Old fans of the blog may recall that I ran a series once that highlighted instances of soldiers across the globe wearing the now ubiquitous “skull mask.”
It was – and still is – a weird phenomenon.
The December issue of the “Sentinel” (Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point) ran an article titled The Iron March Forum and the Evolution of the “Skull Mask” Neo-Fascist Network.
It’s a fascinating deep-dive into the origins of a disaggregated global extremist network. This isn’t a topic I normally spend a lot of time researching, but I found myself pulled into the research. It’s well done and one of the most “academic” papers I’ve read recently.
There were a few things that stood out which likely have application and relevance in others areas.
On the way that online communitites can forge strong bonds – over time – through shared interests. Fandom?
Specialized online communities, whether focused on Traditionalist neo-fascism or on model trains, aggregate groups of people with shared interests and values, and facilitate the formation of both personal relationships and collective identities through sustained interaction over time, requiring only that members share a common language.
A group of users on the U.S. East Coast organized an online tabletop role-playing game group in which Iron March users played Dungeons & Dragons and a Star Wars game together.
On the challenge of translating online activity into real-world activism. This is something I’ve seen before (Egypt).
Offline activism was strongly encouraged by Iron March leadership, but members of the Iron March community appear to have been alienated from existing local neo-fascist organizations because of ideological differences, intra-movement conflict about tactics, and cultural differences between members of established neo-fascist organizations and young people steeped in internet-based subcultures.
The above – concerning internet-based subcultures and their inability to mesh with established “real world” communities reminds me of another research paper I recently read. This one is titled Gen-Z & The Digital Salafi Ecosystem. It explores the ways that internet meme culture – specifically alt-right meme culture – is being appropriated and used by a younger generation of “digital salafists.”
I’m skeptical if any of this means anything if significance. But I’m sure it means something.
Both paper are fascinating and relevant to anyone studying modern underground extremist movements.