A look inside the common “truths” produced by far-right media outlets in the UK, Germany, France, and Russia
Some images and symbols are already part of the repertoire attributed to the far right and, hence, are almost instantly associated with the exclusionary nature inherent to this type of politics. Swastikas evoke memories related to Nazism and strong anti-Semitic sentiments. Men wearing a white outfit covering the head, with only the eyes visible evoke memories associated with the American white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan and its strong racist sentiments. These images are already part of the social imaginary related to hate. When talking about the political spectrum, they are labelled as extreme right imagery. While much attention has been given to their usage by racist and extreme-right groups, little has been said about other types of images, also full of hate, that have been used by media vehicles and institutions, almost on a daily basis, to target immigrants and justify authoritarian policies toward immigration.
In her famous book Eichmann in Jerusalem: a report in the banality of evil, Hannah Arendt observed how one of the most heinous crimes in human history, the Holocaust, was orchestrated not by monsters or demons. The people behind it were ordinary individuals. To Arendt, it was precisely their banality that enabled them to become some of the greatest criminals of their time. Over fifty years later, we revisit this concept to shed light on the banality of hate present in images disseminated by the far right in digital spaces. The use of some images to represent immigrants have become so commonplace that most people would have difficulties noticing their hateful essence. Hate has been banalized and legitimized. Such images are not only found in far-right circles and posts made by individuals holding nativist views. They have been disseminated by media outlets and institutions. A whole information and knowledge apparatus has emerged on the Internet devoted to the circulation of discriminatory “truths,” and images constitute an important part of it.
In order to delve into this apparatus and expose the alleged truths produced by the far right, we created an independent research group called MAFTI (Mapping the Far-Right Truth Industry) and started looking for connections between far-right political parties and independent media outlets, as well as institutions, in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Russia. Examining what types of media outlets and institutions were followed by official Twitter accounts of prominent far-right political parties between June and July, we identified 29 media outlets (9 in the United Kingdom, 4 in France, 11 in Germany, and 5 in Russia) and 2 institutions (1 in the United Kingdom and 1 in France) displaying a commitment to nativist and authoritarian ideas (the hallmark of the contemporary far right). They were, consequently, categorized as part of what we call the far-right truth industry. After that, we decided to analyze how they have been textually and visually constructing the antagonism towards foreign individuals as truth. In this serie of two articles, we share some of the main findings of our study, focusing on the visual legitimation of discrimination based on ethnicity and/or nationality. What are the common alleged truths produced by far-right actors in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Russia through images? To what extent processes of othering differ from one country to another? These are some of the insights that you will find here.
Overcoming the language barrier: producing common truths through images
While examining the content produced by far-right media outlets and institutions, common patterns were verified, especially in terms of visual strategies to project fear and hate toward perceived immigrants. Benefitting from a medium that encourages the circulation of visual representations, the far-right truth industry in the UK, France, Germany, and Russia seems to be articulating the same discriminatory “truths,” sometimes even using images associated with horror movies to convey the message that immigrants are dreadful enemies.
Perceived immigrants are constructed as violent and merciless individuals
One of the common alleged truths identified by our group was precisely the one that constructs immigrants as violent and merciless individuals. In terms of imagery, this “truth” can be communicated through pictures showing a (bloody) knife in a dark environment that resembles scenes from horror movies. The similarities were particularly striking between media outlets in the UK and Germany. In a British media outlet whose name seems to have been inspired by FOX News insofar it makes an allusion to it, a close up on a hand holding a knife and two people in a blur background (very similar to one of the pictures used to promote the movie Scream) illustrates an article entitled “Man knifed by Afghan migrants trying to protect girlfriend from being sexually assaulted.” At the same time that this composition indicates that perceived immigrants are chasing their victims, it also suggests that they are “sexual predators” who display a particular preference for female victims. Interestingly, this association between immigrants and sexual violence against Western women was found in three of the examined nine British media outlets.
A very similar image, at this time with a bloody knife and an empty corridor in the background, was found in German far-right media vehicles, which regularly report on crimes committed by non-western individuals, while seldom or never reporting crimes committed by perceived “native” perpetrators. In one of the examined articles entitled “The media are not interested: the ‘mentaly ill’ beheaded the homeless,” the accompaned picture presents perceived immigrants as merciless individuals who are capable of committing the most heinous crimes. Furthermore, the media outlet also attempts to delegitimize mainstream media outlets by accusing it of hiding the alleged truth about the so-called violent nature of non-western individuals. The narrative conveyed by this particular media outlet can, in fact, be considered an attempt to dehumanize non-westerners insofar it portrays them as animals who lack any moral moral values and are solely driven by instincts.
In Russia, the picture of a single big knife in a dark blur environment is often replaced with images showing perceived immigrants holding weapons (knives or pistols) or fists as if they were threatening the reader. Knives, pistols and fists are positioned in front of or near their faces and point to the direction of the reader. The message that anyone can be the next victim is particularly evident in a piece carrying such imagery under the title “The chronicle of the latest migrant atrocities” displayed in one Russian ultra-nationalist newspaper. According to this newspaper, the threat posed by the perceived other is particularly enhanced because they are many and they are everywhere. Such “truths” suggest that at any minute, a native Russian individual can be attacked and this person can be you, the reader.
