Years ago, I was growing frustrated with Facebook. I wanted to leave it, as it was the source of most of the negativity and hostility in my life, and people in general there turn into massive pricks when in real life they would otherwise be civil. In short, it brings the worst out in people: neither are you able to make you or your motives understood, and people are all too willing to project their own problems and issues on the words and actions you weren’t able to make clear enough.
Yet, my mom’s on there, friends from other places are on there, and it makes it absurdly easy to keep in contact with all those different people I’ve met and enjoyed over the years from various walks of life. I’ve got a collection from extreme Republicans and Democrats, to Communists, to Fascists, from Libertarians to Social Democrats, and more than that, a bunch of regular people, who more often than not would only be found in their own echo chambers on the web. Rather my having to delve into their message boards, Facebook allows it all to come to me (unfortunately for many, it also serves as a massive, self-curated echo chamber as well).
So I needed to find a way to make the Facebooks more manageable, more fun, and less vitriolic (the exact word to describe it in the Trump era). I turned to shitposting.
Shitposting isn’t as bad as it sounds, nor is it as bad as often the media like to make it. Allow me then to explain shitposting.
Shitposting has existed ever since PC Paint and the internet connected two sarcastic basement dwellers together who could then edit each other’s pictures with funny and ironic tag-lines and send them back and forth. It started back in the AOL days in the 90s, but then chat and forum groups like 4chan and later 8chan and so on emerged and really went with it, eventually leading one to an alternate reality of manga Hitler gassing liberal Commies in their doom. Or whatever.
Yes, Manga Hitler is a thing. No, I can't explain it.
Shitposting has various dimensions. At once it can be friendly and historical based—I’m in a lot of groups like SPQRposting and the once great Pattonposting (previous to the World War Meme with Kaiserposting that led it to getting Zucced, that is, the banning of a group due to intentional, hostile, and often false overreporting, a ‘nuclear option’ done among meme groups). But here I’ll break down SPQRposting to show you what happens on these groups.
SPQRposting draws on a lot of different people. As a snarky history buff, I’m drawn to it. There are also gamers who enjoy Total War type games. Mostly with these two groups, there are an endless stream of memes made about salting Carthage, stabbing Caesar, and the trouble Varius got in after losing Caesar’s legions. The two most recurring memes are probably “Ceasar did nothing wrong” and “Varius where are my legions?” It’s a way to expel your negativity on a fairly fictional world where only the most absurdly sensitive can find reason to be offended.
However, because the Roman Empire was huge and long, it also includes the Byzantine Empire, which tends to draw both a lot of Orthodox memers—who hate the West because Gayropa is invading the more traditional Eastern Europe and it isn’t hard enough against the Muslim invaders—Deus Vulters—who look to the Holy Roman Empire for their inspiration and lament the loss of Western traditionalism and call for a revival of the Crusades. It also draws in Turks and Arabs who meme about Ottoman revanchism, and there goes on a great deal of friendly, “racism lite” between all the groups. And to be clear, we’re not talking Americans, this is a truly international shitposting group. And this is just one of many convergences across Facebook.
Shitposting focuses on irony and offensiveness. Oftentimes it makes fun of pop-culture, or things that the pop-culture seems to misunderstand. In a world where the darker shades of comedy has been outlawed or can get you fired, it didn’t cease to exist, it went underground. And it continues to go deeper and deeper underground (and the more underground it goes, the more extreme it gets).
There is a crossover between groups and in-group policing isn’t always successful. Many people in the worse groups troll or lurk the larger groups like SPQRposting and spread their content, which often includes straight up, unironic racial slurs (calling Turks cockroaches) or Crusader knights getting triggered by Arabica coffee because “Arab”. These often include clear appeals to violence, if not in action at the least in imagery, and the comments often back it up. Now, I don’t doubt many of these folk think they’re just being funny, but there is a cadre that are caught up in their own version of alternate-history.
