White Supremacy Online in Global Perspective: Castells Revisited

Renowned sociologist Anthony Giddens has compared Manuel Castells’ trilogy, The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture, to Max Weber’s classic Economy and Society. One of the problems with writing a 1,500 page, three volume tome is that people are often daunted by the task of actually reading the work. Originally published beginning in 1996, Castell’s volumes were prescient in their anticipation of the enormous impact of the Internet and globalization on everyday life. However, as I was re-reading Volume II: The Power of Identity book coverrecently for reference in my own work, I was struck by what Castells misses in his analysis of what he refers to as ‘the Patriot movement’ in the network society. He starts out this volume with the premise that:

“Our world, and our lives, are being shaped by the conflicting trends of globalization and identity” (p.1).

And, in this, his point is similar to Benjamin Barber’s Jihad vs. McWorld. In these two possible political futures— “both bleak, neither democratic” — Barber sees “McWorld” as a commercialized, homogenized, depoliticized, and bureaucratized future while “Jihad” is parochial, tribal, and fractitious. In both Castells and Barber, globalization is allied with tolerance while identity is implicated in racism. In his Power of Identity, Castells explicitly takes up the issue of white supremacists, globalization and the Internet in a section called, “Up in Arms against the New World Order: the American Militia and the Patriot Movement in the 1990s” (pp. 84-97, Indexed ref’s to “white supremacists” p.86, p.92). The primary source for this section according to footnote #18 (p.84) is the 1996 Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Klanwatch/Militia Task Force,” cited extensively throughout the chapter as KMTF, now published online (and in print) as The Intelligence Report. There are a number of other sources that Castells draws on for this section, most notably Ken Stern’s A Force Upon the Plain (1996). Castells uses these sources to make four points about the ‘Patriot movement,’ including: 1) it is an extreme libertarian movement and the federal government is their primary enemy; 2) more than the federal government, the ‘new world order’ (i.e., globalization) is seen as an ominous threat; 3) the movement features a backlash against feminism, gays, and racial/ethnic minorities; and 4) it promotes an ‘intolerant affirmation of the superiority of Christian values’ (pp.92-94). Castells’ larger point here is that this movement (along with the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo, the religious cult responsible for the sarin gas attack on the Toyko subway in 1995) is a reactive movement, reacting against globalization. In this way, he casts ‘the Patriot movement’ as resistant to the more cosmopolitan strains of globalization; similar, again, to the Jihad side of Barber’s equation, set against McWorld.

There are several problems with Castells analysis for understanding white supremacy online in global perspective. Continue reading…