Since the events of the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last year, activists, journalists, and researchers have repeatedly pointed out how certain sections of the internet have acted as indoctrination chambers for far-right beliefs.
Often, however, those findings have been ridiculed by mainstream and disparaged conservatives alike. When Alex Jones was banned from Facebook, for instance, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) compared his banning to the rise of the Nazi party in 1930s Germany. When a September report by the research group Data & Society showed how more mainstream conservative commentators on YouTube opened the rabbit hole for viewers to end up watching videos of Richard Spencer, “Intellectual Dark Web” connoisseur Dave Rubin dismissed it as “absurd.”
Now, a new investigation by the citizen journalist site Bellingcat — who were the first to reveal that the would-be assassins of Sergei Skripal were Russian spies — has shown how 75 fascist activists were radicalized, in their own words, confirming previous warnings.
Of the 75 activists who say they were “red-pilled” — a common online phrase that refers to someone converting to far-right beliefs — 39 said the internet was key in their radicalization, with YouTube being the website discussed the most.
The power of YouTube commentators to radicalize can have deadly consequences. For example, prior to killing six men at a Quebec City mosque in April, Canadian domestic terrorist Alexandre Bisonette watched hundreds of YouTube videos by commentators ranging from Ben Shapiro to Stefan Molyneux.
The problem is often exacerbated by the fact that YouTube’s algorithms frequently push users in the direction of far-right content after seeing a more mainstream conservative video on the site.
Evidence presented at Alexandre Bissonnette's sentencing hearing this morning includes a list of some of the Twitter accounts he was checking in the month before he killed six men at a Quebec City mosque. pic.twitter.com/Xdew4HbjkQ
— Andy Riga, Montreal (@andyriga) April 16, 2018
“I was a moderate [R]epublican once. It was people like [YouTube commentators] Steven Crowder, Paul Joseph Watson, Milo Yiannopolos… they redpilled me a little bit,” Fascist activist “Ronny TX” wrote on Discord. “Then I moved further and further right until I could no longer stand them. That’s why I like those groups even still, because if we just had the Fascists, we’d never convert anyone.”
Infowars is also quite influential in indoctrinating individuals into the far-right, with six activists crediting his Infowars channel with “red-pilling” them. The fact that Jones has often ranted about “Globalists” (which is often used as a cover for discussing outright anti-Semitism) provides viewers with an introduction to the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories which populate the far-right.
“It sounds lame, but Infowars actually did a good job of preparing me for the JQ [Jewish Question],” another far right user wrote on Discord. “Much of their facts are fairly true, they just change the names.”
Jones is struggling to keep his relevance after he was banned by Facebook, Apple, Spotify and YouTube in August and has seen in his audience shrink. However the extent to which individuals were radicalized on YouTube shows the extent to which a more system of regulation is needed within the site.