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From Memes to Infowars: How 75 Fascist Activists Were “Red-Pilled”

October 11, 2018

By Robert Evans

Translations: Русский

The vast majority of domestic terror attacks in the U.S. are carried out by white supremacist organizations. Atomwaffen, a neo-Nazi death squad with five killings to their name, is probably the deadliest fascist group to have arisen since 2016. One member of Atomwaffen, Vasillios Pistolis, was an active duty U.S. marine when he marched at the first Unite the Right rally. Pistolis also posted regularly on a series of fascist and white supremacist Discord servers, prior to and after joining Atomwaffen.

The media collective Unicorn Riot has archived hundreds of thousands of posts from these Discord servers. Their database includes dozens of conversations where fascists discuss how they were converted to their extremist beliefs. In an effort to understand that process, Bellingcat collected “red-pilling” stories from seventy-five fascist activists. The analysis is below, details on the activists we studied can be found here.

What is red-pilling?

An online community develops its own lingo over time. Among fascist activists “red-pilling” means converting someone to fascist, racist and anti-Semitic beliefs. The term originates with “The Matrix,” a popular 1999 film. The protagonist is offered the choice between a red pill, which will open his eyes to the reality of a machine-dominated world, and a blue pill, which will return him to ignorance and safety. The definition of “red pill,” as used by fascists, is rather elastic. Films and songs are described as “red pilled” if they reinforce a far-right worldview. At least one poster referred to amphetamines as red-pilled.

There appears to be no agreed-upon standard for when a human being is red-pilled. Most fascist activists agree that acknowledgement of the Jewish Question, or JQ, is critical. This means believing that Jewish people are at the center of a vast global conspiracy. The end goal of this conspiracy is usually described as “white genocide”, but there are numerous variations.

Red pilling is described as a gradual process. Individual people can be red-pilled on certain issues and not others. Stefan Molyneux, a popular author and far-right YouTube personality, is seen as being red-pilled on race and “the future of the west” even though he is not considered as a fascist. Prominent YouTuber PewPewDie is also often considered red-pilled. It is accepted that media personalities need to hide their outright fascist beliefs, or “power level”, in order to have a chance at red-pilling the general population (usually called “normies”).

How to red-pill others is a constant topic of conversation. In this thread one user talks about how he “skirted the jew question” in order to red-pill a co-worker. Instead, he claims to have exploited his co-worker’s hatred of “SJW”s, a.k.a. social justice warriors. Other users advise starting the red-pilling process with the JQ. Disagreements mainly center around which techniques are most effective. The overall goal is quite clear.

The “normie” to fascist pipeline

President Donald Trump is seen as having red-pilled many Americans. A number of fascist activists credit his candidacy as the start of their awakening. This conversation between users Buddy Hobbs and ecce_lux is a useful breakdown of how that looks.

“The great meme war” is a reference to time this user spent on 4chan and possibly 8chan, creating far-right memes in order to red-pill other people during the election. The whole exchange paints a picture of a man who was initially ensnared by candidate Trump’s rhetoric and then driven towards far-right media and, eventually, extremist communities on 4chan. There his commitment to fascist ideology crystalized.

The vast majority of fascist activists are male. Some of these men even doubt that women can be red-pilled. The few users who identify themselves as female tend to be quite extreme in their beliefs. This is consistent with research into the demographics of the far-right done by the Institute for Family Studies. Fascist and white nationalist organizations are “overwhelmingly male,” yet women are more likely to identify with such beliefs.

The American fascist movement has been male-dominated since at least the aftermath of the Vietnam war. The role of veterans in founding many early far-right organizations may be one explanation as to why. It is also likely that the demographics of certain online communities plays a role. 70% of 4chan users are male, and 4chan is the second most frequently credited website in red-pilling stories.

Thirty-nine of the 75 fascist activists we studied credit the Internet with their red-pilling. YouTube seems to be the single most frequently discussed website. The specific videos credited, however, span a multitude of creators, from British YouTuber Sargon of Akkad (Carl Benjamin) to Infowars founder Alex Jones.

