Online Radicalization Dynamics in Right-wing Extremists Group: A Social Network Analysis of Iron March

Caitlyn Tracy, Jeremy Faust, Phil Murphy


How do different groups within the right-wing ideological milieu interact within online forums? In the past decade, right-wing extremist groups have reemerged, rising to levels not seen in nearly a century. Online forums allow these groups to thrive, serving as coordination platforms and as tools for radicalization of new recruits. Social network analysis can provide insight into how to counter recruitment and radicalization strategies employed by violent extremist groups in online forums, enabling law enforcement to infiltrate these dark networks and allowing policymakers to adopt improved deradicalization strategies. In November 2019, the SQL and metadata of Iron March, a forum home to many right-wing extremist groups, including the Atomwaffen Division and The Base was released. Some Iron March members have committed acts of violent extremism, making Iron March a timely and meaningful case study. Using a weighted two-mode network based on the number of interactions between Iron March members, we explore the general network topography and identify influential forum members. Notably, two of the most influential forum members had been charged with violent crimes, including murder and attempted terrorism. We further examine attribute data to determine whether various attributes align with cohesive subgroups found within this revealed dark network. Available attributes include nationality, military status, and membership in specific extremist groups. After identifying subgroups, we examine potential brokers between groups present on Iron March based on edge betweenness centrality. Finally, using time series data, we show how the relative influence of and relationships between various groups evolved over time. Our results demonstrate how each of the participants’ attributes drive the radicalization process in a dark network. In the Attomwaffen Division, military members of Iron March recruited other users to enlist and advised them on how to conceal their extremist ideology while serving. Within Iron March, military users were spread throughout the network, with a low clustering coefficient. We suspect that the relatively low clustering coefficient present in this network is a reflection of the need to recruit fringe members and avoid infiltration. We hypothesize that this radicalization tactic found on Iron March may have been replicated in other extremist forums, as users have migrated from Iron March to other forums since it was closed. By identifying recruitment tactics and patterns with SNA, we hope to inform and contribute to improving online intervention and deradicalization programs.

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