German neofascists used Qanon to expand their reach

Germany's Alternative For Germany (AfD) party (previously) are an insurgent neofascist movement with ties to senior mainstream politicians and the country's super-wealthy would-be oligarchs; the party put on a hard push in the the 2018 Bavarian elections and their meme warfare was full of familiar voter-suppression tactics, from garden-variety disinformation to exhortations to stay home on election day.

Also prominent in the group's messaging: hashtags and tropes from the US far-right conspiracy theory Qanon (previously), an incoherent toxic stew of antisemitism, murder accusations, numerology, Islamophobia, and other pathologies of the moment.

The connection between Qanon and AfD comes from an unreleased report from the London School of Economics-affiliated Institute for Strategic Dialogue, which bills itself as an "anti-extremist think tank"; some details of the study have been reported in the German and US press.

The researchers traced the inclusion of Qanon-affiliated hashtags in AfD social media, including German translations and adaptations of popular Qanon tags (e.g. #linksliegenlassen, #MerkelMussWeg); as with the US-based Qanon activists, the German Qanon phenomenon was driven by small numbers of incredibly prolific social media users — not bots (Erin Gallagher's research found that Qanon tweeters posting 500+ messages/day were often "older retired people with a lot of free time").

There's evidence that US-based Qanon activists forged alliances with German neofascists; some popular fascist hashtags ("#ChemnitzIstDerAnfang") originated with US Qanon accounts.

Qanon is becoming a kind of ideological signifier among far-right groups: members of the far-right who have adopted the yellow vest for street demonstrations in Canada and the UK have been spotted decorating the vests with Qanon memes and carrying Qanon-boosting signs. Qanon networks have also been used to boost the virality of racist videos.

I think far-right extremism is the intersection of garden-variety bigotry/xenophobia with economic precarity and a breakdown of the epistemological consensus about what constitutes a reliable indicator that something is true.

Xenophobia and bigotry are always around, but they surge when people feel afraid for their overall economic circumstances, and that surge has been supercharged by decades of both scientific denialism (well-funded campaigns to sow doubt about the motives of climate scientists, doctors who warn of the link between smoking and cancer, etc) and corruption — for example, anti-vax builds on the assertion that experts have corrupt motives and that regulators are so captured that they let them get away with murder. The thing is, regulators really are that captured.

I can't say for sure that a more equitable economic system — which would cut off the resources used by corporate influences to distort policy, and by ideological entrepreneurs to push expensive, profitable scientific denial — would neutralize the far-right, but I think it's worth a try.

The crossover between QAnon and far-right German movements like the Chemnitz riots makes sense. Both movements are aggressively anti-Muslim and anti-refugee. And both make vague gestures toward a right-wing revolution.

"At the time I got the impression that some people thought Chemnitz was going to be 'Germany's great awakening,'" Gallagher said, referencing QAnon's promise of a "great awakening" in America.

It's a trend she's previously observed, as America's alt-right moved on to trolling on behalf of their counterparts in Europe after Trump's victory in 2016.

"I've noticed crossover of US alt-right networks with European alt-right for a long time," she said. "How QAnon fits into all that is a great question, but the international alt-right coordinated swarms—QAnon related or not—do not surprise me."

How Fringe Groups Are Using QAnon to Amplify Their Wild Messages [Kelly Weill/Daily Beast]