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Abstract

This article investigates the linguistic-discursive construction of others in one international right-wing extremist online discussion forum. By means of a positioning analysis and an appraisal analysis, the article shows how reference to absent third parties is used to establish others as outgroups in forum posts aimed at an international audience. The analysis reveals an othering practice that links the online extremist discourse world with international and local as well as with political, social, and personal concerns, providing various opportunities for user affiliation. The results of this investigation contribute to understanding of the linguistic-discursive construction of online hate speech in multicultural virtual (rhetorical) communities; the study also highlights how social media and the use of English as a lingua franca combine to connect geographically and linguistically separate individuals and facilitate the globalization of extremist discourse through the construction of a shared discourse world online.

Introduction

This article investigates the construction of an international, right-wing, white supremacist community in one extremist online discussion forum (discussion board), focusing on users' discriminatory practices as one means of constructing a group-specific right-wing extremist discourse world. The basis for this investigation is a set of forum posts on the topic of Europe taken from one of the international discussion forums hosted on the largest, oldest, and most popular US-American-based right-wing extremist website. In this forum, users from various countries and linguistic and cultural backgrounds discuss current social and political developments in Europe. English is used as the primary means of communication because of its maximum reach among the international user group. In addition, the use of just one language simplifies the task of the forum moderators, who act as gatekeepers, scanning the incoming posts for appropriateness with respect to the forums' policy. Discriminatory discursive practices such as othering (Spivak, 1996) are, thus, not accidental but an integral part of forum practice.

Despite the fact that extremist groups have been using internet communication technology for the dissemination of their views since the 1980s (Levin, 2002), it is only since the late 1990s that the socially non-benevolent forms of online communication, such as hate speech, have been addressed in research. Most of the available investigations of extremist online communication are either content analyses of US American-based extremist groups' websites (e.g., Bostdorff, 2004; Burris, Smith, & Strahm, 2000; Douglas et al., 2005; Gerstenfeld, Grant, & Chiang, 2003; Schafer, 2002; Zickmund, 1997) or describe the development of text mining approaches to online communication (e.g., Chau & Xu, 2006; Xu & Chau, 2006; Cohen et al., 2014; Zhou et al., 2005; Zhou et al., 2006) to be employed in anti-terror monitoring and law enforcement. Beyond the description of hate sites and reliable identification of instances of aggression and hostility in online communication, however, it is important to be able to determine and understand extremist groups' online community-building, especially when the community-building has a globalizing aim. This includes understanding group-internal patterns for singling out specific objects for discrimination through hate speech.

The discursive practices adopted by extremist groups online include mechanisms of ideological regulation that have already been described in existing research on antagonistic online discourse and online hate speech in general. These include, for example, delimiting and strengthening the belief system through citation of 'evidence' (intertextuality, Hodsdon-Champeon, 2010), offering belonging by presenting the forum space as a safe haven in what is perceived as an adverse offline environment (Douglas, 2008), discouraging dissenting points of view (Perry & Olsson, 2009) through alignment and disalignment with individual posts and their authors, and creating inequality and social competition between in- and outgroups through othering of third parties (Brindle, 2016; Douglas et al., 2005; Josey, 2010; Zickmund, 1997).

Two particular aspects of online hate speech, however, remain to be addressed. First, there is little insight into how discriminatory views and ideas are linguistically constructed and discursively promoted in right-wing extremist virtual rhetorical communities (see, however, Brindle’s [2016] study of the construction of masculinities)1 and how particular views and attitudes are framed in order to be understood as legitimate parts of the discourse world (Edmondson, 1985) of the group. Second, despite the fact that the use of the English language allows extremist groups and individuals to forge international connections online (Burris et al., 2000; Gerstenfeld et al., 2003; Perry & Olsson, 2009), the nature of this global outreach via the English language as a lingua franca is for the most part unclear, as is whether or how it can serve to establish a globally shared right-wing extremist online discourse world.

This article aims to address these two aspects with an exploratory study of English-language international online right-wing extremist hate speech. Linguistic discourse analysis – specifically, appraisal analysis (Martin & White, 2005) and positioning analysis (Lucius-Hoene & Deppermann, 2002) – are used to show which others are established in online forum discourse and how they are constructed as targets for discrimination. The study highlights how social media and the use of English as a lingua franca combine to connect formerly geographically and linguistically separate individuals and provide them with the means to unite, consolidate, and distribute belief systems. The results of this investigation contribute to understanding of the linguistic-discursive construction of online hate speech and its role both in online community building and for the potential globalization of right-wing extremist discourse online.

The following section defines the term hate speech as it is used in this study and characterizes USA-based right-wing extremist groups' use of the internet as a means of communication, as well as its role in the global dissemination of right-wing extremist discourse. Section 3 presents the data for this study, which were sampled from an online discussion forum on the US American-based, white supremacists' website stormfront.org, and summarizes the main aspects of positioning and appraisal analysis as applied to the data. Section 4 presents the third parties that are established as others in the international right-wing extremist forum discourse and the main patterns of othering through evaluative language use. Section 5 concludes the article with a discussion of the study's results regarding the globalization of right-wing extremist discourse by means of the establishment of a shared repertoire of discriminatory language use, both global and local realizations of others as outgroups, and offline effects of online content.

