Far-left groups are increasingly using memes and other online propaganda to instigate violence against members of the general public and the police, according to a new report by a nonprofit that studies the way hate-charged messages spread across social media.
The Sept. 14 report by the Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI) found that anarcho-socialist and violent anarchist online communities have had a growing influence in recent years, thanks to the widespread use of memes as propaganda, spread by means of sophisticated communication networks, and used to organize militias and inspire violence (pdf).
In its article, “Network-Enabled Anarchy: How Militant Anarcho-Socialist Networks Use Social Media to Instigate Widespread Violence Against Political Opponents and Law Enforcement,” the institute found evidence that “violent anarcho-socialist networks played an active online role in preparing for and coordinating real world riots nationwide and in real time.”
Noting the rapid growth of an online structure supporting anarcho-socialist extremism, the institute found that, during recent social justice protests, posts featuring anti-police outrage and/or memes and coded language spiked by over 1,000 percent on Twitter and 300 percent on Reddit.
“Extreme anarcho-socialist fringe online forums on Reddit use memes calling for the death of police and memes for stockpiling munitions to promote violent revolution,” NCRI stated, noting a growth in membership in such groups during recent protests over COVID-19 lockdowns and for social justice.
“Groups such as the Socialist Rifle Association have more than doubled in membership since quarantine,” the institute found.
The report also noted evidence of “innovative cyber strategies” being deployed by anarchist networks, including spreading instructions for 3-D printed weapons, sharing insights on using lasers to blind targets, and “real-time online coordination of offline rioting and anti-police violence such as setting fires, throwing projectiles, and using fireworks/munitions.”
The report features examples of memes with “clear calls for violence,” including an image of a member of law enforcement being shot in the head and a photo of a burning police car with the caption “ACAB, AS CRISPY AS BACON.”
Another example featured in the report describes a post on Reddit, on the r/SocialistRA forum, that has a link to a 3D printable Soviet-era weapon along with a propagandistic video that features someone shooting an AKM-pattern receiver, with the on-screen caption “Seize the means of production,” in reference to the Marxist call to action for violent overthrow of capitalism.
The report notes, however, that violence from far-left political actors has “not yet become as widespread as ISIS, nor does it have the death toll or historical reach that right-leaning extremism has in the U.S.” Still, it found that the growing use of online propaganda tactics, amplified by fringe communities, carries a mounting threat of violence by what the report called “network-enabled mobs.”
The report comes at a politically sensitive time, when peaceful protests against police brutality have been marred by outbreaks of looting and violence.
President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr have both blamed the violence on “anarchists” and “agitators,” with the president recently warning of a “growing radical-left movement” that seeks to “fundamentally transform” the face of America.
Epoch Times contributor and expert on communist movements, Trevor Loudon, argued in an op-ed that the violence that erupted in the wake of the Floyd’s death was not a spontaneous outbreak of pent-up frustration with incidents of police brutality, but part of a revolutionary movement by brutal means.
“The recent surge of rioting, looting, arson, and violence in the aftermath of the May 25 death in police custody of George Floyd in Minneapolis wasn’t ‘peaceful protest’ hijacked by ‘extremists,’” Loudon wrote. “It was violent from day one—and it was always intended to be that way.”
In a separate op-ed, Loudon pointed to malign far-left influence behind previous outbreaks of violence amid broader calls for racial justice.
“Without the communists, there would still be occasional racially charged incidents. However, all the major city-burning race riots of the 1960s (Newark, Detroit, Chicago, Watts, and many others) and every single one since have been fanned into something bigger by communist forces,” he wrote. “The U.S. left now has the power to start race riots in nearly every major U.S. city.”