This study explores how an extreme far-right alternative media site uses content from professional media to convey uncivil news with an antisemitic message. Analytically, it rests on a critical discourse analysis of 231 news items, originating from established national and international news sources, published on
- alternative media
- borderline discourse
It is a well-established fact that the Internet has enabled hate groups to engage in a variety of communicative practices, including building online communities and networks; providing information to their supporters; mobilising to activism; engaging in disinformation, propaganda, and hate campaigns; and recruiting new members (Brown, 2009; Caiani & Parenti, 2016; De Koster & Houtman, 2008; Ekman, 2019; Haanshuus & Jupskås, 2017). In this article, we explore practices of online uncivility by investigating how uncivility is conveyed through news produced by uncivil actors – particularly news published on the neo-Nazi website All quotations from
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This article addresses
Methodologically, this study is inspired by Reisigl and Wodak's (2001, 2016) discourse-historical approach – in particular, the socio-diagnostic critique, which aims to uncover the persuasive or “manipulative” character of discursive practices, whether manifest or latent. Based on a strategic selection of 231 news items originating from established news sources and published on
The digital media environment is characterised by a dramatic proliferation of actors that produce and distribute content (Chadwick, 2013; Marwick & Lewis, 2017). While online platforms undoubtedly have enabled valuable democratic participation from new groups in society (Papacharissi, 2004), the rise of online uncivility and hate speech has been identified as a democratic problem (European Commission, 2016; United Nations, 2019). Previous research has indicated that far-right actors have developed active media strategies to gain media attention (Baugut & Neumann, 2019) and that they utilise online communication structures to produce and distribute uncivil content to gain visibility and impact in the online environment (Caiani & Parenti, 2016; Marwick & Lewis, 2017).
In this article, we focus on uncivility in the context of far-right alternative media, meaning websites consisting of hyper-partisan and ideologically driven news (Figenschou & Ihlebæk, 2019; Heft et al., 2019; Holt, 2019; Ihlebæk & Nygaard, 2021). The literature on alternative media has traditionally been rooted in social movement theory, which emphasises that alternative media should strengthen democratic goals through participation and empowerment of marginalised groups (Atton, 2002; Haas, 2004). In recent years, however, there has been an increase in what can be described as right-wing to far-right alternative news media, characterised partly of uncivil and undemocratic discourses, specifically when it comes to topics such as immigration, integration, and Islam (Atkinson & Berg, 2012; Figenschou & Ihlebæk, 2019; Holt, 2019; Nygaard, 2019, 2020). Whether far-right alternative media based on exclusionary views should be termed alternative has consequently been questioned (Atton, 2006; Padovani, 2016). In this article, we refer to Holt and colleagues (2019: 863), who have proposed a non-normative definition of alternative media: “Alternative news media represent a proclaimed and/or (self) perceived corrective, opposing the overall tendency of public discourse emanating from what is perceived as the dominant mainstream media in a given system”. Following this definition, a key trait of alternative media is the relational aspect and how the term alternative is used to identify an oppositional position. In the case of
In this article we argue that far-right alternative media can be viewed as a form of “bottom-up incivility” (Krzyżanowski & Ledin, 2017: 569), referring to how online platforms are used by amateurs and activists to express controversial, hateful, and extremist views to a wider audience. Following Krzyżanowski and Ledin's (2017) line of thought, we propose that far-right alternative media can be viewed as uncivil arenas because of the undemocratic or racist ideologies that constitute the basis for their practices. In contrast, professional online news media structured around journalistic professionalism and institutionalised ethics can be characterised as civil arenas of communication. The boundaries between what is deemed professional or non-professional – and civil or uncivil – is of course not clear-cut, or easily detectable in many cases (Carlson, 2015). Crude tabloid journalism, for instance, might break with the normative ideals of professional journalism and contribute to uncivil discourses about certain groups in society. Also, news published on what can be described as uncivil arenas may be conveyed through expressions that might, at first glance, seem civil. For instance, hateful discourses might be disguised by far-right actors by mimicking “real news” (Farkas & Neumayer, 2020). Studies have shown how far-right actors, rather than making up stories, often depend heavily on content from established news sources (Ekman, 2019; Haller & Holt, 2019; Krzyżanowski & Ledin, 2017). Consequently, what can be described as a process of recontextualisation occurs, which is when an element is taken out of one context and used in another, subsequently giving it a new meaning (Ekman, 2019; Krzyżanowski, 2016; Reisigl & Wodak, 2016). In the context of this article, recontextualisation refers to when a news story originally published on what can be described as a civil arena (established media) is republished on an uncivil arena (far-right alternative media) and is thus ideologically re-positioned. Furthermore, the original news item can be adjusted through extensive or small symbolic editorial amendments – for instance, through changing the headline, a picture, or parts of the text (Ekman, 2019). As a consequence, seemingly civil news items are manipulated into uncivil news, by which we mean news published on uncivil arenas with the purpose of implicitly or explicitly conveying hateful discourses about particular groups in society.
