A new anti-fascist website tracks the location and activities of people affiliated with Daily Stormer, one of the largest neo-Nazi websites in the United States.
Launched on January 28, FashMaps is an activist-run initiative that seeks to inform local communities about the presence and gatherings of neo-Nazis in their area.
Simon, a systems analyst who spoke to Al Jazeera with a pseudonym, launched FashMaps for the purpose of “education and awareness”.
According to Simon, a four-person team uses fake accounts to monitor Daily Stormer forum discussions and pin down when and where they plan to hold events, which they often refer to as “book clubs” and “pool parties”.
“It is important to be aware of these groups because, as they grow in numbers, they also grow in influence beyond their immediate circle,” he told Al Jazeera.
“When that influence creeps into positions where it has no business being – such as a public office, a school teacher, a police officer – it creates a serious threat to both the safety and civil rights of any person [whom] fascists see as less than themselves.”
At the time of its launch, FashMaps had around 700 pins signifying Daily Stormer meet-ups in cities and towns in almost every state across the US, and to a lesser degree, in Canada, the UK, Australia and Southeast Asia.
The far right has grown throughout the campaign and presidency of right-wing President Donald Trump, with groups proliferating across the country.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an Alabama-based hate monitor, there were 917 “hate groups” in the US as of 2016.
Among those were 30 Ku Klux Klan chapters, 100 white nationalist organisations and 99 neo-Nazi groups.
For Simon, choosing to put a focus on Daily Stormer was an easy decision.
“It was low-hanging fruit, and publicly available for others to see,” he said, explaining that the SPLC’s designation of Daily Stormer as a hate group “saves us the trouble of having to make the case that the people who seek to organise on that particular forum actually subscribe, to some degree or another, to neo-Nazi ideologies”.
Never an advantage to lose a platform’
Daily Stormer, which was named after the German Nazi-era publication Der Sturmer, has been forced to hop from one web host to the next, owing to growing public backlash in the wake of the deadly Charlottesville rally on August 12, 2017.
The website was founded in 2013 by Andrew Anglin, who is currently being sued by the SPLC and Tanya Gersh, a Jewish lawyer in Montana, for inspiring a storm of threats and harassment against Gersh in December 2016.
During the August rally in Charlottesville – dubbed “Unite the Right” – thousands of white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis converged on the Virginia city to demonstrate against plans to remove a Confederate monument.
Daily Stormer had been issuing marching orders to Unite the Right attendees in the days leading up to the demonstration.
Participants clashed with community members, anti-fascists and anti-racist activists throughout the day.
The demonstration culminated with James Alex Fields, who had been photographed earlier in the day marching with neo-Nazis, allegedly ploughing his car into a crowd, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring dozens more.
Following the bloodshed, GoDaddy, the Daily Stormer’s web-hosting service, booted the neo-Nazi site over an article referring to the late Heyer as a “fat skank”.
The Daily Stormer has since alternated between various web hosts and the dark web, struggling to maintain a stable online address.
The website’s founder, Anglin, and several of its contributors have also been expelled from Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets as part of the post-Charlottesville backlash.
Spencer Sunshine, an associate fellow at Political Research Associates, explained that it is difficult to gauge the extent of harm the Daily Stormer’s inability to find a permanent online home has had on its influence.
“But it couldn’t have helped,” he told Al Jazeera, “and my general impression is that it’s harmed them. It’s never an advantage to lose a platform.”
The far-right movement has also become the target of doxxing, a practice in which activists conduct research and post online identities, addresses and other personal information of neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
‘If citizens remain silent, fascism will win’
For his part, Simon said that FashMaps does not post the locations of Daily Stormer meet-ups with the hopes of inspiring violence or harassment. All of the information Simon and his team publish is already publicly available.
“Identities and other identifying information are not posted anywhere on our site,” he noted. “And, in reality, our map operates more like a ‘heat map’ than anything else … But we link to the source of our data as proof of our findings.”
He added: “By showing people they have a growing problem in their community, it can move them to become more involved in both speaking out against fascism and educating others on the problem in their community.”
Describing Daily Stormer and similar sites as “propaganda”, Simon argued that there is a direct connection between street-level violence and the type of racist and white supremacist content posted on these websites.
“Propaganda reinforces beliefs that are intimately connected to deep-seated emotions of fear, anger and hate,” he said.
“They can then resolve themselves to violence, which forces the eyes of the world to stop and actually look at them. And when that happens, they are given an amplified platform to spread their ideology even further,” Simon continued, adding that several Daily Stormer contributors were present at the Charlottesville rally last August.
Last month, the Anti Defamation League released a report that found 18 people were killed by white supremacists in 2017.
Simon concluded: “If citizens remain silent, fascism will win.”