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The Reactionary Web: Digital Media and the Reconstitution of White Supremacist Networks after the Alt-Right

Van Schenck, Reed (2024) The Reactionary Web: Digital Media and the Reconstitution of White Supremacist Networks after the Alt-Right. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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My dissertation is a digital-rhetorical criticism of U.S. American reactionary networks in the aftermath of the Alt-Right, between the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the January 2021 storming of the United States Capitol, and the Covid-19 pandemic. The Alt-Right was a loose coalition of far-right, white supremacist, and misogynistic digital communities. Emboldened by the successful campaign of President Donald Trump, the Alt-Right sought to “mainstream” white nationalism through digital media tactics, most infamously the circulation of memes, to facilitate online-offline radicalization. The Alt-Right’s meteoric rise is accredited to its sense of strategy within a digital media environment amenable to polarization, conspiracy, and disinformation. Yet even as these dynamics worsened in the years following Unite the Right, the Alt-Right failed to survive as a meaningful symbol for reactionary political affinity, evidenced by its absence on January 6th, because its key figures were publicly exposed throughout a “regulatory turn” within platform governance. After the Alt-Right, how have U.S. white supremacist online communities reproduced their influence throughout the regulatory turn? I approach the question through materialist criticism which investigates the productive purchase of rhetorical practices, particularly in the constitution and defense of racial regimes. Therefore, I situate the Alt-Right within the platformization, or the digital reproduction of racial capitalism. My central argument is that the Alt-Right’s failure masks a violent relation within, toward, and against publicity that is endemic to the exchange of Internetworked media under racial capitalism. I commence with an event-based analysis of the Alt-Right’s decline (2) before analyzing collective posting habits (3), platform interfaces (4), and platform policy (5), that afford productive capacity to its successors. My chapters establish empirical, ideological, and infrastructural links between the Alt-Right’s decline in the United States and the atmospheric quality of white masculine violence on and of digital media. I conclude by speculating an abolitionist posture against the Internet.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Van Schenck, Reedcrv18@pitt.educrv180000-0001-6875-291X
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairJohnson,
Committee MemberMatheson,
Committee MemberMitchell,
Committee MemberNguyen,
Date: 13 May 2024
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 29 March 2024
Approval Date: 13 May 2024
Submission Date: 30 March 2024
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 343
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Communication: Rhetoric and Communication
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: alt-right, white nationalism, digital media, rhetoric, media studies, cultural studies, racial captialism
Date Deposited: 13 May 2024 13:57
Last Modified: 13 May 2024 13:57


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