How extremists target teens through video game culture

The suspect in the Uvalde, Texas shooting was radicalized online through video games and social media, police say.
Published: May. 26, 2022 at 11:37 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - There are some similarities between the Uvalde, Texas shooter and the one in Buffalo, New York. In both cases, the suspect was radicalized online through video games and gaming platforms’ social networks. Counter terrorism experts say this can happen through things like Discord, Call of Duty, and even Minecraft.

“In a lot of cases, the people you’re interacting with in these games, for these teens, those people are the people you see the most, including family,” Alex Newhouse, Deputy Director at the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute, said.

Newhouse said he uses social data to figure out how right-wing extremism grows online. That includes video game culture.

“The intrinsic part of extremism that makes it appealing to certain people is, its entire purpose is designed to make new recruits feel welcome, in a lot of cases loved and part of something bigger than themselves,” said Newhouse.

Sometimes it is clear how they’re converting lonely kids and teens into extremists.

“They will use sort of high-intensity language,” Newhouse said. “They’ll use a racial slur or some sort of anti-Semitic stereotype. What they’re doing is they’re looking for maybe one out of 50 who responds with a laugh or responds positively in some capacity, and when that happens they’ll actually target that person.”

That could involve invites to chat groups in Discord, a messaging and social platform. Newhouse said kids playing a violent video game does not translate to real-world violence. What makes the difference is the community they’ve found online.

“It’s important to learn about the social structures a kid is engaging with and to ask them about the people they are interacting with and the types of content being shared,” Newhouse said. “If you start seeing a kid using edgy humor, some off-color humor they might have picked up online, that’s a warning sign for us.”

While it is know the Buffalo shooter was deeply involved with some of these groups online like 4chan, even posting details about his plan on the site, we don’t know much about the Texas shooter.

“My guess is that we’re going to find out over time that this shooter in Texas was similarly immersed in these mobilizing networks, may not have been ideological even,” Newhouse said. “There are a lot of networks online that just fetishize mass shooters in general, they aren’t even racist.”

There has been a lot of conversation about mental health surrounding mass shooters. Newhouse said that is only part of the problem.

“In the vast majority of cases what we can say after the fact once we know more information is usually it’s not just mental illness,” he said. “A lot of time there is, but it is important to recognize in most of these cases, including some of the most famous cases of lone wolf attackers, there is this mobilizing network at play. The Las Vegas shooter, for instance, we know now was mobilized by certain conspiratorial narratives and communities.”

Watch the complete interview with Newhouse below.

Complete interview with Alex Newhouse, Deputy Director at the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute.

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