By Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League
Around the world, a very specific and pervasive kind of hatred is on the rise once more. While white supremacists have always existed across the United States and in other parts of the world, they’ve been growing in number and becoming more violent in recent years. They’re far from the only kind of hate group out there, but they are one of the most insidious. White supremacists direct their hatred against racial and ethnic minorities, women, the LGBTQ+ community, and anyone they perceive to be the enemy of the “white race.”
White supremacists openly embrace toxic forms of bigotry such as anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and xenophobia. They advocate for population separation on the basis of race and for an end to non-white immigration to the U.S. and Europe. They do not believe that the U.S. should welcome people of different backgrounds or promote diversity and multiculturalism. White supremacists feel threatened by people who think, look, act, or worship differently from them. Sometimes white supremacists go beyond ideology and carry out violence against their perceived enemies.
You might know them as “white nationalists.” Sometimes they refer to themselves as “identitarians,” “pro-white advocates,” or the “alt-right.” But regardless of whatever term they use, their beliefs are based on bigotry, ignorance, fear, and hatred.
Since its founding in 1913, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has monitored the white supremacist movement for decades; we also work to inform and educate the public about the movement, its impact, and what can be done to counter it. And we see and know how white supremacist hate and bigotry can have deadly and devastating consequences.
Over the last four years, we have seen white supremacists murder numerous people in houses of worship alone: One perpetrator killed nine Black parishioners in a church in South Carolina; another killed 11 Jewish people attending a synagogue in Pittsburgh. One attacker killed 51 Muslims in two mosques in New Zealand. In Poway, California, yet another attacker killed one person and injured many others at another synagogue.
This past summer, a white supremacist was charged with murdering 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. He had driven nine hours to reach the city that shares many of its resources with the Mexican city of Juárez; the attacker cited what he believed to be a “Hispanic invasion of Texas” as his motive. “I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion,” he claimed.
It’s not only violent acts that have an impact. White supremacists express hateful ideology every day on social media, message boards, video-sharing sites, and online games — and few companies are properly equipped to curb the spread of such hatred, if they even choose to act at all. An ADL survey of Americans found that harassment is particularly high on Twitch, Reddit, and Discord, and contributes to the continued rise in online hate overall. 37 percent of American adults surveyed reported experiencing severe digital harassment (including physical threats, sexual harassment, stalking and sustained harassment), up from 18 percent in 2017.
Online hate ruins lives by stoking fear, silencing voices, and causing harm to people’s physical and professional safety — all of which have a serious and lasting effect on victims and their families. And just because it happens digitally doesn’t mean it should be taken less seriously. A pixelated threat is as much a threat as a physical one.
We also know that white supremacists are working online and across borders to spread their hateful ideologies in a manner that previously simply wasn’t possible. White supremacists also target young people, especially white teenagers, on these platforms, as well as in real-life activity by posting racist and anti-Semitic propaganda on college campuses and in other parts of the community. Many white supremacists use bigoted humor, and platforms like gaming sites and chats to attract young people to their ideology. They’ve used tactics like “shitposting” and memes to move white supremacist language, symbols, and talking points into the mainstream in an effort to“normalize” them.
But hatred should never be normal.
Now, as much as ever, it is very important to question what you’re seeing online, be aware of hateful tactics, and push back against hate. It’s up to people of all races and religions to join in the fight against hate, but it’s particularly important for the young people targeted to let white supremacists know that they reject their ideology and will not tolerate attacks on other members of the community. There are actions you can take to empower yourself and help others fight back, as well.
Everyone has a role. Whether you are a student, a parent, a corporate CEO, or a grassroots community activist, we need legions of volunteers and leaders to step up in the battle against hate.
Most importantly, we need everyday Americans to arm themselves with information. Everyone can learn to identify hate symbols, which are typically images but can also include haircuts and hand gestures. And the more aware we are of the way these websites, videos, games, and memes spread, the better off we’ll all be.
Another helpful skill is skepticism about what you’re seeing online, and learning how to identify and deconstruct online propaganda. White supremacists often try to take advantage of young people’s openness and susceptibility, so being aware of how they manipulate information online and use propaganda to spread their worldview is critically important.
To challenge or push back on white supremacy, we also need tech companies to step up their efforts to combat hate speech. You can help by reporting hateful content to tech companies, or by joining our Backspace Hate initiative and signing this online petition calling on state representatives to hold perpetrators of online hate accountable.
Fighting hate online and in real life is very important. It is up to each of us to act as an ally and speak out when someone is being targeted based on an aspect of their identity — including their appearance, disability, race, religion, gender and gender expression, sexual orientation, or any intersection of these. It makes a difference in creating a more respectful, safe, and inclusive world — both online, and off.
For more on how to join the fight against hate, visit race.mtv.com