Many fascist activists cite a multitude of red-pills which were all integral to them arriving at their current beliefs.  User barD’s 18 March, 2017 post is a great example of this. Here’s how he traces his journey:

“Get redpilled on Feminism after reading some crazy SJW posts about MLP [My Little Pony] being racist and sexist and anti-lesbian, get redpilled on islam after getting intruiged [sic] by some islamisists [sic] taking in a youtube comments section. Get redpilled on GG (Gamergate) from sargon.”

From there his evolution continues:

We see a steady spiral, from arguments in comment sections to far-right YouTube personalities to “the_donald” subreddit to 4chan’s /pol/ board and eventually to fascist Discord servers. This user singles out Sargon of Akkad (British Youtuber Carl Benjamin) for special praise and considers him a major influence. One of Sargon’s most popular video series’ is, “Why Do Men Hate #Feminism?” (Episode #1 is titled “Feminists Hate Women.”)

In later posts barD claims the “gradual red-pilling” of Sargon’s videos stopped him from being a feminist. He also praises Sargon as an “easier step” away from liberal views than outright Nazism. Once he’d taken that step and gotten used to Sargon’s rhetoric, it was easier for him to get used to the more extreme atmosphere of /pol/.

It’s not uncommon for white supremacist, fascist and anti-Semitic beliefs to arise initially as the result of humor. Four of the seventy-five activists we studied mentioned ironic memes as major red-pills. In this thread, a user recalls how his first red-pill came during an argument over an anti-Semitic tweet posted to Facebook.

Another user asks FucknOathMate if he was “only doing it ironically at first,” and he replies: “Well sort of.” He says he knew Jewish people were “weird” and “ran everything,” but he wasn’t yet a Holocaust denier or a fascist. Again, we see someone sliding gradually into extremist beliefs. Ironic memes gave this individual a chance to get used to the temperature before diving in.

Thirty-six fascist activists traced the start of their red-pilling process to an event that occurred offline. Five of these people credited their families with red-pilling them. For the other thirty-one, methods ran a rather wide gamut.

Four fascists say they were red-pilled while tripping on LSD. User Europa is a typical example of this trend. He claims his interest in Nazism started in childhood, with his dad watching Hitler documentaries “every day.” Europa carried this interest into adulthood, watching Hitler documentaries and speeches while taking LSD. This convinced him to start “researching” Nazism which, eventually, inspired him to become an activist.

Other activists cite living in a diverse area, reading a copy of Mein Kampf, mass-shooter Anders Brevik’s manifesto and numerous other factors as their first red-pills. Since our study of these activists is based on messages they exchanged with each other online, we can conclude that even when indoctrination begins offline new converts inevitably go online to deepen their beliefs.

Internet communities and social media services have been integral to the recent growth of the fascist right. The rest of this article will focus on the major online sources of fascist red-pilling.


Ten of our seventy-five fascists credited 4chan with red-pilling them. Many other activists have referenced it as a place that was critical in their radicalization. The /pol/ board is generally seen as a breeding ground for young fascists. Anticom founder Haupsturmfuhrer Pepe credits 4chan as the site that has “redpilled the most” people. For a number of activists, 4chan is the last “mainstream” website they frequent before getting involved with explicitly fascist media.

In this post, Auralevels claims that 4chan led him to The Right Stuff (referred to as “TRS”) and The Daily Stormer (“stormer”), two neo-Nazi news and culture sites (a recent Daily Stormer article was titled, “Disney’s Jew CEO Admits They Kiked the Goyim with Too Many Star Wars Movies,” to give an example of the kind of materials they publish).

4chan and its descendant 8chan make up a large chunk of what is commonly known as the alt-right. These places are considered fairly moderate by fascist activists in the Discord conversations presented. The alt-right is often referred to as the “alt-light.” The intent seems to be halfway between a term of endearment and an insult.  Fascist activists view the alt-right as silly, but also as a crucial recruiting ground.

This view is common but not universal. Some activists accuse the so-called alt-light of “paralyzing the supply chain”. They accuse them of allowing “normies” to feel radical for reading sites like Breitbart, while meanwhile “[they] don’t realize that those are quite literally (((controlled op)))…” The use of parentheses here is meant to convey the belief that such websites are secretly run by Jewish elites in order to split the right.

Despite these doubts, it’s clear that 4chan’s /pol/ and other alt-right communities provided a great deal of the fascist right’s manpower. Three of the fascists we studied praised the so-called “the Kekosphere.” “kekism” and “kek” with their red-pilling.

