A Book Review by Ashley Mattheis
Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right takes an innovative line of approach to exploring processes of radicalization through an analysis of spaces and places where interaction and engagement with extremism occur. This may seem a small shift but represents a major perspectival refocusing in both practical and theoretical terms as much existing work focuses on the content of radicalizing materials and their technologies of dissemination to debate whether radicalization is primarily a cognitive (belief) or behavioral (violent action) phenomenon. The overarching claim of the book is that a shift to analyzing the relationship between spaces/places of encounter with extremism and their related practices can help researchers, practitioners, and laypersons better understand and combat radicalization. Miller-Idriss successfully demonstrates that the “where and when,” of extremism including physical and virtual spaces, imagined and sacred places (territories and geographies), as well as cultural spaces, are essential to radicalization into far-right extremist belief and praxis. While this work is focused on the contemporary far-right – broadly construed – as exemplar, its insights are applicable to the study of all extremist milieus.
Miller-Idriss’ shift from the “why and how of radicalization” to the “where and when” opens new pathways to explore the complexity of radicalization and participation in extremism and hate (p.3). The introduction and first chapter provide an overview of the complexities of the contemporary far-right and its engagement with normative culture. These sections also develop a new analytical lexicon including the titular “homeland” as well as “heartland” and “flow,” and explicate how each of these terms is grounded in a simultaneous sense of the imaginary and physicality as well as movement and stasis. To elaborate on how this lexicon and a space/place analytic are useful, Miller-Idriss offers a range of examples in chapters two through six that highlight the variety of virtual, imagined, remembered, and physical spaces and places where radicalization into and participation with the contemporary far-right occurs. Specific case examples include topical discussions of mainstreaming, recruitment, and radicalization practices across a wide array of spaces and practices including language and narratives (chapter two), productization of extremism in clothing and food cultures (chapter three), defensive sports and practices including mixed martial arts and combat training (chapter four), recruitment practices on college campuses (chapter five), and ways online spaces are weaponized through access, amplification, meme cultures, and online tactics (chapter six). The conclusion provides a clear summary of the books’ interlinked arguments as well as an explication of policy implications and potential solutions. For researchers of far-right extremism, the examples are interesting and well explained, but the real importance and utility of the book for scholars is its new perspective which I evaluate below.
Miller-Idriss’ shift to space/place enables Hate in the Homeland to outline the complex interweaving of consumptive and material practices in contemporary normative culture which expand the reach of extremism and the increasing social experience of hate in quotidian life. She attends to the ways mundane functional linkages between online and offline living and practice are constituted through sets of economic-aesthetic-affective relations as part of contemporary consumer culture and experienced as coextensive spaces of living. In this way, Hate in the Homeland better represents the experiential and affective contexts in which radicalization occurs by resisting constructed categorical distinctions between on/offline engagement with extremism as is often used in policy circles as well as academic research.
A primary strength of the book is that it traces how these sets of economic-aesthetic-affective relations work to constitute specific norms and interactivity within and across the various cultural strands that make up the fragmented structure of far-right extremism and their peripheries in a global context. To achieve this, Miller-Idriss grounds her analysis in case examples of specific practices in various spaces and places of potential radicalization specific to contemporary on/offline life including online cooking shows, clothing cultures, mixed martial arts (MMA) competitions, and college campuses which links extremist cultural beliefs and participation to normative cultural practices. In this way, the practices enacted in these spaces/places, as the book details, act as modes of potential daily engagement with far-right ideology and culture through both consumption (buying, watching, reading) and communication (verbal, textual, visual, sonic, and non-verbal).
Miller-Idriss argues that the exemplar practices outlined are strategically created mechanisms through which curious youth can engage in and participate with hate on their path to developing extremist identities: they act as multiple “gateways” to hate. This tracks with recruitment strategies publicly articulated by far-right extremists who claim to focus on engaging youth and inculcating hate and extremist belief and practice as part of adult identity formation. It is here that Miller-Idriss’ focus on spaces and places at the peripheries of explicitly hateful environments, whether such spaces are imagined (homeland), sacred/nostalgic (heartland), virtual (gaming, forums), or event-based (hate music concerts), are essential to discussion of radicalization as they shed light on identity development through embodied and consumer practices. As such, the book’s focus on youth cultures and practices is a strong basis for its effort to shift wider academic and policy approaches to radicalization and countering extremism upstream to pre-radicalization with a clear eye toward early prevention and building cultures of resilience to combat the spread and development of extremism.
Crucially, Hate in the Homeland pushes against a longstanding academic and policy focus on spectacular events, bad actors, and violent actions by highlighting the daily “praxis” of hate. Miller-Idriss shows that mundane experience and interactions are essential sites through which we can learn about and work toward preventing radicalization and the circulation of extremism broadly in society. A key insight from this approach is that extremism and hate are mundane things people “do” – e.g, daily material practices – as well as ideological and affective systems of beliefs. This points to intrinsically important questions, borrowing from religious studies scholars, about the relationship between orthodoxy (right belief), orthopathy (right affect/feeling), and orthopraxy (right practice), in the context of extremist radicalization. Thus, Hate in the Homeland opens the door to deeper explorations of how these three aspects – belief, affect, and practice – are interwoven in the construction of extremist identities in ways that shape and impact processes of radicalization and deradicalization.
Hate in the Homeland contributes to debates about radicalization as either cognitive or behavioral phenomenon, by showing how it engages belief (ideology), feeling, (affect), and behavior (praxis), thus providing to a more nuanced understanding of the complexity and adaptability of processes of radicalization. Additionally, given its discussion of geographies of extremism (virtual, physical, imaginary, and nostalgic) as connected to daily experience, it also contributes to discussions about mainstreaming, how extremist ideologies and practices are normalized, and the relationship between normative and extreme culture. It is a highly accessible volume that will be useful for multiple readers including public audiences, practitioners, policy makers, students, and scholars. Along with its primary (topical) chapters, the book includes an extensive notes section which keeps the chapter pacing streamlined but ensures the complexity of the topic is retained. Ultimately, Miller-Idriss provides a useful new perspective on discussions of radicalization and opens multiple new pathways for analysis useful to a variety of disciplinary and stakeholder approaches, as well as avenues for methodological developments for the study of extremism.
Ashley A. Mattheis is a postdoctoral researcher at the Cyber Threats Research Centre at Swansea University. Her work brings together cultural studies, media studies, and rhetorical criticism, through the lens of feminist theory to explore the material effects of cultural production and consumption online. Her areas of inquiry include how gendered logics are used to promote racial hate in Far, Alt-Right, Male Supremacist, and Tradwife online cultures. She holds a Ph.D. from the Department of Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.