Navid Kiassat is a Freshman from Chico, CA majoring in Political Science. Recently, Navid wrote a paper studying the alt-right’s use of trolling as political expression. We sat down to talk about memes, politics, and cricket protein.
For your class “American Elections”, you’re writing a paper on the use of alt-right trolling as political activism. What gave you the idea to write on that topic and what conclusions have you arrived to?
NK: I knew that I was going to spend a long time writing it, so I wanted it to be something I would enjoy writing about. When I write a paper I want to be interesting.
In studying the alt-right, the whole thing goes back to contentious politics: clusters of people making claims on other clusters of people. Scholarly frameworks of movements like Occupy Wall Street align with the alt-right in their use of social media as a space for activism, but while most groups use social media as a way to organize for real world action, for the alt-right trolling is actually their form of political activism.
How would you differentiate the alt-right from white nationalist groups, if you would at all?
NK: Lawrence Murray, an alt-right blogger, said the alt-right is defined by the skillful use of memes. The alt-right is no different from white nationalist groups, they indulge in conspiracy theories, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and everything else. The main difference is in their methodology. What happens when Donald Trump Jr re-tweets a meme with Pepe the Frog and suddenly every outlet is talking about the alt-right? They’ve managed to get a higher level of exposure and visibility than other groups because of their tactics.
On a similar note, Breitbart is not an alt-right publication. It is inflammatory, racist, and sexist but it is far from The Right Stuff or The Daily Stormer in ideology.
Do you think troll tactics of the kind the alt-right uses will be the future?
NK: I think the Left can’t copy it entirely, but we are seeing it more. Victoria Secret was targeted for using prison labor and digital activism played a major role in getting them to stop. Same with the World Cup in Qatar. People checking into Standing Rock on Facebook differs in some key ways, but it is an example of digital activism. Again, the difference is that for these other groups the online portion was not itself the end.
How can people combat the alt-right? Is there a meme war on the horizon?
NK: I don’t think there will be any meme wars. The best thing to do is not to censor them, but to take their claims head on, and show why they’re factually incorrect. The alt right thrives off the idea that there is a hyper-sensitive left that just shuts them down. So when websites censor, it just feeds into their movement. I don’t think they are taking over GOP, the majority of Trump supporters are not part of the alt-right. Some of the things they say are legally actionable threats, for example the things they said to David French, so that’s another way.
You’ve written a paper on memes, a number of provocative op-eds, and worked with 180 Degrees Consulting all in your first semester. What do you think the future holds for you?
NK: I’m on a business for SwatTank called Dae Farms that seeks to reduce reliance on animal proteins, especially the cattle industry, through cricket farming and the creation of cricket protein powder and flour.