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The Kids Are Alt-Right: How Media and the Law Enable White Supremacist Groups

By analyst Eleanor Boatman, NY. Full tittle: The Kids Are Alt-Right: How Media and the Law Enable White Supremacist Groups to Recruit and Radicalize Emotionally Vulnerable Individuals.


Right-wing extremist violence represents “the oldest and most persistent form of terrorism in the United States and surprisingly the deadliest form of extremism in the US since 9/11. In fact, since 9/11 right-wing extremists have killed more Americans on US soil than jihadi extremists by almost two-to-one.” A joint bulletin from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security reported that the number of homicides committed by white supremacists from 2000 to 2016 was “more than any other domestic extremist movement.” The latest FBI report shows that, for the third year in a row, hate crimes are increasing, with a 17% increase from 2016-2017. Violence committed by white supremacists is also growing, making 2017 the fifth deadliest year for extremists violence since 1970.

How is the growth within white supremacist groups able to occur when they are such a significant threat to our public’s safety? A few of the major causes are: the government’s refusal to label white supremacists as terrorists, the protection the courts have placed on first amendment rights at the cost of others safety, the spread of recruitment and visibility of these extremist groups on social media, and the lack of awareness of the public due to the inaccurate stereotyping and description of the threats and violence propagated by the media by labelling it as mental illness and not as terrorism. These factors insulate white supremacists from real consequences, stigmatizes minority groups, provides a false narrative to the public about the threat to their safety, allows white supremacists to recruit more individuals online with ease, protects their hate speech and propaganda, and stops government departments from utilizing resources that would prevent future attacks.

The government and media must stop blaming acts of domestic terrorism by white supremacists as being committed due to mental illness, and instead call it domestic terrorism and place regulations on social media companies that are negligently allowing white supremacist groups to recruit online and incite violence.

In the past months, we have seen The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Economist, and Time magazine run issues on the threat of white supremacy in the US and how the media and government have allowed this growth to occur. It is a recognized problem, however, there is little legal research that analyzes the real threats and consequences on the U.S.

This paper addresses the issue as a whole. It analyzes the personality of those recruited by white supremacist groups, including the first psychological profile of the alt-right, the influence media has had on the growth and visibility of white supremacists, how the media and government blame the attacks on mental illness, how the courts and government protect white supremacists, the lack of an independent federal crime for domestic terrorism, and the necessary steps the government must take to raise awareness of this threat to the public by calling these attacks terrorism and the need to regulate social media platforms that allow these extremist groups to recruit, grow in visibility, and plan attacks on their platforms. This paper calls for accountability and presents evidence that refutes any dismissal of white supremacists not being a significant threat to the U.S.

Keywords: white supremacy, alt-right, domestic terrorism, extremist violence, terrorism, social media, Communications Decency Act of 1996, Section 230, First Amendment, Internet, Right-Wing extremism, Mental Illness, Victimization.

White supremacist groups are growing and becoming increasingly visible, especially with the rise of the alt-right. 2 The alt-right is short for the “alternative right,” which is a subculture and political movement used to describe individuals and groups that share the same ideology of white nationalism, misogyny, antisemitism, and authoritarianism. 3 Groups within the alt-right, such as Identity Evropa, the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, League of the South, the Neo-Nazi group, Proud Boys, and many others are growing in numbers, size, and visibility.4 Violence and domestic terrorism committed by white supremacists is also growing, making 2017 the fifth deadliest year for extremists violence since 1970. 5

These groups are growing by targeting individuals, primarily young-adult white males, with psychosocial issues that leave them vulnerable to exploitation and control.6 White supremacists are actively searching online, baiting individuals suffering from emotional and social issues, including difficulties in finding a relationship, having friends, and low self- confidence.7 The alt-right then manipulates these individuals’ weaknesses by contributing and reenforcing their externalization of feelings (i.e. it is everyone else’s fault for feeling rejected, emasculated, angry, and lonely). The alt-right tries to meet the individuals’ needs in hopes to bring them into their groups. 8 The alt-right attempts to meet the individual’s needs through group acceptance, re-enforcement, validation that they are superior to those they feel ostracized by, by feeding into the anxiety about having to fit into a more diverse country, or by promising those individuals that they will fight on behalf of their fears until that possibility is removed.9 From there, the alt-right slowly introduces more extreme white supremacy beliefs once the individual has this newfound sense of purpose and group belonging.10 Individuals are then encouraged to take action upon themselves and commit acts of domestic terrorism and smaller scale violence. 11 In 2017, white supremacists were responsible for fifty-nine percent of all extremist-related fatalities. 12 When individuals commit acts of domestic terrorism, through acts of violence on behalf of white supremacy, the news often reports that the individual suffers/was diagnosed with a mental illness.13 Society is then led to believe that the attack was due to mental illness, mainly due to false narratives from politicians and the media. 14 However, studies and data frequently show that mental illness is not the cause for the increase in violence and domestic terrorism, or even close to being the main contributing factor. 15 In fact, those with mental illness have a lower rate of gun violence than those that are not diagnosed with a mental illness, and those with mental illnesses are five times more likely to be victims of violence than they are to commit violence.16

There is a higher correlation of social and emotional issues that contribute to the recruitment and execution of joining far-right extremists groups17 and committing mass violence.18 Labeling those who commit terrorist attacks as doing so because they have a mental health diagnosis, stigmatizes an already extremely marginalized group of people, distances the acts of the violence from the perpetrator, leads Americans to misunderstand the true threat present today, and takes resources away from being able to address the real threat. 19

The US government and media have long protected this type of targeted hate speech by entrenching it into an argument on first amendment rights.20 The Supreme Court and lower courts have consistently protected race targeted fighting words, so long as they do not “incite violence,” even if the speech used creates a feeling of threat of violence for the victim.21 With the rise of technology and the anonymity of online speech, it is nearly impossible to say who’s words directly led to violence, and therefore, very little protection (if any) is offered to minorities who are the target of this speech online and the violence caused by it. Restrictions and regulations need to be put in place due to the rising violence that is directly related to racist hate speech online. 22

Suggested Citation:

Boatman, Eleanor, The Kids Are Alt-Right: How Media and the Law Enable White Supremacist Groups to Recruit and Radicalize Emotionally Vulnerable Individuals (December 1, 2018). Available at SSRN: or


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