Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs –  13 September 2023

Book Review of « Phishing for Nazis: Conspiracies, Anonymous Communications and White Supremacy Networks on the Dark Web », by Lev Topor (New York: Routledge, 2022), 163 pages.

On October 9, 2019, which coincided with Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, twenty-seven-year-old Stephan Balliet unsuccessfully attempted to force his way into the Jewish community center and synagogue in the eastern German town of Halle (Saale). While livestreaming, he perpetrated a mass shooting. Looking into the camera before killing two non-Jewish bystanders outside the center and wounding two others, he said, “Hello, my name is Anon, and I think the Holocaust never happened.” He went on to say that “feminism is the cause of declining birth rates in the West, and this serves as a justification for mass immigration; the Jews are the root of all problems.”

This rehearsed statement was delivered in English for the benefit of his online community of right-wing extremists. Balliet emerged from such a group that became politically radicalized and spread through forums, platforms for gamers, image boards, and Telegram. For the first time, Holocaust denial was one of the motives for violence, highlighting the present danger and seriousness of the phenomenon.

Lev Topor’s book accurately describes the danger arising from the combination of White supremacy, antisemitism, online radicalization, and Holocaust denial. At a time when terrorists are releasing violent, antisemitic, racist manifestos, and publishing videos of the massacre of civilians, this volume is a wakeup call—a terrifying exposé of the anonymization that the dark web provides and the danger it poses as a means of influencing people to commit violent acts. Paradoxically, while these online platforms were designed to promote social interaction, they are now being transformed into “antisocial” networks. This is because the proliferation of hate speech on the surface web, the dark web, and encrypted messaging apps is creating ever more profound global social divisions. In other words, these platforms offer cyber sanctuary for extremists and those posting marginal content, further exacerbating existing societal rifts.

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