Fringe web culture has brought a number of peculiar radical right intellectual traditions into the “mainstream” web. Jordan Peterson and other “modern philosophers” of Internet culture (Pomerantsev, 2019) are the most well-known sources for the “alt-right” style of online traditionalism that has taken over various social media platforms. Nevertheless, a number of the trending ideas in these discussions may be understood as having a more subcultural derivation which, upon closer inspection, also appears to draw on esoteric traditions in political thought. As previous research has demonstrated, there is a relationship of influence between the subcultural margins of web, in particular the “chan” image boards, and mainstream social media, e.g. YouTube (Tuters, 2018). On the “politically incorrect” discussion boards of 8chan and of 4chan, both of which have been associated with acts of extreme violence in recent years, one regularly encounters political discussions that are framed in terms of esoteric imaginings of the historical past, or what historian Louie Dean Valencia-García refers to as “alt-histories”. On these discussion boards, concepts like Kali Yuga and the symbol of the Black Sun (which had been circulating in the far-right underground circles since the Seventies) are combined with contemporary subcultural web aesthetics in order to create edgy “fashwave” memes, which in turn appear to have an influence on the trend for occult aesthetics in alt-right style more generally. There have been countless journalist exposés and academic studies on apparent mainstreaming of alt-right style (Miller-Idriss, 2017). However if it holds that “the real creative energy behind the new right-wing sensibility online today springs from anonymous chan culture” (Nagle 2017), the objective of this research is to scrutinize how anonymous chan culture creates alt-history.
In doing alt-history, anonymous chan culture may be understood as giving a contemporary vernacular form to a long tradition of post-war far-right political thought. As elaborated upon by a number of historians of the far-right as well as of esotericism (Griffin 2000, Goodrick-Clarke 2001, Sedgewick 2004, Ross 2017), this tradition involves a combination of anti-modernism, aristocratic elitism and Aryan esotericism, into a peculiar cocktail sometimes referred to as esoteric fascism. As Goodrick-Clarke (2001) notes in his study on the neo-Nazi new religious movements that emerged in the United States and Europe in the aftermath of the Sixties counterculture, there is nothing especially new about this phenomenon. As he notes, a preoccupation with occult symbology and apocalypticism as well as anti-semitic demonology and hatred of the “dark races” are all symptomatic of the extreme right underground. What has changed is the medium for the circulation of these ideas. Whilst in the past the reach of these subcultures was relatively limited to the 'zine underground, through the medium of Internet memes these ideas may be acquiring a broader reach. A note on this matter before proceeding: as researchers of the alt-right, we are sensitive to the criticism that any media attention might help legitimize an otherwise marginal phenomenon (see Phillips, 2018). The criticism here is that some exposés on anonymous chan culture have bestowed them with “a kind of atemporal, almost godlike power” (Phillips et al., 2017), in the process feeding into the fantasy of their outsized dark influence. With this potential criticism in mind we do, nevertheless, think it important to consider the possibility of how anonymous chan culture may innovate new ways to for the dissemination of old and potentially dangerous ideas.
Anonymous chan culture’s apparent success in repackaging esoteric fascism as “fashwave” may arguably be understood as a successful instance far-right “metapolitics”, a Gramscianism strategy which has been much discussed by far-right intellectuals over the course of many decades (see Griffin, 2000). The vernacular shorthand for this far-right project of metapolitics is called “taking the red pill”, an expression popularized by the alt-right which refers an esoteric experience of awakening from the induced somnambulism of liberal mainstream society - this notion of awakening was also “the great refrain” of the post-countercultural Californian “New Age” as well (Zandbergen, 2011:7). A well known pop-cultural reference to the film The Matrix (1999), in taking the red pill one is confronted by “desert of the real”, which is to say the unpleasant truths which those sleepwalking through disregard. It follows that being confronted by this shockingly brutal alternative reality implies locating oneself in a different historical timeline, and alt-history. As we will explore below, through the eyes of much of radical right political culture on 8chan and 4chan/pol/, this implies rediscovering the “wrong” side of history, which in this case is not (just) treated as a source of popular fascination, conspiracies and esotericism, but as a legitimate source of ideas from which to eventually “reconquer” history from the perspective of its losers. It is here that we can also find a degree of continuity between this anonymous chan culture and those neo-Nazi new religious movements that preceded them. While it would be inaccurate to generalize too broadly, as it would project an unjustified degree of coherence onto anonymous chan culture, we can nevertheless detect a relatively clear and consistent preoccupation with esoteric formulation of an alternative historiography for “Western” decline and rebirth. And in the same way that many commentators have drawn parallels between the alt-right and Trump, we can see these alt-history formulations showing up in the political mainstream as well.
