- Superior: The Return of Race Science by Angela Saini, and: Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate: How the Alt-Right Is Warping the American Imagination by Alexandra Minna Stern
by Angela Saini
Beacon Press, 2019
256 pp.; hardcover, $26.95
by Alexandra Minna Stern
Beacon Press, 2019
192 pp.; hardcover, $24.95
Right-wing extremism and its accompanying racism and xenophobia are always simmering under the surface of Western political discourse. The people of color, immigrants, and religious minorities who are targeted by right-wing hatred have to deal with its micromanifestations on a daily basis. For those who do not experience constant reminders of the existence of racism and xenophobia, however, it can be easy to believe that these violent beliefs are held only by those on the fringes of politics, rendering them seemingly powerless. The election of Donald Trump in the United States and the pro-Brexit vote in the United Kingdom in 2016 demonstrated the enduring power of racism, white supremacy, and ultranationalism in Western democracies and awoke many (white) Americans and Britons from their blissful ignorance. In the years since 2016, nationalist parties in other European countries have gained seats in parliaments and recruited new followers, while racially motivated shootings and stabbings around the world have reminded us that white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia are not just politically dangerous but have the power to motivate devastating violence. With each new right-wing political victory or violent incident, many are left asking [End Page 65] why, when, and how these virulent belief systems came back into relevance in such powerful ways.
An obvious space to start looking for answers is the inter-net. The meme culture that surrounded Trump's presidential campaign brought to light how social networking sites such as Reddit, Twitter, and 4chan act as breeding grounds for right-wing political communities. The manifesto of the Christchurch shooter who killed fifty people and injured fifty more in a mosque in New Zealand mentioned the popular YouTuber PewDiePie, implicating even seemingly benign platforms such as YouTube in the spread of racism and white nationalism online. As journalists and scholars have examined how young white men are being radicalized, attention has shifted from antiquated forums such as Stormfront.org to major social networking platforms. YouTube algorithms, Reddit communities, and Twitter rules have been analyzed for how they fail to prevent the spread of racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia despite their owners' supposed commitment to stamping out such content. Scholars have also worked to uncover and explain the theoretical and intellectual foundations of right-wing extremist thought, work that is especially important given that many of the intellectuals cited by right-wing groups tend not to be commonly read in mainstream academia.
Two books published in 2019 aim to contribute to the growing amount of literature on the intersections between right-wing political groups and technology. Angela Saini's Superior: The Return of Race Science examines how racists both inside and outside of academic scientific communities have attempted to use the evolving technologies of science to define race and establish concrete biological evidence of racial differences. Alexandra Minna Stern's Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate: How the Alt-Right Is Warping the American Imagination focuses on the internet and on social networking technologies as tools for the development and propagation of white nationalist ideologies among young white men. Saini and Stern demonstrate how important new communication technologies, especially the networked internet, are to the flourishing of racism and white nationalism: social networking sites and other online communication tools allow right-wing groups to build communities and, importantly, to create linkages with and provide support to other groups who hold similar values. Saini and Stern also show that right-wing coalitions like the ones seen between race scientists, the American alt-right, and European ultranationalists are nothing new; by tying these contemporary movements to their roots in European colonialism, American slavery, Nazism, and other historical examples of white supremacist politics, both authors reveal that the fight against violent right-wing...