With a nation appalled by white supremacist violence in Charlottesville and a president unwilling to condemn it, the crackdown is happening at ground level: Nazis are losing their jobs and speaking engagements, CEOs are quitting Trump’s advisory councils (leading to their dissolution), and web companies including Google, GoDaddy, and WordPress are pulling the plug on websites that publish or promote hate speech, potentially crippling racist groups’ ability to organize future rallies.
These same tech giants have faced years of criticism for failing to stomp out Nazi sentiment online. Twitter is notoriously unwilling or unable to address the problem, which, if anything, has gotten even worse — every day, users call on management to suspend the president’s account over his exhortations to violence. But you might be shocked to learn that Tumblr, a blogging platform usually identified with a diverse range of sensitive social justice warriors, is facing a crisis of far-right fanaticism as well.
Nazi-leaning users post brazen content that filters the imagery of white nationalism through the lush, soft-focus aesthetic favored by the larger Tumblr community. At times, swastika flags and racist memes will appear sandwiched between the kind of nature photography or interior design porn that has become a staple across the site.
What’s striking is how this approach differs from, say, the rabid propaganda of the Daily Stormer (which resurfaced on a Russian domain after it got kicked off its .com address) or the insular Nazi memes beloved by 4chan trolls. Instead of reveling in the ugly violence of fascism, these images are keyed into Tumblr’s defining metric: beauty. The white supremacists of Tumblr post nostalgic photos of life in the Third Reich; they linger on views of European cities they view as unblemished by inferior ethnicities; they adore engraved Celtic axes and Norse chain mail and the idea of “pagan roots.” Most importantly, they praise and fetishize white women — whether those women share their nationalist ideals or not.
“Fuck Yeah Nationalist Girls” has garnered special attention lately as the internet debates women’s role in the current incarnation of Nazism: that the tiki-torch-toting white supremacists of Charlottesville skewed heavily male cannot be seen as evidence that women are absent from the movement, or don’t enjoy the benefits of it, and this type of blog shreds those assumptions. Scroll through to find women whose clothes and bedrooms are splattered with Nazi iconography like the Iron Cross, swastikas, and the number 88 (code for “Heil Hitler”). One post features a tattoo of the 14 words, a white supremacist slogan. The pictures are pulled from user submissions, and it’s clear that in many cases, the “Aryan” women depicted proudly sent in their favorite selfies.
While the Nazis of Twitter, Reddit, and 4chan have staked their ethos on transgressive, “triggering” action — harassment and intimidation — their Tumblr cousins have matched the mellower moods of a site where antagonism is considered a tactic of the obsessively PC. And that may be how they’ve successfully flown under the radar, quietly circulating their supposed proof of superiority instead of vocally condemning other races. Their rosy gloss on an “ethnostate,” buttressed by the black-leather glamor of SS fashion, echoes the strategy of white nationalists like Richard Spencer and Identity Evropa, who prefer suits and sharp haircuts to the fatigues and flags of the neo-Confederate set. By looking “dapper,” or just normal, they become at once more palatable and persuasive.
Notably, Tumblr’s community guidelines forbid “malicious speech,” including threats and encouragements of violence or hatred, especially based on “race, ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, gender identity, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation.” This would seem to omit pro-Hitler or pro-Nazi sentiments, which are malicious by implication; wearing an “88” shirt signals your take on ethnic cleansing without your speaking it aloud, which is why such codes evolved in the first place. As of this writing, a press contact at Tumblr has not replied to a request for comment on these users, though an actual Nazi was optimistic when I asked about the future of blogs like theirs.
Even when confronted with citations of direct hate speech on the platform, Tumblr sends an auto-reply advising the complainant to block that person, according to a recent Change.org petition asking the company to completely remove such accounts, along with those offering a “romanticized” vision of white supremacy. With 14,000 signatures—and coming off Charlottesville—the idea has momentum, but Tumblr Nazis have been around for a while, and there’s no reason to suppose they’ll be easier to wipe out now. It will take a sustained outcry, as when Tumblr was finally forced, after four years of debate, to ban blogs that glorify eating disorders and self-harm. Until then, the weirdos who leaven their Holocaust denials with Disney cartoon fandom will have a comfortable home.