Following their recent victory in which they made substantial gains in the Dutch senate, the leader of the Forum voor Democratie party, Thierry Baudet, delivered a controversial speech, whereupon he described Dutch citizens as standing “amid the debris of what was once the most beautiful, the greatest civilization the world has ever known”; one that, “just like those other countries of [the] boreal world, [...] are being destroyed by the people who should protect us.” (Mersbergen, 2019). Baudet was questioned by the Dutch television host Robert Jensen for using the term boreal. He responded to these allegations by claiming that he was being “poetic” (Common Sense TV, 2019). If we take Baudet at his word, how are we to interpret his poetry? The most charitable interpretation would be that Baudet used this term to frame a clash of civilizations narrative in poetic terms. From this perspective, boreal is a code-word or “dog-whistle” for northern-European or simply white. Consistent with this interpretation, it has been argued that Baudet was in fact “dog-whistling” to the alt-right narrative of “white genocide” or “replacement”, which finds liberal multiculturalism guilty of destroying the patrimony European heritage (Valk and Rusman, 2019). In fact, boreal is actually a term from forestry with no prior history of use in political communications — apart from having once been used once by Le Pen to speak of his desire for a “white world” (Le Pen, 2015). An etymologically similar term which refers to Northern European countries as the birthplace of the Aryan race, hyperborean, can however be found in esoteric fascist literature (see Evola, 1934). Whether or not Baudet, who holds a PhD in political philosophy, and has a track record of exchanging ideas with extreme-right thinkers, was aware that this term would function as esoteric fascist dog-whistle for those in the know, is not the point. What is important for our purposes here is that, even in a country like The Netherlands, considered by some as the birthplace of the very liberal system of governance that has come to shape the modern world (Shorto, 2013), in the current right-wing populist political climate we can find expressions of the alt-histories of esoteric fascism resonating between the margins and the mainstream, as prominently seen in references to Evola by former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon (Feder, 2016).As we have stated above, the present analysis addresses the role of alt-histories within contemporary anonymous chan culture. Its findings are divided into two main sections. The first section explores the dissemination of several sources of far-right political thought (and in particular of esoteric fascism) on 4chan/pol overtime in the form of so-called book dumps, i.e. links leading to large repositories of visual and textual files organised by user-selected themes, such as books, pamphlets, photographs, films relating to National Socialism. It also includes visualisations of anons’ reception of a peculiar key term from esoteric fascist writings: “Kali Yuga”. The second section comprises a topography of the board’s conversations about (Western) history overtime, including indications as to which specific historical periods have received the most engagement, as well as network-based reconstructions of conversations about two time intervals: the Kali Yuga and various episodes anons describe as constituting a Hungtingtonian “clash of civilizations” between East and West.
In order to investigate how it is that anonymous chan culture do alt-history, we began by exploring the context in which users have engaged with esoteric fascist ideas on 4chan and advanced the following research questions:
How did esoteric fascism become so popular on the fringe?
What alternative interpretations of history do 4chan anons produce, and what interpretations of contemporary political issues and European history do they propose?
The first step we needed to undertake to begin examining what readings of histories could be found on 4chan/pol was to search for historical information on the board: in particular, we were interested in references to historical periods, interpretations of those periods, historical sources, historical figures and meta-historical terms, such as “decadence”, “progress”, “stagnation”, “cyclical” and so on. Among the various techniques that could be employed to accomplish this task we selected Named-entity recognition (NER), a subtask of information extraction that seeks to locate and classify named entity mentions in unstructured text into predefined categories such as the person names, organizations, locations and so on. Due to the size and heterogeneity of 4chan/pol, however, we needed to shrink our query dramatically. We thus began by relying on an expert list of historical vocabulary often found in radical right discourse, compiled by radical right expert Valencia-García. This list combined terms referring to historical periods and meta-historical terms. With bigrams, we snowballed each of these terms to detect associated terms. The resulting list included a total of 27 terms. Each of these constituted potential queries to run on 4CAT and obtain corresponding posts, general threads, and images.
