I wrote this little paper after being frustrated at the lack of data about precisely how many women were in far-right groups these days, especially online. I was hearing estimates ranging between 7% and 56%, and some of these didn’t take social media into account at all, but were just back-of-the-envelope guesstimates based on event attendance or interviews with group members.
In this work, I use a very large collection of data I collected about far-right extremist group members from Facebook’s API during the period June 20, 2017 – March 31, 2018. I then used two “genderizer” software packages to infer the gender of these 700,000 extremist group members. I then divide those into ten different ideologies and look for evidence of women’s auxiliaries, sometimes mockingly called “wheat fields”.
I find that wheat fields DO exist in five of the ten ideologies. The tall spikes at the left side of each graph below represent groups with a super-majority of women, and which are designed to be women-oriented groups.
I find that women’s leadership rates in the Facebook groups differ between ideologies. One smaller ideology, Neo-Nazi, tends to use women in leadership roles at a higher-than-expected rate. White nationalist and Proud Boys, both ideologies with wheat fields for women (a.k.a. women’s auxiliaries) don’t tend to have women in leadership roles in groups as a whole.
Finally, just like in the 1920s with the WKKK (Women’s KKK) and the Ladies’ Memorial Associations (LMAs) and United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) I find a systematic marginalization and oppression of women on the one hand comes into conflict with a practical need to leverage women’s networks and organizational abilities on the other hand.
Below is a network diagram showing some of the extremist groups and ideologies in my data set, and how they overlap in membership.
Two of the key anti-Muslim groups in this network – each scoring very high on betweenness centrality measures – are Infidel Brotherhood International and Stop the Islamization of America. Each of their ego graphs are shown below:
Anti-Muslim groups attract the same audiences as other extremist ideologies, including secessionist neo-Confederates, militant anti-government conspiracy theorists, and racist white nationalists. In addition, groups like IBI and SOIA can serve as a convenient lingua franca: their brand of hate is a common denominator that ties extremists of disparate ideologies together.
I’ve updated the Facebook co-membership graphs (see original post) for my upcoming talk at the International Conference on Computational Social Science (IC2S2) to be held at Northwestern University in July. (extended abstract – PDF)
This talk will include data through the end of March, 2018.
Once again, larger nodes = more people. Closer placement between nodes on the graph mean more folks in common.
What do we learn? There are some ideologies that are woven much more naturally into the fabric of a “united” far-right, as opposed to other ideologies, which will be harder to integrate.
Upcoming work will look at groups with nativist ideologies, including anti-Muslim, anti-Immigrant, and how those correspond to Anti-Government/Patriot/Militia and White Nationalist beliefs.
Much of my data comes from public, online sources. For example, despite Facebook claiming to be “no place for hate”, I have found that the Facebook social network is actually a very rich source of data about hate groups and the extreme far-right. For 500,000 members of 1,336 different far-right groups and events, Facebook is the perfect place for recruitment and community-building.
In this blog post, I describe how I divided these 1,336 groups into 11 different far-right extremist ideologies (following the SPLC’s and ADL’s descriptions of these beliefs), and performed some social network data mining to answer questions about group co-membership.
What can we learn from this data?
Since the far-right was attempting to “unite” itself by holding events such as the August 12 Charlottesville rally (recall that this event was literally called “Unite the Right”), I wondered: Do groups from different ideologies share members in common? Which groups have the most members in common?
What are the different ideologies represented?
I originally had 9 different far-right ideologies in the classification system, and have since expanded to 11, as shown in the table below.
To classify each group or event, I evaluated the text and emojis used the group name and description, as well as text and symbols found in the group cover photo, and the public content if viewable (discussion comments, photos, and so on.)
Primarily, I use Facebook’s own recommendation system for finding new groups (“Suggested Groups”). I also use their search API for groups with keywords and concepts related to a particular ideology.
Special note since some right-wing conspiracy theory web sites are misreporting this fact: Keywords alone are NEVER sufficient to classify groups or to select them for inclusion. With Google now indexing over 620 million Facebook groups, and only 1,336 in my database, obviously I am not just randomly including every group that matches a keyword! That is a ridiculous assertion. For example: “rebel” is a very generic word, and there are many thousands of groups with that word in the title. As explained above, I follow the SPLC’s and ADL’s descriptions, and I manually evaluate every single group for a match. If a group doesn’t clearly qualify (by name, photo, content, and/or description), that group CANNOT be included.