I should note that one of the more frustrating elements about covering the fascist right is that much of what they say sounds ridiculous and makes them appear less than serious. This is why it is important to remember that these groups have a body count and represent a real threat. Their absurdity does not negate their danger.

Kek is a term that first appeared in the MMORPG World of Warcraft. The two sides in that game, Horde and Alliance, were not supposed to communicate with one another. So when a member of one side chatted at another, their words were run through a filter to make it sound like a foreign language. When Horde players would type “lol,” it was translated as “kek”. Over time “kek” became another way of expressing laughter online. On 4chan’s /pol/ board kek took on a grander meaning and came to embody the essence of the “meme magic” that first made the alt-right so prominent.  The cultural rock tumbler of /pol/ eventually transmuted kek into Kekistan, a fictional ethno-state for “shitposters.”

Kekistan first became prominent with the enthusiastic endorsement of YouTuber Sargon of Akkad. And for many people, including Sargon, Kekistan is just a dumb Internet joke. In 2017 Sargon of Akkad announced that he would try to register “Kekistani” as an official ethnic group for the 2020 U.K. census. This all unraveled into a parody of the refugee crisis.


And over time Kekistan came to be used as something of a Trojan horse by the fascist right. One good example is the flag of Kekistan.

This design of the flag, benign at first glance, is just a color-inverted variant of the German Kriegsflagge (battle flag) from the Nazi era.

Kekistan is a common topic of discussion on fascist Discord servers. Opinions vary from calling it a “forced meme” to expressing serious devotion to the idea. Kekistan flags and other regalia are often seen at Patriot Prayer rallies and other far-right protests. Some fascists lament that many people who fly the flag don’t understand the Nazi origins of its design. But many know exactly what they are signaling when they put one on a flagpole, or their helmet:

You can see the whole USAF video here. It’s frustratingly light on details. The contractor wearing this flag may just be a channer who finds Kekistan funny. He may be a committed fascist signaling to his comrades. Or he may be somewhere in between, finding himself pulled further and further towards extremism as time goes on. When this footage went viral, the contractor was fired by his employer, MAG Aerospace.

While 4chan’s /pol/ board is the most common source of Internet-based red-pills, a close second appears to be the Infowars media network of famed American conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

The influence of Infowars

Six of our fascist activists credit Alex Jones with red-pilling them. Jones has been a prominent radio and Internet conspiracy theorist since the mid-1990s and is the founder of the media organization Infowars. Jones first rose to prominence when he served as executive producer  on Loose Change, a series of films that began in 2005 and which helped ignite the “9/11 Truther” movement.

Two more activists on our list credit Infowars editor Paul Joseph Watson with their red-pilling. Conspiracy theories appear to be one of the more well-trodden roads into fascist nationalism. This may have something to do with the fact that lack of interpersonal trust and employment insecurity are heavily correlated with belief in conspiracy theories. In 1995 Umberto Eco wrote that at the center of fascist psychology was, “…the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one.” He believed that this was because fascist believers needed to feel “besieged”.

Whatever the “why,” numerous Discord posts reveal the “how.” User Harleen Kekzel claims to have identified as a “polyamorous genderqueer masculine leaning pansexual” at age 16. She claims her red-pilling process started with Alex Jones.

She explains later that she was “was conspiracy pilled,”  but also says she and her husband weren’t red-pilled until the Pulse nightclub massacre. A number of other fascist activists say their journey to the far right started with conspiracy theories. Kombat-Unit, one of the most prominent posters in these Discord conversations, at one point notes his approval of this source of new converts; “if you can get some guys through UFO stuff I’m not complaining.” In response, another user says:

Alex Jones and Infowars are also viewed with skepticism by many fascist activists. Some disregard them as “controlled opposition.” The general opinion seems to be that Jones is useful, but far too milquetoast for people who cheerfully support National Socialism.

Most episodes of Alex Jones’s popular streaming and radio shows center on him exposing aspects of a grand “globalist” conspiracy to take over the world. Everything from mass shootings to terrorist attacks is accused of being staged at the behest of these globalists. A number of fascist activists use the term “globalist” as a synonym for “Jewish.” It is not hard to find people who have interpreted Jones’ work this way:

Infowars reached the height of its influence as a result of sites like Facebook and YouTube. By the time  they were kicked off of YouTube, Infowars had more than 2.4 million followers and 1.6 billion page views across 36,000 videos. It is likely that banning Infowars will reduce the flow of recruits to far right groups. But even without Infowars, YouTube still provides a pathway for those interested in the American fascist movement.   

