For years, the online subculture surrounding gaming has faced accusations of dangerous links with the radical Right. Between the Gamergate controversy and counterterrorism practitioners identifying gaming platforms as popular potential sites of radicalisation, as well as the hypothesis that first-person shooter games desensitise players to offline violence, headlines with the phrase ‘gaming’ and ‘the radical Right’ are myriad and concerns about the real-world implications of this form of entertainment abound.
While less readily apparent, the GameStop squeeze represents yet another facet of this threat, one that the continuous media coverage will serve only to buoy. What may be seen as the economic equivalent of David vs Goliath may nevertheless give new life to the anti-capitalist fringes of the radical Right.
‘Gamestonk’, as Elon Musk coined the GameStop squeeze, itself has much less to do with gaming than it does with economics and the intricacies of financial markets. In January 2021, Reddit users on the forum ‘r/wallstreetbets’ observed that a number of hedge funds had large ‘short positions’ in GameStop, a gaming retailer struggling in the face of the growth in online gaming. In essence, ‘shorting’ involves selling shares today in the hopes of purchasing them back at a lower price at some later date. Inherently risky, losses can prove unlimited if the shares appreciate in value.
This is what happened in the case of GameStop. As Reddit users encouraged buying, GameStop stock rose quickly to inflated levels, forcing hedge funds to buy shares to cut their losses. Their actions, in turn, added to demand, driving prices up even higher—a classic ‘short squeeze.’ At some point, GameStop shares had risen more than 1,800 per cent in less than one month and hedge funds had lost more than $20bn – including $10bn on a single day.
Losses at this pace and of this magnitude are notable, and have broader ramifications. With the success of the GameStop action, others have worked to do the same with movie company AMC Entertainment, as well as with physical silver.
The Guardian described the motivations of those Redditors as wanting “to punish the Wall Street big boys”. The New York Times hailed the events as “It’s Occupy Wall Street, the sequel. It’s elements of the Tea Party, again. It’s Bernie bros and MAGA-maniacs…they have forced a reckoning on Wall Street, and caught the attention of leaders in Washington who recognise a populist uprising when they see one.”
There are clear elements of this within the Reddit forum, in addition to the contributions of some market-savvy individuals who predicted the short squeeze and benefited from it. Social media and other messaging platforms evidence this populist, anti-establishment spin on the narrative. Claimed as a libertarian or anti-capitalist victory depending on the politics of the commentator, the motives behind the GameStop squeeze and the implications of it are widely seen as generally good for the ‘little guy,’ the ‘everyday investor’, the ‘common man’.
However, this characterisation misses other lessons that might be learned by those on the fringes. For them, the GameStop squeeze presents a series of other potentialities.
As observers of the radical Right (myself included) have noted, robust anti-establishment, anti-capitalist elements exist within the radical right. For some, this is derived from a racialised view of the socio-political and economic landscapes – they believe in conspiracy theories like that of ZOG (Zionist-occupied government) which asserts that Jewish people control major institutions like the market and the government, or that George Soros is the evil mastermind at the heart of white genocide.
For others, economic nationalism can take on racialised elements wherein the working conditions and lives of those communities overseas, or of immigrants, are of less worth. For still more, populist or anti-capitalist rhetoric is merely a useful technique for appealing to those who are dissatisfied with their present lot in life or the state of economic affairs. All of these have the potential to intersect significantly in the GameStop issue.
While not massive, the radical Right is global and increasing in size, strength, and propensity to collaborate. Many within the radical Right are proving increasingly financially literate and adept — for instance, making large profits with little or no disclosure via cryptocurrencies.
The idea that, with some degree of coordination and financial capital, they could trigger a similar event and thereby harm alleged enemies may prove appealing to them. Seeking to disrupt politics and business as usual, such an action would appear to radicalised individuals as far less physically and even legally risky than many other potential planned actions.
Similarly, the discussions of what hedge funds do by way of short selling, which can contribute to driving some companies into financial ruin, may prove another viable alternative activity for them. All the while, gains from such activities could fund their movement, including potential terror attacks.
Perhaps more significantly, though, to see the wealth of people touting the losses to hedge funds is to see more potential for recruitment – as American neo-Nazi, and antisemitic conspiracy theorist Richard Spencer once said, “Surely we can find some heretical Bernie Bros out here.”
While hedge funds knowingly engaged in the risky practice of shorting in order to turn a profit, turning them into bad-faith actors in the story not only further vilifies them in the eyes of believers, but also may serve as the starting point for largely non-political individuals who are joining Reddit forums, social media channels, and other sites linked with the GameStop squeeze.
Discussions in Washington are already turning to developing new regulatory measures to prevent similar issues in the future. There is also the potential for some members of the original GameStop squeeze to face legal ramifications for their methods for boosting the stock. This may push certain individuals further along the path of radicalisation, as those who praised the Reddit users’ activities may believe in the idea of a kind of cabal of actors controlling the economy and the state, punishing anyone who outwitted the hedge funds and tried to make money in a rigged system. Although there are many multinational corporations that do exert considerable influence on the state, there is a fine line between recognising this and believing in the conspiratorial ideas about the Freemasons, the Illuminati, or ZOG.
To a certain extent, the radical Right is already preparing for this, in addition to all the groundwork it has been laying with regards to online radicalisation in relation to COVID-19.
Online forums praising the GameStop Reddit actors claim to be organising more of these kinds of actions, and are already showing signs of infiltration by radical right actors. These online forums are popular—many people are reading the news and seeing if there is a chance for them to cash in on the next one. Radical Right actors can join them as well, engaging a new target audience and spreading their messages.
The short squeeze in GameStop may serve as an example of how the radical Right could flex its muscles and gain strength in the long term.
Bethan Johnson is a Doctoral Fellow at CARR and Doctoral candidate in Department of History, University of Cambridge. See full profile here.
© Bethan Johnson. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).
This article was originally published at CARR’s media partner, Open Democracy. See the original article here.