Count of groups
Concepts related to this ideology
Confederate, League of the South, rebel, confederate flag, secession, dixie, CSA (full description)
UPDATE: After getting feedback about the way I had classified Christian Identity and The Creativity Movements, I decided to collapse the category, moving Christian Identity into Anti-Semitic as SPLC recommends, and likewise, The Creativity Movement is moved into the Neo-Nazi parent category. This makes a lot more sense. Thank you, readers. I guess I’m back to 11 categories again! Numbers have been updated in the table above.
Social Network Analysis
Below is a diagram (created in Gephi using Fruchterman-Reingold layout) showing co-membership between groups from five of the ideologies: Alt-Right, Neo Confederate, White Nationalist, Anti-Government, and Neo-Nazi. Lines (“edges”) between groups (“nodes”) indicate that the two groups share at least 10 members in common. No group is included if it does not share at least 10 members with another group. Larger nodes mean the group has more members in it.
In the center of the diagram, in purple, is the Unite the Right (UtR) event. Below is a close-up view of the groups and events that had the highest co-membership with UtR. Here I have highlighted the UtR node, and its connected nodes show up with their color (nodes that are disconnected from UtR in this diagram are “greyed out”).
As the diagram shows, UtR not only had a very high number of nodes it shared members with, but the nodes it shared with were from a wide variety of groups from all the other ideologies: Neo-Confederate (red) groups, militias and Oath Keepers (blue), White Nationalist groups (green), Alt-Right groups (yellow), and even Neo-Nazi groups (black).
Which other groups are similarly well-connected? There are a few, but none cast as diverse a net as UtR. The figure below shows some of the largest nodes, all clustered in the busy center of the diagram. We seee a large neo-Confederate group, a very large militia group, a /pol/ (4chan) Alt-Right group, an “anti-SJW” (against “social justice warriors”) group, a “white culture” forum claiming to be the largest on the Internet, an Odinist/Folkish style group, and a forum for National Socialist ideas.
More about classifying groups by primary ideology
The problem of multiple ideologies. Many far-right extremist groups could easily be classified into more than one ideology. Most of these groups are anti-Muslim, misogynist, anti-Semitic, and so on. Therefore, to come up with a group’s primary ideology, I will typically rank the name and description as of higher importance than the cover photo when trying to make the call. Still, there are gray areas. I once saw a group that listed 5 different ethnicities it disliked, used a militia symbol on the cover photo, and had a generic, non-descriptive name. Classifying that group was a challenge.
To handle the multiple-ideology problem early on in this project, I originally developed a tagging system where I could tag groups with multiple keywords. In that system, a group could be classified as “militia / anti-Muslim / folkish” or “neo-Confederate / militia / anti-immigration”. This system quickly became untenable, however. It was just too difficult to generate meaningful graphs when every group could be in multiple categories at once. At this point, I think such a tagging system should be built on top of – or in addition to – a primary classification system.
The problem of changing ideologies. Each time a group changes its name, description, or cover photo, it could change the perception of what the group’s primary ideology is. I have run into a few groups that went from neo-Confederate to militias, from anti-Muslim to anti-Government, from anti-Semitic to Alt-Right, etc.
Combining ideologies. Depending on the analysis type I want to do, I might sometimes combine some smaller groups into a larger group. For example, if I’m interested in studying “whiteness” groups, I might combine the large white nationalist category with the smaller Christian Identity and racist skinhead categories. However, if I’m specifically studying Christian Identity groups as a niche community, I can keep these ideologies separated.
Over-representation of certain ideologies. Since I live in the southern portion of the United States, I tend to find more Neo-Confederate groups than certain other types of groups that are more prevalent in other areas of the country.
In future blog posts, I’ll show some of my other data sources, as well as other ways to analyze the Facebook data.
Each map “pin” shows which group did the flyering, as well as the link for where I learned of it. These links are usually tweets from the groups themselves or tweets from students who found the flyers. Sometimes I also use news articles, for example from Vice, Inside Higher Ed, USA Today, NPR, and I also have Google News alerts set up for the alt-right groups so when the flyering incidents are picked up in local media, I get those as well.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has a comprehensive guide to symbols used by hate groups, including the KKK and white supremacist groups.
The first time I saw some of these symbols and logos around my own neighborhood, I was very surprised. But the more I looked around, the more I saw. I decided to begin documenting the evidence of far-right “signaling” that I see around my own neighborhood. White supremacy is not some abstract, far-away phenomenon, but is alive and happening right here, right now.
