On 7 December 2022, Germany witnessed an attempted coup d’état that illustrated the current tendency for extremist ideologies to converge. In this case, the coup was planned by the Reichsbürger (Citizens of the Reich), a highly heterogeneous movement led by traditionalists, Querdenken (anti-vaxx), antisemitic, and conspiratorial (QAnon) believers. Their goal? To restore unconstitutional monarchy, or impose an absolutist state by force. While many have mocked the attempted coup, the event is not to be taken lightly. Indeed, it requires a better understanding of extremist takes on monarchism or, in other words, of emerging threats shaped by the desire of having a monarch as absolute ruler of the state. This article looks at the largest monarchic English-speaking and global reaching subreddit in existence, with thousands of self-described 'Monarchists’ as members. It does so in order to illustrate how monarchism has interacted with anti-democratic and other extremist ideas in the online sphere in the past 12 months. In particular, it focuses on the intersection between monarchism and the Alt-Right, and the use of Alt-Right imagery in ways that allow for the emergence of extremist monarchical thought to the detriment of its constitutional or democratic forms. I call this resulting picture alt-solutism.
Here, alt-solutism is explored through the analysis of memes. Because of their ability to create subcultural units, memes are a key element in assessing the existence of relatively coherent worldviews that might inspire group mobilisation. Indeed, memes have been shown to be crucial elements in the creation of digital hate communities. For example, memes used in Alt-Right internet circles have acted as harmful “units of cultural transmission” disguised as dark, politically incorrect jokes that attack progressive, democratic, and liberal thinking. The use of Alt-Right memes by monarchic or any other online circles can thus be interpreted not just as an invitation to humorous fun, but also as a tool to draw users into extremist ideology. Taking this into consideration, the question guiding this article is whether the incorporation of Alt-Right rhetoric in monarchic circles can facilitate radicalisation processes with potential for violence, specifically one aimed at establishing an absolute monarchy. It concludes that Alt-Right imagery, and memes in particular, enables radicalisation in monarchic circles because it effectively targets and denigrates liberal and democratic values. The result is the strengthening of support for extremist forms of monarchy, namely absolute monarchy, and a general increase in sympathy towards far-right ideas, movements, and politics.
In the subreddit that this article focuses on, a recurrent theme is white supremacy. This is mostly due to the group’s adoption of the fictional character Chad, also known as Nordic Gamer. This cartoon originated in 2016 as an idealised Aryan man and used extensively by the Alt-Right in order to establish an association between whiteness and agreeable features, such as being “attractive, smart, successful, and always lucky with women”. Analyses of the uses and misuses of Chad suggest that any affinity between this character and the user tends to be an indicator of “ties to conservative extremism.” This is because Chad allows for the dissemination of toxic masculinity, misogyny, and overall far-right ideology – including antisemitism. In this case study, it is apparent that the Chad cartoon is the alter ego of the ‘Monarchists’, who often crown the character in their polarising memes - or memes confronting two ideological sides represented by two different characters. In such memes, crowned Chad always appears with his antithesis, Feels Guy, a cartoon man also used by the Alt-Right as the nemesis of their own alter-ego: Pepe the Frog. Put simply, the memes created by the ‘Monarchists’ in this subreddit constitute rhetorical parallels to those spread by the Alt-Right.
In addition to Pepe the Frog, the Alt-Right has used Doge, a dog cartoon, for polarising memes aimed to “recruit vulnerable teenagers'' through humour. In this monarchic subreddit, the ‘Monarchists’ also adopted the Doge, specifically an idealised version of it called Chad Doge, to represent their extremist views as superior to democratic values, which are always represented by the diminishing version of the Doge, called Cheems. Transplanting Alt-Right meme characters into their conversation, the ‘Monarchists’ effectively use Chad and Chad Doge to weaponise irony and disseminate extremist ideology. For example, Chad often confronts Angry Feels Guy or Crying Wojak, who the ‘Monarchists’ would present defending republicanism on the basis of contradictory beliefs in order to portray that position as unreasonable: “I’m not a monarchist. I prefer a new corrupt leader from the same elite circles every 4 years”. In the chatroom of this post, the conversation, just like the meme itself, is intended to promote anti-democratic sentiments by portraying democracy as “ineffective” and a “hoax” - where votes don’t count; prime ministers are “ideological dictators”; and institutions are in “absolute decadence”, as put by the members of this subreddit. The idea that democracy is not desirable because it enables repetitive cycles of corruption dominated by political elites who “promise that this time will be different” dominates this online group. To the belief that monarchy is simply a backwards entity, the 'Monarchists' respond that democracy is choosing “temporary dictators by popular contest”, incentivising “populism, propaganda and social divide”, which in their view makes it a much worse alternative than “authoritarian” governments.
