Review: Going Dark: The Secret Social Lives of Extremists, by Julia Ebner

In 1943, the best-selling book Under Cover by John Roy Carlson described the pro-Axis groups that thrived in the US before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Carlson — whose real name was Arthur Derounian — joined many of the groups he investigated, and the book was illustrated with many photos of his membership cards in such groups. It took America’s entry into the war to finally lead to a crackdown on a wide range of groups, of the largest of which was called the “America First Committee”. (That name might set off some alarm bells.)

Eight decades later, in a radically different world, once again pro-fascist, racist and anti-Semitic organisations are thriving, and not only in the US. Julia Ebner has followed in Carlson’s footsteps, infiltrating both extreme rightist and Islamist groups, largely online. At great personal risk, she has revealed how these groups operate and thrive, and the threat they pose to democracy.

This is a well-written book that should serve as a wake-up call to governments and civil society, as it exposes the online roots of a hatred that has increasingly manifested itself in terrorist attacks across the Western world.