The alleged gunmen in several recent mass shootings in the US -- in Highland Park, Illinois; Uvalde, Texas; Buffalo, New York; and recently a mall in Greenwood, Indiana -- were all found to have used racist, misogynistic or other hateful language in online posts. Finding repugnant messages on the internet is nothing new, but it's become almost routine to uncover such extremist posts after mass shootings.
These attitudes aren't developed overnight. Instead, they fester in online spaces where others share the same frame of mind and cheer on hate and despair.
As is the case with many online spaces, users create their own vernacular or hijack terms to describe their attitudes, themselves or how they view others. It's important to understand the words used by extremists in order to recognize when someone you know may be succumbing to hate-filled online groups.
"Friends and family members who are concerned about possible extremist ties and activity can be on the lookout for red flags, which include using terminology frequently found in extremist attackers' online messaging," said Jessica Reaves, editorial director of the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism. "A rapid escalation of threatening language or increase in usage of these terms is also an alarming sign and should be taken seriously."
Here are some extremist terms and attitudes you should be aware of.
There's an undercurrent of nihilism in much online extremist writing. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines nihilism, which has its origins in the 19th century, as "the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated."
Today's usage goes much further, as some people, primarily young men, believe their own lives are meaningless.
"I'd say 12 to 25 is the key demographic of boys who are subscribing to this really dark, violent worldview that is certainly being exacerbated and amplified in spaces online," Reaves said.
This sense of giving up on life and losing a hold on reality is something that's been seen in online postings by mass shooters.
Accelerationist is a term "used to describe activities intended to intensify racial conflict and societal collapse with the hopes of building a white ethnostate in the chaotic aftermath," according to the ADL Glossary of Extremism.
The word has been linked to the beliefs and actions of the suspect in the Buffalo, New York, killings. He was charged with hate crimes for the May grocery store shooting, which left 10 people dead.
In the 1999 film The Matrix, protagonist Neo is given a choice by the character Morpheus: Take the blue pill or the red pill. The blue one keeps Neo in the Matrix and unaware of the truth. If he takes the red pill, "you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes," says Morpheus.
Conspiracy theorists and other radical counterculture groups use the term "red pill," or redpilling, to describe "almost any kind of political awakening." This can apply to someone who starts believing the bogus conspiracy theories of QAnon, men who believe in misogynistic ideologies to explain their lack of dates, or people who simply question reality.
A step beyond the red pill is taking the black pill. "The black pill represents nihilism to those on the extreme right -- a realization that the system is too far gone to change, and the powers that govern our lives are too deeply entrenched and too powerful," according to the ADL's glossary.
People who take the black pill act in violent ways by attacking others or themselves. For instance, being blackpilled can mean "targeting racial or religious minorities in a last act," Reaves said.
Involuntary celibates, or incels, are "heterosexual men who blame women and society for their lack of romantic success," says the ADL's glossary. The term was coined by a woman in 1993 to describe those struggling to find long-term romances, but in recent years it's come to describe men who are beyond just having problems with dating.
"Today incels are much more about expressing hatred of women because women are not giving them the sex that they believe is their biological right," Reaves said. "So there's just a lot of anger and vitriol and violent rhetoric directed towards women who incels view as being less than human and therefore not worthy of being respected or thought about in any way except as objects."
Recent mass shooters referenced incel talking points in social media posts prior to their attacks. Online harassment of women has also been linked to incel forums.
"It's a very dark, extremely violent, very self-pitying culture, and they connect primarily online," Reaves said.
A term often used online following mass shootings and other violent events, false flag is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a hostile or harmful action (such as an attack) that is designed to look like it was perpetrated by someone other than the person or group responsible for it."
Conspiracy theorists have taken to social media after mass shootings to post bogus claims that the shootings were false flag attacks. They falsely claim the US government is responsible and intends to use such events as a reason to revoke the Second Amendment.
Popular among white supremacists, the "Great Replacement" conspiracy theory falsely alleges that "people of color are 'replacing' white people through immigration, birth rates and other economic, social and political means," according to the ADL. Adherents falsely accuse Jewish people of being the ones behind this so-called plot.
A variation of this theory has been pushed by right-wing pundits including Fox News' Tucker Carlson.
JQ, or the "Jewish Question," is an idea that's been circulating since the 1800s that falsely claims Jewish people are a problem in society, according to the ADL. Leaders in Nazi Germany viewed the Holocaust as the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question." To be discreet, extremists use the abbreviation JQ in chats and forum posts.
The term normie started in the incel community, referring to people of average attractiveness and/or intelligence. It's since been used in other communities to describe people who aren't familiar with certain ideologies or conspiracy theories.
Psychological operations, or psyops, are defined by Merriam-Webster as "military operations usually aimed at influencing the enemy's state of mind through non-combative means." One of the best-known psyops was in December 1989 when the US military played heavy metal, along with a hint of disco, to drive Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega out of the Vatican embassy in the country. Leaflets, radio broadcasts and similar operations have been used by the US military since World War I.
As with false flag, extremists have used the term psyop to falsely cast doubt on the reality of some events, such as mass shootings and riots. They might contend, for instance, that a shooting was fabricated as a pretext to take away Second Amendment rights to gun ownership. That tortured logic has even been applied to the far-out QAnon conspiracy theory, with some adherents themselves claiming it's become a disinformation campaign to discredit them.
In the 1950s and '60s, the CIA conducted a program code-named MK-Ultra (or MKUltra), with a goal of developing mind-controlling drugs to use during the Cold War. As part of MK-Ultra -- MK being the cryptogram referring to the Office of Technical Services Division, and Ultra being the most secretive classification at the time -- the agency made use of hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD on unwitting subjects.
Though the project ended in 1973, some extremists and conspiracy theorists believe the CIA continued the experiments and makes use of mind control tactics to activate individuals to become mass shooters.
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