Though the site exists mostly for booklovers to share and review their favorite books, many use the platform to spread racist literature.
Jack Wheatley (@jacktwheatley)
TW: racist imagery/symbolism and slurs
Have you ever wondered who gives Hitler’s Mein Kampf five stars? Or writes glowing praises for every racist book David Duke has published? Surprising to no one, the internet has become a vast and seemingly endless harbor for extremist views, especially those with an infatuation towards white nationalism, and the responsibility has rightfully fallen onto social media companies to uphold their community guidelines against harassment and bigotry. But while championing their site as the “world’s largest community of readers,” Goodreads has largely failed on that responsibility, and some corners of their platform have grown into thriving online safe spaces for neo-Nazi leaders, and their followers to share literature and grow their movement. A deeper look inside one of the platform’s most active white-nationalist reading communities unveils just how deep this problem really goes.
White nationalist author and organizer Billy Roper has also made a name for himself with his incredibly violent fiction works fantasizing the coming ethno-state and the fall of the White race. The Southern Poverty Law Center described him as “the uncensored voice of violent neo-Nazism” for his obsession with genocide and love of terrorism. Roper is the son of Klansmen, protege of William Pierce, the author of the Turner Diaries author and leader of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, a group at one time defined as one of the largest and most dangerous hate organizations in the country.
In an interview with ProPublica, Roper complained about his accounts on Facebook and Twitter being suspended but had great success selling his books on Amazon. And while much of his most vile work has been removed from the online retailer, five of his 17 books remain available to purchase on Amazon. Additionally, the authors note “Roper is also active on Goodreads, the Amazon-owned social network for readers, where he frequently posts about giveaways, pitches his novels to book clubs and tries to spark discussion of “pro-white” books.” where the subject of “Jews and the Opposition” comes up often in his Goodreads club, the “European American Reading Group.”
Earlier this year, I decided to see for myself the extent to which white nationalists use Goodreads to organize and grow their movement. I created a fake alt-right “sock puppet” account to shield my identity and try to fit in inconspicuously within the group. I added books by white supremacist Jared Taylor and Roper to my “recently read,” and sprinkled far-right texts throughout my “want to read” section to seal the deal.
Hate is No Stranger to Goodreads
Hate speech is not new to the site either. For years, LGBT+ writers and authors of color have faced vitriolic attacks on the site in numerous ways, but much of the hate can be found in the review sections of books, which in turn, may affect some authors’ ability to promote their work. Ruchira Sharma for iNews writes about the growing anger and frustration at Goodreads among authors to better police the site’s own stated policy, and numerous instances on the site showing anonymous reviewers giving one-star reviews to books by LGBT+ authors en masse. Baseless, bigoted assaults like these not only have harmful effects on users’ mental health and wellbeing, but may also inhibit authors’ ability to expand their reading audiences. For platforms such as Goodreads, where positive feedback acts as a form of social currency in promoting one’s work, coupled alongside a governing authority which rarely finds it necessary to enforce their own guidelines, algorithms naturally fill the void. In 2013, Amazon announced it’s Goodreads acquisition, and to little surprise, the attacks didn’t stop. Last year, Goodreads also refused to remove holocaust denialism within their site.
Amazon’s self-publishing venture, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), has become a lifeline for many extremist authors who would likely be turned away from publishing their content elsewhere. Ava Kofman, Francis Tseng, and Moira Weigel for ProPublica and the Atlantic wrote at length on this issue. They write, “Members of fringe groups on 4chan, Discord and Telegram regularly tout the platform’s convenience, according to our analysis of thousands of conversations on those message boards.” Screenshots and quotes provided to ProPublica from a number of those sites reveal just how frequently white nationalist authors suggest KDP for publishing their self-written manifestos. VOX-Pol research fellow and author J.M. Berger adds, “The platform has gone largely overlooked because, understandably, we think of books differently than other content. But these products are for sale and they’re being algorithmically pushed.”
Infiltrating A Neo-Nazi Book Club
Gaining access to the European American Reading group was less difficult than I expected. While I assumed the group would only add individuals they believe openly celebrate whiteness, other group members I found are no less discernible than any other well-meaning book lover who frequents the app. All one needs to join the group is a viable yahoo or Gmail account, and proof of age.
Consisting of around 80 members, the European American Reading Group’s first discussion “Audio Interviews with WN (white nationalist) authors” was posted December 2013, and it wasn’t until Spring of 2015 that membership began to grow. With only two moderators, one being Roper, much of the group’s early discussions center around recruitment and book suggestions, just like any other group on the platform, but with a distinct obsession with white nationalist and fascist lore. And while the group does in some instances use coded language, such as abbreviating “white nationalist” to a shortened “wn,” they often recycle synonyms for white nationalism to give more of an appearance of legitimacy. “Pro-White,” “racially conscious,” or simply “nationalist” are rotated often.
“Any racially conscious folks you’re friends with here on Goodreads, please send them our way” Roper once posted.
The group hasn’t had an active post for around two years, but they’re still accepting new members, and Roper stays very up to date with his racist followers on his own page. He’s spent much time promoting his own books and pre-ordered autographed copies of his work. He also derided “censorship of many pro-White authors, such as myself,” as well as citing the white nationalist attorney, and former Chairman of MSU Young Americans For Freedom, Kyle Bristow. He predicts Amazon will soon remove his works, many of which the company has since labelled “unavailable.” Roper writes: “Jews try to shut down Amazon Sales of Nationalist Literature.”
