Steven Forti: The more I hate, the more viral: why Twitter has been filled with fury at the height of the extreme right | Actuality | ICON

A few years ago, when we talked about the extreme right, we imagined violent kids with shaved heads and jackets bomber, swastikas tattoos, hosts in the streets and stadium bleachers, nostalgic gentlemen with sunglasses and blue shirts raising their arms in the Valley of the Fallen. Today the extreme right is something different: it sits in parliaments, wears a suit and tie, moves freely on social networks, receives media attention and draws many voters who are not fans or nostalgic, but ordinary citizens. The messages have not changed that much, if possible, they have become more hallucinated, embedded in conspiracy theories and fake news.

Today’s extreme right, in addition to having apparently become more modern and tolerable (not tolerant), is motley. From Donald Trump to Matteo Salvini, from Vox to Alternativa por Germany, from Jair Bolsonaro to Viktor Orbán. Despite their peculiarities, the historian Steven Forti (Trento, 40 years old) believes that they can be integrated into a macrocategory that would be that of extreme right 2.0. Beyond differences in economic, geopolitical or moral matters, what the groups that fall into this bag have in common are three characteristics.

The first is that its objective is the increasing polarization of society to the point of listing it towards its extreme positions. The second, that they show an exacerbated tacticism, that is: they launch probe balloons into the public debate trying to capture the limelight or tempt the electorate (as in the case of Vox calling for the legalization of weapons in Spain, without much popular support). In addition, they do not mind incurring contradictions: today memory is fleeting and one can defend something one day and the opposite the next without political cost (these strategies of sham and manipulation are practiced even by politicians who are not rigorously within the extreme right 2.0. properly). Consistency doesn’t matter. The third is that they do not deny democracy itself, but rather criticize liberal democracy as disconnected from the will of the people (which they do represent).

A van drives through Gragnano, Italy, with an election poster of far-right Matteo Salvini in 2020.
A van drives through Gragnano, Italy, with an election poster of far-right Matteo Salvini in 2020.Ivan Romano (Getty Images)

The panorama is explored by Forti, associate professor at the University of Barcelona and researcher at the Institute of Contemporary History of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, in his recent book Far right 2.0. What is it and how to combat it (XXI century). At the beginning of the month, in an interview with The newspaper, Forti declared that the Catalan independence movement of Junts pel Sí shared some features with the extreme right movements: a storm of digital offense was raised against the author for several days. He prefers not to comment and let this matter die as controversial tweeters die.

Where does this resurgence of the extreme right come from? There are many reasons. On the one hand, the increase in inequalities, precariousness, cuts, attacks on the Welfare State within the neoliberal economic system. Also cultural reasons: controversies around abortion, migratory movements, feminism, the rights of the LGTBIQ collective … Some depend on the national context: in Spain, Vox resurfaces in part as a reaction to the process Catalan. It also influences how societies have frayed, institutions such as parties and unions are no longer what they were, and we are experiencing a strong crisis of confidence in the system. There breakthrough speeches are based.

Another characteristic of this extreme right is the use, often tricky and aggressive, of social networks. Why is Twitter full of far-rightists? These political formations have long understood the importance of social networks for their purposes. They use legal and acceptable methods, and others that are not, such as fake accounts, bots [cuentas automáticas] or farms of trolls, which are small companies or government departments that try to impose their speech, often riddled with hatred and falsehoods. Some of these actions are called shitstorms (literally shitstorms), consisting of highly virulent digital lynchings. An example of all this is ‘The Beast’ by Mateo Salvini, as the team that worked on the networks through sentiment analysis was called: the most hateful messages were better viralized. There are problems here that are even beyond the extreme right. For example, the need for democratic and public control of social networks, which are owned by large companies. We know very little about how algorithms work.

Not so long ago, in social networks the social movements associated with the 15M or the followers of We can, although perhaps not in such a virulent way. How has the tortilla been turned around? We came from a vision tecnoutopista of the democratization that social networks allowed. Now we have a catastrophic vision. I suppose we have to understand that the Internet can be used to do anything, it depends on how it is used and how it is regulated. The traditional parties have failed to understand the importance of networks, with few exceptions. It has been better understood by social movements and now by the new extreme right, which has achieved a predominant position. The difference with left-wing social movements is that they have considerable funding. Trump or Salvini, for example, have invested heavily in this.

Former President Donald Trump pictured last January before getting on Air Force One.
Former President Donald Trump pictured last January before getting on Air Force One.MANDEL NGAN (AFP via Getty Images)

Is it now the right and the extreme right the transgressor and cool, as before was the left? People like Santiago Abascal say they fight against the “progressive dictatorship”, in other countries this is called “political correctness”. The right now defines itself as a rebel, a defender of freedom, against the tide, and a provocateur. Isabel Díaz Ayuso also drinks from this. A few years ago, research found that Roman teenagers found Benito Mussolini cool. Are they fascists? Probably not, but they have a different perception of fascism than previous generations. In many countries, far-right parties have a high percentage of youth vote. The image on the left is shifting towards being part of the establishment.

What is and how important is the so-called rojipardismo? They are people who present themselves with a leftist rhetoric, but if you scratch a little they turn out to be far-right or even neo-fascists. This is a very minority position, but in many cases it is symptomatic of the ideological parasitism of the new extreme right. In other cases it is not just tacticism. The Italian thinker Diego Fusaro presents himself as a Marxist, an expert on Gramsci or Marx, but defends Salvini’s policies or speaks of an ethnic substitution organized by supposed globalist elites. At the same time he vindicates Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales and criticizes neoliberal capitalism. But buy much of the pack on the far right, which may mean paving the highway for it to pass.

Another curious mixture is that of the LGTBI collective and the extreme right, which would ally against Islam in some European countries. The so-called homonationalism. In France there is a not inconsiderable part of the LGTBI collective that votes for Le Pen. A few decades ago it would be unthinkable. This shows how the far right tries, and sometimes succeeds, to capitalize on some typical flags of the left. On the environmental issue, ecofascism arises, which makes the environmental struggle its own. Many far-right female leaders call themselves the true feminists. They want to confront Islam because it is said that it comes to invade us and cut down the rights of women and homosexuals. Alice Weidel, leader of Alternative for Germany, is not only a woman, she is also a lesbian, she is married to a foreigner and has two adopted children.

Can the so-called extreme left in European parliaments be equated with the extreme right 2.0, as both poles of the political spectrum? I don’t think so: none of the radical left formations are proposing to empty liberal democracy of content, at best they want to fill it with more content, expand rights and freedoms, go in a more social direction. The extreme right, on the other hand, tries to empty democracy of its content, as we see in the case of Viktor Orbán. Turn it into an empty shell.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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