What struck the authors was the social reward that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia offers around the clock on international social media
Peggy Maley: Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?
Marlon Brando: Whadda you got?
–The Wild One (1953)
FIRST, the surprising good news. In the main, they don’t hate Jews and Muslims. They fear grotesque caricatures, characters in a drama.
What is implicit in the title of this book could have been explicit, because now the internet is conduit for everything:
Jews and Muslims in the White Supremacist Conspiratorial ONLINE Imagination
If this book were written 30 years ago, its research would be based on variably printed newsletters and literature from assorted groups. Now it draws from social apps and websites, because online is where we live now.
Exchanges in the white supremacist world that would have required days to complete now take seconds, and fantasies of genocidal mayhem have a contagious velocity and social cachet.
This book describes how online conspiratorial imagination leaks into the real world in violence.
This survey by two academic researchers examines digital “next-gen” hate, and how it has transmuted traditional fears of Jews and Muslims into something new in tenor and practice.
The book begins with chapters reviewing classical anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, and the evolution of Muslim (often conflated with Arab) images in Western culture.
It describes the explosive growth of an “industry” defining Islam as a worldwide conspiracy after the 9/11 attack in New York, replacing the classical Red menace – an industry promoting the idea that every Muslim family, mosque, and community in the “Christian” world is part of a long-term Muslim Brotherhood plot to impose the Quran and “sharia law.”
Then, it describes the qualities of the white supremacist world online, finding more an international world frat house, skewing youthful, than a coherent political movement.
The book discusses the communications and history of three notorious murderers of Jews or Muslims:
- a man who slaughtered worshipers in a synagogue in Pittsburgh October 2018,
- a man convicted of shooting worshipers in a synagogue and setting fire to a mosque in southern California April 2919,
- and a man who killed many worshipers in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, while livestreaming the crimes on Facebook March 2019.
All of these men were steeped in the particular online world of anxiety of “white” Western Civilization under attack by Jews and Muslims – Muslims increasing their numbers to bring countries to “Islamic rule,” and Jews craftily enabling immigration from the Third World to extinguish white majorities.
Other racial and religious minorities are of course denigrated and held in contempt, but Hirschbein and Asfari find it is Jews and Muslims that are incoherently credited with malevolent plans for subversion and conquest of whites – using those others as matériel in the process.
The shooters were addicted to a literal operant conditioning regime that traffics in anticipatory anxiety–a regime known as the internet. They couldn’t take their eyes off the screen.
The reiterated depictions of Jews and Muslims as crafty supervillains was not rooted in these men’s grievances with Jews or Muslims in their lives.
What struck the authors was the social reward that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia offers around the clock on international social media, and the jaded mockery of concern for others. Expressions of contempt and slander of Muslims and Jews, the more grotesque and edgy the better, earned acceptance and praise from pseudonymous online frat brothers.
They posit that fellowship and reinforcement of homicidal fantasies combines with the prevalent first person shooter gamesmanship to create a new kind of seduction to join heroic defense of “white” civilization. And at the same time have a lot of fun planning climactic shooting or bombing scenarios with others.
Hirschbein and Asfari draw an interesting distinction between classical conspiratorial fears – as in the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion – and the postmodern, digitally mediated white supremacy, long on jokes and memes and parodies, amid sporadic mass murder sprees.
Internet chat sites and online games are the medium of this new hate. First person shooter games occupy time and are a common topic for talk.
…it can be argues that games become a template for conspiracist thought and action: In gamified space, Jews and Muslims were not of ordinary flesh and blood; they were akin to villains vanquished in their favored pastime – video games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. In this action packed, first person shooter game, good guys with amazing weapons hunt and kill bad guys…
There is a search for relief of boredom involved, that it’s almost as if the proponents of these theories are trying them out for the effect – a certain facetiousness. Hanging out in white supremacist online sites provides camaraderie and relief from daily monotony.
Did they really hate Jews and Muslims or were they just “talking the talk”–the price of admission? Could it be that they wrote what was needed for peer acceptance and acclaim?
The authors find that there is no programmatic desideratum behind it all; in a way, that it’s simply Naziism for a lark.