Before diving into any 4chan/pol threads on historical matters, we decided to further shrink down the list, only focussing on the most discussed historical topics. Results obtained with 4CAT show that the most spoken-about events of all time were: the Crusades, the Reconquista, the Third Reich and, increasingly, Atlantis and other myths, such as the Kali Yuga and the Antediluvian period.
As our interest was to reconstitute a timeline of events which generated the most engagement overtime, we proceeded to filter specific historical events from posts on each of the four selected periods. In this sense, we were also interested in detecting the most relevant specific events of each period considered, i.e. which events from the Crusade or from the Reconquista anons cite more frequently. In order to filter historical events from historical periods, our go-to technique was once again Named-entity Recognition. Though powerful, we realised that this technique fails to capture the ins and outs of 4chan/pol vernacular: for example, it does not detect events written in lower case (e.g., “the spanish inquisition”), nor does it link these events with their numerical form (e.g., “1478”), nor does it capture vernacular expressions of those events.
What we resorted on instead was scraping Wikipedia links from the posts on each historical period and the times they were cited. Manually, historical dates in Wikipedia pages of those events were detected and subsequently plotted in a timeline of the above-mentioned historical periods, noting the times that each event was cited.
Henceforth, we focused on posts that referred to the Kali Yuga and the Crusades. We examined each of these periods by first plotting a network graph of prominent words per threads (each thread constituting a cluster); we did so to pinpoint the different conversations anons spoke of these historical periods.
Presenting the research outcomes, this section documents: (1) an overall image of the engagement of users on 4chan /pol/ with particular historical periods, (2) the usage of historical Wikipedia pages by anons and the different vernaculars of describing history on 4chan and Wikipedia, (3) the rise of a specific esoteric meta-historical interpretation of history as being cyclical, and finally (4) a comparison between the historical references on the christchurch shooter’s guns and the engagement with those periods on 4chan /pol/.
As described in the previous section, starting from our expert list of 27 historical periods we measured the frequency of references to those historical periods on 4chan /pol/ in order to ascertain what historical periods were/are of primary interest to the platform (Figure 1). Having established the frequency of engagement, we further set out to investigate the following three periods: (1) The Crusades, (2) WWII, and (3) Atlantis. The first two being of interest as most engaged with “consensus history” and the latter as being the most prominent fictitious or “esoteric” historical epoch.
Figure 1: The overall mentions of the 27 historical periods of our expert list per month between 2013 and 2019 on 4chan /pol/. Images highlight the top 3 most frequently mentioned periods: Atlantis, Crusade, WWII (fltr.). Image by Elena Flippi.
While the engagement with WWII and Atlantis will be solely developed in the section on Wikipedia History, we decided to delve into the comments of the Crusades - as this was by far the most frequently mentioned historical period. By turning the text of the body of posts into word co-locations (Figure 2), one can start to get a sense of the appeal of this historical narrative on 4chan. The crusades derive their interests from being interpreted as evidence of an eternal conflict between The West and the Middle East, between Christianity and Islam. In other words, moments in history that, in their eyes, unify The West in its common Christian identity. Citing Goodrick-Clarke (2001):
In the United States, the doctrine of Christian Identity mixes motifs of heretical Christian dualism with a vicious theology of anti-Semitism, which regards the Jews as the “spawn of Satan.” African Americans, Asians, Hispanics and all other colored peoples are stigmatized as the “mud” races that are now diluting and destroying the Aryan race in its traditional white homelands. Here, Nazi demonology and apocalypticism are freely invoked, together with Hitler worship and Third Reich symbolism, to mobilize violence in support of a white racial state. Other groups mix racism with Nordic pagan religions. The runes are celebrated as magical signs of ancestral heritage and a mystical blood loyalty (ivi:5).