At first sight, this association between perceived immigrants and violence through images showing a knife did not seem quite as prominent in France as the aforementioned cases. Nevertheless, in at least one newspaper article (entitled “Nantes: The showdown between migrants is on the increase”), a bloody knife served as an illustration. In this case, the knife appeared in cartoon format, tearing apart a flower that evokes the fleur-de-lis. Since its origin, the fleur-de-lis has been conceptually linked to themes such as the French monarchy and purity of the Virgin Mary. Therefore, simultaneously examining the text and the picture found in this newspaper, the reader is driven to the conclusion that both French national sovereignty and the Catholic tradition of the country are at risk. Indeed, according to the far-right narrative, France is a victim of an uncontrolled flood of immigrants from many ethnicities and this phenomenon is now provoking an increase of violence between each other to divide the country among them. They do not have any appreciation for the native French people, and it has led to a destruction of all the beauty and greatness once proudly displayed by France, including a strong state sovereign of its borders and proud of its religious cultural heritage.
Is mass immigration a fact?
Another common “truth” visually produced by far-right media vehicles and institutions in the UK, France, Germany, and Russia is related to mass immigration. All the examined four far-right truth industries used pictures of long queues or boats full of immigrants heading towards the West to expose the alleged truth that mass immigration is a fact. It is interesting to notice how this narrative seems to further legitimize the Great Replacement conspiracy theory, which asserts that mass immigration has been somehow promoted to replace Western, white individuals with non-Western, non-white individuals – a movement that would eventually lead to the reduction of the native people to a tiny minority.
This complementarity with the Great Replacement theory was particularly strong in one of the examined German articles entitled “Keep going like this: 40 percent of Germans under 15 already have ‘migration history.” In addition to showing an alleged endless queue of immigrants at what appears to be German borders, the use of statistics in the title constitutes an attempt to induce the reader to believe that German natives are being replaced with non-Western individuals and that inter-racial relationships pose a real threat to the survival of the pure German nation.
Similar images were also found in France and Russia, although in these both countries the “invaders” are walking towards the direction of the reader. It is as if perceived immigrants were coming in the direction of the reader, possibly with the intent to occupy their position in society. See, for example, how a French newspaper uses a picture of an unlimited flow of alleged immigrants walking towards the reader to illustrate an article entitled “Minor migrants: the ideological blindness of the government and the media”. In this particular piece, all the alleged immigrants are men who don’t look under 18 but, nevertheless, are wearing backpacks as if they were youngsters heading to school. A careful look at the picture suggests that those individuals could have lied about their real age in order to facilitate the asylum seeker process and have access to housing, education, and health benefits in French soil.
In Russia, the image of a crowd of men in Moscow metro station “Prospekt Mira” evokes fear as they appear to be ready to invade the country. This far-right narrative is particularly prominent when similar pictures complement “truths” such as “migrants invade Russia and take Russians jobs” and “in doing so they are backed by the government and other official organizations.” This suspicion of governments and civil society organizations has been particularly highlighted by British far-right media outlets. Differently from the aforementioned cases, pictures of boats full of immigrants (mainly men) escorted by British authorities were identified in all the nine observed media vehicles. This is an interesting composition because at the same time it “shows” the invasion through British waters, it also enhances distrust in official institutions by suggesting that mass immigration has been aided by them. This narrative is very clear in an article entitled “INSIDE DOVER: Home Office Attempting To ‘Cover-up’ Dover Migrant Crisis – EXCLUSIVE” illustrated with a picture of a boat full of individuals represented as illegal immigrants and an officer at the front as if he was the captain of the crew. Six out of nine examined media outlets expressed an explicit will to “expose” how governments and charities have been promoting mass immigration in the UK.
In all the countries examined in our study, both the representation of immigrants as criminals and the “invasion” narrative have been visually constructed as truth and, commonly, amplified by mainstream media. As Hannah Arendt observed years ago, the banality of evil is the most pernicious one because it goes unnoticed. Our study is an initial attempt to demonstrate the importance of examining and challenging the politics of truth enacted by far-right actors. While much attention remains devoted to partisan politics and social movements, the far-right has silently built its own knowledge and information apparatus. An apparatus that feeds and legitimizes discrimination.
Beatriz Buarque is a Doctoral Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right and a PhD Candidate at the University of Manchester. See full profile here.
Alessio Scopelliti is a Doctoral Fellow at CARR and a Doctoral candidate in School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol. See full profile here.
Polina Zavershinskaia is a doctoral researcher at the Institute of Political Science, Leipzig University (Germany) and a research investigator (Russia) of the international research group MAFTI (Mapping the Far-Right Truth Industry).
Alexander Thomin is affiliated with the Marburg Center for Digital Culture and Infrastructure (Philipps-University Marburg) and was previously based at the Tilburg School of Social and Behavioral Sciences (Tilburg University).
© Beatriz Buarque, Alessio Scopelliti, Polina Zavershinskaia and Alexander Thomin. 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).