“I even felt empathy for some supremacist”

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Take the call from a London cafe, but despite the noise in the background Julia Ebner She clearly and precisely sets out her experience as an insider and her ideas on how to tackle hate speech. To start with: pay less attention to outside threats and focus on those at home.

He has a background in Philosophy. In your experience as an insider, is it hard to tell right from wrong?
My studies helped me to understand that there is never absolute good and bad, there is no black and white in human subjects. This helped me to develop another vision of extremism and to delve into the human dimension of the problem. In this book I did not want to paint anyone as evil per se because that would be repeating the same mistake that extremists make.

He claims to have felt empathy for some of these people.
I had empathy for almost everyone, even some misogynistic and white supremacists.

Seriously?
Almost everyone felt a crisis of identity, which in men took shape in a crisis of masculinity. I saw a lot of sadness, loneliness and desire to be loved and that made me see them as human beings with problems similar to those I could have. I had empathy for them as human beings, not for their solutions or their ideology.

Does it look like a spy 2.0?
[ríe] I’m not professional enough to be a real spy, I haven’t had secret service training. Most of the time I improvise. Having studied interpretation has helped me to change my identity in a credible way.

“He blew me away
Much the murder of Labor MP Jo Cox, in 2016, by a neo-Nazi. There I realized the danger of the extreme right »

Have you feared for your life?
Yes, at a neo-Nazi festival in Germany, when I met 12 white supremacists and a group of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) ‘hackers’. But like many journalists, researchers and activists who work on sensitive issues.

Have you ever felt that you violated the right to privacy of members of these groups?
No. The line is very fine, but I did my best to protect the identity and privacy of everyone and I have never given personal details, except for recognized extremists.

Why did you go from infiltrating jihadism to the extreme right?
The ISIS attacks achieved their goal of stoking hatred. I was very shocked by the murder of Labor MP Jo Cox in 2016 by a neo-Nazi. There I realized the real danger of the extreme right.

Did we focus so much on jihadism that the field was left open to the extreme right?
Absolutely. When all jihadist content had long since been removed from the large social media platforms, the far right continued to spread its propaganda. Neither governments nor tech companies gave importance to the threat from the far right.

Maybe because the extreme right is part of our system?
Some of that is there. It is more difficult to notice something potentially dangerous when it comes from our own society than when it is an outside threat.

Is Facebook the favorite social network of jihadism and YouTube of the extreme right?
At first it was like that, but currently both use encrypted messages more, especially on Telegram. And the far right has created its own alternative social platforms, like BitChute.

A few days ago, a group of white supremacists who planned a racist attack was deactivated for the first time in Catalonia. They communicated by Telegram.
Interesting … It means that the security forces are taking the problem more seriously.

From their descriptions, the members of these groups appear to be social misfits.
They do not know how to relate in the real world and seek to belong to some place, a new identity. Extremism online provides them with a unique subculture, with its own vocabulary, a community with the same goals and enemies. Sometimes they totally dissolve their identity in the group and this makes them more willing to commit violent acts on behalf of that community.

If identity crisis is the great issue of the 20th century, why not focus resources on understanding it rather than repressing it?
It is absolutely necessary to complement safety with an educational approach. We must talk about the changes that the digital space and social networks cause in us, as a society and as individuals.

“We have to be braver in the digital space and intervene when someone is being the victim of
a storm
of hate”

Is today’s extremism the fault of technology?
Technology always has two faces. Social networks were presented as a tool for the democratization of knowledge, but they also have a negative side, such as the rapid spread of disinformation or that anyone can become radicalized because no one controls their content. Before any innovation we have to take into account its potential to be misused.

Would you close these platforms? And the expression freedom?
No, it would not close them and, furthermore, it would not work because new ones would emerge. You have to change the infrastructure of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, which are designed to exploit the human fascination with the extreme. We also have to be more courageous in the digital space and step in when someone is falling victim to a storm of hate, just as we would in the real world.

These groups use film and video game references. Could you explain the ‘RedPill effect’?
In the movie ‘Matrix’ they take a red pill that really makes the world look like it is. It is a metaphor for radicalization, which makes people see that the Holocaust never happened, for example. The red pill is a sample of the language they have developed to camouflage their ideology.

In some areas there is already talk of “vegan terrorism”.
Many environmental movements, including vegans, and anti-tech are gaining prominence, but they are different forms of potential violence: they target authority, they don’t demonize other groups, and their goal is social good. They could commit violent acts but it would not put them on the same level as terrorism.

In his book he describes Vox as a channel for the normalization of the extreme right and speaks of the extremism of “white nationalists, radical Islamists and the most extreme supporters of the independence of Catalonia.” Do you know this movement?
No, I am speaking from a theoretical point of view. From what I have read, I think that some member can be potentially dangerous but I would never say that at an ideological level the independence movement has nothing to do with jihadism or the extreme right.

Bibliographic data

From Oxford classrooms passed into the dark networks of European ultra-right groups such as Generation Identity y to the circles of the American ‘Alt-Right’ that drove the Charlottesville bombing.

Advises the British government, to the UN, to security forces and activists. He lost his job at the Quillam foundation after publishing an article about the leader of the English Defense League.

‘The secret life of extremists’ (Today’s Topics) is his second book after ‘Rage’, which exposes how the dynamics of Islamism and the far right feed off each other.

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