The interpretation of the crusades on 4chan /pol/ can generally be framed in two ways: (1) as a historical period that requires inquiry in terms of what actually happened and, consequently, the effectiveness of specific crusades, and (2) as an interpretive framework for understanding contemporary (political) developments. Figure 3 highlights merely one example of anons posting about the advent of a modern crusade and/or framing specific actors/politicians as leaders of a modern crusade. A point that we will return to in the section on the Christchurch shooter.
Figure 2: Word collocations with the term “Crusade” in all the comments mentioning “Crusade” on 4chan /pol/ from 2013 till 2019 - visualized with Gephi. The colours are based on modularity clustering and the size of the words refer to the amount of connections a word has to other words.
Figure 3: Anonymous post from the body of comments mentioning the term “Crusade” on 4chan /pol/.
Figure 4: The difference in word collocations with specific historical periods on 4chan and Wikipedia, showcasing only the words that appear either solely on 4chan /pol/ or Wikipedia.
As we were interested in alternative interpretations of history, we turned to Wikipedia so as to identify divergences in how different periods are accounted for. After having selected some of the most discussed moments in history from the above mentioned 27-item index, a list of words commonly associated with those specific historical periods was extracted both by Wikipedia and 4chan. We then filtered the terms reiterated on both platforms, only considering those who appear either on 4chan/pol/ or on Wikipedia. The resulting visualization (Figure 4) highlights the divergent narration produced by anons with respect to the “standard” historical account. As it stands out from the above graph, the vocabulary used to describe the events considered on 4chan threads tends to drift away considerably from the one used on Wikipedia: the Atlantean period, for instance, is associated with Hyperborean civilization and more in general with Hyperborea, the mythical arctic civilization from which - as Bennet claimed - Indo-European culture descends. Esotericists like neo-fascist philosopher Julius Evola also shared the belief in the Hyperborean polar origins of Mankind and in its subsequent devolution upon contact with the southern “Lemurian” race. Further exploration on the usage of Hyperborean-related terms performed on 4chan show the adherence of anons to such esoteric vernacular, possibly pointing at a search for an origin myth in relation to the white race.
Predictably, crusade-related terms on 4chan are used in connection with more recent events shaping the ongoing conflict between The West and the Middle East, and in general between Christianity and Islam: thus “Jihad” and “Caliphate” appears on the list of the most frequently associated words, alongside with “reconquista” (the two terms mutually recall each other). As we have stated above, anons narrative on crusades is used as both an interpretive framework for understanding the current situation and as unifying-seeking discourse on the need for a new crusade/reconquista.
Last but not least, threads related to modernity are not only associated with advance but also - and more interestingly - with decadence and degeneracy. Contextually, the connection between modernity and decline of humanity lead once again to an esoteric interpretation of world history as being cyclical with alternating phases of rises and falls.
Delving deeper into our investigation, Wikipedia’s references in 4chan’s threads proved to be a compelling perspective to further explore anons’ historical engagement. Therefore, we checked for Wikipedia’s links in the discussions related to the most frequently mentioned historical periods (Atlantis, the Crusades and WWII). The resulting graphs (see below) show some interesting discoveries. In the WWII time span, for instance, the most linked topic regarded the German Instrument of Surrender, the legal document that established the defeat and capitulation of Germany. As for the period concerning Atlantis, instead, the most shared link is to the hyperborean race: a finding, which reinforces our speculation about its connection to the rise of the white race and the search for an origin myth. Not being the main focus of the present research, this topic was not dedicated the attention it required and further study is needed in order to fully appreciate the relationship between historical narrations on 4chan and standard accounts on Wikipedia.
Figure 5: The frequency of Wikipedia-articles shared on 4chan /pol/ in the comments mentioning “Crusade”. Image by Elena Filippi.
Figure 6: The frequency of Wikipedia-articles shared on 4chan /pol/ in the comments mentioning “WWII”. Image by Elena Filippi.
Figure 7: The frequency of Wikipedia-articles shared on 4chan /pol/ in the comments mentioning “Atlantean”.
