It’s okay to be a neo-Nazi on Reddit.
That’s according to a spokesman for the internet giant, which claims it has been cracking down on hate groups for years, and banned two alt-right subreddits in February.
Extremist communities like r/EuropeanNationalism thrive on Reddit, the eighth most visited website in the United States, according to the web analytics firm Alexa. This week alone, the site has allowed threats of “gas chambers” to rise to the top of one subreddit before a partial removal, and another subreddit dedicated entirely to “physically separating and removing” Democrats from society has remained live.
The latter group is also promoting an incendiary NRA video that critics charge is an incitement to violence.
One of the top posts on r/EuropeanNationalism on Wednesday was titled “We’re going to need a bigger gas chamber,” linking to a photo of a person in drag. At press time, eight of the top ten posts on EuropeanNationalism, which has been a subreddit for two years, were posted by users who had a swastika or Nazi SS bolts next to their usernames.
A third of EuropeanNationalism’s moderators are also moderators of the subreddit r/KKK.
“Reddit is an expression of the open internet—and sometimes that can be an uncomfortable place. What makes Reddit special is that people feel free to express themselves, and we draw the line when one user expressing himself / herself freely infringes on another user’s ability to do so,” a Reddit spokesperson said.
“Reddit grants moderators of communities on the site the opportunity to enforce their rules first. In this case, the post has been removed by the moderators of r/EuropeanNationalism.”
While the “gas chambers” post is no longer visible on the front page of EuropeanNationalism, the post and comment thread remain visible on Reddit.
The second-highest ranked post on EuropeanNationalism at press time was a quote from Adolf Hitler. “With satanic joy in his face, the black-haired Jewish youth lurks in wait for the unsuspecting girl whom he defiles with his blood, thus stealing her from her people,” it reads.
The top post of all time asks white women if they “will choose to save [their] race.”
Slightly more veiled threats of nationalist violence were levied on r/Physical_Removal, a far-right Reddit community dedicated to the “physical removal” of Democrats.
A new National Rifle Association ad, titled “The Violence of Lies,” was marked as an announcement and pinned to the top of r/Physical_Removal, a subreddit named after Hans Hermann-Hoppe’s idea that Democrats “will have to be physically separated and removed from society.”
The spot calls for NRA members to “fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.”
The NRA’s minute-long ad was met with swift condemnation from organizers and activists like Women’s March founder Tamika Mallory, who called the video a “direct endorsement of violence” and demanded its immediate removal after its release on Thursday.
The moderators of r/Physical_Removal won’t be complying with that request any time soon. “The NRA is rallying the troops,” moderator Pinochet-Heli-Tours posted at the top of on Physical_Removal. He later submitted the same video and title to r/The_Donald, the largest pro-Donald Trump community on the web.
Pinochet-Heli-Tours, along with the subreddit’s use of helicopter rides as a meme, is a reference to the 120 people the Chilean government admits were thrown into the sea from a helicopter under General Augusto Pinochet’s reign. The so-called helicopter “death flights” have become a meme among members of the alt-right.
Physical_Removal was created in July 2016 and now has more than 7,700 subscribers.
On Wednesday, one of the subreddit’s top posts celebrated a Venezuelan terror attack where four grenades were dropped from a helicopter onto the country’s Supreme Court building. “It’s like poetry motherfuckers,” the post reads.
Keegan Hankes of The Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center has covered the impact of online communities in extremism for years, and told The Daily Beast that violent and extremist communities on Reddit aren’t anything new, but they are increasingly dangerous.
“One of our big criticisms against Reddit is that inherently, in the way it’s structured, (extremist subreddits) can reach out to more people in a much easier way, ” said Hankes. “Anytime this propaganda is showing up in these places, it’s not an accident. It’s highly coordinated.”
Hankes said moderators of extremist subreddits can effectively recruit in moderate parts of the site, or communities that have nothing to do with politics at all. That one-link-away kind of exposure can create a path to radicalism that otherwise doesn’t exist.
“They’re not going to meetings and filling out a membership application. There’s an in-group culture. It’s certainly a community. It would be nice to see Reddit take this seriously and start drawing lines about what’s allowed,” said Hankes.
“Using these platforms is integral to all these strategies I’ve seen (extremist groups) talking about in the last year and a half. You have more and more of these people showing up in physical rallies.”
Reddit banned two alt-right subreddits, r/AltRight and r/alternativeright, for posting “content that harasses or invites harassment” in February. The site also banned r/FatPeopleHate and some anti-LGBT or racist subreddits in June 2015 for harassment.
Despite the infrequent but high-profile bans of prominent far-right hate subreddits, Hankes think that Reddit needs to “take a stronger stance in getting these people off those platforms.”
“It would be nice to see Reddit take this seriously and start drawing lines about what’s allowed,” he said. “And more importantly than having a strong terms of service, it’s about one that’s actually enforced.”