Cynthia Miller-Idriss, Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right (Princeton, NJ: U of Princeton P, 2020), 272 pp.
Over the last five years, we have witnessed the political rise and establishment of Donald Trump. His presidency with its nativist, incendiary, and paranoid style of politics has been accompanied by an extremist fan club made up of various far-right groups, like neo-Nazis, the Alt-Right, Oath Keepers, and the Proud Boys, among many others. Admittedly, right-wing extremism is not a new phenomenon. We have rather seen the normalization of extremist narratives and their dissemination into mainstream spaces by prominent public figures—from Republican politicians to Fox News anchors. During Trump’s term, political rallies, marches, and protests organized by far-right groups multiplied across the country and White supremacist propaganda peaked at an all-time high, online and offline (see SPLC). The surge of far-right hate crimes and terrorist violence—culminating in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021—has led to a national reckoning of the gravity and urgency of the threat of domestic extremism. Cynthia Miller-Idriss’s Hate in the Homeland emerges out of this agitated context. The book offers an illuminating study of current forms of far-right radicalization in the United States that is both highly stimulating and highly disquieting. The author aims to uncover “the physical and virtual scenes, the imagined territories and sacred geographies, and the cultural spaces where hate is cultivated” (3), and sheds light on how these new spaces of far-right radicalization help the movement thrive financially, politically, and culturally. It is also a methodologically ambitious study that offers an inspiring take on the research on the far right itself, broadening the focus from why and how radicalization and growth happen to where and when they happen. Hate in the Homeland is an important read for scholars of cultural studies who are interested in the intersections of space and identity, belonging and othering, popular culture and subcultures, as well as the role of the “everyday” and emotions in political engagement, and conspiracy theories and “retrotopian” fantasies (Bauman) as genres.
The book’s main objective is to uncover the “new gateways” (3) through which the far right propagates its ideologies, cultivates its recruits, and radicalizes the youth. We learn that the contemporary U.S. far right is characterized by a multitude of “entry points, fragmented scenes, and newer groups and associations” (25), many of which intentionally choose spaces not previously associated with right-wing and White supremacist groups. This elusiveness is what drives the growth of the far right in the United States and beyond. Hate in the Homeland dives into those cultural spaces to understand the ways individuals, and in particular the youth, are mobilized through ordinary and flexible participation in mainstream physical and virtual spaces weaponized by the far right. Miller-Idriss’s book expands prior work on the U.S. far right and its relation to space (see Flint; Futrell and Simi) by locating modern movements within a profoundly altered ecosystem of radicalization—one that is fragmented, dynamic, and broadening. The author argues that these new mainstream spaces are critical not only to understand how the contemporary far right functions and survives but also to find effective ways to counter its rise.
Hate in the Homeland is organized in two sections. The first part (introduction, ch. 1 and 2) provides readers with foundational knowledge on the modern U.S. far right, its interrelation with space, and its mainstreaming strategies. Miller-Idriss starts out by defining what the “far right” is and examines its distinct practices, ideals, and fantasies. She writes that the term refers to a broad ideological and political spectrum that includes “beliefs that are antidemocratic, antiegalitarian, white supremacist, and embedded in solutions like authoritarianism, ethnic cleansing or ethnic migration, and the establishment of separate ethno-states” (18). Miller-Idriss then assesses the role of real and imagined geographies in far-right ideologies and radicalization processes. In doing so, she investigates issues of identity, entitlement, belonging and exclusion, the sensual and affective qualities of space, ecofascist attitudes, and fantasies of sacred national geographies. This part places emphasis on the ways space and place are vital to the far right’s subsistence and normalization. Thus, we are also presented with a comprehensive account on the mechanisms that bring extremist rhetoric, conspiracy theories, aesthetics, and communication styles into mainstream spheres—thereby reaching potential recruits far beyond the traditional domains of the far right.
The second part turns to four cultural spaces in which the transnational far right is currently thriving. Firstly (ch. 3), Miller-Idriss examines the tentacular far-right markets for food and fashion—arenas that are often disregarded in the study of far-right and White supremacist movements. Through precise analyses of contemporary phenomena—from vegan far-right cooking shows on YouTube, extreme prepper and survivalist food provisions, to expensive “nationalist streetwear” (79)—she investigates the ways right-wing and so-called “patriotic” commercial markets not only finance the far right but also gradually socialize individuals to extremist ideals and values, providing them a sense of purpose and belonging.
