New Hate and Old: the changing face of American white supremacy
White supremacists in the United States have experienced a resurgence in the past three years, driven in large part by the rise of the alt right.
The white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 11-12, 2017, attracted some 600 extremists from around the country and ended in deadly violence. These shocking events served as a wake-up call for many Americans about a resurgent white supremacist movement in the United States.
Modern white supremacist ideology is centered on the assertion that the white race is in danger of extinction, drowned by a rising tide of non-white people who are controlled and manipulated by Jews. White supremacists believe that almost any action is justified if it will help “save” the white race.
The white supremacist resurgence is driven in large part by the rise of the alt right, the newest segment of the white supremacist movement. Youth-oriented and overwhelmingly male, the alt right has provided new energy to the movement, but has also been a destabilizing force, much as racist skinheads were to the movement in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The alt right has a white supremacist ideology heavily influenced by a number of sources, including paleoconservatism, neo-Nazism and fascism, identitarianism, renegade conservatives and right-wing conspiracy theorists. The alt right also possesses its own distinct subculture, derived especially from the misogynists of the so-called “manosphere” and from online discussion forums such as 4chan, 8chan and Reddit.
Though aspects of the alt right date back to 2008, it was Donald Trump’s entry in 2015 into the 2016 presidential race that really energized the alt right and caused it to become highly active in support of Trump. This activism drew media attention that provided publicity for the alt right and allowed it to grow further. The alt right interpreted Trump’s success at the polls in November 2016 as a success for their own movement as well.
After the election, the alt right moved from online activism into the real world, forming real-world groups and organizations and engaging in tactics such as targeting college campuses. The alt right also expanded its online propaganda efforts, especially through podcasting.
As the alt right received increased media scrutiny, in large part due to its own actions, such as the violence at Charlottesville, the alt right experienced dissension and disunity in its own right, including the departure of many extremists who did not advocate explicit white supremacy (the so-called “alt lite”). The backlash against the alt right after Charlottesville hurt many of its leading spokespeople but has not resulted, as some have claimed, in a decline in the movement as a whole.
Other white supremacists, neo-Nazis, traditional white supremacists, racist skinheads, white supremacist religious sects, and white supremacist prison gangs—have also continued their activities. Some white supremacists, such as neo-Nazis, seem to have been buoyed by the alt right to some extent, while others— most notably racist skinheads—may experience a loss of potential recruits at the hands of the alt right.
Violence and crime represent the most serious problems emanating from the white supremacist movement. White supremacists have killed more people in recent years than any other type of domestic extremist (54% of all domestic extremist-related murders in the past 10 years). They are also a troubling source of domestic terror incidents (including 13 plots or attacks within the past five years).
Murders and terror plots represent only the tip of the iceberg of white supremacist violence, as there are many more incidents involving less serious crimes, including attempted murders, assaults, weapons and explosives violations, and more. In addition, white supremacists engage in a lot of non-ideological crime, including crimes of violence against women and drug-related crimes.