Alongside the alternative interpretations/ amplification of specific historical periods, our research further delved into the engagement with meta-historical esoteric interpretations of history. While esoteric concepts such as “hyperborean” and “atlantis” have been part of a long discussion on 4chan /pol/, i.e. at least since the advent of our dataset, we were able to confirm our hypothesis of the advent of another esoteric discussion: Cycle of Yugas (Figure 2). Simply put, the “The Cycle of Yugas” is an expression that originates from Hinduism and conceptualizes history as being cyclical and divided up into 4 stages: Kali Yuga, Dvapara Yuga, Treta Yuga, and Satya Yuga. Within this conception of history, the Satya Yuga is the “Golden Age” marked by “Truth”. This period, however, slowly declines and disintegrates, ending in what is referred to as the Kali Yuga, i.e. the age of moral corruption and confrontation.
Figure 8: The overall mentions of the 27 historical periods of our expert list per month between 2013 and 2019 on 4chan /pol/. The frequency of mentions of each specific historical period is not statistically normalized, therefore it is not a comparative visualization - only showing the progress or decline in relation to itself. The y-axis represents the historical periods and their clustering of “consensus”, “esoteric”, and “biblical”. Image by Elena Filippi.
One of the ways in which anons argue for this theory is by linking to the Wikipedia page, while copy-pasting the apocalyptic signs of the Kali Yuga on /pol/:
_Figure 9: Screenshot of a comment referencing the Kali Yuga along with the text from the Kali Yuga Wikipedia page listing the apocalyptic signs of the Kali Yuga._____
Furthermore, by performing word collocations in the body of comments mentioning the Kali Yuga, we were able to establish a map of associations and clusterings of vernacular similarities (Figure 3). One of the first noteworthy clusters on the map is that linked to the theorist “Evola” and the topics discussed by him. The larger brown cluster in the bottom signifies a group of words (activities) associated with the degeneracy that occurs during the Kali Yuga. Right next to that, on the left, is a cluster of ethno-nationalist association, highlighting that the Kali Yuga is not a decline or struggle for all humanity, but a particular failure of The West to preserve its own roots and identitarian history. A final relevant cluster is that of the “Kalki” (right-centre). The Kalki, in the often-cited Kali Yuga Wikipedia article, is defined as “the tenth and final Avatar of Lord Vishnu [...] Kali is a negative manifestation working towards the cause of the end or rather towards eventual rejuvenation of the universe” (from the entry “Kali Yuga”, Wikipedia).
_Figure 10: Word collocations with the term “Kali Yuga” in all the comments mentioning “Kali Yuga” on 4chan /pol/ from 2013 till 2019 visualized with Gephi. The colours are based on modularity. The term Kali Yuga is excluded.
It is the particular usage of the term Kalki that ties the esoteric mystical meta-history to another significant period on 4chan: WWII. As one way to represent the cultural imaginary of the 4chan Kalki we extracted all the images of the comments mentioning the term “Kali Yuga” and constructed an image wall (Figure 4). The two most notable things to be drawn from this image wall is that - besides images of the ancient hindu representation of the avatar - Hitler is mostly described as the human Kalki. While Trump was also frequently mentioned in the comments as the savior, the period of the Third Reich is mostly associated with an actual attempt to “end” the Kali Yuga and re-establish the ethnostate. The association with the Third Reich is more firmly entrenched with the use of the “Black Sun” symbol, i.e. the image of “a large sun wheel composed of twelve zigzag sig-runes,” known for being prominently placed on the marble floor of Heinrich Himmler’s Wewelsburg, and sustained through neo-nazi occultism (Goodrick-Clarke, 2001:125). Finally, one frequently encounters the image of “Kalki Pepe”, an adaptation of the fictitious cartoon character Pepe, whom as a meme became the “ironic” symbol of white supremacy and racism on 4chan - “ironically” sliding into mainstream culture. Kalki Pepe (re)emphasizes the ironic nature of 4chan in which popular culture, esoteric thought, and fascism are blended into a narrative.
_Figure 11: Image wall of the 50 most frequently appearing images in comments mentioning “Kalki”, i.e. the savior that will bring an end to the Kali Yuga on 4chan /pol/ from 2013 till 2019.
Figure 12 highlights the slurs against Jews (on the left) and Muslims (on the right) on 4chan /pol/ from the beginning of 2019. As can be seen quite clearly, March 2019 marks a forceful spike in comments mentioning slurs in reference to Muslims. The month in which the Christchurch Massacre took place. The shooter, before the attack, had written specific dates and names of historical figures and periods on his gun. Furthermore, the shooter had a strong connections with platforms such as 8Chan and 4chan. Therefore, our research, in the second week, looked into the particular historical references on the different firearms in order to measure the relation between the historical periods written on the guns and the engagement with those periods on 4chan.
