Warning: offensive and potentially triggering language
Just two weeks ago, far-right figures went full bore to dismiss the idea that the Allen, Texas, mall shooter, Mauricio Garcia, a man of Hispanic descent, could have possibly been radicalized into white supremacy. With news that a Hitler-loving individual of South Asian descent drove a moving van into the security barriers near the White House two days ago, the same ignorant responses have surfaced again.
On May 22, 19 year-old Sai Varshith Kandula crashed a U-Haul truck into security barriers close to the White House. It quickly became apparent that his motivations for the attack may have been driven by his neo-Nazi beliefs, signified by the Swastika flag found in the back of his rental truck. Following his arrest, court documents revealed that he aimed to overthrow the government and instill himself in power. When asked about the Nazi flag, he praised Adolf Hitler as a “strong leader” and claimed “Nazi’s have a great history.” Despite his clear neo-Nazi beliefs, much like the Nazism-inspired Texas shooting, far-right media personalities and white supremacists internationally took to social media to deny the role of white supremacy in ongoing violence, spew racism against South Asians, and claim the attack was a “psychological operation” (“psyop”) and a “false flag” meant to target conservatives.
Straight from the same playbook used by white supremacists following the Texas shooting, Turning Point USA Ambassador Rogan O’Handley took to Twitter to sow doubt amongst his followers regarding Kandula’s motivations. By sharing Kandula’s face and putting “white supremacist” in quotes, his followers understood the insinuation and responded with an onslaught of racist memes and posts mocking the idea that Kandula could be a Nazi. For example, one user replied with the same racist image of a poncho combined with a KKK robe made popular following the Texas shooting. Another posted a meme from the film Captain Phillips, with Kandula’s face captioned “look at me, I am the face of white supremacy now.” Far-right “journalist” Ian Miles Cheong, known for praising Hitler, posted a similar tweet with Kandula’s face, saying “This is what a white supremacist Neo-Nazi looks like.”
This sentiment was picked up by far-right groups and leaders internationally. Anti-Muslim activist Tommy Robinson, co-founder of the racist group English Defense League, claimed that Kandula could not be a neo-Nazi, “yet it’s their go to narrative,” seemingly suggesting the media is somehow falsely framing Nazism as a currently dangerous ideology. Paul Golding, leader of Britain First, posted a picture of Kandula captioned “This is becoming parody (sic),” invoking similar rhetoric to when he denied the Texas shooter’s ties to Nazism. Denial and the ensuing racism even spread to Italy, as Francesca Totolo, writer and supporter of Italian neo-fascist CasaPound, posted a picture of Kandula insinuating that a South Asian couldn’t be a Nazi. In a Telegram group that reposts Totolo’s tweets, users responded with extreme and vile racism, such as “I’ve never seen a Nazi banana-eater,” “yes now Mexicans are white,” and “[n-word] alert!!!.”
This trend continued on unmoderated, fringe platforms like Telegram, where openly white supremacist and neo-Nazi accounts attempted to push the same idea. The Sacramento Proud Boys, only weeks removed from reports of the Proud Boys’ connection to the Texas shooting, forwarded a post by Proud Boys founder Gavin McInness claiming that “white privilege is a myth” because Kandula is being investigated for mental health issues (referencing a New York Post article reporting that investigators are looking into whether mental health played a role in the attack), while Richard Barnett, who broke into the Capitol with a stun-gun during the January 6th attack, is a “white man…facing life in prison for sitting at Nancy Pelosi’s desk.” The Missouri Proud Boys took a different approach to distancing themselves from the shooting, making a racist joke calling Kandula the “Netflix adaptation,” seemingly in reference to recent criticism Netflix faced for casting a Black woman to play Cleopatra, of American Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell. Neo-Nazi Telegram channel The Western Chauvinist was home to multiple posts denying Kandula could be a Nazi, including some forwarded by the Nazi “meme” page ZoomerWaffen. Of these posts, one of them consisted of the same Captain Phillips meme shared in the Twitter thread of Rogan O’Handley’s previously-mentioned tweet doubting Kandula’s motivations.
