SMILING seductively on a bed, snuggling up to hedgehogs and jetting off to far-flung destinations, Lauren Southern could be just another Instagram star as she poses for her 170,000 admirers.
Yet the blonde-haired, green-eyed beauty is actually among a rising number of far-right ‘Barbies’ who are luring young women into the traditionally male extremist movement in the UK and elsewhere.
Experts say more and more women are being recruited into extreme right groups across Britain – including those with alt-right (alternative right) ideologies, which hold neo-Nazi views, express hate towards immigrants and Muslims and believe white people are superior to other races.
In the past, the UK’s far-right movement has been dominated by angry, white men, and spearheaded by high-profile male figures like English Defence League (EDL) co-founder Tommy Robinson.
But now, a new cohort of glamorous far-right female influencers have become unlikely “role models” for young women on social media, promising heaps of male attention, luxury lifestyles and the chance to join sisterly “communities” where they can get dating advice.
“They’re like Instagram models”
These influencers can be “almost like Instagram models”, far-right extremism expert Julia Ebner tells Sun Online – but their sweet and provocative images belie their horrific, radical views.
And while their profiles might not seem dangerous on the surface, it’s claimed they are giving the extreme right a “softer” and “more acceptable” face.
“By having women, [groups] can paint themselves as being more socially acceptable and less of a threat to society”, says Julia, a 28-year-old researcher who lives in London.
In recent years, the far-right movement has been linked to antisemitism, hate crimes and even massacres – such as the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand that killed 51 – although there’s no suggestion the influencers support such acts.
“Red-pilled” in just weeks
Women outside the far-right – or “normies” – who are radicalised are said to have been “red-pilled”, a disturbing concept stemming from the 1999 hit sci-fi film The Matrix.
In the movie, protagonist Neo is offered the choice of a red pill – to awaken him to the harsh reality of the world – or a blue pill, to allow him to remain in the simulated universe he’s used to.
And in extremist circles, “red-pilling” can happen within a matter of weeks.
Through social media and online forums, “normies” can be rapidly targeted, bombarded with far-right views and beliefs, and radicalised.
Robinson’s former aide Lucy Brown, in her 20s, transitioned from far left to far right within a “few months”, The Times reports. She was reportedly later sacked following a row with Robinson.
Many women recruited by far-right groups are tempted by the flattering, sometimes obsessive, remarks they will undoubtedly receive from men, and the opportunities for ‘promotion’.
“Women usually climb up the rungs [of groups] really quickly,” explains Julia. “They get a lot of attention from the male fan base and are almost fetishised… that can be an incentive.”
Women given an “ego boost” and dating advice
Former neo-Nazi Elisa Hategan says joining such groups can be a massive ego boost – as there are usually far more men than women and all the guys “want to date you”.
Elisa was just 16 when she was recruited into the notorious white supremacist group, the Heritage Front in Canada – and was soon thrust into the limelight as its “softer, female” face.
During her time in the organisation – which disbanded around 2005 – Elisa was taught how to fire a gun, ordered to terrorise anti-racist activists, and even told how to dress and act.
“[I was told] to dress more provocatively,” she recalls.
“To wear my hair down and keep it long. To flirt with potential recruits in order to get donations.”
She adds: “I’d say there was probably a 10-to-1 ratio [of men to women].”
Banned from the UK
Canadian far-right activist Lauren, the daughter of a secretary and a web designer, rose to fame around four years ago working for the country’s far-right political website The Rebel Media.
Her first video – a verbal attack on feminism – was an overnight hit.
Since then, the 24-year-old has become a far-right icon internationally, including in Britain, known for blasting Islam and immigration, holding a sign reading “there is no rape culture in the West” at a Slutwalk protest, and dubbing Black Lives Matter an “ethnic terrorist organisation”.
Last year, she was even banned from the UK, after handing out leaflets saying “Allah is gay” and “Allah is trans” in Luton, Bedfordshire – yet denies being racist or far right.
Far-right messages interspersed with cute selfies
On Instagram, pictures of Lauren smiling in low-cut tops, stroking animals and visiting churches, mountains and cities across the world are interspersed with more sinister snaps.