To be able to understand how uncivil discourses about Jews are constructed through news on
Hostility and prejudice against Jews have deep historical roots, from ancient times to present day. The vast literature has demonstrated, on the one hand, how the phenomenon has changed and adapted through history and, on the other hand, how many myths and stereotypes about Jews have been reproduced (Chazan, 1997; Laqueur, 2006). For the purpose of this study, it is necessary to highlight some antisemitic representations that are well known from Nazi propaganda.
At the core of Nazi ideology is the conspiratorial idea of a hidden, powerful Jewish network aiming for world domination. In the years before the persecution and systematic killing of six million Jews, they were portrayed as influential scapegoats responsible for the downfall of Germany. Jews were seen as an alien element and were held accountable for all negative trends in society, including cultural, economic, and political grievances (Herf, 2006; Welch, 2002). Furthermore, Jews were regularly presented as evil, money-grabbing capitalists or communists, and the propaganda on racial issues often framed Jews as criminals (Welch, 2002). Nazi propaganda of the 1940s presented Germany's war against the Allies and the fight against the Jews as a revenge-and-defence tactic. This “radical antisemitism” was based on the belief that the Jews were a cohesive, politically active, and powerful entity, and if not identified and destroyed, “international Jewry” would eradicate the German people (Herf, 2006: 7). In this narrative, Germans were portrayed as victims and Jews as the ultimate enemy. Moreover, Jews have also frequently been depicted as parasites, rats, carriers of infection, germs, and plagues, or as poisonous demons – all dehumanising metaphors that point to the need for extermination (Burrin, 2005; Welch, 2002).
Following World War II, antisemitism is no longer accepted in the public sphere but continues to be an essential part of far-right ideology – in particular within the antidemocratic extreme right. In this context, Botsch and Kopke (2014) have argued that antisemitism has undergone a process of transformation, in which euphemistic language plays an important role. They distinguish between “primary antisemitism” – or the continuation of the traditional racist antisemitism of the Nazis – and “secondary antisemitism” – when antisemitic ideas are concealed by reversing the roles of victims and perpetrators. In this regard, a common antisemitic sentiment is to deny or downplay the severity of the Holocaust and accuse the Jews of exploiting their victim status. Other strategies of concealment include imitating the language of liberal democracy to legitimise exclusionary sentiments without making use of traditional racist argumentation, or replacing the word Jew with labels such as “Zionist”, “globalist”, or “international money power”, so that antisemitic ideas are reproduced without explicitly mentioning Jews (Botsch & Kopke, 2014; Macklin, 2014). Simonsen (2020: 655) has suggested that far-right actors who seek mass support tend to moderate themselves and use coded language more often than militant “racist-revolutionaries”, such as NRM.
The website under scrutiny,
In the analysis, our aim has been to expose how antisemitism is conveyed through recontextualised news – meaning news stories that originate from the established media–on
First, as proposed by Reisigl and Wodak (2016), we identified a specific set of content on An overview of the news items can be made available by the authors as an Excel file with URLs upon request.
An overview of the news items can be made available by the authors as an Excel file with URLs upon request.
Second, to uncover discursive strategies – more specifically, to examine in more detail how news stories recontextualised from established media convey antisemitic representations – we used the analytical questions proposed by Reisigl and Wodak (2001) to conduct a close reading of the texts:
How are Jews and “the Jewish” referred to? What characteristics, traits, and features are attributed to them? What arguments are used to justify and legitimise exclusionary views on Jews? From what perspective or point of view are these labels, attributions, and arguments expressed? Are the exclusionary and discriminatory utterances articulated overtly or covertly?
How are Jews and “the Jewish” referred to?
What characteristics, traits, and features are attributed to them?
What arguments are used to justify and legitimise exclusionary views on Jews?
From what perspective or point of view are these labels, attributions, and arguments expressed?
Are the exclusionary and discriminatory utterances articulated overtly or covertly?