Definition of Key Terms

Hate Speech

Online hate speech is a type of antisocial internet communication that belongs to the larger phenomenon of cyberhate. Hate speech has been defined to various degrees of specificity both in and outside the law.2 One definition of hate speech frequently used in research outside the law is the one by the former HateWatch watchdog organization, which defines hate speech as

advocating violence or unreasonable hostility toward persons or organizations identified by their race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability [including the] dissemination of historically inaccurate information with regards to these persons or organizations for the purpose of vilification. (HateWatch, as cited in Duffy, 2003, p. 292)

On this view, hate speech constitutes the expression of hateful and prejudicial messages intentionally targeted at socially-defined groups of people and at individuals who are or are claimed to belong to these groups.3

Hate speech occurs in both offline and online contexts. The nature of internet-based communication, e.g., involving users' anonymity, the possibility of remaining personally unidentifiable, and reduced accountability for one's actions, allows individuals to express views that would be socially unacceptable in offline settings. Still, online hate speech does not constitute a different type of hatefulness, hostility, and aggression; rather, the conditions of the internet allow individuals to express their views in an amplified and exaggerated fashion (Kiesler, Siegel, & McGuire, 1984). Online hate speech is, thus, a reflection of sentiments and attitudes present in offline social life and not the expression of stances specific or restricted to the internet (Douglas, 2008).

Perry and Olsson (2009) distinguish between direct and indirect hate speech. Direct hate speech targets individuals and groups with attacks and threats in text messages, blogs, or emails. Indirect hate speech, by contrast, tends to occur in topic- or community-specific discussion forums or chat rooms. With indirect hate speech, post authors attempt to reach a larger audience of like-minded people in order to seek solidarity and establish and reinforce group identity.4 It is indirect hate speech which is investigated in the present study.

Both types of hate speech occur with both overt and covert expressions of hostility (Douglas et al., 2005; Josey, 2010; Thiesmeyer, 1999). Overt hate speech includes advocating, promoting, and justifying violence against target groups. Douglas et al. (2005), however, find only little evidence for advocated violence on publicly accessible websites of organized extremist groups, which, they claim, is due partly to the threat of legal prosecution of the post author and to an overall reduced aggressiveness on extremist websites. Reduced aggressiveness helps to avoid alienating first-time users and sympathizers with moderate views, to lend credibility to the groups' views, and to facilitate recruitment into the organization (Douglas et al., 2005; Kim, 2005; Lennings et al., 2010).

Reduced aggressiveness can be the result of covert hate speech, which is characterized by a toned down discriminatory rhetoric (Josey, 2010; Thiesmeyer, 1999). Writers make use of strategic essentialism (Bucholtz, 2003; Spivak, 1996), which involves enactment and indexing of seemingly authentic identities for both the in- and the outgroup ("authentication of identity", Bucholtz, 2003, p. 385) by othering social groups and their purported members.5

US-American Right-Wing Extremist Groups Online

Hate speech is a central tool and tactic in the community-building of American right-wing extremist groups (Duffy, 2003; Gerstenfeld et al., 2003; Thompson, 2001; Waltman & Haas, 2011; Whillock, 1995). Extremist groups employ hate speech for the construction and maintenance of adversarial group relations. Adversarial group relations are discursively created by fostering doubt about the social relationships between the ingroup and selected outgroups and/or by postulating social competition and long-term social conflict between these groups (Adams & Roscigno, 2005; Douglas et al., 2005). Outgroups are typically social groups based on race, religion, or sexual orientation; however, ideological and political beliefs are also drawn upon in assigning people outgroup status (Gerstenfeld et al., 2003; Ministry of Justice, Sweden and Institute for Strategic Dialogue, 2012). Engaging in hate speech serves to delineate the ingroup clearly and render it cohesive. This is accomplished through a process of constructing contrast and difference by means of the expression of opposition to outgroups. For extremist groups, hate speech is a means of self-enhancement and building of a collective identity and group consciousness.

At the same time, extremist groups' language use in publicly accessible online communication tends to be determined by the groups' desire to establish and maintain a positive group image. For this reason, extremist groups often deny "hate" (Schafer, 2002, p. 84) and often explicitly label themselves as "non-violent" and "non-hate" (Gerstenfeld et al., 2003, pp. 40-41). These self-identity claims are reflected in their hate speech tactics, e.g., in constructions of outgroups as being aggressors on the ingroup (Douglas et al., 2005; Schafer, 2002), so that hateful expressions by the ingroup targeted at outgroups can be interpreted as a measure of self-defense against external threats and attacks. Further, instances of hate speech are framed with reference to positively associated mainstream Western-European and US-American values such as freedom of speech, intellectual freedom, solidarity, justice, and equal rights (Duffy, 2003; Gerstenfeld et al., 2003) in order to resonate with a larger public.

The internet has been described as an especially powerful tool for extremist groups (Gerstenfeld et al., 2003; Kim, 2005; Perry & Olson, 2009; Thompson, 2001). In the USA, right-wing extremists have been using the internet as a communication channel since the 1980s, with the first websites appearing in the 1990s (Levin, 2002). The web services offered on these websites (mailing lists, streaming, podcasts, discussion forums, chat rooms, FAQs, web shops, members-only access sites, international sites, donation sites, etc.) have dual functions: On the one hand, these services facilitate communication with members and sympathizers, recruitment of new members, fundraising, international outreach, and information provision to an unlimited audience. On the other hand, the web services fulfill at least five additional functions in the community-building of extremist groups, which are especially noteworthy because of the socially non-benevolent nature of the groups and their promotion of views that are controversial or socially unacceptable. First, through gatekeeping mechanisms such as moderation and scaffolded user rights, the websites allow the groups maximum image control. Second, as the public front-ends of the groups, the websites constitute a low-threshold port of entry into the organization. They proffer interfaces which facilitate easy access to information and networking for users. Third, the kinds of content made available and the kinds of interaction facilitated on the websites support and promote the creation of shared knowledge and a coherent discourse world among users. Fourth, through their web services, extremist groups provide, foster, and feed a virtual community which is typically claimed to exist as real community in the offline world as well (Burris et al., 2000). The virtual community can, thus, compensate for the potential lack of real community in users' local, offline lives and offer a sense of double community affiliation: first, in the virtual community, and, second, remote affiliation in the alleged offline community. Lastly, web services that explicitly address international users enable the global spread and re-construction of knowledge with a view to creating an international virtual extremist community and discourse world.

The creation of an international right-wing extremist community is seen as particularly relevant in the context of one type of US-American right-wing extremist group, namely white racial supremacists (e.g., White Supremacists or White Nationalists; white supremacists hereafter) (Burris et al., 2000; Gerstenfeld et al., 2003; Kaplan & Weinberg, 1998; Perry & Olsson, 2009). For these groups, trans-Atlantic Euro-American connections are especially ideologically desirable: Followers of these groups typically claim descendance from and allegiance to the "white Aryan" cultures of Europe and see the current status of the "white race" as that of the "new embattled […] minority" (Stormfront, 2015). Their concern is with the "white race" in total, i.e., independent of particular nation states (Kaplan & Weinberg, 1998). It is for this aggregate of reasons that US-American white supremacists' websites include multilingual web services and English-language sections targeted at audiences in specific countries or regions outside the USA. As a collateral effect on the internet user who accesses these international web services, evidence of an international user group and posting activity conveys the impression of the existence of a pervasive, coherent undercurrent of white supremacist activity across Europe and the USA ("Euro-American radical right subculture", Kaplan & Weinberg, 1998, p. 87).

An important feature of white supremacists' international outreach and exchange online is the potential heterogeneity of worldviews in the international user group. Considered from an international perspective, both white supremacism and the larger phenomenon of right-wing extremism are historically, geographically, ideologically, and linguistically diverse. International contact and exchange online, therefore, must in some fashion involve the construction of shared (ideological) common ground from potentially diverse input, by means of English as a vehicular language. One question raised by this diversity at the base of international hate speech is how ingroup commonalities on an international level can be forged in online interaction.

The present study addresses this question with an investigation of online talk about absent third parties as reference to outgroups in posts to an international, English-language white supremacist discussion forum. The establishment of third parties as others is the keystone of creating and maintaining adversarial group relations, which, in turn, are central to extremist groups' community-building and the development of a shared discourse world, fostering ingroup cohesion and ideological coherence. Accordingly, the research questions for this investigation are: Who are the outgroups of an international white supremacist hate group?, and How is the status as other encoded?

Data

The data for this study come from the website stromfront.org. Stormfront.org is a US-American-based white supremacist website. It is considered to be the oldest (online since 1995) and largest of its kind (Levin, 2002), and one which "has used tact and political savvy to grow a thriving neo-Nazi community" (Kim, 2005, para. 1). The website identifies itself as the hub of a white supremacist online community – "the voice of the new, embattled White minority" (Stormfront, 2016a). In addition to radio streaming and audio archives, the website hosts various interactive web services featuring user-generated content. Its most prominent feature is the over 100 topical discussion forums, boasting "over ten million posts" (Stormfront, 2016a). According to the website owner, the discussion forums' "mission is to provide information not available in the controlled mass media and to build a community of White activists working for the survival of our people" (Black, 2001). The forums are asynchronous, moderated discussion boards open to registered members of stromfront.org. Forum interaction can be viewed, however, without registering, which corresponds with the purpose of the website to provide information accessible to the general public.

Through the discussion forums, stormfront.org is able to provide a full alternative worldview. There are forums on virtually all aspects of daily life, ranging from indoctrination to finance advice, education, health and fitness, "women's concerns", homemaking, and dating. The site also features a number of international forums addressing and convening users from specific – predominantly European – countries and users with interest in those countries. Of these forums, the forum European discussion was investigated for the present study. It is the forum with the most explicit international outlook and agenda on the website.

European discussion is devoted to the "discussion of nationalism in all European nations" (Stormfront, 2016b). The forum follows an English-only policy. This decision was taken, according to the website owners, to simplify forum moderation. At the same time, the requirement to post exclusively in English forces users to phrase their contributions with a view to a delocalized, international audience that transcends national and cultural boundaries. This is a task that requires the construction of common ground and affirmation of shared knowledge in order to be able to link one’s post to an assumed virtual discourse world.

For this study, we selected all so-called "hot threads" – measured by the number of views and posting activity as recorded on the website – which were started between March 2013 and April 2014. In total, 113 English-language threads were initiated by 78 different users during that time.6 Judging from the number of posts associated with each user ID, the vast majority of these users can be described as experienced and regular post authors: 39 users have more than 1000 and 17 others have more than 100 posts on their record. As far as can be determined from the user IDs and the posts' contents, the thread starters come from continental Europe, the UK, and the US.7

For the present study, the focus is on talk about absent third parties in first posts (i.e., thread-initiating posts), in order to identify which third parties are presumed by users to be established others in the international white supremacist forum community. The investigation starts from the assumption that reference to a third party in a thread-initiating post either must reflect what the post author takes as given information and shared knowledge about a third party, or requires the post author to introduce new information and anchor that in the assumed knowledge framework of in- and outgroups in the forum public. Examples (1)–(4) illustrate this difficulty of emically (i.e., ingroup) relevant and appropriate in- and outgroup construction for post authors in the present data.

(1) […] Explain it all to me plz
Main reason is I got banned from Nationalistic website for antisemitic remarks, and want to understand if there is a semitic/zionist plan in all this8

(2) Are Romanian welcome here?
Hello people from StormFront,I am new here,I was looking for a forum like this one and I finally found it. I started to search a bit about Romanian threads etc, and I wanted to know if we Romanians are actually welcome here?

(3) Should Albanians be accepted into European/White community and community of this forum?
Let's make a final statement about Albanians on this thread/poll once and for all.

(4) OUR WORST ENEMY
Who are our worst enemies?

These posts enquire into the status of third parties as outgroups and can be read as attempts at probing into the conception of the repertoire of outgroups in the nationally and culturally diverse forum public in order to identify common affinities and to further a shared worldview.

In this study, reference to third parties is conceptualized broadly in order to be able to detect the potentially diverse entities constructed as others: It can take the form of reference to specific individuals, nations, cultures, organizations, institutions, as well as to cultural constructs and practices (e.g., nationalities, value systems, norms, behaviour patterns).

Positioning Analysis and Appraisal Analysis

A combination of positioning and appraisal analysis was used to identify how third parties are established as others in discourse. This method has been described in detail elsewhere (Baumgarten & Du Bois, 2012) and is only summarized here with reference to the data of the present study. The analytical method is based on a simplified version of the model of positioning in discourse proposed by Lucius-Hoene and Deppermann (2002, 2004), complemented by the model for analyzing evaluation in language and language use put forth in appraisal analysis (Martin & White, 2005).

Davies and Harré (1990) define positioning as the "discursive process whereby [speakers', listeners', and third parties'] selves are located in conversations as observably and subjectively coherent participants in jointly produced story lines" (p. 48). Positioning constructs speakers and others in discourse as socially identifiable persons in that it shows how speakers see themselves in relation to others and which attributes, roles, and characteristics they claim for themselves and assign to others. This self- and other-identity construction is realized by speakers' self- and other-positioning in discourse. Self-positioning refers to discursive practices which convey to the addressees that the speaker claims a particular social position, role, or identity. Other-positioning refers to the construction of a social position, role, or identity for entities other than the speaker. These other persons include the addressees as well as absent third parties. Positioning analysis is concerned with the linguistic9 and extralinguistic devices that realize self- and other-positioning acts, i.e., the individual propositions that express an identity claim or ascription.

Reference to third parties is realized predominantly through two types of other-positioning:

TYPE 1: Other-positioning of the third party by the post author

(5) […] this is not an attractive country for the social support seeking barbarian scum, but as they are taking over the rest of Europe I'm afraid they will leak here too.

TYPE 2: Other-positioning of the post author and/or the group they claim affiliation with by the third party

(6) Not content in invading our countries, they are intent on destroying them.

A third type of third party reference that occurred only once in the present data is self-positioning of the third party through reported speech by the third party. In (7), the third party "muslim mother" presents herself in the post author's account as raging and over-reacting to the ham sandwich lunch offered at her child's day care center.

(7) One of the muslim-mothers […] shouting all the time … 'YOU TRY TO KILL MY KID, We will meet in court!!!'

Lucius-Hoene and Deppermann (2004) point out that speakers' positioning practice usually concerns both the actualization of an identity that existed before the interaction (transportable identities (Zimmerman, 1998) – and the construction of a situated identity, which emerges in and through discourse. In this way, positioning acts are dependent on post authors' assumptions about their addressees' knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, interests, and needs in relation to the transportable and situated identities that are instantiated in discourse. In particular in asynchronous online discourse, a thread-initiating post must be designed to actualize the addressees' knowledge and belief systems in a manner that ensures alignment, rapport, and positive uptake (reply-posts) in spite of spatio-temporal distance.

The other-positioning of third parties in discourse typically includes an expression of post author alignment or disalignment with the third party so that each other-positioning act includes a self-positioning of the post author. Alignment and disalignment with third parties creates an ingroup for the post author and an outgroup of others. The framework of appraisal analysis (Martin & White, 2005) was used to investigate post authors' alignment and disalignment with third parties through evaluation.

Appraisal analysis was developed in the framework of Systemic Functional Grammar to account for evaluation in language, and it has recently begun to be used to investigate strategies of writer-reader alignment in public online discourse (Derewianka, 2008; Drasovean & Tagg, 2015; Zappavigna, 2011). Appraisal analysis is concerned with the way

language is used to evaluate, to adopt stances, to construct textual personas and to manage interpersonal positioning and relationships. It explores how attitudes, judgements and emotive responses are explicitly presented in texts and how they may be more indirectly implied, presupposed or assumed. (White, 2005, para. 1)

The term appraisal acts as cover term for the linguistic means by which speakers and writers positively or negatively evaluate persons, events, things, states-of-affairs, and propositions in order to "express, negotiate and naturalize particular intersubjective and […] ideological positions" (White, 2005, para. 1). The concept is interaction-oriented: It is assumed that all acts of evaluating in discourse aim at constructing relations of alignment and rapport between the text producer and actual or potential addresses along shared values and attitudes (Martin & White, 2005).

An appraisal analysis works along system networks of functional categories. The appraisal system is shown in Figure 1 below. In an appraisal analysis, evaluative features in individual propositions are categorized according to the type of evaluation they express in their context of occurrence. For the present purposes, the focus is on the system of attitude, which encompasses the expression of affect and emotivity, i.e., the evaluation of something or somebody through the expression of different types of positive and negative feelings (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Appraisal system network: Attitude (adapted from Martin & White, 2005)

Within the appraisal model the expression of an attitude can be categorized as an expression of affect, judgement, or appreciation. Affect refers to the text producers' expression of a positive or negative feeling toward a person, thing, event, or proposition. Judgement refers to the expression of admiration or criticism toward persons and their behaviour. Judgments are normative assessments based on implicit or explicit socially sanctioned norms of conventional and expectable behaviour. Judgements of normality, capability, and tenacity assess people’s behavior, competences, and psychological dispositions in terms of their social esteem in the community; judgements of propriety and veracity are assessments of behavior in terms of social sanction, i.e., its (il-)legality, (im)morality, or (im)politeness. Appreciation refers to positive or negative assessments of things, phenomena, and ideas. Examples (8)-(10) illustrate the categories (appraisal item underlined, attitudinal target in bold).

(8) I hate to see these people here. [neg. affect]

(9) […] barbarians vandalizing Europe. [neg. judgement; neg. propriety]

(10) […] homosexuality, abortion and other such plagues on our society. [neg. appreciation]

The analysis was carried out using MAXQDA (Kuckarzt, 2013) coding software for qualitative text analysis and proceeded as follows: First, all third party tokens realized through nominal expressions and pronoun reference in the forum posts were identified. The second step identified the outgroups among the third parties in the discourse by isolating those references to third parties which included an act of other-positioning through negative appraisal. The authorial evaluations were categorized according to the appraisal attitude system10 to arrive at a closer characterization of the features attributed to third parties and selected as the target of othering.

Results

General Frequencies and Evaluation Patterns

One hundred of the 113 posts in the dataset introduce a total of 617 third parties into forum discourse. In 517 instances (in a total of 72 posts), third party reference includes a negative evaluation of the third party, i.e., an other-positioning that constructs the third party as an outgroup through an expression of disalignment. Table 1 shows the types of negative authorial evaluation expressed in the other-positioning acts.

Table 1. Negative evaluation in other-positioning: Attitude types

Disalignment with third parties rests predominantly on expressions of negative judgement and negative appreciation. Most salient in forum discourse are evaluations that proclaim flaws and faulty behavior in social actors, including persons (e.g., Muslims) as well as institutions and organizations (e.g., EU; the media), and that deny or call into question the value of social phenomena and states of affairs (e.g., multiculturalism; feminism). Within judgement, othering relies mainly on assertions of impropriety, i.e., social actors' moral deviance and non-conformity to an implied set of social conventions. Second most frequent is othering through ascriptions of deceitful behaviour (neg. veracity). The fact that negative appreciation is the second most frequent evaluation type overall shows that in addition to social actors, social processes, social conditions, and belief systems are utilized to construct other-'phenomena,' enabling outgroup construction at abstract and conceptual levels of social life. Negative affect, by contrast, plays only a comparatively minor role in outgroup construction. Negative evaluations of third parties are, thus, to a lesser extent constructed via negative emotions such as fear, dislike, dissatisfaction, or unhappiness. Rather, it is claims about their difference from an assumed standard set of sanctioned social norms and their inherent lack of value that are used to construct outgroups. Examples (11)–(14) illustrate the categories in the data (third party in bold; evaluation underlined; type of positioning in brackets).

(11) Gypsies messed up our country [neg. propriety], everything, made us look bad [neg. propriety] in countries of Europe. (TYPE 2: other-positioning of the ingroup by the third party, T6)

(12) Many of those foreigners reading this letter won't be able to understand it because of the way the mass media twists language [neg. veracity] (TYPE 1: other-positioning of the third party, T3)

(13) Maybe moving to Eastern Europe is a better option– feminism hasn't taken it's toll. [neg. appreciation] (TYPE 1: other-positioning of the third party, T113)

(14) I was terrified [insecurity] how much money government in my country is giving to left wing anti-fascist organizations, newpapers and media, (TYPE 2: other-positioning of the ingroup by the third party, T19)

In each of the examples, the post author's subjective evaluation is unequivocally proclaimed and essentialized as a trait of the outgroup:

(11)' gyspies: mess up countries

(12)' mass media: twists language

(13)' feminism: has a bad effect

(14)' government: affiliated with left-wing, antifascist organizations

These evaluations position others in hostile and aggressive opposition to the ingroup so that each outgroup is presented as adversely affecting the ingroup.

Outgroups

The 517 outgroup tokens are realizations of a total of 231 different outgroups. For the present purposes, the latter were collated by grouping related others (e.g., blacks and black man); this resulted in 188 distinct outgroup types.11 The range and frequency across posts12 of the outgroup types is presented here in the form of a word cloud (Figure 2; computed with WordSmith Tools [Scott, 2014]) rather than a table in order to highlight the diversity of out-groups in forum discourse as well as the centrality of specific outgroups to forum discourse. (The full list of outgroup types and frequencies in table format can be found in Appendix B.)

Figure 2. Outgroups. The smallest printed outgroups are single occurrences; the largest represents 16 occurrences across 72 posts.

Muslims and Jews are most frequently posited as outgroups. They are the two groups that are shared across contributors to the forum. The outgroup Jews also plays a central role in US-based right-wing extremist groups (Waltman & Haas, 2011). This outgroup thus provides a topical interface for Euro-American ideological alignment, as do blacks and non-whites, which take up the discourse of whiteness which is central to white supremacist groups (Josey, 2010). In addition, there are Europe-specific outgroups, such as Europe itself. The presence of further Europe-specific outgroups (EU, gypsies, Roma, Albanians) shows that regional characteristics and matters are drawn upon by post authors in order to make forum discourse resonate with local conditions.

The introduction of diverse outgroups to forum discourse reflects the diversity of local contexts post authors are located in or claim to be concerned with. At the same time, this emergent diversity offers readers multiple interfaces for affiliation. It increases both the likelihood that readers will find their own bias mirrored and the opportunity to become acquainted with new outgroups.

The outgroups fall into seven broad categories, which again show that the construction of adversarial relationships between the in- and outgroups is not restricted to 'people'-outgroups:

  1. Individuals (e.g., Nick Clegg, Herbert Marcuse, Obama)

  2. Groups (e.g., Muslims, Jews, blacks, people)

  3. Organizations (e.g., EU, banks, political parties)

  4. Social institutions (e.g., media, government, democracy, education)

  5. Geographical/national entities (e.g., Europe, Romania, USA)

  6. (Cultural) practices, belief systems, policies (e.g., abortion, Islam, liberalism)

  7. Material social circumstances/processes/social facts (immigration, homosexuality)

Outgroups and Attitude Types

Table (2) shows the most frequently realized outgroups per attitude type.13

Table 2. Others and attitude types

In each attitude category, single and double mentions make up the vast majority (< 60%) of negatively evaluated others. This reflects the diversity of persons and phenomena that post authors position as other to the ingroup and which post authors deem, at least potentially, functional in order to delineate the ingroup.

It further points to the pervasiveness of social conflict and competition that is constructed and asserted in the posts. This reaches into the ingroup itself: Nationalists are other-positioned through expressions of negative judgement which characterize them as deceitful and incapable: They are other-positioned as "'fake nationalists'" with a destructive, insurgent agenda (15) or as lacking proper understanding of the ingroup (16).

(15) In Europe numerous groups of "Nationalists" [neg. veracity] appear affiliated with semites of the establishment. […] Are these groups, especially the pro-jewish groups, "fake nationalists" [neg. veracity] and just there to siphon low IQ nationalists and better defeat the whole group when time comes? T58

(16) All these people [nationalists] just seem to point blame and hate the other. It seems the majority of these peoples have no idea [neg. capacity], if we do not unite, as whites, there will be no Croatia or Serbia. T84

Some third parties are not only positioned as others but are utilized in their status as others and outgroups to express disalignment with another third party, thereby creating an additional other. In particular, Jews and gypsies (see column appreciation in Table 2) occur in this role. The lexemes Jew, the related Zionist, and gypsy are used to assign problem status to other third parties and function to devalue the selected third party by association. Examples (17)-(20) illustrate this other-positioning of a third party by association with an already established other.

(17) I hate when most of the European countries think and believe that Romania, is a country of gypsies. Maybe we have a big gypsy problem [neg. appreciation], but that doesn't make us gypsies too. T6

(18) Can someone inform me about colleges in Eastern Europe, more specifically Hungary, Ukraine, Poland, Belarus. I would like to know information about them such as if they teach Zionist education [neg. appreciation] or Real History and non Zionist education and if they are worth attending. T15

(19) There are a whole bunch of different valid criticisms that Russia could offer for the EU. For example, they could criticize their allegiance to the Jewish banking establishment [neg. appreciation], […] T83

(20) The same neo-Marxist ideals beyond JewishFreemasonery mass media [neg. appreciation]. T91

The examples show that Jews and gypsies are products of other construction, but are further re-constructed as a negative evaluative attribute, which is used in forum discourse either to assign or to intensify and explicate a negative evaluation of another third party.

None of the recurring others is associated exclusively with one evaluation type. Specifically, Jews and Muslims recur with all attitude types (in bold in Table 2). With negative evaluations ranging over behavior (judgement), their association with social phenomena (appreciation), and their affective effect on the ingroup (affect), these others become multifaceted outgroups. The negative evaluations construct the other Jews with reference to improper and dishonest behavior (21, 22); institutions are discredited by association with the group (18-20 above); and Jews other the ingroup, causing dissatisfaction and insecurity (23, 24).14

(21) Circumcision a vile [neg. propriety] Jewish practice T14

(22) I got banned from Nationalistic website for antisemitic remarks, and want to understand if there is a semitic/zionist plan in all this [neg. veracity] T58

(23) Don't mind me, Iam just pissed [dissatisfaction] to be white…
...as white scandinavian male with blue eyes... Its not my fault that Iam not jew, neger or gay... T22

(24) Freemasons, Zionists, Talmudist, globalists, bankers, Satanists and their left-liberal pawns European nations led to a threatening biological, ethnic, political, and spiritual death [insecurity]. T23

Muslims as other are constructed through negative evaluations of their behavior, which is presented as improper and typically unlawful or violent (25, 26). Muslims are further presented as evoking dislike, dissatisfaction, and insecurity in the ingroup (28, 29). In contrast to Jews, who are brought into association with socially powerful entities, Muslims are connected to non-prestigious social phenomena such as mass immigration and crime (26, 27).

(25) Video:Sweden Begins To Realise What A Serious Muslim Infiltration [neg. propriety] Means T105

(26) In this section it specifies rape related incidents [neg. propriety] involving muslim men in European countries, but the website also features a bunch of other information regarding to violence against whites in their own countries T2

(27) The large influx of illegal [neg. appreciation] immigration, or rather Muslim immigration, Malta will soon be another Egypt! T50

(28) So I really don't have much contact with the muslim scums [disinclination], but I dislike [disinclination] them already T63

(29) Only a Europe dominated by my Catholic Church can save Europe from a Negro Muslim majority [insecurity]. T67

Jews and Muslims are constructed as pervasive others, responsible for a whole range of negative behaviours, social phenomena, and feelings adversely affecting the ingroup. In combination with the much higher number of others that occur only once or twice, outgroup construction in the forum is characterized by a diversity of others, with a number of clearly identifiable super others as main adversaries of the ingroup because of their behavior, the phenomena they drive and, to a lesser extent, the emotional insecurity and dissatisfaction they induce.

Conclusion

The present study set out to investigate how third party reference in discourse is used to construct and establish others as outgroups in international white supremacist online forum discourse so that they can potentially agglutinate into a supranational right-wing extremist discourse world. With more than two-thirds of all third parties in discourse constructed as others and more than two-thirds of forum posts concerned with these others, forum discourse is both a predominantly negative discourse world and a dedicated site for ingroup self-affirmation through othering of absent third parties. With this, post authors replicate the central discursive strategy of extremist groups, namely the construction of outgroups, which serves to construct and maintain adversarial group relations and social conflict between the out- and the ingroup for the purpose of ingroup construction and the creation of ideological cohesion in that group. The significance of othering and outgroup construction for a coherent group-internal discourse world in the multinational and multicultural forum public is evident in posts that explicitly ask for information from the forum public about the outgroup status of certain social groups.

The posts to the European Discussion forum on stormfront.org contain 188 third parties which are constructed as outgroups through negative authorial evaluations. Beyond groups of people, these outgroups include social and political institutions and organizations as well as cultural practices, policies, and immaterial phenomena such as intellectual stances and belief systems. The adversariality constructed between the in- and outgroups rests on constructions of difference and disaffinity, first and foremost with regard to the outgroups' behaviour and attributed personality traits. A second dimension of difference is created through construction of outgroups as 'problems' for social structure and social life, which are claimed to subvert and erode an implied order of things. A third, minor, dimension of difference is constructed by invoking an emotional impact of the outgroups on the ingroup; here, outgroups are principally made responsible for feelings of insecurity and dissatisfaction in the ingroup. This otherization practice positions the ingroups not only in opposition to social groups but also at odds with social structure and social reality at large.

