Racism and general human toxicity have become more than a niche on Reddit: the site has made a name for itself in the larger cyber-bigot community. Racists now look at Reddit as an opportunity—a way to bring fresh hatemongers into the fold.
The Daily Stormer, as the name suggests, is a smaller offshoot of white supremacist mega-message board Stormfront, and has a history of cultivating ties with web culture institutions. When Andrew "Weev" Aurenheimer decided to come out as a neo-Nazi, he published on the Daily Stormer; the site also ran 8chan founder Frederick Brennan's pro-eugenics rant. It's a garbage pit, but a thriving one: like most other blogs, it hosts a vibrant community of likeminded racist commenters, who flock to the many article posted daily.
But one article stands out: "Reddit is Fertile Ground for Recruitment," which appeared on March 5th, just days before a Southern Poverty Law Center report that identified rampant white supremacist activity across site. "There are many terrific pro-White communities on Reddit," the post explains, shouting out gems like /r/CoonTown and /r/GasTheKikes. But Daily Stormer readers aren't just interested in checking out these scummy sub-reddits; the idea here is to find and further radicalize Redditors who might be on the fence about purging society of genetically impure elements.
It makes total sense: We already know how much Reddit enjoys conspiratorial thinking and self-victimization, now Daily Stormers do too. After all, "conspiracy-minded people are the most open to considering the reality, which is that international Jewry, in fact, runs our societies." But it's not just the openly paranoid sub-reddits that are ripe for recruitment, the article points out: "Other fertile grounds for recruitment on Reddit are the European-dominated subreddits, in particular, /r/worldnews, /r/worldpolitics, and /r/europe." In other words, Reddit's far-right infection goes well beyond the sections that identify as racist.
Keegan Hankes, who wrote the new SPLC report, told me he's noticed this recruitment phenomenon before: "[Reddit] provides an initial layer of credibility to these noxious ideas that makes it easier to be converted." And it wouldn't be the first time an online community has been successfully co-opted by neo-Nazis; as the Stormer article points out, "We brought 4chan over to our side long ago"—and the fascistic current of GamerGate is equally clear. Late last year I spoke with Andrew Anglin, Daily Stormer's publisher, about why the "Chan" websites and Reddit bigots seemed to have a newfound affinity for white supremacist thought. His reply was to the point:
I suppose we are fellow travellers. The chan/troll/gamer/internet community is very white, and more and more becoming aware of the fact that this makes them different from people who are not white.
When a /r/Europe poster notified the board that they were being targeted for recruitment, it was at first met with sarcasm: "Well, no one ever accused neo-Nazi's of being smart," replied one Redditor. But within a single day, the discussion had turned to comments like this: "its funny, hitler tried to warn you about the jews, now we live in debt to jewish usury and are being turned into minorities in our own countries."
Illustration by Jim Cooke