Violent White Supremacy
How violent white supremacists leverage the Internet and what the journey out of extremism entails
The VIOLENT WHITE SUPREMACY ISSUE
ABOUT THIS ISSUE
I n the wake of an extremist attack, all eyes instinctively turn to the attacker. Questions of who and why press to the forefront of coverage as we collectively search for an explanation. But the methods of radicalization, the underlying how and when, are less often discussed. The predominant narrative tends to characterize these attacks as “lone wolf” incidents, suggesting that the attackers worked alone. But this myth obscures the vast, underlying infrastructure of white supremacist online communities around the world.
Radicalization is an inherently social process—one that thrives openly on the internet. This issue explores how the process unfolds on today’s digital platforms. We will also explore the oft-neglected subject of disengagement—the process by which people leave violent extremist movements.
If we want to develop successful interventions to counter violent extremists, we must better grasp the social and networked nature of their online lives. The white supremacist movement has looser, more distributed networks than many other extremist movements. They create redundancies in their networks and decentralize their efforts to build resilience against expulsion from any individual platform. They move fluidly between mainstream and fringe platforms and use a network of services in tandem to achieve their goals. Understanding these dynamics will help us to more effectively use technology to both prevent radicalization and disrupt violent movements.
A note on the scope of this work
For those who experience the threats of white supremacy firsthand, either as victims of hate crimes or in acts of daily discrimination, the themes of this report may not be new, or surprising. We hope that it may still offer insightful nuance into the evolving tactics of white supremacists online that advance efforts to counter white supremacy. We acknowledge that white supremacy is pervasive and an inherently violent ideology; many have spoken thoughtfully on how to address such systemic, institutionalized racism holistically. We hope that by focusing in depth on the most violent manifestations of this movement, we can make a discrete but meaningful contribution to these ongoing efforts to combat white supremacy.
One of the primary audiences for this work is those thinking about leaving a white supremacist movement. We heard repeatedly from former extremists that they would have left their violent movement sooner had they had more information on what a path out looks like or a “role model” to follow. For this reason, the voices of former white supremacists who have successfully left the movement and rejected supremacist ideals are featured throughout. This contribution is intended to build on an already substantial body of work that centers the voices of targets of supremacist violence.12
Hate by the Numbers
Data collected by the University of Maryland's Global Terrorism Database allows us to see and analyze documented extremist attacks globally since 1970. The last decade reveals a striking rise in violent attacks.
Global, Connected and Decentralized
Tracing the communication networks of modern white supremacists reveals their tactics to evade removal and recruit from the mainstream.
Much of the conversation about white supremacy today focuses on the radicalization process. But the way out can be perilous and requires insights from those who've made the journey.
Countermeasures in Practice
Collectively, policy-level changes and personalized support from civil society and technology companies can confront supremacy directly.
Why this matters
Learning from past patterns and trends in extremism
White supremacy is an enduring threat, as is violent extremism more broadly, which is the belief that an in-group’s success or survival requires violent action - ranging from verbal discrimination to genocide - against an out-group.(Berger, Extremism, p.44) By understanding patterns that violent extremists have followed historically, we believe that we’ll be better poised to identify opportunities for future intervention. When the threat of ISIS arose in 2014, Jigsaw examined the recruitment strategies and propaganda used by Islamist extremists in an attempt to disrupt the online recruitment and radicalization process. Our work investigating violent white supremacy builds on this body of work. To learn more about our work countering ISIS, take a look at The Redirect Method.
Wilkerson, I. (2020). Caste: The origins of our discontents. New York: Random House. https://g.co/kgs/vqRj3L
Donovan, J., Lewis, B., & Friedberg, B. (2018). Parallel Ports. Sociotechnical Change from the Alt-Right to Alt-Tech. Post-Digital Cultures of the Far Right. Retrieved 2020, from https://projects.propublica.org/graphics/hatecrimes-stories
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