A common Deus Vult meme thread
Because the surface memegroups like SPQRposting are so international and mixed, the memes tend to be toned down, but there are groups composed of just neo-Nazis, just Deus Vulters, and so on, and other people that are focused on the full, vile, revanchist racism that echoes around and without any checks and balances, gets worse and worse. These are groups that have gone underground, only use FB to infiltrate more public groups, and exist in the murkier parts of the “dark web” themselves like on Stormfront and 8chan, where jokes about gassing Jews and hanging blacks are pretty regular fodder and PewDiePie has become an unwitting meme-hero of sorts, a place where the WoW battlecry of Leroy never gets old, as long as it’s against the oppressors of the white man.
The Crusades is a good example. During the Gulf Wars, jihadist groups highlighted that the Westerners had returned “on Crusade”, trying to rile up a holy war on their side by showcasing a holy war on our side. In pop culture, Muslims were the victims in the Crusades, and there was a clear parallel between invading Westerners and Arabs defending themselves, but now the messaging has swung around in the alterwebs.
The reality, of course, is a lot more complicated. There had almost always been Christians and Jews living in the Holy Land since the inception of those religions. Islam emerged as a primeval force in the Middle East in the 600s, spreading on ground already tread on by Christian and Jews. Pagans were there too, and pagans were the primary source of conversions into Islam, and the earlier Islamic groups focused on pagans, considering both Jews and Christians as “brothers of the book”. However, as the Caliphate rose in political power, the Western Roman Empire was all but gone, and the Eastern Roman Empire proved incapable of keeping its own borders and often found themselves in armed conflict with Islamic groups; collision became frequent. Especially when considering the Levant and the Holy Land were territories of the Christian Roman Empire.
Crusader memes often carry a "joking" appeal to violence
This idea about the Crusades being an invasion of Christians wasn’t quite true then (and your conclusion here should be on the importance of a multifaceted history that doesn't make things "good guy" versus "bad guy" in such simple terms). The Christian Eastern Roman Empire at first was put up in a string of conflicts against the Muslims, that ended with the Muslims controlling much of the Mediterranean coast, from the Levant all the way to Spain. The expansion was an existential threat to the Christians of Europe (the successor kingdoms of the Roman Empire), and the Crusades were called. The earliest Crusades were against Muslims in Spain, capturing Spain for a “Christian Europe”. They were also called against pagans across northern and eastern Europe as Christianity spread through the Norsemen, the Rus, and so on. This didn’t happen all at once, but was about a 600-year process starting from about the 800s.
Meanwhile, Muslims continued their expansion in the East. The Eastern Romans called to their Western allies, who then set up their own kingdoms along the coastline and allied with other indigenous Christian kingdoms in the area (Kilikia and Georgia, for example), in their battle against the Saracens, Seljuks, and other Islamic states. Constantinople was repeatedly sacked by the Westerners as well. It, of course, came down to a power struggle between individual kings’ egos and so on, but it’s much easier to paint history with the broad strokes I’m doing so here (Crusader kingdoms were often at war with each other, as were Muslim kingdoms, and they infrequently allied across religious lines even—this point is to stress the reality that they were more about egos and control of resources than culture or religion necessarily).
Eventually the Muslims came out on top in the Levant. They decimated the Eastern Roman Empire and finally, under the Ottomans, they took the capital of the Christian empire itself. In Europe though, they were on the retreat, losing Spain in the process of the Reconquista to finish with a unified Spanish kingdom in the 1400s. The Ottomans weren’t done, as they continued their own conquests into Europe, taking Greece, the Balkans, and eventually, 200 years later, would be at the gates of Vienna, where they would finally be stopped (two other great things came from this epic battle: croissants and coffee shops).
All that to say the Crusades were a lot more complicated than pop-culture preached about in the 90s and without understanding and teaching nuance, all sorts of inaccuracies can develop, ripe with propaganda purposes. For the people who grew up in the 90s, either they bought the anti-Western narrative on the Crusades, or they learned more about the Crusades and would swing to the opposite, logical extreme. Instead of seeing the Crusades as a quest for power and control of resources, they ended up seeing it the same way jihadists saw it, but in the exact opposite. The Crusades were a response to an invasion of Europe by Arabs/Turks/Muslims/enter-other-here. With this now being on the subculture radar, and kept in mind with pseudo-historical games like Deus Vult and Assassin’s Creed, when the refugee crisis hit in the early 10s and rising attacks on white males from feminists and socialists, it was ripe for another Crusader call for the defense of Europe (and by extension the US, Australia, and New Zealand). And who was better stationed for the defense than memers?
The Great Meme War
In some circles, the election of Trump was called the Great Meme War. Led by Sargon of Akkad (not the historical one, obviously), legions of trolls (or more accurately, a thousand or so very energetic keyboard warriors) hit the electronic waves in their support of Trump and to claim their own cybernation of Kekistan. The point here isn’t that many were even serious about all this, but they trolled for the sake of trolling. Meme memus gratis, my friends. The folks of the darkweb coalesced to send out wave upon wave of misguiding memes about Trump, Hillary, and whatever could be funny in a slightly to very chauvinistic sense. These waves of memes pushed the meme world’s limits, and desensitized a lot of the more innocent groups of shitposters to the more foul forms of irony that would eventually become almost the norm, even far outside of Kekistan.
An ironic meme about the irony of Sargon and Kekistan, so many levels of irony
These meme warriors of Kekistan were already natural allies of White Nationalists. The symbols often crossed over—the Battleflag of Kekistan was even an adaptation of the Battleflag of Nazi Germany, and though most Kekistanners would say that they are just being ironic, one would question just how much can you joke about killing immigrants, Arabs, Jews, whoever before you actually start intending your “jokes”, especially when done in the light of defending white culture, or defending (someone) from the onslaught of feminism and liberalism.
So the Great Meme War, combined with Christian revanchism, random shitposting, and the refugee crisis are three important factors that have been leading to the rebirth of nationalist movements worldwide.
But the Russians
Feck it, we’ve got to bring them into this, as they were no less big contributors to the Great Meme War as your neighbor’s basement dwelling grandson. They had their little factory, promoting white nationalism not for any purpose, but just to sew dissent in American and European ranks. Many of the memes of the War were generated in Russian troll factories, as well as many of the people who shared the worst of the memes. A lot of Kekistan had been coopted by Russian trolls to push the nationalist messages. The Russian government itself has been quite clear in their strategy of supporting European and American ethno-nationalist movements, even having global ethno-nationalist meetings in St. Petersburg (I know, the irony of global ethno-nationalism is not lost on me).
A lot of people wonder why Russia would care. It's because Russia itself believes they are under attack. I think that’s an essay for another time though. They think that by spreading disinformation, and somehow getting the West on the defense, they can fulfill their own immediate foreign policy goals, mainly of carving out spheres of influence on their borders, stopping NATO expansion, and ensuring European reliance on Russian energy supplies. Much due to NATO expansion, the Russians have developed a siege mentality that have only helped them strengthen their claims. In addition, in order to defend a new Russia and Putin’s place at its head, they’ve doubled down on religious influence, inspiring a rebirth of Orthodox Christianity and pumping money into propaganda to that extent.
Lurking in Orthodox groups, you can see that its full of Westerners who feel for Russia, who have been won over about the siege against the poor, troubled nation. The tactic has proven a success, especially as the Orthodox Church has split in two in Ukraine due to the struggle over the ongoing war there. Rather than being a result due to the ethnic tensions caused by the occupation of the Donbass and Crimea, Russia has been able to frame it as a CIA attack on Orthodox Christianity itself!
St. Vladimir the Great
Do you see a trend here for them though? Whether you think you’re defending Orthodox Christianity and Eastern values or the collapse of Western values, it doesn’t matter. You still serve Russia’s purpose, to sew dissent among the ranks of Westerners, thereby weakening the EU and the US and, to a much more logical purpose: weakening NATO.
Along with siege mentality, the other primary driver to extremism is loneliness. People look to groups for belonging. As many whites have felt increasingly pushed out of pop-culture (I’m not justifying that they necessarily are, but many feel that way, which is important on understanding extremism), they’ve gone underground and found others who are willing to open their arms to them. And when you say, “Boohoo, poor white people being shat on” you only strengthen their resolve. They begin on shitposting groups or Ben Shapiro YouTube videos, get pulled into the comments, and soon dive into the wacky realm of Alex Jones, Stormfront, the KKK, and so on. There are a lot of disillusioned people so they end up in a lot of worlds. Some overlap, some are quite separate. Take for example neo-Nazis and the KKK, for a long time these to clusters were quite at odds with each other and today have some level of crossover appeal. But it’s also important here to note that not all racists are the same or are on the same side, and many who we call “racist” are only so because they think they’re threatened, or they feel isolated and unwelcome. In developing a greater inclusive culture, we have to wonder how to prevent that.