The term ‘Chad’ is also used by the 'Monarchists' to refer to Queen Victoria as the Chad Queen and reclaim her as a regressive and anti-feminist leader. According to users in this subreddit, she is being portrayed inaccurately (“just like Elizabeth I”) by alleged left-leaning media as a patriarchy-fighter or liberal “Qween [sic]”. The 'Monarchists' share their admiration for this and other monarchs who kept a gender-based status quo whereby women were treated as inferior to men. Interestingly, when female cartoons dominate the confrontational memes meant to disseminate extremist ideology, the 'Monarchists' use a version of the Liberated Feminist cartoon woman employed by misogynistic incel online communities. In this case, the cartoon is used as the ‘liberal loser’ in a conversation against the ‘Monarchists’, similarly to how Cheems or the Angry Feels Man seen above represent democracy and republicanism losing to the Chads as well. The use of incel rhetoric in this subreddit, including their references to losing sides as “Virgins” and winning sides as “Chads”, suggests that some members of this group might also be members of the incel online community, or at least familiar with the incel ideology. If any direct association between the 'Monarchists' and the incel community is non-existent, then this usage indicates the normalisation of incel narrative in non-incel online circles, which is equally concerning.
Another relevant misogynistic character used by the 'Monarchists' is the Alt-Right TradWife meme, often used against a Liberated Feminist female cartoon character. The TradWife is a badly drawn, blue-eyed, blonde-haired girl in a blue dress with white daisies on it. Above all, the cartoon is used to represent and disseminate the traditional wife, or any white ultra-conservative woman who celebrates holding traditionally gendered roles associated with ‘femininity’. The TradWife “has knowledge about her European roots” and “loves her family, race, country, in that order.” This meme, originated on 4chan’s politics board titled ‘Politically Incorrect’ in 2019, was created as a variant of similar characters like the Nordic Gamer which, as see above, was adopted as the alter ego of the Monarchists. Overall, in this subreddit women appear to be represented as anti-feminist or passive leaders, liberated losers, or as submissive women. In such a context, the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle becomes a particular target. Indeed, the 'Monarchists' have disseminated memes describing Markle as a “leftist”, and potentially “secretly Republican”, falling under no specific category other than that of a conspiratorial and ambiguous threat.
Among the most revealing memes used by the ‘Monarchists’, the Glowing Eyes or laser eyes meme stands out. Bellingcat has associated the laser-eyes with neo-Nazi aesthetics, specifically belonging to the ‘flashwave’ style, which gained prominence with the propaganda disseminated by international terrorist network Atomwaffen. Because the glowing or laser eyes are quite popular among neo-Nazis, and other white supremacists, it has been considered a symbol of hate. The blue laser eyes have also been used by Dark MAGA, a pro-Trump and “post-alt-right" aesthetic movement that has provided multiple fronts for networking among violent extremist actors in the online space. It is thus plausible that, when used in a context characterised by the dissemination of harmful content, including white supremacy, misogyny, and anti-democratic content, the laser-eyes meme is an indicator of far-right radicalisation. In order to test this possibility, an example from the subreddit we are focusing on is illuminating.
