Literary theorists Helen Young and Geoff M Boucher, both at Deakin University (Australia), have co-written a fascinating May 29, 2022 essay on The Conversation (and republished on phys.org) analyzing some of the reasons (e.g., novels) for the resurgence in neo-Nazi activity and far-right extremism, Note: Links have been removed,
Far-right extremists pose an increasing risk in Australia and around the world. In 2020, ASIO [Australian Security Intelligence Organisation] revealed that about 40% of its counter-terrorism work involved the far right.
The recent mass murder in Buffalo, U.S., and the attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019 are just two examples of many far-right extremist acts of terror.
Far-right extremists have complex and diverse methods for spreading their messages of hate. These can include through social media, video games, wellness culture, interest in medieval European history, and fiction [emphasis mine]. Novels by both extremist and non-extremist authors feature on far-right “reading lists” designed to draw people into their beliefs and normalize hate.
Here’s more about how the books get published and distributed, from the May 29, 2022 essay, Note: Links have been removed,
Publishing houses once refused to print such books, but changes in technology have made traditional publishers less important. With self-publishing and e-books, it is easy for extremists to produce and distribute their fiction.
In this article, we have only given the titles and authors of those books that are already notorious, to avoid publicizing other dangerous hate-filled fictions.
Why would far-right extremists write novels?
Reading fiction is different to reading non-fiction. Fiction offers readers imaginative scenarios that can seem to be truthful, even though they are not fact-based. It can encourage readers to empathize with the emotions, thoughts and ethics of characters, particularly when they recognize those characters as being “like” them.
A novel featuring characters who become radicalized to far-right extremism, or who undertake violent terrorist acts, can help make those things seem justified and normal.
Novels that promote political violence, such as The Turner Diaries, are also ways for extremists to share plans and give readers who hold extreme views ideas about how to commit terrorist acts. …
In the late 20th century, far-right extremists without Pierce’s notoriety [American neo-Nazi William L. Pierce published The Turner Diaries (1978)] found it impossible to get their books published. One complained about this on his blog in 1999, blaming feminists and Jewish people. Just a few years later, print-on-demand and digital self-publishing made it possible to circumvent this difficulty.
The same neo-Nazi self-published what he termed “a lifetime of writing” in the space of a few years in the early 2000s. The company he paid to produce his books—iUniverse.com—helped get them onto the sales lists of major booksellers Barnes and Noble and Amazon in the early 2000s, making a huge difference to how easily they circulated outside extremist circles.
It still produces print-on-demand hard copies, even though the author has died. The same author’s books also circulate in digital versions, including on Google Play and Kindle, making them easily accessible.
Distributing extremist novels digitally
Far-right extremists use social media to spread their beliefs, but other digital platforms are also useful for them.
Seemingly innocent sites that host a wide range of mainstream material, 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 historical Nazi newspapers.
Amazon’s Kindle self-publishing service has been called “a haven for white supremacists” because of how easy it is for them to circulate political tracts there. The far-right extremist who committed the Oslo terrorist attacks in 2011 recommended in his manifesto that his followers use Kindle to to spread his message.
Our research has shown that novels by known far-right extremists have been published and circulated through Kindle as well as other digital self-publishing services.
Ai and its algorithms also play a role, from the May 29, 2022 essay,
As we researched how novels by known violent extremists circulate, we noticed that the sales algorithms of mainstream platforms were suggesting others that we might also be interested in. Sales algorithms work by recommending items that customers who purchased one book have also viewed or bought.
Those recommendations directed us to an array of novels that, when we investigated them, proved to resonate with far-right ideologies.
A significant number of them were by authors with far-right political views. Some had ties to US militia movements and the gun-obsessed “prepper” subculture. Almost all of the books were self-published as e-books and print-on-demand editions.
Without the marketing and distribution channels of established publishing houses, these books rely on digital circulation for sales, including sale recommendation algorithms.
The trail of sales recommendations led us, with just two clicks, to the novels of mainstream authors. They also led us back again, from mainstream authors’ books to extremist novels. This is deeply troubling. It risks unsuspecting readers being introduced to the ideologies, world-views and sometimes powerful emotional narratives of far-right extremist novels designed to radicalise.
It’s not always easy to tell right away if you’re reading fiction promoting far-right ideologies, from the May 29, 2022 essay,
Recognising far-right messages
Some extremist novels follow the lead of The Turner Diaries and represent the start of a racist, openly genocidal war alongside a call to bring one about. Others are less obvious about their violent messages.
Some are not easily distinguished from mainstream novels – for example, from political thrillers and dystopian adventure stories like those of Tom Clancy or Matthew Reilly – so what is different about them? Openly neo-Nazi authors, like Pierce, often use racist, homophobic and misogynist 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.
Knowing more about far-right extremism can help. Researchers generally say that there are three main things that connect the spectrum of far-right extremist politics: acceptance of social inequality, authoritarianism, and embracing violence as a tool for political change. Willingness to commit or endorse violence is a key factor separating extremism from other radical politics.
It is very unlikely that anyone would become radicalised to violent extremism just by reading novels. Novels can, however, reinforce political messages heard elsewhere (such as on social media) and help make those messages and acts of hate feel justified.
With the growing threat of far-right extremism and deliberate recruitment strategies of extremists targeting unexpected places, it is well worth being informed enough to recognise the hate-filled stories they tell.
I recommend reading the essay as my excerpts don’t do justice to the ideas being presented. As Young and Boucher note, it’s “… unlikely that anyone would become radicalised to violent extremism …” by reading novels but far-right extremists and neo-Nazis write fiction because the tactic works at some level.