The analysis revealed that only a few outgroups are shared across post authors in the forum, so that it appears that no universally shared repertoire of others exists. A diversity of outgroups located in various areas of social life and at various levels of social structure means that post authors construct problems and threats in all those parts and at all those levels. As a result outgroups appear not as isolated phenomena but as frequent and pervasive in offline social life.

Overall, the outgroups that result from the othering discourse can be distinguished in terms of global, regional-European, and local-national relevance. For example, the outgroup Jews connects the European forum topically with anti-Semitic and anti-Judaistic ideologies present in US-American white supremacist groups. Outgroups such as the EU, gypsies, nationalists, and Roma point to the fact that regional and local characteristics play a role in diversifying the outgroups, in that conditions of local social reality (e.g., population stratification, EU-membership, political parties) are reflected in outgroup selection. The diversity of outgroups in forum discourse can support anchoring right-wing extremism locally by making relevant local concerns. At the same time, this emplaces local outgroups in the larger discourse world of the online forum. Because the online forum is a persistent, dynamic medium which hosts an emergent information and knowledge network, each mention of an outgroup consolidates the discourse world and adds to its scope.15 In this way, each outgroup becomes noticeable, i.e., relevant to the forum public, simply because it was made part of the discourse world in one post. A diversity of outgroups makes it possible for forum users to notice outgroups new to them and to incorporate these into their belief systems regardless of whether the outgroup is relevant in the users’ immediate, offline social reality. Similarly, a diversity of outgroups increases the likelihood that forum users will find their personal biases confirmed, albeit in just one post.

In a pan-European and international perspective, the forum as a repository of collected outgroups and othering strategies can act as a source of ideological (re-)affirmation and discourse practice for persons who lack uptake of their views and access to comparable communities in their offline lives, and for those whose local online communities are potentially monitored by national law enforcement agencies. In this respect, English in its use as a lingua franca becomes a means of communication and community for a non-benevolent cause. Forum users come from diverse language and culture backgrounds. As a consequence, forum discourse reflects a discourse world that is so diverse with respect to outgroups that it is unlikely to reflect fully any forum user's local experience. However, as Duffy (2003, p. 309) points out, members of a (virtual) rhetorical community can develop a worldview entirely plausible to them, even if it appears incoherent and not matching with real life conditions to outsiders. The common language enables people to formulate personal bias on an international stage, tap into and contribute to a highly diversified discourse world, gather information, compare right-wing extremism across countries, and build their belief systems from there.

Lastly, it has been suggested that (online) hate speech can have offline effects, in that repeated vilification and denigration of groups reinforces discriminatory attitudes toward the targeted group and may lower readers' threshold to engage in othering the outgroup themselves, thereby perpetuating and multiplying discrimination and adversariality (Calvert, 1997; Cohen et al., 2014; Matsuda et al., 1993).16 If that is the case, the diversity of outgroups constructed in the forum posts puts not only groups of people but also social structure at risk. With institutions such as the EU, democracy, media, government, and banks constructed as malleable, deviant, deceitful, and frightening – repeatedly and on an international scale –, forum users could become alienated from political and social structures, resulting in an erosion of acceptance of, and support for, these in the offline world.

Notes

  1. Rhetorical analyses include Thiesmeyer (1999), Duffy (2003), Josey (2010), and Weinberg (2011).

  2. This study uses the term hate speech to refer to the socio-communicative phenomenon of expressing aggression, hostility, and prejudice. The relation between the communicative phenomenon and the legal concept of hate speech as hate crime is not pursued.

  3. Hate speech is different from the related concept of flaming – the "hostile expression of strong emotions” (Lea et al., 1992, p. 89) through swearing, profanity, insults, and name-calling – in that flaming is a form of "disinhibited” (Douglas, 2008, p. 201) online behavior (also Kim & Raja, 1991).

  4. A related category is antagonistic (controversial) online discourse. Unlike hate speech, antagonistic discourse is not solidarity-seeking. It serves to project a unique dissenting, adversarial author identity to a larger audience (cf. Hodsdon-Champeon, 2010).

  5. Overt and covert hate speech can be combined in a dual code use (Thiesmeyer, 1999): Covert hate speech is used for communication with the public and first-time users; overt hate speech occurs in interaction with the ingroup.

  6. A list of the threads is in Appendix A.

  7. As users are not required to give truthful personal information upon registering, these categorizations may reflect appropriated geographical, national, or otherwise fabricated identifications. The relationship between user identities and post content will not be further pursued in this article.

  8. All examples are reproduced literatim.

  9. The present analysis restricts itself to the linguistic expression of positioning in forum discourse. An analysis of the meaning relationship between verbal and visual information was not attempted. Links to videos in the posts were followed up, but in almost all cases, the videos had been removed from the video-sharing platforms by the time the researchers tried to access them.

  10. The appraisal analysis was carried out by the author in two rounds of coding with a three month interval to ensure consistency of category assignment. Data with evaluations that could be interpreted as either negative or positive were categorized as unclear (see Table 1).

  11. These 188 outgroup types could be further summarized into fewer, larger groups according to topical similarity, e.g., Islam-related or EU-related, providing a clearer picture of topic areas selected for othering. This was not done for the present analysis in order to show the diversity of outgroups within larger constructs such as Islam and EU.

  12. Multiple occurrences of the same outgroup in one post were not counted in order not to bias the analysis due to long posts with recurrent mentions of an outgroup.

  13. Multiple occurrences of the same outgroup with the same attitude category in one post were not counted in order not to bias the analysis due to long posts with recurrent identical evaluations of an outgroup.

  14. This evaluation of the outgroup Jews reflects anti-Semitic, anti-Judaistic conspiracy theories pervasive in white supremacist discourse (Waltman & Haas, 2011), which indicates that this outgroup is re-constructed along the same lines in the international white supremacists discourse.

  15. This analysis did not include the replies to the forum posts, but virtually none of the outgroups were contested in reply posts.