_Figure 12: Tables of with frequency of slurs for Jews (hover out) and Muslims (hover in) per month on 4chan /pol/.
Figure 13 highlights the engagement of 4chan /pol/ with the historical events on the guns of the Christchurch shooter. Again, here we (re)discover the amplification and engagement with historical periods highlighting the battle between the West and the Middle East, Christianity vs. Islam, i.e. “Reconquista” and “First Crusade”. Furthermore, the modern historical event “Rotherham” receives a lot of attention. The significance of this event, to a certain extend, can be attributed to the fact that it contains many details that thrive on 4chan. Rotherham is a city in England that became infamous in 2010 for its child sexual exploitation scandal and the fact that most of the perpetrators were identified as Pakistani-British (Jay, 2014:92). It is an event that, on 4chan, highlights the threat of immigration and the “evil” nature of other races who threaten Western European culture. The three other events with smaller engagement are the “Battle of Vienna”, “Charles Martel” and the “Napoleonic War”, drive home the point that there is a particular interest in the battle with the Ottoman Empire and the military leaders who lead their armies against them.
_Figure 13: Frequency of mentions of the specific historical terms written on the gun of the christchurch shooter on 4chan /pol/ from 2013 till 2019. Image by Elena Filippi.
Figure 14 & 15: Zooming in on the 6 most engaged with historical periods of the christchurch shooter’s gun with subsequently the most shared images from 2013 till 2019 on 4chan /pol/. Image by Elena Filippi.
Finally, as the focus of the shooter in relation to 4chan can be found in the battle against the Ottomans, we mapped the connections and clustering of the term “Ottoman” to words appearing in the body of posts mentioning “Ottoman” (Figure 16). While these outcomes are by no means surprising, they do drive home the point of the “enemy” imaginary, i.e. Jews, Muslims, and people of colour. It is through the lens of a battle against these groups that history is viewed.
Figure 16: Word collocations with the term “Ottoman” in all the comments on 4chan /pol/ from 2013 till 2019 visualized with Gephi. The size of the words is based on their prominence within a specific word-density cluster, i.e. words that are most frequently linked within a cluster of words that already have a strong association strength.
This section highlights some tentative findings of historical narratives that materialized after our queries: (1) Manichean enemy and civilizational clash and (2) the search for a mythical origin story in esoteric literature.
Across these histories is a sense of eternal return, as the wheel of time moves between the yugas, so to is conflict between Islam and “the West” is an inevitability. Both are diagnostic readings and interpretative frameworks of our current age in which the conclusion is effectively identical: that the conjecture is a period that is uniquely “fallen” with regard to its people and culture relative to the era that preceded it, and that which is imagined to come after.
While the conclusions are effectively identical and follow the assertions of Griffin (1991) with regard to the perceived need for a violent “renewal” to occur, the vernacular forms these historical epistemes take, their intellectual background, and how they are articulated on the board are radically different. With regard to the Kali Yuga - anons broadly appear to follow the writing of Evola in viewing history as a wild creature that cannot be contained and the only people that can “ride out” the ongoing cataclysm of the Kali Yuga are strong, vigourous, übermenschen types. It is not a question of ending the epoch, because the human cannot - a view they see vindicated in the failure of the Third Reich. It is rather of enduring this movement, “riding” (or, “surfing”) the kali yuga until it passes.
On this point of human agency, the “clash of civilisations” historical imaginary has a rather different view, per our discovery of an overwhelming number of terms present on the Christchurch terrorist Brenton Tarrant's weapons that were associated with the period of Reconquista in Spain, the Crusades, and assorted wars against the Ottoman Empire throughout its history, in addition to references to other far-right murderers. We might say all are instances where history was “made”, typically in the form of a strike against Umayyad, Ottoman, or other perceived efforts at islamic expansionism. By writing these phrases, names, and events on his weapon, Tarrant places himself within this history and becomes its agent, per his manifesto’s explanation as to why he carried out his massacre (Tarrant, 2019):
To avenge those European men and women lost in the constant and never ending wars of European history who died for their lands, died for their people only to have their lands given away to any foreign scum that bother to show up...To add momentum to the pendulum swings of history, further destabilizing and polarizing Western society in order to eventually destroy the current nihilistic, hedonistic, individualistic insanity that has taken control of Western thought (ivi, 8).
