VIKINGMAIDEN88 is 26 years old. She enjoys reading history and writing poetry. Her signature quote is from Shakespeare. She was impressed whenthe dialect quiz in The New York Times correctly identified where she was from: Tacoma and Spokane, Wash. “Completely spot on,” she wrote, followed by a smiling green emoji.
I gleaned all this from her profile and posts on Stormfront.org, America’s most popular online hate site.
I recently analyzed tens of thousands of the site’s profiles, in which registered members can enter their location, birth date, interests and other information. Call it Big Hatred meets Big Data.
Stormfront was founded in 1995 by Don Black, a former Ku Klux Klan leader. Its most popular “social groups” are “Union of National Socialists” and “Fans and Supporters of Adolf Hitler.” Over the past year, according to Quantcast, roughly 200,000 to 400,000 Americans visited the site every month. A recent Southern Poverty Law Center report linked nearly 100 murders in the past five years to registered Stormfront members.
The white nationalist posters on Stormfront have issues with many different groups. They often write about crimes committed by African-Americans against whites; they complain about an “invasion” of Mexicans; and they love to mock gays and feminists. But their main problem appears to be with Jewish people, who are often described as super-powerful and clever — the driving force, generally speaking, behind the societal changes they do not like. They sometimes call the Holocaust the “Holohoax.”
Stormfront members tend to be young, at least according to self-reported birth dates. The most common age at which people join the site is 19. And four times more 19-year-olds sign up than 40-year-olds. Internet and social network users lean young, but not nearly that young.
White, Bigoted and Young
Who joins a hate forum?
Profiles do not have a field for gender. But I looked at all the posts and complete profiles of a random sample of American users, and it turns out that you can work out the gender of most of the membership: I estimate that about 30 percent of Stormfront members are female.
The states with the most members per capita are Montana, Alaska and Idaho. These states tend to be overwhelmingly white. Does this mean that growing up with little diversity fosters hate?
Probably not. Since those states have a higher proportion of non-Jewish white people, they have more potential members for a group that attacks Jews and nonwhites. The percentage of Stormfront’s target audience that joins is actually higher in areas with more minorities. This is particularly true when you look at Stormfront’s members who are 18 and younger and therefore do not themselves choose where they live.
Among this age group, California, a state with one of the largest minority populations, has a membership rate 25 percent higher than the national average.
One of the most popular social groups on the site is “In Support of Anti-Semitism.” The percentage of members who join this group is positively correlated with a state’s Jewish population. New York, the state with the highest Jewish population, has above-average per capita membership in this group.
In 2001, Dna88 joined Stormfront, describing himself as a “good looking, racially aware” 30-year-old Internet developer living in “Jew York City.” In the next four months, he wrote more than 200 posts, like “Jewish Crimes Against Humanity” and “Jewish Blood Money,” and directed people to a website, jewwatch.com, which claims to be a “scholarly library” on “Zionist criminality.”
Stormfront members complain about minorities’ speaking different languages and committing crimes. But what I found most interesting were the complaints about competition in the dating market.
A man calling himself William Lyon Mackenzie King, after a former prime minister of Canada who once suggested that “Canada should remain a white man’s country,” wrote in 2003 that he struggled to “contain” his “rage” after seeing a white woman “carrying around her half black ugly mongrel niglet.” In her profile, Whitepride26, a 41-year-old student in Los Angeles, says, “I dislike blacks, Latinos, and sometimes Asians, especially when men find them more attractive” than “a white female.”
POLITICAL developments certainly play a role. The day that saw the biggest single increase in membership in Stormfront’s history, by far, was Nov. 5, 2008, the day after Barack Obama was elected president.
The top reported interest of Stormfront members is “reading.” Most notably, Stormfront users are news and political junkies. One interesting data point here is the popularity of The New York Times among Stormfront users. According to the economists Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro, when you compare Stormfront users to people who go to the Yahoo News site, it turns out that the Stormfront crowd is twice as likely to visit nytimes.com.
Perhaps it was my own naïveté, but I would have imagined white nationalists’ inhabiting a different universe from that of my friends and me. Instead, they have long threads praising “Breaking Bad” and discussing the comparative merits of online dating sites, like Plenty of Fish and OkCupid.
There was also no relationship between monthly membership registration and a state’s unemployment rate. States disproportionately affected by the Great Recession saw no comparative increase in Google searches for Stormfront.
Some of this research adds to recent literature in the field that is frankly shocking and should change the way we think about hate.
In the 1930s, Arthur F. Raper reported a correlation between bad economic conditions and lynchings of blacks. This led many scholars to the intuitive conclusion that people turn to hate because their lives are going poorly.
But evidence is increasingly casting doubt on this idea. In 2001, the political scientists Donald P. Green, Laurence H. McFalls and Jennifer K. Smith used more data and found that there was actually no relationship between lynchings and economic hardship. Lynchings actually fell during the Great Depression.
The economist Alan B. Krueger has shown that terrorists are not disproportionately poor. And the economists Roland G. Fryer Jr. and Steven D. Levitt found that Ku Klux Klan members were actually better educated than the typical American.
Return to VikingMaiden88. When you read her 189 posts since joining the site, she often seems like a perfectly nice and intelligent young woman.
But she also has a lot of hatred. She praises a store for having “100% white employees.” She says the media is promoting a “Jewish agenda.” And she says she finds Asians “repulsive physically, socially, religiously, etc.”
Why do some people feel this way? And what is to be done about it? I have pored over data of an unprecedented breadth and depth, thanks to our new digital era. And I can honestly offer the following answer: I have no idea.