HYPHEN show 2017: Annalis Wiramidjaja maps the ‘alt-right’ movement

The digital age has inevitably changed politics, but the complexity of movements spreading online can be difficult for outsiders to understand, especially for those who still see traditional political frameworks as the point of reference. For her graduation project from the BA Design course at Goldsmiths, Annalis Wiramidjaja investigated contemporary far-right ideologies and their 21st century methods:

“I’m looking at the ‘alt-right’, which is a modern form of white nationalism and ethnic nationalism, and I’m trying to contextualise them as a culture. That will help us understand them better, and hopefully, to combat them. I’ve created a series of magazines, which explore the different cultural and social touch points for different aspects of the ‘alt-right’, and a diagram that breaks down the movement into four different factions, using different aesthetic markers, or specific things they care about. I am using the magazines to help people who are not as familiar with the material get a glimpse of its context.”

On what the movement is, and how it fits into the traditional left-right political spectrum:

“In some ways, the ‘alt-right’ is a typical far-right ideology, but what sets them apart is that they’re not just trying to affect the political dialogue, but also the cultural dialogue, and convert cultural touchdowns for other things into their own imagery. In many ways, it’s a direct descendant of the racist movements of the early 20th century, and I think the conditions in which it’s been brought about are probably similar. You have these moments where things swing to the political left, and then you have a massive backlash in response. In other ways, because of the cultural ties, it’s a slightly different beast. People can be indoctrinated into the system without fully realising its political implications, they’ll just come to ‘alt-right’ sites or conversations purely through the context of finding certain memes funny.”

On researching and documenting the online life of the ‘alt-right’:       

“I’ve been archiving a culture that’s had a lot of their material deleted for being offensive, but the statement that I’m trying to make is that this process is important, because they’re historically significant. Initially, when I was starting the project, a lot of the ‘alt-right’ was a bit more subtle, they didn’t realise that they had such political inroads. So getting into their chat rooms was tricky, you had to spend hours on Reddit or Twitter looking for people mentioning certain things, and a lot of their chat rooms are specifically designed to delete themselves after portions of time, so that there’s no paper trail. Part of my project’s research involved transcribing what was being said in their chat rooms as a way of learning about them.”

On engaging with the far right online and in real life:

“I found out from an English Defence League Facebook page that they were planning a rally in Telford to protest against Muslims, so I went to Telford just to see what the contrast would be like, online vs in person. Obviously, I’m not the key demographic for the English Defence League, so the reactions were not great, my ethnicity coupled with the fact that I had a camera and I was trying to document what was going on there… I got a few racial slurs thrown at me, people shoving me out of the way.”

On contradictions in the ‘alt-right’ community:

“You have people who are into fascist regimes, and they applaud big, authoritarian governments, and then you have people at the other end of the spectrum, who are terrified of the government, and would prefer if government didn’t exist at all. Sometimes these conflicts exist even within a single person. There are individuals online who are advocating for strong Nazi states, but also believe in libertarian rule, and it’s a very difficult circle to square, do they actually believe these things, or do they not understand the concepts that align with what they believe? I don’t know if there’s an answer to that, people find interesting ways of appropriating different parts of an ideology to construct whatever fits their worldview, or whatever benefits them.”

On taking the movement seriously:

“The alt-right is just as motivated, organised and capable as any other far-right movement of the past hundred years. The methods are different, but essentially, the product is the same. They’re very good at branding, they know what appeals, and what goes viral, and they understand the niches of the Internet in ways that people who are older may not. They also understand the power of optics. When people hear that someone believes in white supremacy, they expect to see someone older and/or uneducated, but the ‘alt-right’ has come up with an ingenious way of pairing traditionalist anger with intelligentsia, classing up the movement, in a way, and making it more palatable to political establishment.”

On what attracts people to the ‘alt-right’:

“It’s mostly a movement of young, white men, and I think it has to do with the changing cultural climate. We’re becoming a lot more “politically correct”- which a lot of people argue is a bad thing. It can be a good thing, I’m mostly neutral to the idea. A lot of these young white men, especially within the context of the US, feel as though their cultural identity is being taken from them because there are more people of colour around them in general, but also within the spheres of cultural contexts, politics, television, media. I think it also has to do with the fact that unemployment rates for young white men have increased, whereas for the rest of the USA it tends to be on a downwards slope. It’s a mix of factors, and that tends to be the result.”

On the best approach for dealing with far-right views:

“When you completely cut off these communities and remove any exposure from them, things just fester in their current spots and they become angry and more violent, more radical. Also, people who are outsiders, but haven’t been educated as to what is incorrect or correct, fall into their orbit without fully realising it. But you also have to make sure that when they are getting exposure, that it’s within the right context, that when you’re interviewing white nationalists, supremacists, it is to truly examine and deconstruct their beliefs, rather than just letting them say whatever they want to say. I find that a lot of the times, because of the contradictory beliefs that exist within a lot of alt-right ideology, they fall apart after some examination and deconstruction.”

On her time on the BA Design course at Goldsmiths:

“In my first year at Goldsmiths, I remember being amazed with everything that older students and tutors were doing, but also just feeling incredibly confused. It’s probably a good thing, it forces you to tear back your expectations of what design is. The second and third year were for growing and learning, developing who you are as a designer and figuring out what you like to do. I did a year of architecture in the US and found that very confining and rigid. It was a spontaneous decision to do a Design course in London and see how that went. I think it’s been really enlightening. Research is not something that I ever thought I’d have a particular interest in, but it’s a skillset I’ve picked up, and I’m grateful for it, because it’s something that I’m considering for the future, career-wise.”