On Topic: The Influencers of Wodan

Conspiracy theories and right-wing populism

In the last month we read with much interest an article by Sal Hagen, Jaap Tielbeke en Coen van de Ven, published in De Groene Amsterdammer about the right-wing populist Eurosceptic political party in the Netherlands Forum voor Democratie (FvD). According to the article FvD can be seen as the driving force behind several conspiracy theories. The article discusses the political and social shifts taking place within the party, fed by internal conflicts. Another reason for us highlighting the article, is that it cites media scholar Marc Tuters, curator of several IMPAKT projects on conspiracy theories and the rise of populist movement in Europe, including the webproject Radicalization by Design and the exhibition Abducting Europa.

The most mentioned conspiracy theory in relation to populist movements live FvD is the one of the Great Reset: the idea of a new social and political order in which the decision-making powers and nation states disappear and political and economic decisions are made by a world government – a new word. Whether it concerns topics like corona, the ‘nitrogen hoax’ or the ‘climate ideology’, according to the FvD MP, it is all part of the same strategy. A strategy of the globalist elite that seeks to weaken the fabric of the nation-state and deprive citizens of their freedoms.

Through the social media channels of FvD, the idea of the Great Reset reaches many hundreds of thousands of like-minded people and their online following grows. The FvD Youtube account shows not only a sharp increase in viewers, the interaction per viewer has increased explosively. While the parliamentarians are increasingly withdrawing from the real debate and positioning themselves more clearly in an alternative world, their supporters have become more active online. 

What are the risks of creating these active online political groups? Why are more and more people craving grand narratives and radical solutions or alternatives to the status quo, and is our media radicalizing us? To delve even deeper into these questions, together with IMPAKT [Centre for Media Culture], Marc Tuters explored these topics in two projects: the exhibition Abducting Europa and the webproject Radicalization by Design.  

Abducting Europa is an online exhibition of videos, docu-fiction and installation art which explores elements of fringe internet culture and (post)national symbolism. Europe’s contemporary political imaginary is permeated with metaphors of struggle. Responding to global crises by promoting ancient myths, new reactionary movements traffic in dreams of ethnic rebirth and exploit fears of an existential enemy at the Gates of Fortress Europe—or even lurking within. Also the article in De Groene Amsterdammer refers to the German god Wodan, seen by populism movement as a symbol of strength and national rebirth. Paradoxically, some of these very movements feel most at home in fringe online communities, which seem to provide a fertile soil for ideological radicalisation and conspiracy theorising to take root. 

The second project, Radicalization by Design, likewise explores the rabbitholes of media. Are our media radicalizing us? In the past half decade the question has increasingly come to preoccupy both popular and scholarly debate. Social media are often conceptualized as full of “rabbit holes” leading to deeper and often more dangerous parts of the web that traffic in “radical ideas” often under the aegis of

“free speech”. While the metaphor of a radicalization rabbit hole is common amongst critics and “alternative influencers” alike, perspectives diverge when it comes to who or what is responsible for the radicalizing.

Curious about the projects? Check out the links on the right!

This On Topic was written by Sophia Zwaveling during her internship at IMPAKT [Centre for Media Culture]

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