In one, she performs the “OK” hand sign – which was last month added to a list of hate symbols alongside the swastika. In another, she drinks from a mug reading: “Feminism is cancer.”
But despite Lauren’s extremist views, some women long to be her.
Commenting on an Instagram snap of Lauren in a fitted black dress, one girl told her, “You are my role model, someday o wish to be like you, a strong, beautiful, smarrrttt. Human being (sic).”
Another tweeted: “You inspired me to get into politics.”
Lauren, who recently retired from the public political sphere, strokes a dog
Anti-feminist views and conspiracy theories
And the same goes for hipster-looking Brittany Sellner (née Pettibone) – another far-right activist who peddles right-wing conspiracy theories on YouTube and has also been barred from entering Britain.
Brittany – one of Lauren’s pals, who also denies being an extremist – previously co-hosted an alt-right interview vlog, dedicated to the “traditional values that once made Western Civilization great, including… traditional gender roles and love of one’s own culture, race and country”.
She also runs her own YouTube channel, where she peppers controversial videos with titles like “You can no longer criticise illegal immigration” with ‘millennial’-style vlogs, including one on dating.
In a recent anti-feminism clip, named The War On Men, Brittany tells her 120,000 subscribers there is a “hostile narrative surrounding men” that has escalated “over the past few years”.
“White power Barbie”
Brittany, dubbed a “white power Barbie”, has previously spread the sick lie that Hillary Clinton was part of a paedophile ring and that white people are being systematically eradicated by migrants.
She has also been accused of supporting anti-Muslim and anti-migrant views.
Yet her 28,000 Instagram followers love her. Posting under a snap of the American influencer kissing her husband Martin Sellner, 30, one wrote: “The West needs more people like you two.”
Martin is an Austrian former neo-Nazi, perhaps best known for leading a stunt where he and his supporters tried to sink rescue ships picking up refugees crossing the Mediterranean.
He is also a leader of Generation Identity (GI) – Europe’s largest youth-focused, far-right group which anti-racism campaigners say calls for the segregation of people “along racial lines”.
Undercover with Britain’s far-right
Two years ago, Julia went undercover with GI’s UK branch. And she tells us she was quickly eyed up to become its “public face” – a decision she believes was largely based on the fact she’s female.
“They were actively trying to recruit young women,” she claims.
The group initially considered asking Tommy Robinson to be their figurehead, according to Julia, originally from Austria and author of The Rage: The Vicious Circle of Islamist and Far-Right Extremism.
But they were concerned that he was”too old”.
For Sellner and other key GI players, how their members appear to others is vital.
Number of female members soars in 6 months
Today, Ben Jones, leader of the UK branch – which spews out propaganda with protests and events – claims it is now known as the Identitarian Movement and is “independent” of GI groups elsewhere.
The 25-year-old tells Sun Online women make up around 10 per cent of his group’s current activists – but admits: “Most of that has come about in the past six months.”
However, he denies specifically targeting females: “We don’t target any demographic except students.”
Yet one woman in the group – a 24-year-old called Alice – admits that she and other female members “often share ideas about how we can attract more like-minded women to join”.
“We’d love to see our numbers continue to expand,” she says, adding that being active on social media is “certainly something that the group supports and encourages among our members”.
Another member Sarah, 26, tells us social media is “a great platform to talk with others who believe in the same things you do and also talk to others who don’t.”
More female “role models” than ever before
Today, former neo-Nazi Elisa believes there are more far right female “role models” than ever before.
“Because of the internet, alt-right women such as Lauren, Brittany and others have gained a prominent voice,” says the 44-year-old, from Toronto, who left the Heritage Front aged 18 and is now director of the charity The Changemaker Project, helping those at risk of radicalisation.
“The message is that women can be successful in peddling hate.”
This June, Lauren announced her retirement from public politics to return to her studies – yet her and Brittany’s legacy continues to be spread and heard.
“There is a much greater awareness that the medium is the message,” Elisa says.
“And if you want the message to be palatable, the messenger has to be equally disarming.”