“Just Joking” Is No Joke: How the alt-right really communicates online


The re-emergence of fascist ideologies under the guise of the alt-right marks a significant shift in the modern political landscape, representing the most notable reinvention of such beliefs since the end of World War II. Historically, the term “fascism” has been elusive, often used more for its pejorative impact than for precise political analysis. However, recent academic consensus highlights fascism as a form of radical, ethnically-driven nationalism, characterized by its revolutionary zeal and utopian ambitions:

Fascism is understood as a distinctly modern, secular ideology aimed at the cultural and political rejuvenation of a community, defined by national, ethnic, or cultural lines. It seeks a total transformation towards an ideal society, opposing democratic ideals, socialism, and individualism, along with any groups deemed antagonistic to its goals.

Not all entities labeled as part of the ‘alt-right’ fully embody this framework. For example, certain reactionary groups, such as the League of the South, draw inspiration from historical separatism rather than a futuristic utopia. Nonetheless, the core of the alt-right movement aligns closely with fascist principles, advocating for a radical overhaul of society.

The Alt-Right’s Approach

The alt-right distinguishes itself not through militant uniformity but through a unique embrace of ‘lulz’ – a term derived from the internet slang ‘LOL’ (Laugh Out Loud), representing a kind of sharp, offensive humor. This approach, characterized by memes like ‘Pepe the Frog’ and targeting minorities, serves as a defensive mechanism, maintaining a veneer of irony to shield against accusations of racism or hate speech.

A guiding document for this strategy is found in the ‘Style Guide’ of the Daily Stormer, a leading neo-Nazi website. It encourages the use of racial slurs in a seemingly jesting manner, aiming to blend hateful ideology with humor to appeal to a wider audience and evade direct criticism.

The Dual Nature of Alt-Right Rhetoric

This blend of public jest and private conviction has historical precedents in the post-war radical right’s efforts to distance themselves from the stigmas of mid-20th-century totalitarianism. Such dual messaging allows these groups to navigate societal norms while fostering a deeper, unspoken commitment among the initiated.

For instance, the British National Party’s attempts at moderation, emphasizing a return to tradition while engaging in doublespeak, demonstrate a strategic, albeit transparent, attempt to sanitize their image. This “coded rhetoric” serves as both a public façade and a private affirmation of extremist beliefs.

The Daily Stormer: A Case Study

The Daily Stormer exemplifies this tactic, using offensive, racist, and homophobic content cloaked in enough humor to maintain plausible deniability. This approach allows the alt-right to propagate extremist views while avoiding outright condemnation, a strategy that has been instrumental in their rise to prominence.


Despite attempts at ironic detachment, the core objectives of the alt-right mirror those of historical fascism, seeking to purify society through radical change. The movement’s reliance on humor and internet culture does not signify a departure from these goals but rather a modern method of dissemination and recruitment. As such, the alt-right’s seemingly novel approach to extremism underscores a continued threat to democratic values and multicultural societies, reminding us that the ideological battles of the past remain unresolved.

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