The following analysis (ch. 4) focuses on the gym and combat-sports culture. In particular, the chapter delves into Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and fight clubs as key physical places of radicalization that are aligned with far right ideals about masculinity, the fit body, apocalyptic struggle, and extreme violence. Miller-Idriss considers the MMA scene as an ideal “incubator” for far-right groups because it recruits young people from “adjacent subcultures” (100), introduces them to fundamental right-wing beliefs and messages, and physically trains them to supposedly “defend the nation and white European civilization” (100). Altogether, the instrumentalization of the combat-sport scene by the far right reflects an unnerving trend: “extremists are increasingly moving out of the world of fantasy and utopian thinking and into the world of direct action and violent engagement” (100).
Miller-Idriss then (ch. 5) turns to the far right’s physical and ideological assaults on mainstream intellectual spaces, such as universities, bookstores, and historical archives, and on its own efforts towards the cultivation of its (future) intellectual leadership. According to her, the far right targets campuses for two reasons: 1) their attacks represent a broader assault on knowledge and expertise in a space considered dominated by the left; 2) the campuses are tangible spaces for recruitment and for testing the limits of free speech, disseminating propaganda, and polarizing communities. This chapter is especially powerful because it lays bare the vulnerabilities that universities face against far-right forces—including physical assaults and psychological harassment of scholars and students as well as material damages. It also exposes the ways far-right leaders appropriate academic scholarship for their own political ends, spinning, for instance, studies on race, immigration, and demographics to legitimize their ideologies and actions.
Finally (ch. 6), Miller-Idriss scrutinizes online spaces and, in particular, social media. She addresses various issues, like questions of banning and de-platforming, the rise of alternative platforms and communication channels, the phenomena of “echo-chambers” and “algorithmic radicalization” (147), and the use and circulation of an online aesthetic. Some readers might be perplexed that the author chose to close her book about new spaces of far-right radicalization with online spaces, as extensive scholarship on the subject indeed already exists (a fact that she acknowledges herself ). The real strength of this analysis, however, rests on the claim that radicalization cannot solely happen in online spaces, but that there is, in fact, a complex and strategic interplay of online and offline activities that “enables the far right to maximize the circulation, communication, and effectiveness” of its ideologies (138).
Chapters 3-6 each close with concrete solutions and examples of policies and programs effectively taken in other countries to prevent far-right radicalization and the movement’s global rise (most often, examples are taken from the German context). Those include pragmatic and comprehensive public education efforts concerned with training communities—and in particular children and their parents—to recognize extremist discourse in mainstream arenas. The book concludes with the real possibilities of preventive educational work, the need for transnational collaborations and policy solutions, and reflects on some lessons from Europe to situate the fight against the far right within a broader democratic and civil-society building project—ultimately, for the author, “we all have a role to play” (176).
Overall, Hate in the Homeland is a deep dive into the new spaces, fringe and mainstream, that generate and sustain far-right ideologies and engagements. Miller-Idriss’s analyses of right-wing cultural spaces and texts are incisive and informative, even though—at times—they contain a few overgeneralizations. A deeper theoretical engagement with the concepts of “space” and “place,” for instance, would have been greatly beneficial to the discussion. The book’s structure and arguments are convincing and well-organized despite some minor repetitions throughout the chapters. It provides readers, in an almost didactic manner, with the tools to understand and combat the complex dynamics and dangers of the contemporary U.S. far right. It is an important book for anyone trying to piece together what has been happening for the past few years and what can be done about it, because the far right is trending, and it sure shows no sign of withering away.
Axelle Germanaz (FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg)
Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). “When the ‘Alt-Right’ Hit the Streets: Far-Right Political Rallies in the Trump Era.” Southern Poverty Law Center, 10 Aug. 2020. 11 Nov. 2021. https://www.splcenter.org/20200810/when-alt-right-hit-streets-far-right-political-rallies-trump-era#Viral%20V.