The importance of YouTube

15 out of 75 fascist activists we studied credited YouTube videos with their red-pilling. In this thread, a group of white supremacists debate with a “civic nationalist” who says he won’t judge an entire race by the actions of a few. It is suggested that he watch a video by American Renaissance, a white supremacist publication. The video, “What the Founders Really Thought About Race,” is essentially a history lesson about why the U.S. founding fathers thought race-mixing was bad. It endorses genocide, via the bearded face of James Garfield:

Fascists who become red-pilled through YouTube often start with comparatively less extreme right-wing personalities, like Ben Shapiro or Milo Yiannopolous.

One user explained that he was a “moderate republican” before “Steven Crowder, Paul Joseph Watson, Milo Yiannopolos, Black Pidgeon Speaks,” and other far-right YouTubers slowly red-pilled him. Over time he “moved further and further right until [he] could no longer stand them. That’s why [he likes] those groups even still, because if we just had the Fascists, we’d never convert anyone.”

Other YouTubers like JonTron also come up in red-pilling discussions. At least three fascists credit Sargon of Akkad with starting their journey. An equal number credit Milo Yiannopoulos. Steven Crowder is referenced as a great red-piller. The users who talk about these creators appear to have watched a great number of their videos. Creators are referenced more often than specific videos.

There is, however, one single video that is mentioned repeatedly. Four separate activists all identified 2013’S The Greatest Story Never Told as their red-pill.

Producer Dennis Wise intended The Greatest Story Never Told to present a “more balanced and truthful” depiction of World War II. The documentary is almost six hours long and clunkily edited. It completely leaves out the Holocaust. It is a surprising candidate for the most influential single piece of modern fascist propaganda, but it may in fact be that. Or it may just be the most memorable piece of propaganda consumed by several young men on their long and twisted  roads to radicalization.

Human beings are not simple creatures, and so no person’s journey to such an extremist belief system can be boiled down to just “YouTube did it” or “4chan did it.” Millions of people have been exposed to ironic racism and /pol/ without going on to don a swastika armband. Radicalization is a process, and the goal of this study is to reveal several of the factors that can act to prime and nudge a young mind from laughing at Holocaust jokes to truly believing that Hitler did nothing wrong.

Robert Evans

Robert Evans has worked as a conflict journalist in Iraq and Ukraine and reported extensively on far-right extremist groups in the United States. He's particularly interested in the ways terrorist groups recruit, radicalize and communicate through the Internet. He has a podcast on the HowStuffWorks network ( and you can contact him via or Twitter:

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  1. Even Johannesen

    It facinates me that the author just leaves the reaction to real life events like the “Colone rape attacks”, without any comment.
    -Like material reality is not relevant.

    • Austin

      The reason he didn’t comment is, material offline reality alone doesn’t account for it. Lots of people learned about the Cologne rape attacks. But not all or even most or even very many of them became fascists.

      It’s like “violent video games.” Lots of people played DOOM. Two of them shot up a high school. Doesn’t mean the millions of males who played DOOM want to shoot up a school now.

    • Charles

      The author is pretty ignorant about what “red pilled” means. It means accepting truths that are difficult to accept.

      It’s slang to mean oneself realizing that republicans/conservatives are right factually and have the best policies, even though liberalism “sounds nice” in theory. It’s also realizing the government does not have mankind’s best interests in mind, and that larger government tends to inconvenience, impoverish and enslave.

      “Fascists” are those who support large big authoritian governments and police states. You know, like snitching on people for not doing a 14 day curfew like liberals in Hawaii are doing. Saying that republicans today in 2020 are fascists is about as dopey and devoid of reality as saying that Jews were fascist in 1930’s Germany. It’s victim blaming to the most disgusting and shameless degree.

      I mean, is Elon Musk a “Nazi” or a “fascist” or “racist”? Because he just became redpilled, and liberals loved him last week.

      Republicans and libertarians lately have noticed the overwhelming trend of police state, nanny state and stricter and stricter govt rules/laws, by the left. Republicans and libertarians want more freedom, not less. And remember kids Abraham Lincoln was a republican!

