How Social Media Companies Enable the Far Right

By Mathew Foresta

The far-right is as active as ever on social media and host companies have been gallingly slow to respond.  This negligence reveals their complicity.

“I would say probably YouTube has been the least responsive in terms of getting rid of the stuff,” said journalist David Neiwert, author of “Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump.” He singled out the comments sections as particularly troublesome.

Other experts pointed out certain users of the video sharing site as being especially problematic.

“Why in the world is Red Ice TV still on YouTube,“ said Air Force veteran Daryle Lamont Jenkins, Executive Director of the anti-racist group One People’s Project.

The Sweden based Red Ice is operated by the married team of Henrik Palmgren and Lana Lokteff. The racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, and fascistic operation currently boasts over 334 thousand subscribers on the site. It evolved from its beginning as a peddler of conspiracy nonsense to the major platform for bigotry it is today. So major in fact that that Congressman Steve King retweeted Lokteff in September 2018.

Lokteff, Palmgren, and Red Ice itself all have active Twitter accounts. This despite the fact that Twitter’s policy prohibiting hateful conduct would clearly apply to them.

Lokteff’s tweets are full on white supremacist. In one she tweeted a picture of a baby wearing a onesie with the 14 words on the front. For those not in the know this is a white supremacist motto coined by David Lane. He was a member of the terrorist group The Order which committed a number of robberies and murdered talk show host Alan Berg in the 1980’s. Many of Lokteff’s tweets dog whistle at Holocaust denial, promote anti-immigrant and homophobic song lyrics, and perpetuate the false white genocide conspiracy theory.

Likewise the Twitter account for Red Ice itself pushes the white genocide conspiracy. Palmgren’s account is no better. In addition to putting up Holocaust denial dog whistles he liberally uses vile, homophobic slurs and refers to black people as “apes.” In one post he writes in reference to a picture of a license plate “’Goy 88’ Thank you Ohio.” This is a quip that would be well understood by those versed in far-right lingo. The 88 refers to the eighth letter of the alphabet, H. 88 is then HH, code for “heil Hitler.” “Goy” is “the Hebrew and Yiddish term used for non-Jews. Alt-right and far-right adherents often ironically use the word “goy” to refer to themselves and other non-Jews.“

Like Twitter YouTube has a policy against “content promoting violence or hatred,” against many things including “immigration status,” “race,” “sexual orientation,” and “religion.” Red Ice’s content flies in the face of this policy.

Several of their videos feature an interview with anti-Semitic academic Kevin MacDonald, including one decrying “the Democratic party and their strategy of using immigration and demographic replacement-as a political weapon.” In a video where Lokteff says “Red Ice has been instrumental in promoting alt-right thought,” she assails a journalist (who I will not name here to prevent them from being subjected to harassment) that wrote an article critical of her. Making sure to point out that they’re Jewish, images of their Twitter account float past as she speaks. In my opinion a clear, if underhanded, signal for Red Ice’s followers to go forth and harass. Later in the video we see “Le Happy Merchant,” an anti-Semitic, stereotypical meme caricature of a Jewish man, in the background.

“No one can replace you unless you let them,” Lokteff says in another video. This “replacement” theory is widely held on the far-right and is closely linked with that of “white genocide” which the video also nods at. It inspired mass shooters in Pittsburg, El Paso, Christchurch, and Poway. One can hear the echoes of the “Jews will not replace us,” chants at Charlottesville in Lokteff’s rhetoric.

In one Red Ice video Palmgren hypes the infamous “Unite The Right” rally that brought horror and mayhem to the Virginia town. At this event white supremacists, armed to the teeth with everything from melee weapons to firearms, rioted, nearly beat black man DeAndre Harris to death, and killed Heather Heyer while wounding many more in a terrorist attack.

This social media activity has not been going on in the shadows. A September 2018 article by The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer shown a light on Red Ice’s hateful activities.

A few days before Sommer’s piece came out journalist Talia Lavin wrote a viral Twitter thread exposing hateful YouTube content including Red Ice. She tagged in YouTube’s account, so it’s hard to imagine this went unnoticed, since the thread got thousands of likes and retweets.

Emails to Red Ice requesting comment for this story were not returned.

James Allsup wearing a “Fash the Nation” shirt on his now deleted Instagram account. “Fash The Nation” is a fascist, anti-Semitic, white nationalist podcast.

Another far-right figure who until very recently amassed a huge social media following is James Allsup. His recently deleted YouTube channel, which he admits was the crown jewel of his internet presence, had over 450 thousand subscribers. His average video appeared to get tens of thousands of hits, but some have gotten millions.