A meme portrays current King Charles III with blue laser eyes and reads: “King Charles I: Dissolved Parliament, King Charles II: Dissolved Parliament, King Charles III: [eyes emoji]”. In the past, both King Charles I (1600-1649) and King Charles II (1630-1685) indeed dissolved parliament unilaterally in order to crush dissent and impose their will - no limits existed over their power over state, government, and the population. They were absolute monarchs. Contemporary forms of absolutism include dictatorship, totalitarianism, and autocracy. Another meme helps illustrate whether the 'Monarchists' support and behave to facilitate far-right radicalisation. In this image, the 'Monarchists' present “Monarchist radicalization” as a favourable form of radicalisation, as opposed to communist and neo-Nazi radicalisation. While the left and the right (depicted as identical but surrounded by different symbols) feed their extremist ideologies online, 'Monarchists' radicalise by reading World History, suggesting that their radicalising process is an enlightening one, a sensible step to take.
If, so far, the memes analysed demonstrate that the 'Monarchists' stand against constitutional, parliamentary or democratic monarchy, they do not really explain how radicalised 'Monarchists' think change should happen. There are, however, instances that shed light upon this question. This is when users reveal their political stances as they relate to a specific party or contemporary movement. In this subreddit, there are several posts sharing support for, and even showing an existing relationship with, the royalist political movement Action Française. Action Française is a French far-right monarchist group that originated in the late nineteenth century. While in its conception the movement constituted a nationalist reaction against liberalism, it quickly became an ultra-conservative and anti-parliamentary movement, supporting Nazism (Vichy in particular) and endorsing Italy’s fascist corporatism in the twentieth century. Today, the 123-years-old Action Française is considered to be closely linked to the National Rally (Rassemblement National), a far-right political party. Given the controversial history of Action Française and its past and present association with the far-right, a Monarchist member wondered about the relationship between other users’ favourable views on and potential connection to Action Française. Consequently, they sought clarification on what exactly Action Française wanted and how it planned to achieve it. A member of the subreddit who had previously claimed to attend Action Française’s summer camps, and to have received a plaque for his merits to the royal cause, took the question and simply responded: "We are counting on the coup the force”. In other words, this user is allegedly relying on a sudden, violent act, against the established legitimate institutions. Hoping for an illegal seizure of power – a monarchist coup détat.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The phenomenon of alt-solutism is the result of the intersection of monarchism with alt-right ideology in the online space – another example of a “salad bar” or hybrid emerging threat. Such an intersection developed due to shared concerns and, crucially, because of shared or normalised semiotic language (symbols, memes) successfully exploited by harmful users. The most obvious expression of this is the Monarchists’ alter ego Chad, a character first appropriated by white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Instances like this suggest that increasing the multidisciplinary monitoring of public accounts that amplify hate speech, including among post-organisational or loose online networks, is important. The subreddit we looked at was home to another shared belief expressed by Alt-Right memes: misogyny. In order to combat this harmful ideology, it is necessary to promote healthy understandings of masculinity, as well as combat incel visual and textual rhetoric online. Another shared theme worth mentioning is the lack of trust towards democracy, and specifically contemporary established institutions and their political representatives. Based on this, efforts aiming to rebuild trust towards liberal democracy seem a necessary step to protect users from online far-right radicalisation. A way to do this could be through enhancing the public’s sense of agency by increasing cooperation between governmental institutions and officials with local organisations and civil societies. For whole-of-society approaches to preventing and counter-violent extremism (P/CVE) practices like this, combating polarisation in the public discourse, including in the media, is also relevant.
While the impact of Alt-Right rhetoric upon online monarchic circles cannot be fully grasped from one case study only, the examples shown above demonstrate that the successful incorporation of Alt-Right imagery in such spaces facilitates the spread of white supremacist, misogynistic, and anti-establishment ideology, boosting support for more extremist and even more violent forms of monarchical rule. Disguised or coded as humorous and controversial content, memes in particular are used to drive cognitive radicalisation towards far-right alternative forms of government, achievable through violent change if necessary. The attempted coup d’état aimed to establish an unconstitutional monarchy on 7 December 2022 in Germany could be a one-off event, but the ever-growing tendency for Alt-Right rhetoric to permeate and influence all kinds of online spaces indicates that monarchic extremism, like so many other complex emerging forms of extremist ideology, might be a real threat that we simply need to keep an eye on.