  2. Øyvind Midtfjell

    The developments the author describes are familiar. I’ve noticed definite trend on reddit, 4chan, imgur, tumblr and other sites. A trend towards suspicious, lack of trust, and a hostility towards vulnerable groups.

    I see the parallels from history, and it frightens me.
    I get a sour reminder of this trend every time some basic, inarguable statement such as “we’re all better off working together” is met with tremendous resistance.

    The most dangerous aspect of this movement, I believe, is that the notion that the systems on which our societies run cannot be trusted. Those systems will collapse without the public’s good will.
    And then the fascists will suddenly appear much more sensible. “We called it”, they will say.

  3. RB

    “Since our study of these activists is based on messages they exchanged with each other online, we can conclude that even when indoctrination begins offline new converts inevitably go online to deepen their beliefs.”

    You cannot really conclude that. Any way of indoctrination that you are able to detect by protocolling online messages must have gone online at some point, but there is to way you can figure out the number of indoctrinations in this way.
    The only conclusion you may draw from this is:
    “Activists in online communities do not necessarily originate in online communities, but may have been ‘red-pilled’ offline”

  4. MrPete

    Boy, a LOT of assumptions here:
    * Anyone significantly “right” politically is on a slippery-slope path toward support of radical/violent hate-filled extremism.
    * That Fascism is right-wing. (To the extent “right” and “conservative” relate to individual liberty supported by very limited government, while “left” and (modern) “liberal” relate to further gov’t control and programs… there’s no way fascism is anything but a leftist bent.)

    FWIW, I like the way (liberal!) D. Patrick Moynihan defined things: “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”

    • Anonymous

      Mussolini said that fascism is right wing, and considering he invented it, I’d say he knew way more about it than you.

      In the entry on ‘Fascism’ published in 1932 in the newly created Enciclopedia Italiana, Benito Mussolini made a prediction. He wrote that just because the nineteenth century was one of socialism, liberalism and democracy, there was no reason for the twentieth century to be the same. There were, he claimed, good reasons to think that in fact it would be a century of ‘authority’, the ‘right’: a fascist century (‘un secolo fascista’). Fifteen years earlier, at the height of the Great War, he had made another prediction in his newspaper Il Popolo d’Italia. The Italian soldiers fighting in the trenches would form a new elite, a ‘trenchocracy’ that would sweep aside the old Italy governed by ‘windbags’ and ‘senile imbeciles’ out of touch with the new national mood of heroism and patriotism generated by the war. The revolution that followed would give new meanings to words such as ‘republic’, ‘democracy’, ‘radicalism’. In fact, a new ideology could shape the future ‘an anti-Marxist and national socialism’ which would ‘realize the synthesis of the antithesis: class and nation’.

      • Charles

        Right wing is, at the end of the day, just a word.

        Let’s describe Mussolini’s Italy. It had a large centralized government, a lot of strict and often unfair laws, a police state, and many government jobs and high taxes.

        This is what Democrats today want. This is what republicans today do not want.

        Call it whatever “wing” you want. Only stupid people would be convinced away from what I’m saying, simply by an arbitrary term that a guy 90 years ago invented. It also ignores historical context… Mussolini wanted to oppose communism, and he wanted to side with Hitler. But in reality, Hitler and Mussolini kills tens of millions of people AND SO DID STALIN AND MAO (Russia and China, both communist). Totalitarian governments- whether fascist or communist- both suck; they’re both terrible forms of government; and democrats seem to encourage them both right now. The only thing I’ll give Dems credit for is most Dems dont want a RACIST totalitarian government; but they do want a totalitarian government nonetheless, that oppresses everyone kind of equally “in the name of safety”.

  5. ben

    Interesting. Could we also have an investigation into how people are converted to Socialism, a political and economic system which has never ever succeeded, even slightly?

    • I don’t like you ben

      Socialism =/= communism. I’d say that the more socialist European countries are doing much better than any of the successful fascist countries you seem to believe in.

  6. Jay_Leano

    All these people saying Robert doesn’t know what red pilling means…when he was quoting the fascists on their definition of their own red pilling. And accusing fascism of being a democrat phenomenon when the people who literally identify as fascists are clearly far right, just wow.


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