His channel promoted a range of far-right positions. Much like Red Ice in one video he spoke approvingly of a New York Times Ross Douthat column where he says that it is “all too true” that there is “a fantasy of replacement.”

Allsup has myriad far-right associations. He has appeared on Red Ice (where he lauded the “you will not replace us” chant used at Charlottesville), gave a speech to the racist American Renaissance Conference, and has been involved with fascist group American Identity Movement (formerly known as Identity Evropa). He claims that while he has not officially left, he is not currently active in the group.

Allsup first appeared on many people’s radars after the events in Charlottesville. While he told me he was there in the capacity of a journalist, the evidence shows he was an enthusiastic supporter of the event’s far-right goals and activities. In a video of the day’s happenings he can be seen marching with the racist demonstrators, Confederate and Pepe The Frog flags surrounding him. It later shows them pushing through counter-demonstrators.

In one exchange a comrade of Allsup’s discusses taking black Charlottesville politician Wes Bellamy’s house in a lawsuit. Allsup responds by snickering about turning it into “the fash house, fash mansion.”

“Fash” here refers to fascist. Later in the video he can be seen going up to Richard Spencer’s car and thanking him. All the while he marches seemingly fine with the Nazi flags in his midst.

In a video from a few years ago Allsup can be seen wearing a Trump shirt and a red “Make America Great Again” hat. He says that his support for Trump has waned because he believes he is to permissive about legal immigration. In my estimation the idea that Trump has been permissive about immigration is bizarre. Much to my outrage he has clearly been no friend to immigrants either documented or undocumented.

Allsup told me he wasn’t sure if he would vote for Trump, although he did say “there is still value to be extracted from his Presidency, hopefully.” He even expressed some enthusiasm for the more fringe democratic candidates like Tulsi Gabbard, Andrew Yang, and Tim Ryan.

“They nominate Tulsi I might be tempted,” he said.

Allsup’s support for Trump is not surprising. Trump’s appeal to white nationalists has been known for years.

Allsup and Red Ice TV were demonetized by YouTube in June. Allsup said this was “a four-figure reduction in monthly income.”

Still, he claims to have been making some pretty decent coin off the channel.

“So, you’re still making into the thousands a month off your YouTube streams?” I asked him before his account’s deletion.

“You could infer that,” he replied.

In July Gizmodo’s Aaron Sankin published a story highlighting the many flaws in YouTube’s demonetization policy.

“In many videos about YouTube’s new policy posted to channels on our list, creators urged viewers to subscribe to support them directly by subscribing to their crowdfunding accounts on SubscribeStar or Patreon. James Allsup, a white nationalist who attended the 2017 Charlottesville Unite The Right rally and was briefly an elected GOP official in Washington state, punctuated one of his videos about getting demonetized by reading an ad from a VPN company that’s sponsoring him directly,” he wrote.

In the course of reporting this story I was informed by Facebook and Instagram that they were removing Allsup’s pages. In a recent video complaining about this he expressed his fear of losing his YouTube channel.

“I fear that is where they are trying to put me next, relegate me to telegram,” he said claiming that this would be “ripping food from my child’s mouth.”

He goes on to say that his Instagram had no extremist content. This is not true. While he tries to be coy and explain away such instances as jokes or acceptable, his Instagram was full of dog whistles. In one photo he is wearing a red maga hat, white polo shirt, and holding a tiki torch ala a Charlottesville marcher.

“My culture is not a costume,” it says underneath.

Other photos show him meeting far-right figures Brittany Pettibone and Martin Sellner, dressed in a border patrol outfit, and reading fascist philosopher Julius Evola.

None of this can be divorced from his presence in Charlottesville, involvement with hate groups, or far-right rhetoric. All of it comes together to create a persona, normalize bigotry and fascism, and serve as part of the wider network of internet hate propaganda. This is extreme by any honest definition.

“We removed James Allsup’s accounts for violating our policies against dangerous organizations and individuals. We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that proclaim a violent or hateful mission or are engaged in acts of hate or violence. This is true regardless of ideology or motivation. We go through an extensive process to determine which people or groups we designate as dangerous and consider a number of signals,” said Instagram and Facebook’s statement.

Among the criteria the statement listed is “whether they’re a self-described or identified follower of a hateful ideology.” This fits him like a glove.

Allsup has already created a new Facebook page despite the ban and is now joining the overtly fascist, white nationalist podcast “Fash The Nation.”