Apart from white nationalist authors and users who share the racist books they’re reading, entire book genres and “shelves” on Goodreads have been created to catalogue and organize white nationalist and fascist texts. Names ranging from “Alt Right Racialism,” “The Fashstash,” “wpww” (an acronym for “white power world wide) and even explicitly vitriolic antisemitic slurs.
During my journey, I met a user named Erin who was also an active member in the European-American reading group. On her profile, she looks no different than any other regular user of the platform. In the group discussion titled “Introduce yourself!” she describes herself as “a stay at home mom of three. :)” with “an obsessive interest in genetics, genome mapping and history.”
Only one book on her ‘favorites’ shelf led me to believe Erin was actually a white nationalist instead of just being in the wrong book group by mistake, Pat Buchanan’s Death of the West; the paleoconservative tome which spends much of its focus on declining “western” birth rates which has become the Bible of the white nationalist street gang, “the Proud Boys” is added as one of her favorite books.
June 4th, 2008, she writes: “This book should be required reading for all American students, so that they can understand how our country has been ripped from us and how we are being deceived into the destruction of our own race.” This is one of her first reviews on the site. In between white supremacist literature, she spends ample time reviewing vampire YA romance novels, books on famous, and loads of anti-vaccine books. In one review, she describes in detail how welfare “was originally meant as a transitional program for white widows with children to use temporarily until their husband’s social security kicked in..eventually it was transferred to an entitlement program for minorities and became the worst drain on the American taxpayer possible.”
Largely, this is how her profile functions, endless rows of praising reviews of books intended for middle and even elementary school children, a spattering of one-star reviews for books she says are written by liberals, followed by a hefty selection of high-stakes “non-fiction” books on the tragic crumbling of the white race at the hands of “undeserving” minorities and immigrants.
And although most of the group discussion within the book club is driven by Roper, Erin makes great effort to share books she thinks other white nationalists should be aware of, or float ideas for discourse in the group on several topics. In her first discussion, “Study on fiction and empathy,” Erin makes the case, after reading an article on Facebook, that JK Rowling’s use of the label, “mudblood” is a liberal indoctrination attempt aimed to make readers more “sympathetic to ‘marginalized groups” such as immigrants, refugees, and LGBT causes,” asserting it’s “because most of the authors are Jewish.”
In March of 2019, Erin published the most recent discussion posts of the group, “BBC Documentary,” on a film named “What’s Killing America’s White Men?” Though she made a point to add she was upset the movie “didn’t delve into the difficulty of being white,” she made a point to emphasize her fears that affirmative action would disenfranchise white job candidates.
“Look at how everyone has missed what is going on with the Hollywood college admissions scandal- it is so difficult for a white person to get into an elite college, that even the rich and famous have to bribe people and fake affirmative action status to do so. That is what everyone should realize. This is why people feel hopeless. I know a lawyer who was just passed over for partner that he was supposed to get, but the firm decided that they need to promote women, so they gave the partnership to a woman with less experience and she doesn’t do half the work he does. This is why white men are so frustrated. No matter how good you are or how hard you work, diversity matters more. Who wouldn’t be depressed?”
Erin also adds her favorite quotes to her own Goodreads account, one including Charles Darwin:
Literature in White Nationalism
Author Talia Lavin in her book Culture Warlords, writes about white nationalist ideology as having “a mélange of influences plucked from predigital decades – a bigot’s pastiche that encompasses everything from nineteenth-century scientific racism to late-twentieth-century dystopian racist fiction.” These range from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to The International Jew, two infamously anti-Semitic texts promoted by Henry Ford, Progressive Era intellectuals, and neo-Nazis alike. More recent texts celebrated by white supremacists such as Jean Raspail’s The Camp of the Saints, Renaud Camus’ The Great Replacement, and Pat Buchanan’s Death of the West, have not only become central to the ideological founding of such neo-fascist groups like the Proud Boys, but have also played an integral role in inspiring such racist mass shooting like in Christchurch, New Zealand and El Paso, Texas. Most, if not all, of these texts are available to share and celebrate on Goodreads.
Goodreads is Violating Their Own Policy
Like most social media apps, Goodreads has a written policy barring “Hate speech, bigotry, threats, and ad hominem attacks” on their site, per their Community Guidelines. But Goodreads largely fails to uphold this policy, or at least what would be considered the most extreme of all categories defined. This same failure carries on into what rules Goodreads has for reviewing a book, again, “reviews that are harassing or threatening, or that contain hate speech or bigotry” will be “deleted outright and anyone posting them risks being removed from the site.”
Additionally, Roper may be violating the site’s policies in other ways as well, the Community Guidelines states “self-promotional content are prohibited,” and goes on to add “Abusing Goodreads features to promote yourself or your product detracts from the experience of others and breaks our rules…” Goodreads has yet to respond for comment.
On paper, this policy seems like a sincere and good-willed attempt at keeping their site a healthy and thriving environment of bibliophiles yearning to find their next… good read. I believe that is their true intent but the massive failure to even recognize this quite substantive population of individuals using their platform to dream of genocide and a white ethno-state is a gigantic failure. It is a concern that such inaction could very well lead to the next violent act of terrorism inspired by one of these books. Not only does Goodreads have users who espouse these violent views, but the app has become a hub for popular neo-Nazi authors, book genres, private reading groups, etc. Goodreads to white nationalists and violent bigots alike serves as a vehicle of recruitment and organizing, a method of utilizing popular extremist literature to better spread their message of racism and violence on a larger platform much easier than ever before.
Below are some additional images collected from the group as well as white-nationalist authors and users who use Goodreads to spread their hate.
European American Reading Group Members