A typical murderer drawn to the racist forum Stormfront.org is a frustrated, unemployed, white adult male living with his mother or an estranged spouse or girlfriend. She is the sole provider in the household.
Forensic psychologists call him a “wound collector.” Instead of building his resume, seeking employment or further education, he projects his grievances on society and searches the Internet for an excuse or an explanation unrelated to his behavior or the choices he has made in life.
His escalation follows a predictable trajectory …
Thus read the opening lines of a report on Stormfront.com, penned by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Intelligence Director,” Heidi Beirich. Since its founding in 1971, the SPLC has amassed some $250 million in assets. Perhaps the SPLC could best fulfill its titular mission by giving away this hoard to impoverished Southerners? Whatever the case, if we are to learn anything from the Center’s fundraising operation, it is the necessity of giving potential donors a sense of having an enemy—an enemy to hate and fear, but also one that warms donors’ tummies with feelings of social and moral superiority.
Whenever I read paragraphs like these, I tend to think not of the specter of dangerous Nazi losers but of potential SPLC donors …
A typical donor drawn to the South Poverty Law is a frustrated, retired white female living alone or with an estranged husband. She exists on a pension in a rent-controlled urban apartment.
Forensic psychologists call her a “wound collector.” Instead of building her resume, seeking employment or further education, she projects her grievances on society and searches the Internet for an excuse or an explanation unrelated to her behavior or the choices she has made in life.
Her escalation follows a predictable trajectory …
While SPLC reports have gone beyond parody, the New York Times has just published a study on the online forum Stormfront that was refreshingly novel and honest (up to a point). First, the report utilizes the techniques of data aggregation (“Big Data”); secondly, its author, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, presents a much more realistic portrayal of the types of people who are attracted to White Nationalism. (After reading his piece, Heidi’s report seems more like a description of the villain in her favorite Lifetime Original Movie.)
The essay begins:
VIKINGMAIDEN88 is 26 years old. She enjoys reading history and writing poetry. Her signature quote is from Shakespeare. She was impressed when the dialect quiz in The New York Times correctly identified where she was from: Tacoma and Spokane, Wash. “Completely spot on,” she wrote, followed by a smiling green emoji.
I gleaned all this from her profile and posts on Stormfront.org, America’s most popular online hate site.
I recently analyzed tens of thousands of the site’s profiles, in which registered members can enter their location, birth date, interests and other information. Call it Big Hatred meets Big Data.
It’s easy to scoff at a username like “Vikingmaiden88,” but it’d be wrong to do so. To grow up in America over the past half century is, for millions of White people, to grow up in a culture-less, history-less No Man’s Land of suburbia and shopping malls. To identify one’s self with a heroic “viking” past and to use an archaic term like “maiden” indicates, among things, that this young woman has an imagination.
Over the past year, according to Quantcast, roughly 200,000 to 400,000 Americans visited the site every month. A recent Southern Poverty Law Center report linked nearly 100 murders in the past five years to registered Stormfront members. [Emphasis added]
The SPLC is quite good at linking …
Of the 100 “linked” killings in the past five years, 77 were perpetrated by one man, Anders Breivik, who posted a few times on Stormfront in 2008, three years before launching his attack in Norway. Two other people on the SPLC’s list murdered multiple victims. This leaves 15 people who have committed heinous crimes and can be “linked” to Stormfront.
Stormfront has some 286,000 registered members (according to the SPLC), which means that it has a murder “linkage” of .005%. I wonder what kind of “linkage” rate we could come up with by examining, say, people who uploaded a video to World Star Hiphop?
More importantly, in her report, Beirich doesn’t bother to apply the most basic principle of analysis: Did these 15 individuals commit murders because of Stormfront, in spite of Stormfront, or regardless of Stormfront? Being that so many of the “linked” murderers killed family members, I would assume that “in spite of” and “regardless of” are the most likely options. But that ain’t good for fundraising.
Anyway, the superior Times report continues:
Stormfront members tend to be young, at least according to self-reported birth dates. The most common age at which people join the site is 19. And four times more 19-year-olds sign up than 40-year-olds. Internet and social network users lean young, but not nearly that young.
The Angry Young Man is one “hate” trope, but generally racialism is thought to be an affliction of the old—those who haven’t been fully reconstructed by modern education or exposed to the bounteous goodness of “diversity.”
Reading the Times’s piece, I wondered how many Stormfront members were radicalized by listening to the “Americanist” platitudes of their Baby Boomer parents, either of the “World’s Great Democracy” or “Here, You Can Live Your Dreams” variety?
Profiles do not have a field for gender. But I looked at all the posts and complete profiles of a random sample of American users, and it turns out that you can work out the gender of most of the membership: I estimate that about 30 percent of Stormfront members are female.
Quite remarkable. Mainstream religion is majority female; the inverse of this trend is that “fringe” movement are overwhelmingly male. I would have guessed that Stormfront’s membership was at least 90% male.
Stephens-Davidowitz also suggests that Stormfront membership rates might reveal something about America’s regional makeup.
The states with the most members per capita are Montana, Alaska and Idaho. These states tend to be overwhelmingly white. Does this mean that growing up with little diversity fosters hate?
Probably not. Since those states have a higher proportion of non-Jewish white people, they have more potential members for a group that attacks Jews and nonwhites. The percentage of Stormfront’s target audience that joins is actually higher in areas with more minorities. This is particularly true when you look at Stormfront’s members who are 18 and younger and therefore do not themselves choose where they live.
Among this age group, California, a state with one of the largest minority populations, has a membership rate 25 percent higher than the national average.
One of the most popular social groups on the site is “In Support of Anti-Semitism.” The percentage of members who join this group is positively correlated with a state’s Jewish population. New York, the state with the highest Jewish population, has above-average per capita membership in this group.
One of liberalism’s most unlikely fantasies is that as Whites are exposed to more “diversity,” they will become less racially conscious. A realistic understanding of human nature leads one to the opposite conclusion, as does this study.
That said, it doesn’t follow that an absence of racial diversity will lead to an absence of White racial consciousness, as the popularity of Stormfront in the Mountain West makes clear.
Interestingly, Montana and Minnesota are both overwhelmingly White (indeed, both are ethnically Germanic and Scandinavian), yet the percentages of the populations interested in Stormfront are starkly different. How to explain this? Is it the spirit of the Wild West vs. Minnesota Nice? Is this the result of selective migration? Is Stormfront membership a limited measure of racial consciousness, as different expressions are at play in Minnesota?
Political developments certainly play a role [in the popularity of Stormfront]. The day that saw the biggest single increase in membership in Stormfront’s history, by far, was Nov. 5, 2008, the day after Barack Obama was elected president.
In the fall of 2008, I was at a private meeting of like-minded individuals in which the upcoming election was discussed. Most of the conversation centered around how disappointing John McCain was as the “conservative” option. Louis Andrews, my predecessor as Director of NPI, cut through the crap. It was Obama who, through his very person, would signify to average Americans that they have been dispossessed in their own land; it is thus Obama (not any “conservative”) who would raise consciousness among our people. Louis was right.
Stephens-Davidowitz digs deeper into the habits of Stormfronters.
The top reported interest of Stormfront members is “reading.” Most notably, Stormfront users are news and political junkies. One interesting data point here is the popularity of The New York Times among Stormfront users. According to the economists Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro, when you compare Stormfront users to people who go to the Yahoo News site, it turns out that the Stormfront crowd is twice as likely to visit nytimes.com.
Perhaps it was my own naïveté, but I would have imagined white nationalists’ inhabiting a different universe from that of my friends and me. Instead, they have long threads praising “Breaking Bad” and discussing the comparative merits of online dating sites, like Plenty of Fish and OkCupid.
Return to VikingMaiden88. When you read her 189 posts since joining the site, she often seems like a perfectly nice and intelligent young woman.
But she also has a lot of hatred. She praises a store for having “100% white employees.” She says the media is promoting a “Jewish agenda.” And she says she finds Asians “repulsive physically, socially, religiously, etc.”
Why do some people feel this way? And what is to be done about it? I have pored over data of an unprecedented breadth and depth, thanks to our new digital era. And I can honestly offer the following answer: I have no idea.
A young man with a PhD from Harvard, who’s a contributing opinion writer at America’s liberal paper of record, is at a loss for words!?
His silence speak volumes. Having rejected all possible sociological and economic explanations, Stephens-Davidowitz is left with a sneaking suspicion that racial consciousness is natural and rational.