  16. In addition, there is obviously nothing that keeps members of an online community from arranging to meet in the offline world (this can be seen, e.g., in requests for travel advice and contacts abroad that are posted to the forum; cf. also episodes cited in Kim [2005] and Thompson [2001]).

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Appendix A: List of threads

T1: 22 Years of European Shield Republika Srpska

T2: A blog with many muslim gang related incidents in throughout Europe (what are your opinions?)

T3: A look inside a Spanish nationalist with Basque separatism

T4: About european unity

T5: Academic: we need an alternative inquiry into Islamophobia

T6: Are Romanian welcome here?

T7: Are there any European countries that issue travel warnings about U.S.?

T8: Austria

T9: Belgium Has To Be The Scariest Country In The EU

T10: Black virus

T11: Blacks riot in Ireland

T12: Brussels / Belgium

T13: Can Someone From Germany Tell Me About Michelle?

T14: Circumcision a vile Jewish practice

T15: Colleges/Schools in Eastern Europe

T16: Daryush Valizadeh, Arab Sex Tourist & Blogger, now in Poland

T17: Describe the Nationalist situation in your European country

T18: Doctor Who "racist"; claims about a lack of diversity

T19: Does Denmark Have a Race Problem?

T20: Does governments in EU finance the anarchist,liberal and left wing movements and media?

T21: Domestic Dogs originated in Europenot Asia)

T22: Don't mind me, Iam just pissed to be white...

T23: Dossier: The New World Order

T24: England vs Germany: which has more non-white immigrants?

T25: ETA/IRA Link

T26: European People - Discussion about all sorts of topics

T27: European pride in Malta?

T28: European woman gets raped in Dubai then jailed

T29: European Women

T30: Farrage Vs Clegg on debating the EU

T31: Future Greek Empire by Golden Dawn

T32: Genetic of Ancient Civilizations (people)

T33: Genetic of European nations

T34: genetics

T35: Germany will be Islamise

T36: GMO!

T37: Golden Dawn NY exposes UKIP and phoney Opposition parties in Europe

T38: Golden Dawn Solidarity Video - Outside the Greek Embassy, London

T39: Hallo,Hello.Greetings from a German patriot.

T40: Hello, I'm new here.

T41: Hollywood: demonization of Russians, Germans and Serbs

T42: How to raise the birth rate among Natives and does Atheism promote smaller families?

T43: If you care about yourselves you will have kids

T44: Im new and I have a question.

T45: Is anyone actually running things in Ukraine?

T46: Jewish Control Of Turkey's Military & Flotilla Murders

T47: List of Nationalist Uprisings in the 21st Century

T48: Looking for white MMA fighters, boxers and kickboxers!

T49: Looking to make contacts in Europe!

T50: Malta, soon, the first EU Islamic state !!

T51: Many Nationalist parties are against Uprising in Ukraine.

T52: MEIN KAMPF - In 19 Languages

T53: Multiculturalism become biggest threat to Europe

T54: Muslim population in Europe by country 2010-2030

T55: Muslim Riots in Hamburg

T56: My opinion of white nationalism in all European countries.

T57: My Video- One Race Diversity is Genocide

T58: Nationalism & Philosemitism. Explain this phenomenon.

T59: Nationalist Parties in the European Union: Electoral Goals and Political Hopes

T60: National-Socialism and nazism-differences

T61: Need help in translating a bit of German

T62: Neoslavonic

T63: New here

T64: New Social Group

T65: NSDAP/AO seeks liaisons and co-workers!

T66: Obama helping resurrect Ottoman Empire?

T67: Only Catholic state can save European Whites from Islam

T68: Pogrom of Serbs in Kosovo-March 2004

T69: Polish Nationalists

T70: Poll: Can Christianity save Europe: Yes or No

T71: Poll: Do you think correct that basque people decide their future in a referendum?

T72: Poll: Greece deserve own section: Yes or No

T73: Poll: OUR WORST ENEMY

T74: Poll: Poll: Abortion in case of black-on-white rape

T75: Poll: Romania deserves their own Section, YES or NO?

T76: Poll: What is your favorite Sport?

T77: Poll: Which European country has the worst Gypsy problem?

T78: Poll: Which non-White immigrants are the biggest threat for European countries?

T79: Question for once-communists nowadays-somethingidontknowwhat

T80: Racist attack by two Scots on African immigrant

T81: Real Romanians

T82: Rudolph Hess & the untold truth?

T83: Russia Says the EU is Too "Xenophobic, Racist and Neo-Nazi"

T84: Serbian-Croat Relations

T85: Short Clip "Europa und die schwarze Masse"

T86: Should we give the Gypsies a country?

T87: Subracial variety of Europe

T88: Sweden and muslim immigration

T89: Syrian crisis; hows it seen in Europe?

T90: The brown skin loving in Finland

T91: The cause is JewishFreemasonry!

T92: The Enemy Within

T93: The EU: Why Europe Will Collapse: Professor Kai Murros

T94: The Final Solution To The Roma Problem

T95: The Hypocrisy of Democracy vs Non-Democracies

T96: The possible current genocide of Biological Germans

T97: The problem with the gypsies in Europe.

T98: The Racial Nightmare - Gypsies

T99: The US Constitution.

T100: this is an absolute must--what must be done

T101: To my European brothers and sisters!

T102: Turkish loanwords in Serbo-Croatian (and other Balkanic countries)

T103: UKIP MEP tell truth on the global banking scam

T104: Unsettling truth about dacians

T105: Video:Sweden Begins To Realise What A Serious Muslim Infiltration Means

T106: What country in Europe is the worst for driving?

T107: What do you think about the Americans?

T108: What Happend to Maria Orsic ?

T109: What is your subrace and height?

T110: Where will the next revolution in Europe be?

T111: Which is the country with the highest number of white people?

T112: White race of North Africa - Completely extinct

T113: Young guy considering moving to Europe from Canada

Appendix B: Outgroup types by frequency

License

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