New research offers clues to stop the spread of organized hate groups in the U.S.
Oct 01, 2018
Organized hate groups span all geographic areas of the United States, from White nationalists in Washington state to neo-Nazis in Alabama to radical traditionalist Catholics in New Hampshire. While persecution of classes of people happens everywhere, the drivers that push people to join hate groups are unique to specific places. In this way, hatred can be a study in geography as much as anything else.
A new model tracking organized hate groups upends a long-held, simplistic view of the issue, one that placed a generalized blame on education or immigration, for example, positing that a person’s education level could be a sole indicator of whether they would join a hate group.
New research from the University of Utah provides a much more nuanced picture of what gives rise to organized hate groups that can better serve those working to dismantle them. In the Midwest, economics is a more influential factor than immigration. On the East Coast, more religious areas correlate with more per capita hate groups, while education has little influence.
Richard Medina, University of Utah assistant professor of geography and lead author of the research, said public perceptions of hate and its motivating factors are often oversimplified. “Drivers of hate are dependent on regions and cultures and all the things we see and study in geography,” he said. “It can be really complicated. People don’t just hate for one reason.”
Medina’s group had been working on the research before the White supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, where a woman was killed in the violence. Emily Nicolosi, University of Utah graduate student and co-author of the paper, said that what happened in Charlottesville started national conversations she believes the research can support.
“The motivators and drivers of hate look very different in different places,” Nicolosi said. “If you look at the maps, you can see that these sort of regions emerge where the [different] variables are playing the same role.”
The research used census data to track specific socioeconomic variables, such as population changes over a five-year period, poverty, and education levels. Researchers mapped population percentage of White non-Latinos because places changing from strong racial and ethnic similarity are more likely to experience a negative reaction to change. Poverty is a driver of hate because extremist groups promise the impoverished a way out of financial difficulty or provide a group to blame. The group also measured conservative religious and political ideology.
The maps of these socioeconomic factors were then compared to a 2014 map of 784 organized hate groups across the country that the Southern Poverty Law Center created.