A siege bands people together and creates loyalty
Here though, I want to discuss siege mentality. If isolation is what leads people to extremism, siege mentality helps on one hand, and keeps you there on the other. It’s an important driver for extremist groups to push upon the siege mentality buttons. If they can get you to believe that you are under attack by some Other, then they’ve done something to win you over into their direction. And it doesn’t necessarily matter if you yourself join, as by aiding them in their cause—whether it’s in spreading ‘illegals are rapists’ memes or joining a group to shout ‘build that wall’, that is, seemingly innocuous things for many on the right—you can inspire other, more unstable people to seek them out and soon bear their own torch while chanting “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville. It’s a slippery slope.
But then note this as well.
The reaction from the left is doubly important. When Richard Spencer was punched on live media, and leftists starting punch-a-Nazi memes, it allowed for these people to say, “See, we ARE under attack! To arms!” Violence justifies violence, and so on. When a Muslim, for his own myriad reasons (that are equally false though also have much to do with loneliness, a sense of belonging, and a siege mentality), gets in a truck and runs over people on the boardwalk of some French town, then WNs can use this as a rallying cry as well, and they can get your cooperation in doing it, so that soon you too are thinking rather than “for what individual reasons did this guy act?”, “There is a clear us vs them happening! It’s an international race war!” It’s part of the silliness of extracting terrorism and mentally ill attackers—they are often being driven by the same motivations, but in a different cultural context.
What does this have to do with New Zealand?
The attacker in New Zealand’s manifesto is full of meme references, shitposting diversion tactics, and so on. Here was a man fully versed in memeology, undoubtedly involved in a world of shitposting and Kekistan memes. He was clearly pulled into the world of extremism on such a gateway drug. And he was clearly a white nationalist extremist, as we can’t just look at one or two of the names, but all the symbols he uses and understand how these things influence not just him, but a whole cadre of other people who would be like him.
He writes names of those of various nationalities who have fought Muslims in one way or another (never mind they’ve also been at peace with Muslims or fought each other, depending on the point of life they’re in). Take David the Builder, the Georgian king he wrote. David the Builder defeated the Muslim Seljuk armies and paved the way for a greater Georgian kingdom. However, a closer reading of his history shows that he also invited Muslims in to live in Georgia peacefully and even eat at the same table with him—nationalists are not always accurate in their recollection of history, but they often pick and choose historical tidbits for convenience, and also to build legitimacy to their claims for those who aren’t so familiar with history.
Names of nationalist "heroes" against Muslims
Highlighting these people on his weapons though, shows how he gives them a kind of hero stature. He’s dedicating his action to their memory, he’s attempting to propel himself so that one day his name will be on someone else’s instrument of a massacre. And it develops upon the siege mentality—Muslims are attacking us, the white race.
And secondarily, don’t get lost about the white race symbols he also has. He wore the Black Sun, the same symbol that Himmler had engraved on his floor in his castle at Wewelsburg. He had the North Cross as well, the main symbol used on Stormfront and used for nearly a century by the KKK. Finally, he had the Kolowrot, a Slavic sun symbol that’s been implemented by Polish and Russian nationalists, and as well has served as an augmented nationalist form of a symbol of the people’s of the South Caucasus.
Not only then was he active in shitposting groups, but also in white nationalist groups.
What to do about all this?
I’d like to highlight again, that though there is a crossover, one does not equal the other. They form a Venn diagram. It is a terrible rabbit hole to go down thinking that ALL shitposters are white nationalists. They aren’t. But we should be aware of that crossover.
The answer for investigators, law-enforcement and the like isn’t to shut down these “forums of free expression”, but rather to use them (for one, they’ll just exist in another harder to find place). Monitor them. Understand the crossover. Understand at which point does one go from being a mere troll or lurker to full on joining a lost cause and trying to martyr oneself for one idiotic cause or another. These are mentally unstable individuals, to be sure, but they’re not random. They’re rational actors.
And it’s most important to note:
They are not alone.