Extremist groups radicalise men, but PST fail to mention this

(Photo by Danby Choi, Subjekt)

In PSTs new report, “Dataspill, selfie-jihad og livestreaming av terrorangrep” (or, video-games, selfie-jihad and live-streaming of terrorism) they highlight how extreme digital networks affect the level of threat in both the West and in Norway. Do they however forget to listen to the researchers in the field?

They address, already in the title, that there are quite a few new phenomena to be further researched, while at the same time avoiding (or forgetting) to talk about one of the most important factors.

To be able to understand modern right-wing extreme digital networks, you can’t avoid the subject of gender.

The report looks at “extreme networks” and its role in the level of threat in the West, which can be both islamic terrorist organisations, as well as right-wing movements and online communities.

In terms of the latter, which both writers of this article have researched, we already know that most often it is men between the ages of 18 and 35 that join these movements. We also know, on beforehand, that almost all extreme right violence is conducted by men.

PST ignores this factor completely.

Let’s talk about men

It is now ten years since the terrorist attack on Utøya and Oslo the 22nd of July 2011, and just three years since Philip Manshaus, convicted of terrorism, encouraged others to follow his footsteps with the attack on the al-Noor mosque in Bærum, Norway.

We don’t know why PST neglects the topic of gender but it is hard to understand why they don’t address the elephant in the room.

We need to talk about men and their role in these extreme right-wing movements online.

PST needs to listen to the researchers in the field, take gender seriously and increasingly focus on why men hover towards extreme movements.

Men and the right wing

If PST, Norway’s public body at the forefront of dealing with and preventing extremism, can’t address gender in this context — how will we be able to turn around this tendency?

The alternative right, or alt-right, is notoriously challenging to define. In short, it can be understood as an ad-hoc political movement, which is for the most part online. Some fractions are more active than other, staying outside of the digital sphere, such as “Proud Boys”. Some choose to use the “new right” to describe these groups, others prefer “the radical right”.

The movement is differentiated between the radical and the extreme, where the radical aren’t anti-democratic such as the extreme, but still violate fundamental liberal principles such as freedom of religion.

They can otherwise be known for being leaderless and fluid, and attract ideological supporters of white supremacy, conservatism, racism, sexism, xenophobia and antisemitism — among others.

There is no doubt that these groups are mostly made up of men.

A brotherhood

Why is the connection between gender and violence still being overlooked?

The American professor, Michael Kimmel, is a researcher on gender, masculinity and its role in the more traditional extreme right movement — such as the skinhead movement from the 1990s to early 2000s.

He had interviewed both former extremists, “formers”, and current extremists.

These defectors highlighted the feeling of being a part of a brotherhood as one of the main factors in developing extreme frames of mind. Life was given a purpose and you were now part of something larger.

In the book “Healing From Hate: How Young Men Get into and Out of Violent Extremism” (2018), Kimmel focuses on this by defining masculinity as something one needed to prove for oneself and for other men.

You needed to be credited and validated, accepted by your peers.

Traditionally, men could prove this masculinity in the same way as their forefathers, through ones workplace or as providers. When these roles disappeared — e.g. through fewer job opportunities and increased insecurity around the ability to provide — or feeling personally inept to tread into this masculine role, one might feel the need to find other arenas to show their masculinity.

From street to net

The conspiratorial alternative right movement, where the conspiratorial QAnon arose, is an arena for exactly this. An arena where you can front yourself as a man with a captial M.

In the arenas they write about jews that control politics and the economy behind the scenes, and how Western countries have been “taken over” of immigrants and other minorities.

Conspiracies are central in the networks, and might be one of the most attractive features for a certain type of man.

Here one isn’t told that one is little and weak of nature, rather that one is weak and little for external and uncontrollable circumstances — that higher powers are actively working against you.

In the fight against these so-called external forces they create real bonds and friendships through anonymous pseudonyms online.

Lone wolves find community, and strengthen their bond, belief and conviction.

This masculinity is central to the new right-wing extremism online — but not in PSTs threat assessment.

Fringe is an independent research network for online radical communities