AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), the German Christian right-wing to far-right party, issued a white men Advent campaign. The political movement uses this Advent calendar to promote their new right ideology and Euroscepticism.
The AfD white men Advent calender
Winter holidays are approaching and AfD seems to make a great use out of it. Counting days till Christmas has always been an important tradition in Western Europe. The activity is also something ‘typical’ and is seen as vital part of the celebration of the birth of Christ.
The Advent as a 'christian tradition' is now recontextualized and mobilized in a nationalist blood and soil frame. This calender is all about politics. The official aim of the campaign is to fight the ‘reversed’ racism, a classic trope among radical and extreme right fringe groups. The Twitter account of AfD says “At the most beautiful time of the year, every day we introduce you to a person who has significantly influenced our Western civilization. 'White men' have become an insult to some in recent years. Not to us." (DW,2018).
The Party posts daily tweets promoting white men that contributed to the development of culture. To spread their message, they use hashtag #JazuWeißenMännern, which in English means “Yes to white men”.
The focus of the campaign of course refers to a by now dominant theme with the global new right niche that is designed to 'trigger the normies'. It started with 4chan and alt-right activists posting the phrase 'It's ok to be white' online and offline, in the hope of triggering reactions from the poco's saying that this is 'racism'. In the last years, we see this meme popping up in all corners of the world (see for example Maly, 2018a & b) in the hope of sparking controverse, introducing 'whiteness' and race in the public debate and crafting an audience of angry white young men.
Among the men the AfD included into the calendar are Friedrich II, Otto Lilienthal, Hans Scholl, Ludwig van Beethoven and others. The white men who are celebrated by the AfD implicitly highlights a very specific discourse of the nation and promotes its glory. Promoting important personalities not only as national but also explicitly as white heroes awakes a very specific understanding of the national identity as embedded in race. At the same time, it comes with associations of the glorious nation, the belief in its historical superiority and the idea of decline as the result of migration.
The campaign thus not only makes clear that the AfD speaks in the same tradition as the alt-right, it also shows how the party acts in lign with the anti-Enlightenment tradition. At the core of that tradition is the believe in the organic nation that is deeply connected to the blood and soil. What is natural, both for AfD and their inspiration in Anti-Enlightenment, is not just the German nation, but the fact that that nation and its culture is white.
This campaign of the AfD-Fraktion Berlin on Twitter provoked the popularization of the hashtag and sparked many responses within the platform and beyond. The controversial videos have high numbers of views, on average between 700 to 3000, while the retweets and comments are more modest usually not being higher than 100 (18.12.2018).
The controversial campaign indeed triggered, probably with the help of some algorithmic activism, feedback in forms of views, likes and shares, which, with the help of platform’s algorithms, increased the reach and virality of the message. The responses of Twitter users, however, had a very ununified nature.
DW reports that: “Many people on Twitter used the AfD's own hashtag to promote infamous white men like disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, Nazi figures and the Ku Klux Klan, among others even including Harry Potter villain Voldemort. Some anti-hate organizations began promoting snowmen as the white man of the day”.
Many started criticising AfD for promoting white men, as they are still believed to have the privilege in the contemporary world. Others shared their thoughts on the 'illogical inclusion' of Albert Einstein (Day 8), who was of the Jewish origin and Steve Jobs (Day 7), whose father was ethnically Syrian. Internet users massively blamed AfD for contradicting their own claims about migration and nationalism and asked them to be more radical in their ideas.
At first sight, one could conclude that the calendar idea failed. However, if we look at it from a message perspective (Silverstein, 2003), we could argue that every reaction contributes to the radical right populist claim of the party that they represent the 'true German people'. The interactions all contributed to the circulation of their message, to attract the attention of both new and traditional media to their ideals. And a lot of responses helped to establish the notion that sticking up for white men is somehting you cannot do anymore, without being accused of racism.
Effective social media campaign
Even though the 'white men' Advent calendar was massively criticized by society, it achieved its main objectives. First of all, it attracted the solid amount of attention and was widely discussed by German and international media. Secondly, it makes a point in line with the party's ideology and thus further their anti- Enlightenment ideas in the mainstream. Third of all, it conveys and spreads the message of the Party and makes a political point.
By knowing how social media work, political movements and personalities can trigger algorithms to popularize their message. This phenomena is the result of the interplay between politicians, digital media platforms and algorithmic activism. The result, algorithmic populism, is a key element of new right parties around the world.
Once the party knows how to use it, it gets more obvious that controversy and ridicule around them on the new media are nothing but an attempt to attract attention. AfD, obviously, knows how to trigger the responses of thousands of users. Thus, it is expectable to see more controversy surrounding party's social media accounts in the nearest future.
Maly, I. (2018a). Nieuw Rechts. Berchem: Epo.
Maly, I. (2018b). The Global New Right - a case study. Tilburg Working Paper in Culture Studies.