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Report: Far-right extremists are using leaked military and intelligence documents to sway elections

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Extreme far-right groups across the world have united under the same banner and are actively collaborating to help influence elections and intimidate political opponents, according to a new study by the Institute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD) — and current efforts to disrupt them are lagging far behind.

The report details how far-right activists have broken through divides that for years kept them spread out, disconnected, and distrustful of each other. Now, the internet has allowed far-right groups to “actively seek to overcome ideological and geographic differences for the sake of expanding their influence, reach and impact.” A key part of that impact is coordinated grassroots activities and the weaponization of internet culture, which allows the far-right to “bring about attitude and behavioral change, in particular among the younger generations.”

One example of that international collaboration occurred earlier this year, when supporters across Europe and and the United States crowdfunded $200,000 to help far-right activists charter a 422-ton boat meant to disrupt the rescue of migrants in the Mediterranean. Donations came from France, Germany, the United States, the U.K., Italy and several other countries, and showed how “groups and individuals are prepared to put aside ideological differences… and instead focus on commonality.”

The report also noted how the far-right was using sophisticated media disruption strategies gleaned from military playbooks.

“[The far-right] use military and intelligence resources such as leaked strategic communication documents from the GCHQ [the U.K.’s equivalent of the NSA] and NATO to run campaigns against their own governments,” the report read. “By staging sophisticated operations in the style of military psychological operations…they seek to disrupt the democratic process in Europe.”

The report’s authors noted that, during the German election, the far-right used a similar tactical playbook, coordinated and created on the Discord channel Reconquista Germania, to organize and spread memes and misinformation with the goal of boosting public support for the far-right AfD party.

Since the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville there have been repeated warnings about the encroaching danger of white nationalism. Earlier in September, FBI director Christopher Wray said the agency had around 1,000 open domestic terror investigations  —  a term used as a catch-all for white nationalists, hardline right-wing militias, and Christian secessionists. In the U.K., there has also been a worrying rise in hate crime and xenophobia.

Social media giants have begun to realize the extent to which their platforms have been used to propagate that hatred, however the ICD argues that the current efforts do not match the technological sophistication of the far-right, and that many are fleeing the more popular social media platforms for those tailor-made for the far-right, like white supremacist haven Gab.

“Counter-hate efforts must mobilize across borders to match this global threat,” the report read. “Both policy and civil society-led responses…must be coordinated internationally.”

The authors added that it is imperative that these counter-strategies “match the sophistication of the extreme right on a technological, cultural and communications level” in order to successfully prevent their spread.

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