AMMAN, Jordan—Two opposing internet counter-cultures defined by their unswerving allegiance to tradition, misogyny, bigotry, and homophobia have converged around an unlikely allying force: the Taliban.
The alt-right and “akh-right”—an alt-right inspired Islamist movement—have united around the Taliban’s “owning” of America. Spread across platforms, these two movements are no longer regulated to the Chan Cultures they were birthed on but are now mainstreaming their discourse on platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, influencing debate in both political and religious circles.
The rapid takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban over the past few weeks, culminating in the sacking of Kabul and a shoddy withdrawal of U.S. forces, has brought together these movements, which see eye-to-eye on the interventionist nature of the two-decade-long war in Afghanistan. While on the surface this may seem odd, it’s in many ways the culmination of years of convergence between the alt-right, the far right, incel communities, and Islamist messaging around the U.S. government, the LGBTQ+ community, liberals, and democracy.
The result of this convergence is a “one struggle” campaign characterized by shitposting. That includes sharing images comparing the Taliban to the Civil War confederacy, crusaders, and Islamic fighters. Another popular image features the notoriously iconic photograph of a Stop the Steal supporter with his feet up on a desk in Nancy Pelosi’s office, next to a photograph of the Taliban in a provincial governor’s office.
The akh-right has been celebrating the wins of the “CHADLIBAN”—a combination of the alpha male ethos “Chad” and the Taliban. The Chadliban memes often feature images of Taliban fighters next to men in U.S. military uniforms wearing women’s shoes, underneath the line “barefoot mountain-[n----r] vs strongest most advanced army in the world in high heels.” A defining feature of both the alt-right and akh-right is overt racism, and the use of the n-word to describe allies, enemies, and the use of it in posts, memes, and comments.
The convergence of these online sub-cultures signals a need for understanding the evolution of extremism in the post-9/11 world. What is abundantly clear is the ideological fluidity of Gen Z communities online. Even within groups such as the Groypers—alt-right white supremacists with a hard-on for Nick Fuentes—they sway between degrees of racism, but always seem to land on the central precepts of white supremacy.
It is the concept of tradition that underpins both Islamist and alt-right support for the Taliban on Twitter. Like alt-Islamists who celebrate the Taliban’s “traditions,” including shariah, the alt-right is also drawn to the group because of its stances on women. The support for a diminished role of women in public similarly bleeds over into Incel circles on Twitter, who then take it even further to an outright hatred of women.
While the Groypers adopt much of the Taliban’s ethos, other alt-right movements such as the American Populist Union—a Gen Z splinter group of the America First movement—was dealing with its own splinter faction: the American Populist Union Chads. That faction is responsible for setting up a fake news outlet on Twitter dubbed “Real Taliban News,” which used the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan as an opportunity to target the U.S. government, Joe Biden, top military brass, and the LBGTQ+ community.
The account went one step further than others though—tweeting in broken Pashto.
One of its posts featured side-by-side portraits of a skinny white kid taking a selfie next to a pair of Taliban members laughing at a question about women’s rights (lifted from a recent Vice documentary) with the phrase “American men and Afghan men. We are not the same.” It denigrated Joe Biden in Pashto as not a “leader, but a dreaded dog.”
It also declared, again in what seems to be Google Translate Pashto, that “Antifa [is] the eternal enemy of justice, order and God” and claiming that the Taliban would “hunt down and destroy communist infiltrators.” The account reached more than 3,800 followers before it was taken down by the platform.
The APU Chad represented a faction within a faction of a wider America First movement supporting the Taliban. It seemed to take off around the same time both congressman Matt Gaetz and former President Donald Trump had praised the Taliban.
Across Instagram, an ahk-right movement of Taliban supporters reveled in the return of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Accounts dedicated to being “cringe” versions of a popular Islamic State media outfit churned out sarcastic memes of the Taliban being scared of Change.org petitions to “stop the Taliban.”
Videos shared in these circles featured Eminem’s “Without Me”—and the lyric “Guess who’s back”—over a Wikipedia change to the description of Afghanistan, where the national flag morphs into the flag for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Others used popular alt-right tropes to refer to the Taliban as “TALIBASED.”
In order to stave off takedowns by technology companies who had banned the Taliban from their platforms, akh-righters flagged their posts and videos with words like “irony,” but the comments would ultimately give it away.
One video was of Tom Cruise attached to a plane as it took off, overlaid with on-screen text that read, “MFs trying to escape Kabul be like...”
The corresponding caption? “Munafiqeen [n----r] be like…,” implying the Afghans who died attempting to escape Kabul were religious hypocrites.
Users cackled at the loss of life in the comments. Apparently, death is what passes for lulz in these circles.