Is White Nationalism a Growing Movement?

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Here’s a headline over at Vox:

11 things to think about when you lose hope over the rise of white nationalism

The accompanying article is by Jenée Desmond-Harris. Her piece has some excellent correctives for anyone who thinks 2016 was nothing but a long slide backwards into racist hatemongering. Her examples include everything from Beyoncé performing “Formation” at the Super Bowl to the quadrupling of women of color in the Senate.

But I want to argue with the headline (which was probably not written by Desmond-Harris). Has there really been a “rise” in white nationalism? There’s no question that neo-Nazis/white nationalists/alt-rightists have gotten louder this year. Nor is there any question that they’ve gotten a lot of media attention. Nor that they’re big fans of Donald Trump. Nor that Trump rather unsubtly accepted their support. But does that mean they’ve actually become more numerous or more popular or more influential?

This is a real question, and I can’t figure out how to get a handle on it. Unsurprisingly, nobody seems to conduct polls asking about support for white nationalism. Nor can I find any estimates about the current and past sizes of white nationalist groups. There are statistics for hate crimes, but they’re tricky to use and aren’t current anyway.

Other proxies aren’t much better. Gallup has recorded a steady decline since the turn of the century in the number of people who want less immigration. Among the white working class, racial resentment scores on the American National Election Survey have been pretty stable for decades, though they ticked up slightly this year. White turnout was no higher in 2016 than it was in previous elections, which means there’s little evidence for any kind of “white backlash.”

These are crude measures that might relate to broad racial animus but don’t tell us anything specifically about white nationalists. The raw number of neo-Nazi types is probably so small that they don’t even show up as a blip unless you’re focusing solely on them.

The reason I bring this up is simple: If white nationalists aren’t, in fact, growing either in numbers or influence, then there’s not much reason to write about them in routine news reports. All we’re doing is giving them the publicity they crave even though there’s nothing especially newsworthy about them.

So are they? Does anyone know of any real evidence on this score?


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend