A new academic paper explains how anarchists use social media to instigate violence

A white paper published by academic authors from Rutgers University looks closely at the ways anarchists use social media to organize and instigate violence against their targets. The paper is titled “Network-Enabled Anarchy: How Militant Anarcho-Socialist Networks Use Social Media to Instigate Widespread Violence Against Political Opponents and Law Enforcement” and was published two weeks ago.

The core of the research involved looking at millions of social media comments and memes and comparing how anarchists operate online to the behavior of other groups like ISIS and Boogaloo extremists. What the research found was summed up in this table:

There’s a lot to this report but it starts with observations about where extremist/anarchist memes and language is flourishing online. A number of far-left subreddits, including one (now deleted) for Chapo Trap House served as major hubs for this material:

A qualitative investigation on Reddit revealed evidence of a network of interconnected subcultural forums, several with attached, private chat groups, which broadcast socialist, anarchist, and/or communist leanings, and evince themes like demonization and dehumanization of police and political opponents as well as violent insurgency.

These subcultural forums include the recently banned Chapotraphouse and related subcommunities such as r/moretankiechapo (in which “tankie” refers to authoritarian, hard line Stalinists), r/dankleft (roughly 100,000 members), a radical board which produces cartoonish and dehumanizing political memes, and r/socialistRA (roughly 55,000 members), a left-wing gun-enthusiast activist group and spoof of the NRA known as the Socialist Rifle Association (SRA), which describes itself as “working class, progressive, anarchist, socialist, communist, eco-warrior, animal liberator, anti-fascist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist, PoC, LGBTQ-plus.”

There’s a chart in the report that shows all of these groups have grown dramatically since 2018. In looking at the material posted in these groups the researchers also found evidence of a “martyr narrative” particularly surrounding Willem Van Spronsen, an anarchists who died in a shootout while attempting to firebomb an ICE detention facility:

Immediately following his death, his manifesto appeared on r/Chapotraphouse and within hours, on Facebook and Twitter with support by prominent left wing political figures. In his manifesto, Spronsen calls to his “comrades” to undertake a “revolution” against “the forces of evil,” embodied by the “predatory state” and its “fascist hooligans,” [23] evidencing the intended initiation of an armed, mass revolutionary confrontation against law enforcement.

One group that admires Van Spronsen is the Pacific Northwest Youth Liberation Front, a group with more than 36,000 followers on Twitter (and a large number on Instagram). The YLF seeks to create “network-enabled mobs” who are organized to carry out various roles. The report highlights this training graphic showing how these mobs divide into various roles which are collectively intended to frustrate police efforts to limit violence and damage:

The report then outlines several instances where planning and execution of destructive behavior was carried out online. The report also includes a reference to this earlier NYPD report on various violent tactics aimed at the police, from firebombs to laser pointers. The report concludes that this all seems to be escalating, possibly even moving toward attacks on infrastructure or a mass-casualty event:

While this report is suggestive rather than conclusive, these data hint that insurgent behavior, stochastic terror and even attacks on vital infrastructure may be fomenting, and even indicate the possibility of a mass-casualty event. The need for regular, reliable and responsible reporting with methods such as those used in this briefing with similar computational techniques is now imperative.

Antifa defenders used to brag that they had a body count of zero. They can’t say that anymore after the murder of a Trump supporter in Portland. The direction this is moving should be clear to anyone who is paying attention. Pretty clearly Joe Biden isn’t paying attention.

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