So, to him, the murders he committed were but another chapter in this apparently perennial conflict. Another swing of the pendulum, towards - it seems - a reawakening of Europeans to the “reality” of their being invaded and an ethno-cultural renewal as a result of fighting these “invaders” off, again.
In both regards, these historic-political paradigms are not necessarily “new” in terms of content , whether it is Evolain mysticism or Christian Identity mancheanism (here seen in the “clash of civilisations”), their sense of history and political imaginary - including anti-semitic demonology, hatred of “dark races”, preoccupation with occult symbology (like the black sun), and apocalypticism (e.g. Kali Yuga) - are more or less the same as how they were described by Sedwick (2004), Griffin (1991), and Goodrick-Clarke (2001). What is new, then, is the form: the way in which these senses of history are expressed. As we see in the image wall - with “Kalki the Destroyer” alternately represented as Hitler or pepe, for example - the mystic-historical imaginary of the Kali Yuga has been folded into the vernacular aesthetics of /pol/, and we can see a similar process at work in the “Deus Vult” meme’s in the “clash of civilisations” imaginary (Hagen, 2018).Also of interest in this research is that finding that /pol/ contains at least two “secret histories” within it. Contrary to the image of /pol/ and 4chan more broadly as a homogenous “blob”, the existence of these alongside each other suggests that the board may well be more internally diverse than it has been imagined to this point (see Jokubauskaite, 2019). While we cannot say that it is not the same anons engaging with both histories, that many historical imaginaries exist at all certainly suggests that /pol/ is more than an undifferentiated blob.
This project focussed on the dissemination of alternative histories on 4chan. Due to the two-week time frame of the summer school the amount of “alt-histories” engaged with was limited. While the expert list gave us valuable information on what periods to query, there might be more bottom up ways to find periods of interest. Such a grounded method of finding relevant entry dates, however, requires much methodological refinement, e.g. in a large data-set it is difficult to distinguish between the usage of numbers as dates, frequencies or quantities. Furthermore, given the level of influence of esoteric thinkers such as Evola, another productive way to engage with alternative history would be to delve deeper into the history of esoteric thought and argue the historical concepts/interpretations that “catch on”.
While the study of esoteric thought on platforms such as 4chan is highly interesting from a web-epistemology perspective, the political/societal relevance of such a study should be understood in terms of this epistemology spreading into the mainstream. While our study departed from the “dog-whistle” concept, e.g. as Thierry Baudet “ironically” engaged with boreal, more research is needed in terms of understanding the relation between the mainstream and the fringe and how both affect each other. Such an expansion of the study would pay more emphasis on the chronology of the dissemination.
Finally, our study focussed on the textual historical vernacular on 4chan and the dissemination of Wikipedia articles. While we did highlight particular memes surrounding concepts such as the Kalki, it might prove useful to further engage in visual analysis of those memes in order to get a complementary understanding of the historical imaginary and “ironic” dissemination of specific ideas.
Our research departed from the hypothesis that 4chan /pol/ is giving a vernacular format to a long tradition of post-war far-right political thought, e.g. esoteric fascism. Sparking from the theoretical foundations set-out in the works of Mark Sedgewick and Roger Griffin, our analysis sought to locate the re-emergence of this kind of “intellectual history” on the web and in particular on platforms like 4chan.
Beyond the mere discussion of esoteric concepts on /pol/, the dissemination of these concepts through particular affordances of 4chan has been highlighted. As we have seen in the case of the Kalki, anons make use of specific memes in order to create and spread an imaginary of concepts. Moreover, our study shows history as a concept of multiples, i.e. users engage both with consensus history as well as esoteric hitstory.
Having started with our exploration of esoteric fascism and alternative history on 4chan, a fruitful next step would be to trace how these particular narratives are being shaped and travel throughout the web, e.g. studying the dialectical tension between the mainstream expressions and their relation to fringe online cultures.
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Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas. 2001. Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity. NYU Press.
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