In effect, the white supremacist theology inscribed and canonical works such as the Protocols and Eurabia [Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis by Bat Ye’or] is deconstructed, torn asunder into amusing memes, racist slurs, vile in-jokes, and unhinged fantasies…
The old texts of racist paranoia are disassembled and distilled to comic bits.
The murderers were digital natives. Before killing sprees, each left manifestos or statements valorizing their slaughter of lurid menaces to white humanity in the form of Muslim or Jewish worshipers.
Leaving a testament behind when initiating white supremacist crime has become routine, in hopes of joining an internet pantheon of heroic defenders of whiteness – and satisfy the recognition hunger that the authors find in all the subjects who take the step from fantasy to murder.
The book does not minimize the danger of this conspiratorial envisioning of Jews and Muslims, but it finds voids in the center of it. Seeing Jews and Muslims as supernatural dangers to “Western Civilization” provides a simulated life meaning.
In truth the murderers’ attachment to tradition and history was only as substantial as a painted stage backdrop so a drama could be played out. The point is to play out a gamified violent climax, with a manifesto explaining the purpose, though really it has no more purpose than a player in a first-person shooter game blasting away at villains.
Murderers, as they have posted to their friends that they are going to do their rampage, have been urged to “Make a high score.”
The Protocols—definitely not the product of a fun-loving century—panders fear. Gamified conspiracism is about fun and play—competing for the highest kill score
…The Nazi site, Stormfront, encourages participants to “play” genocide, and it replays its gamified version of… [the] Christchurch massacre.
The shooters’ manifestos express the fervent hope that their heroism will inspire others to prevent white genocide by killing Jews, Muslims, and other minorities: Wishful thinking and they likely knew it; they allowed that their actions might fail. However, they pinned their hopes on an immediate triumph; their heart’s desire—achieving the highest kill score. Game on!
Manifestos left behind are not coherent programmatic ambitions but pastiche of classic bigotries interleaved with flippancy and sarcasm towards “normies” who don’t recognize the racial dangers.
(It should be noted that Theodore Kaczynski in 1995 did not use the cut and paste function when he created his typewritten 35,000-word manifesto. The Christchurch shooter issued a 74-page manifesto, and a man who killed shoppers in Buffalo, NY, in 2022 issued an 180-page document, but from a writing standpoint they are noticeably computer enabled.)
Not lone wolves, they were digital members of a free-floating white supremacist world community of “shitposters.” Collins English Dictionary defines a shitpost as “an item posted on a website that provokes, irritates, or distracts other users of the site.” That definition does not quite cover the pleasure of competitive nihilistic communal shitposting, egging each other on to the best performative outrageousness.
The authors describe the shared memes as the joy of a male teen or pre-teen scrawling dirty words on a wall. Not minimizing the danger, but describing the spirit and organizing principle – such as it is.
It may be the most interesting aspect of the book is that just as we read and study and communicate differently in the digital world, we hate and fear qualitatively differently because of the different technology we now use.
My thought on this is that hateful depictions of Muslims and Jews may be more extreme than in the past, but because it’s the internet, less deep in the heart, more surface – as one’s online experience is, clicking from clickbait to clickbait scores of time an hour.
Much of the Islamophobic and Jew-hating conspiracism is not acted upon, is a medium of exchange online, and has no more meaning in real life (IRL) than shooting zombies or aliens in a game. Except for the times it’s decided to attack real Jews or Muslims.
The book’s thrust is that modern online villainizing of Muslims and Jews is for the purpose of creating worthy targets for gamified violence.
In that sense you could say that the prejudices are innocent, seen in the context of a game and entertainment. While not to everyone’s taste, it is not considered a character flaw to spend time shooting or smashing zombies in a video game.
Unfortunately, while it is not likely to find zombies within reach to destroy, one may find Muslims or Jews.
The focus of this book is not systemic prejudice within society, but the online dehumanizing of human categories that leads to outbursts of lethality and terror in a segment, sub-segment, of those online.
It can’t help everyday experience of Jews and Muslims, though, to live among people who build grand theories of depraved intentions around your identity.
The phenomenon they describe seems compelling, viral, and incurable. As long as we have bored men with digital companionship.