseller lists.

Turner’s Diaries was directly linked to more than 15 acts of violenceincluding the deadly Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. The Christchurch terrorist used phrases from Turner’s Diaries in its manifesto.

Since then, white supremacists in the US, UK and elsewhere have written novels to help spread their violent ideas. Some write under pseudonyms and are impossible to identify, but some book settings suggest the authors may be Australian. Many imitate Turner’s Diariesin what they are “plans” and “fantasies” terrorist acts leading to race war. Others are in popular fiction genres, including crime and historical fiction.

Digital distribution of extremist novels

Right-wing extremists use social networks to spread their beliefsbut other digital platforms are also useful to them.

Seemingly innocent sites that host a wide range of mainstream materials, such as Google Books, Project Gutenberg, and the Internet Archive, are open to exploitation. Extremists use them to share, for example, material denying the Holocaust alongside historic Nazi newspapers.

Far-right novels are also easily shared online through social media platforms such as Gab and Telegram, alongside other extremist material, as well as on dedicated websites.

Amazon’s Kindle self-publishing service has been called “a paradise for white supremacistsbecause of the ease with which they circulate political leaflets there. The far-right extremist who carried out the 2011 Oslo terror attacks recommended in his manifesto that his followers use Kindle to spread his message.

Our research has shown that novels by known far-right extremists have been published and distributed via Kindle as well as other digital self-publishing services.

When we started our research in 2020, Turner’s Diaries was sold through Amazon, although it has now been retired. Novels by lesser-known neo-Nazis and other violent extremists are still sold there, as well as through other major e-book distributors, such as Google Play.

Radicalization recommendations

During our research on the circulation of known violent extremist novels, we noticed that the sales algorithms of mainstream platforms suggested others that we might also be interested in. Sales algorithms work by recommending items that customers who have purchased a book have also viewed or purchased.

These recommendations pointed us to an array of novels that, when we studied them, were found to resonate with far-right ideologies.

A significant number of them were written by authors with far-right political views. Some had ties to American militia movements and the gun-obsessed “prepper” subculture. Almost all of the books have been self-published as ebooks and print-on-demand editions.

Without the marketing and distribution channels of established publishing houses, these books rely on digital distribution for sales, including sales recommendation algorithms.

The sales recommendation trail led us, in just two clicks, to novels by mainstream authors. They also brought us back, from books by mainstream authors to extremist novels. It is deeply disturbing. This risks introducing unsuspecting readers to the ideologies, worldviews, and sometimes powerful emotional narratives of far-right novels designed to radicalize.

Banning and removing from sale books by known violent extremists can help limit the ease with which they are found and make money from them. However, new novels can be quickly and easily written and published under pseudonyms, so we believe it is more useful to help readers recognize and understand what far-right fiction is like and what it is. try to do.

Recognize far-right messages

Some extremist novels follow the example of Turner’s Diaries and represent the beginning of a racist and openly genocidal war alongside a call to provoke one. Others are less obvious about their violent messages.

Some aren’t easily distinguished from mainstream novels – for example, political thrillers and dystopian adventure stories like Tom Clancy’s – so what sets them apart? Openly neo-Nazi authors, like Pierce, often use racist, homophobic and misogynistic slurs, but many do not. This may be to help make their books more palatable to general readers, or to avoid digital moderation based on specific words.

Learning more about far-right extremism can help. Scholars generally say that there are three main elements that connect the spectrum of far-right politics: the acceptance of social inequality, authoritarianism, and the embrace of violence as a tool for political change. The willingness to commit or condone violence is a key factor separating extremism from other radical politics.

These positions emerge in fiction in some notable ways that are quite consistent across different genres.

Often the story takes place in an imaginary near future where everything from natural disasters and terrorist attacks to open warfare and citizen rebellion against an oppressive (always leftist) government has caused society to fall into anarchy. violent. Historical novels are usually set during times of social upheaval, such as the Civil War.

Social inequality is inscribed in the worlds of these novels. The protagonist is, almost without exception, a cisgender heterosexual white male with military experience.

Marginalized groups, including LGBTQI+ people, migrants, and people of color, are almost always present in the story. They are often blamed for social breakdown through a conspiracy theory that is usually also anti-Semitic. They are still enemies of the protagonist and are violently killed.

White women are only spared if they follow the protagonist’s orders and support his violence. Feminists, if they appear, are his enemies. The protagonist’s violence (and that of others like him) keeps him and his family safe and ultimately leads to the establishment of a new society. This new society is still authoritarian and led by a white man.

These storylines depict white male violence as necessary and appropriate to solve all the problems facing the protagonist, his family, and society. The violence is often graphic and usually includes details of the weapons and tactics used to inflict it.

Some books that feature these kinds of characters and stories are not written by authors with known radical or extreme policies. These books could further reinforce a hateful message, especially if they are part of a digital “recommendation” journey that takes readers from one similar book to another.

It is very unlikely that someone will radicalize to violent extremism just by reading novels. Novels can, however, reinforce political messages heard elsewhere (such as on social media) and help make those hateful messages and acts feel justified.

With the growing threat of far-right extremism and the deliberate recruitment strategies of extremists targeting unexpected places, it is worth being informed enough to recognize the hate-filled stories they tell.

Helen Young is a lecturer at Australia’s Deakin University. Geoff Boucher is an Associate Professor of Literary Studies at Deakin University. This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license.

Members of the Proud Boys, a far-right neo-fascist group that promotes and engages in political violence in the United States, in Washington, DC in December 2020. Photo by Geoff Livingstone, which notes “After consideration, I have decided to publish them in Creative Commons for public discourse and for academic and legal researchers. I want to make it clear that I do not sympathize with the Proud Boys and consider them an extremist organization that supported an insurgency,” used under a Creative Commons license.

Sharon D. Cole