Has the election of Donald Trump emboldened extremists?
By A.C. Thompson & Ken Schwencke
People protest in Washington, D.C., during the annual conference of the National Policy Institute. A speech by the organization’s leader quoted Nazi propaganda and celebrated the election of Donald Trump. (Photo: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Over the past month, more than 564,000 unique visitors have spent time on the Daily Stormer, a website that takes its name from a Hitler-era German tabloid, Der Stürmer. The site bills itself as “America’s #1 Most Trusted Republican News Source” and features headlines like “Jew Billionaires Meet to Overthrow Trump Government,” “Faggots and Jews Whining About Bannon Appointment,” and “Yes, Trump Really Can Make America White Again.”
Throughout Donald J. Trump’s ultimately successful run for the presidency, many worried that he had, willfully or recklessly, emboldened racists across the country. Last Tuesday, Trump told the New York Times that had not been his intent.
“It’s not a group I want to energize, and if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why,” Trump told the Times. He said he wasn’t sure what impact, if any, previous Republican campaigns had had in fomenting extremists, and thus if his impact had been distinctive. “I don’t know where they were four years ago, and where they were for [Mitt] Romney and [John] McCain and all of the other people that ran, so I just don’t know, I had nothing to compare it to.”
Some who track the behavior and public profiles of racists in America, however, say Trump’s effect has been unmistakable. According to Alexa, a company that tracks Web metrics, a range of white supremacist and so-called alt-right websites have seen surges in traffic across the last year. Those sites include Radix Journal, Virginia Dare, Red Ice, American Renaissance, and The Right Stuff, according to Alexa.
Most of the racist online publications still have relatively modest readerships, attracting between 100,000 and 300,000 unique visitors per month, far less than the typical daily newspaper in a small American city. But all have seen rapid growth. And many sites, among them Red Ice, which has advanced the idea that “the United States of America was built by white people for white people” and American Renaissance, which derides African Americans and Latinos as low-IQ losers, have seen their traffic more than double over the past year.
But Daily Stormer seems to have seen the most dramatic spike in readership. In a recent post, Daily Stormer claimed that since the election the site “has had an added 30% traffic.” Over the past month the site has had nearly 10 million pageviews.
“Daily Stormer is a website run by Andrew Anglin, who is a neo-Nazi,” said Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. “Andrew Anglin has actively encouraged trolls to harass Jews and others online. He is still encouraging trolls to harass people.”
Anglin did not respond to a request for comment.
Researchers at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, have watched as Anglin’s site has eclipsed older white supremacist sites since its founding in 2013.
For years, said the SPLC’s Ryan Lenz, the “go-to racist site” was Stormfront, a discussion forum started by ex-Klansman Don Black back in the 1990s, which had long served as the nexus of extreme right conversation on the Web.
But Stormfront’s traffic has been surpassed by that of the Daily Stormer.
The success of the Daily Stormer, which features an abundance of crude humor and plenty of shareable memes and graphics, represents “a passing of the baton” from one generation of racists to the next, said Lenz who edits SPLC’s Hatewatch.
Of course, white supremacists are also making use of existing social media platforms and Web forums, including Reddit, which features a robust alt-right subreddit that has also seen a spike in traffic this month, pulling in more than 80,000 unique visitors so far in November.
In Segal’s view, social media, along with heavily trafficked forums like Reddit and the troll-haven 4chan, “are much more significant” tools for the rising white supremacist movement than avowedly racist Web outposts like Daily Stormer and its ilk. Video clips, speeches, and interviews featuring alt-right figures and white supremacists are also proliferating on YouTube, where some are drawing sizable audiences.
“The [white racist] sites aren’t insignificant but they’re not the whole picture,” Segal said.
In October the ADL issued a report documenting epidemic levels of anti-Semitic harassment on Twitter, much of it aimed at journalists covering the presidential campaign. “We found 2.6 million tweets using language commonly used by anti-Semites,” Segal noted. After coming under heavy criticism for tolerating a culture of abuse, Twitter has taken some steps to curb harassment and recently banned a handful of racist figures, including alt-right leader Richard Spencer.
In his remarks to the Times, Trump pledged to take his own steps to counteract any rising racism.
“What we do want to do is we want to bring the country together, because the country is very, very divided,” he said. “It’s very, very divided, and I’m going to work very hard to bring the country together.”
Moving quickly on that work would be welcomed by many.
Segal said he has tracked a disturbing pattern over the past several weeks. “What we were seeing in terms of harassment online we’re now seeing on the ground” in the form of hate crimes in the physical world, he said. “It’s not surprising: We’re coming out of a very divisive election where white supremacists felt emboldened by the public discussion. They feel like they have a champion in the highest office.”