Internationally, groups and individuals on Telegram associated with the far right made numerous racist comments directed at South Asians and immigrants, once again demonstrating how extremism from the United States is exported across borders. Members of the Canadian extremist group Diagolon made multiple posts denying Kandula’s ideology. One member, Leigh Stewy, made a racist joke on her own channel about “importing illegals due to a labour shortage” to commit acts of violence. Other chat members made similar claims and racist jokes, such as “diversity gone wrong kek” (“kek” is a term similar to “lol” used by the far-right). Another far-right Canadian Telegram group called FreeCanada.win forwarded a post by an account called “Blackpilled,” with Kandula’s face and the caption “Behold, the new face of white supremacy.” Just like the Western Chauvinist, European Telegram channel and war news aggregator Intermarium TV shared a ZoomerWaffen post referencing Rogan O’Handley’s tweet. The comment section under this post was once again full of racism, with users demonstrating their affection for Nazis with comments like “Heil Hitler and namaste to you!” while calling Kandula a “Based fellow Indo European chad.” The Italian Telegram chat group for the neo-Nazi organization White Lives Matter re-posted Francesca Totolo’s post, followed by “We went from half black Italians to mestizo white supremacists 🙈.”
False Flags, Set Ups, and Psyops
When the far right were not denying that a person of South Asian descent could be radicalized into a white supremacist ideology, or making racist jokes, a sizable number opted for the “psyop” narrative. Infamous conspiracist Alex Jones, known for his outsized role in the online disinformation mill, did not miss out on an opportunity to turn out a conspiracy theory, and sell supplements in the process. Infowars’ conspiracy theorist Owen Shroyer, known for his apparent calls to lynch former President Barack Obama, framed the event as a false flag by the government “to make people believe that white supremacist Nazis are lurking around every corner, but what you need to know is that they’re all Trump voters and they’re all conservatives.” Another spreader of baseless conspiracy theories was The Blaze columnist Auron MacIntyre. In response to a post by the “Columbia Bugle” stating that “They’re (the government) even diversity hiring in the false flags,” MacIntyre wrote on Twitter, “The FBI, outsourcing work that Americans simply won’t do.” Responding to MacIntyre were commenters claiming that “a Dem set [it] up” and that the immigration authorities were “in on it.”
The TimCast podcast, out to make a name for themselves in the online disinformation world also spread the idea that the unsuccessful attack was an inside job. In a post that would make even Alex Jones proud, Josie Glabach, “The Redheaded libertarian” who also denied the Allen, Texas shooting, implied, without evidence, that the attack was a CIA plot. Baseless claims also came from the likes of far-right “Guerrilla Reporter” @Travis_in_Flint, who claimed that Democrats had planned the attack, conspiracist David “Viva Frei” Freiheit, who wrote on Twitter that it “was carefully and perfectly laid out on the ground by authorities for the perfect photo-op,” and Diagolon (see GPAHE’s reporting on Diagolon) influencer Greg Arcade, who tweeted in response “Your institutions are attacking you.”
Finally, the white supremacists also chimed in and offered their own baseless takes on the attack. Members of white supremacist group White Lives Matter stated that the government was “building up to the big anti-white false flag” while the Michigan Proud Boys claimed that the government is “really trying so hard” to create a false flag event. The neo-Nazis over at the National Socialist Movement offered their bigoted analysis as well, stating that “The kikes are at it again. So fake….”.
In today’s America, white supremacist attacks by individuals often radicalized online, unfortunately, will most likely continue. Also damaging is the broader far right’s attempts to downplay these attacks and deny that these “lone wolves” are in fact tied to a larger far-right network online. As countless amounts of research have shown, they are two sides of the same coin. At the same time, the platforming and incentivizing of conspiracists by tech companies ensures that any good-faith attempt to tackle the problem of radicalization online is drowned out by bad-faith actors that muddy the waters. It is imperative that social media platforms not allow this kind of hateful and conspiracist content to proliferate as it continues to put further innocent lives at risk.
Image: Jacob Morch, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons