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THE THREAT OF FAR-RIGHT EXTREMISTS IN THE US UTILIZING ALT-TECH

Updated: Mar 30

Savannah Fellows, Gabriel Mariotti, Rhiannon Thomas, NORTHCOM Team

Week of Monday, March 7, 2022

Léopold Maisonny, Editor



Online Disinformation[1]


Disinformation in the US is a tool used by foreign and domestic actors, such as terrorist organizations, foreign powers, and domestic political leadership, to spread misleading narratives and conspiracy theories that undermine trust in government and social stability. This disinformation is primarily spread on social media platforms and leads to indoctrination as individuals get caught in echo chambers created by social media algorithms containing disinformation, conspiracy theories, and extremist ideologies.[2] With increased monitoring on mainstream social media platforms, individuals sharing these views will very likely move to less monitored sites, or alt-tech sites. Alt-tech sites, such as Gab, Telegram, Rumble, Parler, and Truth Social almost certainly provide a space for uncensored speech and extremist views. These sites almost certainly pose a new threat to the prevention of far-right extremism. Social media platforms should implement methods to redirect users to content that challenges extremist beliefs.


Far-right extremists are shifting to alt-tech platforms as mainstream social media sites are increasingly monitored.[3] It is almost certainly easier for extremist groups to share ideas and recruit individuals on platforms devoid of censoring protocols that remove content that is likely to be considered dangerous. Teenagers and young adults, who are likely on social media regularly, are vulnerable to this as they are very likely unaware of dangers posed by extremist content. Individuals likely used social media to gather news and feel connected with others during isolation. It is likely that individuals had more time to explore new applications and experiment with new social media sites, including alt-tech platforms. It is very likely that far-right extremist groups, such as the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, exploit events that cause civil unrest in the US, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, to spread extremist ideological materials, recruit new members, and increase societal dissatisfaction. Quarantine and isolation very likely led to increased time spent online, which almost certainly resulted in more exposure to radicalized content.


COVID-19 acted as a catalyst for spreading disinformation and conspiracy theories on online platforms.[4] Far-right extremists almost certainly exploited this to advance their ideology by creating distrust in the government. COVID-19-related discussions on alt-tech platforms enabled the overlap of topics between conspiracy communities and white supremacists.[5] The overlap of groups discussing similar topics likely gives white supremacists and other far-right groups opportunities to radicalize non-extremist individuals by sharing extremist content. If non-extremist individuals agree with this content, joining far-right online groups will likely be easier because they already interact with members and content from far-right groups. It is very likely individuals will stay as they likely feel like they belong to a group. Far-right extremist groups will almost certainly continue to use alt-tech platforms to expand their reach during the pandemic by creating conspiracy theories surrounding anti-vaccination, disinformation, and more distrust in the government.


Far-right extremist groups use social media platforms to plan attacks, such as the 2021 US Capitol Attack, and were able to do so because social media platforms did not adequately censor extremist content.[6] With far-right extremist groups likely moving their planning and activities to alt-tech platforms, it is unlikely that these sites will prevent attack planning because their user base has likely increased. It is unlikely that alt-tech platform owners will enforce monitoring methods because it would deter individuals from joining. It would also likely encourage users to move to other alt-tech sites that are not monitored. Authorities will very likely have difficulty tracking far-right extremist communication and preventing attacks without the help of alt-tech platforms’ monitoring capabilities.


There is an increasing threat of extremists with military backgrounds, demonstrated by the 2021 US Capitol Attack where nearly 20% of those charged were active-duty military members or veterans.[7] Extremist groups target military members for their tactical, strategic, and leadership expertise.[8] Military members likely possess inside knowledge of the defensive capabilities of targets such as government buildings. Extremists will very likely take advantage of this knowledge to improve their group’s attack capabilities with better organization and planning. The presence of military members in extremist groups will very likely encourage others to join by making the organization look more structured and professional. Extremist groups with military members are very likely to be more dangerous because military members could provide weapons training to those with less experience.


Uncensored alt-tech platforms believe in a moderation policy that strictly adheres to freedom of speech and purposely allows legal offensive content to be posted.[9] They claim potentially offensive content is a “necessary utility to society” to express all viewpoints.[10] Alt-tech sites will unlikely adopt censoring procedures used on mainstream sites to build a consumer base and compete with traditional social media sites. This is because new consumers very likely create accounts to avoid censoring or to spread disinformation deemed to be true by far-right individuals. The chances of rhetoric becoming more hateful against the US government and opposing views will very likely increase as the extremist views would likely expand in size and increase in severity without platform monitoring. Far-right groups will very likely have more opportunities to spread disinformation into general online conspiracy groups without the restrictions of online community guidelines. With more opportunities to spread uncensored disinformation online, hateful speech will likely begin to appear valid to the user as the original hateful rhetoric was allowed and validated through the limited perspectives represented in echo chambers.


Alt-tech sites such as Rumble and Parler have Republican Party financial backers as part owners of these sites, specifically Peter Thiel and the Mercer family, respectively.[11] The newly released Truth Social app is also conservative-owned and states it will not moderate content like mainstream platforms.[12] Conservative voters who believe in disinformation will likely move to alt-tech sites. Political motivations and interests very likely deter alt-tech sites from implementing censoring methods. It is very unlikely the conservative owners of these sites will adopt censoring procedures that will deter users from joining and consuming their preferred content. Without proper censoring procedures, users of alt-tech platforms will very likely be caught in echo chambers that spread disinformation and will likely solidify the beliefs of far-right extremists and more moderate conservatives. Echo chambers do not depict opposing views, very likely resulting in disinformation being viewed as factual. This is because the limited perspectives presented almost certainly create user confirmation bias. As conservative-owned sites solidify these ideas, users of these alt-tech sites will very likely vote for conservative parties as they align with their views. This almost certainly strengthens voting bases for conservative parties that alt-tech owners support.


Far-right extremist groups will very likely exploit future national and international events, such as Russian military actions in Ukraine, in similar ways to the COVID-19 pandemic. Extremist groups using social media platforms are likely to share content containing anti-government sentiments. Such content is likely to include conspiracy theories shared in other countries about the US. Far-right extremists will likely use such content to recruit individuals who oppose US involvement in the conflict and create distrust in the government. The sharing of such content on alt-tech platforms is unlikely to be removed by moderators, likely enabling anti-government sentiments to grow and become more radical.


Due to the nature of alt-tech platforms, content that is considered offensive on mainstream platforms is not removed, and accounts are not blocked.[13] Such policies very likely enable content that radicalizes individuals to spread. Individuals using alt-tech platforms to share extremist content and plan attacks very likely use alias accounts which are difficult to track. Using uncensored platforms almost certainly limits the ability of law enforcement agencies to remove dangerous content and identify the users of these accounts. Law enforcement and security services will very likely have difficulty prosecuting those who plan attacks on alt-tech sites. It is very likely far-right groups will continue to plan demonstrations and attacks through alt-tech sites as it is easier to evade law enforcement and continue to spread extremist ideologies without censoring.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) recommends that the US government and social media platforms monitor national and international events to identify and anticipate incidents that are likely to be exploited on alt-tech platforms by extremist groups. Social media platforms should use methods similar to targeted ads to challenge disinformation by displaying fact checking materials or providing accurate information to those searching for extremist content. Individuals would be redirected to reliable sources to counter extremist messaging, preventing further radicalization by disseminating content challenging an individual's current beliefs. To encourage alt-tech owners to help mitigate extremist content, the US government should implement tax break incentives for alt-tech platforms to enforce redirection methods.


CTG’s NORTHCOM Team will continue to monitor far-right extremist attacks and determine the connection to alt-tech media. The team will collaborate with specialty teams at CTG, like the Counterintelligence and Cyber (CICYBER) Team, to further assess and mitigate the threat posed by the use of alt-tech sites by far-right extremists. New threats discovered from alt-tech sites will be reported in CTG’s products to inform clients of the threats detected and possible ways to deter and defeat the threat.


________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[1]Photo of Person Typing on Computer Keyboard” by Soumil Kumar licensed under Pexels

[2] Misinformation on Social Media: Strategic sharing, homophily, and endogenous echo chambers, VoxEU, June 2021, https://voxeu.org/article/misinformation-social-media

[3] Ibid

[4] The Conspiracy Consortium, Institute for Strategic Dialogue, 2021, https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/21158735-the-conspiracy-consortium

[5] Ibid

[6] Social Media Platforms Aren't Doing Enough to Police Domestic Extremists, Report Finds, NBC Washington, April 2021, https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/social-media-platforms-arent-doing-enough-to-police-domestic-extremists-report-finds/2645456/

[7] Nearly 1 In 5 Defendants In Capitol Riot Cases Served In The Military, National Public Radio, January 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/01/21/958915267/nearly-one-in-five-defendants-in-capitol-riot-cases-served-in-the-military

[8] Extremism Among Active-Duty Military and Veterans Remains a Clear and Present Danger, Southern Poverty Law Center, October 2021, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2021/10/12/extremism-among-active-duty-military-and-veterans-remains-clear-and-present-danger

[9] A year after Trump purge, ‘alt-tech’ offers far-right refuge, AP, February 2022, https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-steve-bannon-technology-business-health-349c44b477cfee34bf3635160bfa74ea

[10] Ibid

[11] Where do right-wing extremists go when mainstream social media bans them?, Marketplace, January 2022, https://www.marketplace.org/shows/marketplace-tech/where-do-right-wing-extremists-go-when-mainstream-social-media-bans-them/

[12] Trump’s Truth Social Is Poised to Join a Crowded Field, New York Times, February 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/18/business/trumps-truth-social.html

[13] A year after Trump purge, ‘alt-tech’ offers far-right refuge, AP, February 2022, https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-steve-bannon-technology-business-health-349c44b477cfee34bf3635160bfa74ea

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