Telegram had truly hit a nerve. The place that had been such a reliable safe haven for the far right was becoming unignorably hostile. That said, some of the community’s distress signals sounded a lot like their post-Christchurch prepping amid increasing removals on platforms like Discord:
“We will be experiencing a potential purge of Telegram content coming up. This warning goes to everyone out there who has channels, please forward these messages, create backups, and we’ll have to see what happens.”
Within these messages was an implicit admission of how reliant they were on Telegram. When neo-Nazis and white supremacists left their dispersed array of chan boards and other platforms for Telegram, it was like leaving behind a rickety old car for the USS Voyager. Telegram had it all: the safety of encryption, the ability to archive large collections of content, versatile channel and chat group features, and beyond. Everything they ever needed was now on one platform, where they could (and did) centralize and strengthen, just as al Qaeda and ISIS did.
Where does the far right go from here?
Given the timing of Telegram’s new purge campaign, the far right doesn’t have too many options. Its groups and commentators have already gotten the boot from major platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, as well as alternative ones like Discord and 4chan. Even free-speech-billed sites like Gab and Minds have ousted the most outwardly extremist examples among them.
As for Parler, the free-speech platform boosted by high-profile Trump campaign officials and allies in recent weeks, neo-Nazi extremists are skeptical. “Parler is kikeshit,” as one wrote, suggesting that those from the far right would be “tagged, tracked, ID’d, and financially crushed.”
However, others in the community saw it as a potential place for cautious outreach. As Nick Griffin, the former leader of the fascist British National Party, explained on his channel: “Note to all my ultra-hardline followers. Don’t be alarmed or confused by my populist postings on Parler. I’m not going soft.”
Still, Griffin’s is a minority opinion among far-right extremists, who almost unanimously deem Parler as a honeypot at worst, and urge caution to any of their own venturing onto it.
Thus, as Telegram begins a much more serious approach to deleting far-right accounts, the far right is already adapting, because even amid the new challenges, Telegram is still the best option. As one neo-Nazi channel wrote:
“THERE’S NOWHERE LEFT TO RUN, COMRADES. ACT SOON AND PREPARE FOR ALL OF US TO BE REMOVED AS TERRORWAVE HAS … WE WILL ATTEMPT TO RETURN BUT THINGS WON’T BE THE SAME.”
Admins for these groups and channels have already begun creating new backups. Some far-right extremists have even sought support from their relatively “moderate” counterparts, capitalizing on the crisis to amass more support. While posting links to backups of recently deleted far-right channels, one user implored in part:
“…our ennemies don’t make the difference between a siegeposter and a nationalist. Between a moderate and a radical … You have to fight with all those who, like you, have chosen life … Because today it is them. And tomorrow it’s you.”
These developments from the far right are like a repeat of how things played out for ISIS. After the 2015 Paris attacks brought heightened outrage about Telegram’s role in housing ISIS, the company gradually cracked down harder and harder on the group, forcing it to embrace private channels, expiring invite links, and other operations security measures. ISIS was in a constant chess game with Telegram, integrating messaging bots, channel-styled chat groups, and other manipulated features toward an increasingly complicated infrastructure. Though the group tried other platforms to set up base on, all roads always led back to Telegram.