Our aim was not to conduct a comprehensive linguistic analysis and answer these questions separately but rather to use them as a guideline to illuminate how news stories from civil actors are placed in new discursive contexts and consequently become uncivil news with an antisemitic message.
Third, we examined how specific linguistic means are used to alter news and thus function to convey antisemitic messages both explicitly and implicitly. The examples highlighted in the analysis below illustrate specific strategies and represent a subset of news stories that are altered in similar ways and thus convey a similar message.
Our findings show that there are four distinct forms of antisemitic representations that stand out when news items from established sources are selected and recontextualised by NRM on
The first representation we found is that Jews are portrayed as powerful actors aiming for world domination. By recontextualising news stories about politics and societal affairs from the established press, in which (alleged) Jewish individuals or organisations are involved, NRM revives old antisemitic ideas known from traditional Nazi propaganda. On
To illustrate this point, recontextualised news stories about investor and philanthropist George Soros echo the historical and conflicting antisemitic myth of Jews as powerful, corrupt capitalists who are also linked to left-wing ideology. The focus of these news stories is on how Soros and his organisation, Open Society Foundations, have financed and organised political initiatives, including immigration, anti-racist campaigns and riots, and demonstrations for gay rights and women's rights. While the mainstream media sources (e.g., Melén, 2018; Riddell, 2015) simply refer to Soros with labels such as “Hungarian-American businessman” or “liberal billionaire”, NRM systematically refers to him as a “Jewish multibillionaire” on
Also part of this discourse in which Jews are attributed power, we found that media in general, or specific media enterprises such as Bonnier and news outlets such as
The second antisemitic representation that is reinforced through the recontextualisation of news is Jews as intolerant and against liberal democratic values. By recontextualising news from established media about hate speech and other political issues, including news coverage about Israel, NRM presents themselves as tolerant and Jews as illiberal opponents of the democratic system and democratic values such as freedom of speech and equality. This is also connected to ideas about Jewish power, but as emphasised in previous research on antisemitic and extremist rhetoric (Macklin, 2014), the use of a seemingly democratic language that focuses on the illiberal or undemocratic characteristics of Jews functions as a way of legitimising exclusionary manifestations without making use of traditional racist argumentation.
To reinforce this discourse, mainstream news coverage on antisemitic hate speech and proposals to ban Holocaust denial are recontextualised. More specifically, on
Also part of this seemingly democratic language is a common claim or insinuation that Jews discriminate against others. In this context, mainstream news coverage on Israeli politics is recontextualised to suggest that Jews have a racist and exclusionary worldview, in this case represented by “the Jewish State of Israel”. To illustrate, while a news story from Norwegian newspaper
The third antisemitic representation is Jews as exploiters of victimhood. By recontextualising news stories from the established press on antisemitism, racism, and hate crime aimed at Jewish targets, NRM – often in an implicit way – trivialises or denies that Jews have been victims of violence and hate. While the mainstream media sources that they make use of describe the details of and reactions to terrorist attacks and hate crime targeting Jewish individuals or institutions in a neutral and civil manner, the recontextualised news on
This narrative was particularly visible in early 2015, after the terrorist attacks on
Similarly, a news story originally from Norwegian newspaper
When recontextualising news on these topics, NRM systematically refers to antisemitism and hate crime with quotation marks or as “so-called” or “alleged” antisemitic events – small amendments and linguistic means that are used to express irony or doubt. In its most extreme form, this type of ironic and trivialising language is also used to covertly communicate Holocaust denial. When recontextualising news about the Holocaust, NRM refers to it as “Holocaust” –
A fourth antisemitic representation is when Jews are presented as inferior. By this we mean news where the most explicit and crude antisemitic manifestations occur, such as when Jews are referred to with dehumanising metaphors or racist or prejudiced slurs. A general finding in our study is that relatively few examples of such explicit or derogatory antisemitic content appear in the news published on
Examples of such dehumanising metaphors and racist slurs on
In this study, we have explored how antisemitic discourses are constructed on
This study has identified four antisemitic representations that are reinforced through the selection and recontextualisation of news on
The fact that the news coverage on
There are some limitations to this study that must be addressed. We have only investigated news items which explicitly mention the word “Jew”. Future research should look at how antisemitic sentiments may also be expressed in even more implicit ways – for instance by using code words such as Zionist, globalist, or other dog-whistle strategies – as well as by examining how antisemitic discourses are constructed in other forms of content published on the site, such as historical essays, podcasts, and radio programmes. Finally, we currently know little about how