Still, Instagram and Facebook’s removal of Allsup can be seen as part of a recent, moderate crack down on far-right content across the web. 8chan, a message board and hub for the far-right, was taken down by its domain registrar after the El Paso terrorist posted his hateful manifesto there. PayPal deplaformed Red Ice in July of 2018.

On August 26 Allsup’s fear came to pass when his YouTube channel was deleted. On his Gab page he complained that “my livelihood, my means to exercise my political voice, my business I’d built over almost three years, was taken away from me.”

Jenkins and Neiwert believe in deplatforming bigots. Jenkins used Alex Jones as an example of the effective use of the practice in combating a bad actor.

“When Alex Jones still had his platform all we heard about was Alex Jones this and Alex Jones that. Once he lost Twitter, once he lost YouTube, I never hear anything from him. Now and again you hear someone talking about InfoWars, but for the most part you don’t hear anything,” Jenkins said. “He has his own platform, but nobody cares because no one goes to it.”

Despite some reforms it’s clear that Allsup and Red Ice are the rule and not the exception. On August 15 the Anti-Defamation League released a report on YouTube hate channels. Both Red Ice and Allsup were listed. In May HuffPost’s Luke O’Brien created an extensive list of active far-right Twitter accounts. These include former Grand Wizard of the KKK David Duke(currently 52.8 thousand followers) and the aforementioned Kevin MacDonald (30 thousand followers). While some of the listed accounts have since been banned, many are still up.

Even though Facebook and Instagram banned Allsup they have not yet banned Red Ice. How they justify this is unclear. When attempting to follow up with them on this point they simply referred back to the section of their statement saying that “this process is ongoing.”

Other internet companies are also connected with the far-right internet presence. Despite YouTube’s ban on Allsup, Red Ice continues to have a platform on the site. GoDaddy hosts the site Lana’s Llama. This is where Lokteff sells merchandise, including clothes with the xenophobic slogan “they have to go back.” The site says they accept most major credit cards including giants MasterCard, Visa, and American Express. Red Ice TV itself is hosted by the domain registrar Red Ice Radio can be found on Spreaker, a podcasting company owned by Voxnest. Red Ice advertises this under their YouTube videos, along with request for money using services like Cash App. A request sent to GoDaddy and for comment was not returned, nor was one sent to Cash App’s parent company Square Up. Spreaker also did not respond. Likewise, Twitter and YouTube did not return multiple requests for comment.

Allsup told me he renounces political violence, but this assertion rings hollow. When you attend a clearly violent, fascist rally and participate in a wider far-right movement you cannot separate yourself from the violence that comes out of it. Fascism, and its associated ideologies, are inherently violent. One need only look to history to see this. Millions of bodies lay in its wake. It openly advocates for massive violence; individual, vigilante, and state sanctioned against immigrants and people of marginalized identities. Allsup himself channels this history when he tweeted on his now deleted account about “helicopter rides.” This is an alt-right meme that recalls far-right Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s practice of throwing his political enemies from helicopters.

“Tolerance and intolerance are like matter and anti-matter. They can’t exist in the same place. One destroys the other,” Neiwert said. “As long as these voices of hatred and intolerance are given free reign you’re going to be damaging the actual marketplace of ideas that you’re supposed to be engaging in in a democratic society.”

In June YouTube said they were cracking down on hateful content. This has clearly been performance with no substance as the site removed and then reinstated many far-right content creators.

“YouTube is absolutely capable of keeping white nationalists from hijacking its platform, but is it even remotely interested in doing so? Sigh along with me as we review the site’s latest exploits,” Gizmodo’s Bryan Menegus wrote. “YouTube’s most recent policy clusterfuck was kicked off earlier this week by none other than its own CEO, Susan Wojcicki, who committed to keeping ‘controversial or even offensive’ videos on the platform. Dull as these times are, I’m not sure more controversy and offense is precisely what everyone was clamoring for.”

There is already a YouTube account reuploading Allsup’s deleted videos. It currently has over 2 thousand subscribers.

Allsup’s long tenure on social media and Red Ice’s continued presence makes a mockery out of the commitments social media giants make to opposing hateful conduct and content. They clearly have the ability to fight extremism. Look no further than what we saw them do to combat ISIS propaganda. Leaving the far-right’s hatred on large platforms will only lead to more people being recruited and radicalized. This can only lead to more horror. I fear that if we do not stop it while we can the fires of fascism will consume us all. Just as they did with generations past.

Writer’s Note: This story was originally slated to appear in another publication but was cancelled due to what I was told are changes in editorial direction. Thank you to the anti-fascist and anti-racist journalists and activists who spoke with me for this piece, and thank you for your understanding of this situation.

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