The 3rd National
Sometimes folks with unpopular beliefs want to fly just a little bit under the radar. The “3rd National”, aka the “Blood Stained Banner”, is a popular choice for the discerning neo-Confederate who is worried about what the neighbors will think if s/he flies the regular ol’ Confederate flag. Here is an example of the 3rd National flag, flying on a corner lot located about 3 blocks from my house:
Since the “3rd National” was the last official flag of the Confederacy, you might fly it if you believe that the South never should have surrendered. In fact, this is the flag that flew in front of the “last capital of the Confederacy” in Danville, VA until recently. Every Saturday, “flaggers” still show up in Danville to insist that this particular flag be returned to fly in front of the Capitol building.
Patriots and Militias
On my run one day, I spotted this flag hanging from a window in some student housing one block from Elon’s campus. It has three capital letter I inside a Betsy-Ross style flag.
The “three-percenters” are a Patriot-style militia movement (wikipedia). The name refers to the group’s claim that only 3% of American colonists took up arms against the British in the American Revolution. Examples of militias include:
The NC Tactical Response Force Militia, which has provided security for multiple alt-right/neo-Confederate events such as when ACTBAC protested the removal of the Confederate flag from schools in Orange County.
Speaking of militias, less than 1 mile from my house hangs this interesting flag with red and blue stripes and a white field with 8-pointed stars. (Yes, I spotted this one while running too – I guess runners see things we didn’t really want to see…)
This is the Guilford Courthouse flag, “a North Carolina militia banner” that was flown at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse during the Revolutionary War. How is that anything harmful? Well, sometimes its name is shortened to the “North Carolina Militia Flag”, as explained in this National Parks Service Word doc, and sometimes militia groups decide to fly this flag at their events.
GNN is also promoting the ‘Unite the Right’ free speech rally to be held on August 12 in Charlottesville. This rally has a speakers list full of notorious neo-Nazis, white supremacists, including Matthew Heimbach (Traditionalist Workers Party), Michael Hill (League of the South), and so on.
The contemporary use of this particular flag as a right-wing militia/hate symbol could be confusing to Greensboro-area history buffs who also fly it as a legitimate historical marker of a Revolutionary War event. The question we are struggling with is: Why was it also flown by militia members at the Anti-Muslim “Act for America” event and why is it flown by a group with ties to the TWP and League of the South? Perhaps, like so many other historical symbols (the swastika comes to mind here, also Pepe the frog), this one is in the early stages of being co-opted for a new purpose.
If history buffs don’t want to see this flag co-opted by right-wing militia groups, they need to be vocal about it, and call out its inappropriate use.
While we were protesting the Raleigh anti-Islam event, we noticed that a newer white supremacist group, Identity Evropa, had posted dozens of flyers around the city. They also took credit for posting these flyers on their Twitter feed.
About a month earlier, similar flyers were spotted on UNC-Chapel Hill Campus:
If Chapel Hill and Raleigh seem too far away to bother you, consider that on May 20, 2017, at a Confederate Flag Rally in Graham (right here in Alamance County!) two US Marines acting on behalf of Identity Evropa were arrested after trespassing on a building to drop a banner with a quote from George Orwell and the abbreviation “YWNRU” (“You Will Not Replace Us”), the slogan of Identity Evropa.
The YWNRU slogan was used on banners and in chants at the Charlottesville, VA torch lighting last month. Extra credit if you can spot the “3rd National” in the photo below.
Maybe these newfangled groups like Identity Evropa are too artsy for some folks. For those who want to keep their hatred old-school, the KKK has a long history in Alamance County. Just today I was reading Elaine Frantz Parsons’ book Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction and didn’t even make it past the first paragraph of the “here’s how the KKK got started” section before Alamance County was mentioned (and not in a good way):
Surely the KKK can’t still be relevant in this day and age? In Alamance County? Well, at the same Graham, NC rally – the Alamance County seat, about 10 miles from my house – in the same spot where the Identity Evropa banner was unfurled, and on the same day, we spotted these lovely homemade t-shirts sporting the KKK triangle logo:
The signs and symbols are everywhere if you know what you’re looking for.
In this article about our collective terrible password habits, I discuss some reasons why we constantly use ‘password’ and ‘123456’ even though we know it’s a terrible idea, as well as some fixes that work with human memory and mathematical complexity, rather than against.