Cover: Mapping White Identity Terrorism and Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremism

Mapping White Identity Terrorism and Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremism

A Social Network Analysis of Online Activity

Published Jun 7, 2022

by Heather J. Williams, Luke J. Matthews, Pauline Moore, Matthew A. DeNardo, James V. Marrone, Brian A. Jackson, William Marcellino, Todd C. Helmus


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Research Questions

  1. What are some strategic trends in the WITM/REMVE movements?
  2. What is the nature of transnational linkages in the WITM/ REMVE movements?
  3. Who are the key actors, organizations, and supporting digital infrastructure in the WITM/REMVE community?
  4. How can the relationships and interactions between REMVEs online be characterized?

Racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism (REMVE) and extremists (REMVEs) present some of the most pressing threats to the United States. REMVE also has been identified as the White identity terrorist movement (WITM). REMVEs are among the most lethal domestic violent extremists, and they are the most likely to commit mass-casualty attacks. These movements are characterized by a broad ideological orientation toward xenophobic, anti-Semitic, racist, and misogynistic sentiment.

For this report, the authors reviewed the relevant literature on REMVE networks and collected and analyzed social media data from six social networks (Twitter, Reddit, Gab, Ruqqus, Telegram, and Stormfront) to produce a global network map of the digital REMVE space. That network map evaluates each network's construction, connectivity, geographic location, references to prominent organizations, and proclivity to violence. The authors also reviewed ten countries' experiences with REMVE to sketch out an understanding of the REMVE space in these countries and how REMVEs in those countries relate to those in the United States.

Key Findings

The WITM/REMVE global network on social media is largely created and fueled by users in the United States

  • WITM/REMVE is fueled by U.S. domestic drivers, and this movement is less of an issue in other countries.
  • Programs to counter violent extremism are generally most productive when they are local.
  • The primary need is for robust national strategies to counter WITM/REMVE, specifically in the United States.

An organization- or actor-focused counter-WITM/REMVE strategy likely will not work because of the diffuse nature of REMVE movements

  • REMVE is a post-organizational movement; many REMVEs are radicalized outside an organized group and groups are loosely organized, meaning that U.S. strategy to counter REMVE should not be centered around key organizations and actors.

Intervention strategies should be multifaceted because of the complex nature of the problem and its intersections with protected civil rights

  • The scale of REMVE and the depth of its ideological roots in the United States suggest that targeting and ostracizing sympathizers would not be a successful intervention strategy.

There are structural differences in how REMVE manifests and is countered in Europe versus in the United States

  • The parliamentary system in many European countries gives those on the far right a presence in the political system, which provides a nonviolent outlet for fringe-movement adherents. Many European countries also have active intervention and counter-REMVE programs underway.

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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