It’s confirmed: White nationalists on Twitter now outnumber members and sympathizers of the Islamic State (ISIS) thanks to Donald Trump’s campaign. At least that’s what one study published by George Washington University’s extremism program found.
“White nationalist users referenced Trump more than almost any other topic, and Trump-related hashtags outperformed every white nationalist hashtag except for #whitegenocide within the sets of users examined,” wrote J. M. Berger, the study’s author and renowned terrorism expert.
The report characterizes white nationalism as an umbrella term for related political ideologies including Nazi sympathizers, right-wing European groups, and to a lesser extent the Ku Klux Klan, alt-right, and fascist South American movements.
Berger identified over 25,000 “seed” accounts of people who have connections to white nationalist organizations or leaders on and offline.
White nationalist sentiments on Twitter increased 600 percent in 2012 due to a spike in activism and people who identified with white nationalism joining the service, along with a rise in “ organized trolling communities seeking to flood social media platforms with negative content,” the report states.
Those individuals then hitched to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The number of followers for major white nationalist Twitter “seed” accounts jumped from 3,542 in 2012 to 25,406 in 2016.
The #whitegenocide hashtag was by far the most popular with #tcot (top conservatives on twitter) coming in second. But together, Trump-related tags — #Trump2016, #Trump, and #MakeAmericaGreatAgain — appeared more often and had nearly as many uses as #whitegenocide. White nationalists used Trump hashtags 9,201 times while Nazi sympathizers used them 6,628 times.
But despite being a prime topic of conversation, Trump is merely a conduit for white nationalists’ prime talking points: the mistreatment of whites. “Less than 1% of white nationalist accounts tweeted exclusively about Donald Trump,” Berger wrote. Instead many accounts had varied interests split between discussing anti-Islam or anti-Muslim beliefs, sharing Nazi imagery, and other white nationalist ideas.
The rise of white nationalists on Twitter intersects with ISIS’ dwindling influence on the platform. That’s likely due to Twitter’s crackdown campaign on ISIS-linked accounts. Since 2015, Twitter has removed nearly 250,000 accounts promoting or creating ISIS propaganda. The militia group has turned more of its focus on “community-building” than social media activism, Berger found.
White nationalists on Twitter are the opposite: “Red Pill” white nationalists, who took their name from The Matrix movie and set out to “awaken” people to the realities of an anti-white agenda, skew antagonistic and gear their messages toward users they consider to be “anti-white,” the report found. They also tweet more, averaging 33 tweets a day. And where ISIS recruiters try to welcome newcomers, white nationalists bond over “feelings of disenfranchisement or dislike of minorities.”
Trolling and harassment have become hallmarks of white nationalists on Twitter. There have been several high-profile incidents of harassment from sub-groups particularly the alt-right, such as repeated attacks on comedian Leslie Jones. As a result, Twitter shut down accounts that incited or perpetuated the harassment.
Trump and his campaign have been tightly linked with white nationalists despite his many efforts to distance himself. Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton painted Trump and his white nationalist supporters as online trolls in a campaign speech in August.
Trump responded by saying his supporters weren’t racist for wanting to close the borders: “It doesn’t make you a racist. It makes you smart. It makes you an American.”