Ian Birrell

A dark journey into a fanatical underworld

To fully investigate the extremist threat, Julia Ebner went undercover — to join neo-Nazi rallies, and take hacking lessons from Isis

Two years ago, the counter-extremist analyst Julia Ebner decided she needed to delve deeper into the extremists trying to disrupt and destabilise our democracies. So the Austrian researcher invented five identities and joined a dozen secretive digital worlds of white nationalists, radical misogynists and jihadi women to explore their networks, their strategies and their recruitment techniques. This sobering book tells the tale of her journeys into a swampy underworld filled with fanatics and fantasists.

Many of the people she came across seem like the saddest of losers. She joins a white nationalist dating site — motto ‘Love your race and procreate’ — where people admit they received ‘negative’ feedback on mainstream forums. ‘I am not surprised,’ writes Ebner. ‘Imagine that awkward situation when you sit with a Tinder date who tells you the Jewish policymakers, bankers and journalists have been plotting to wipe out the white race.’ An American anti-Semitic hacker, who briefly deleted all gay and lesbian novels from Amazon, was jailed for identity theft and then fled to a Russian breakaway region in Moldova, tells her he is lonely and miserable.

Then there are the ‘Incels’, a sub-culture of ‘involuntary celibates’ filled with a loathing for women born from their sexual frustration. And Trad Wives, a bunch of anti-feminists who see their role in life as submitting to male desires. ‘Men prefer women who don’t talk too much,’ says one. ‘Forget your career and just concentrate on the things men look for in a woman.’ Others argue that ‘men who spank their wives are doing it right’. This is an alt-right group whose members turn hate on themselves rather than on other people; yet Ebner, emotionally vulnerable after a painful break-up, finds ‘something weirdly comforting in the self-blaming, self-denigrating language that connected its members’.

The killing of one protester showed how easily online hatred can explode into real-world savagery

It all seems at times faintly amusing, if disturbing, like one of those Louis Theroux documentaries about social inadequates consumed by hate.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.


Unlock more articles



Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in