The Kids Are Alt-Right: How Media and the Law Enable White Supremacist Groups to Recruit and Radicalize Emotionally Vulnerable Individuals

Posted: 2 Jul 2019

Date Written: December 1, 2018


Right-wing extremist violence represents “the oldest and most persistent form of terrorism in the United States and surprisingly the deadliest form of extremism in the US since 9/11. In fact, since 9/11 right-wing extremists have killed more Americans on US soil than jihadi extremists by almost two-to-one.” A joint bulletin from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security reported that the number of homicides committed by white supremacists from 2000 to 2016 was “more than any other domestic extremist movement.” The latest FBI report shows that, for the third year in a row, hate crimes are increasing, with a 17% increase from 2016-2017. Violence committed by white supremacists is also growing, making 2017 the fifth deadliest year for extremists violence since 1970.

How is the growth within white supremacist groups able to occur when they are such a significant threat to our public’s safety? A few of the major causes are: the government’s refusal to label white supremacists as terrorists, the protection the courts have placed on first amendment rights at the cost of others safety, the spread of recruitment and visibility of these extremist groups on social media, and the lack of awareness of the public due to the inaccurate stereotyping and description of the threats and violence propagated by the media by labelling it as mental illness and not as terrorism. These factors insulate white supremacists from real consequences, stigmatizes minority groups, provides a false narrative to the public about the threat to their safety, allows white supremacists to recruit more individuals online with ease, protects their hate speech and propaganda, and stops government departments from utilizing resources that would prevent future attacks.

The government and media must stop blaming acts of domestic terrorism by white supremacists as being committed due to mental illness, and instead call it domestic terrorism and place regulations on social media companies that are negligently allowing white supremacist groups to recruit online and incite violence.

In the past months, we have seen The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Economist, and Time magazine run issues on the threat of white supremacy in the US and how the media and government have allowed this growth to occur. It is a recognized problem, however, there is little legal research that analyzes the real threats and consequences on the U.S.

This paper addresses the issue as a whole. It analyzes the personality of those recruited by white supremacist groups, including the first psychological profile of the alt-right, the influence media has had on the growth and visibility of white supremacists, how the media and government blame the attacks on mental illness, how the courts and government protect white supremacists, the lack of an independent federal crime for domestic terrorism, and the necessary steps the government must take to raise awareness of this threat to the public by calling these attacks terrorism and the need to regulate social media platforms that allow these extremist groups to recruit, grow in visibility, and plan attacks on their platforms. This paper calls for accountability and presents evidence that refutes any dismissal of white supremacists not being a significant threat to the U.S.

Keywords: white supremacy, alt-right, domestic terrorism, extremist violence, terrorism, social media, Communications Decency Act of 1996, Section 230, First Amendment, Internet, Right-Wing extremism, Mental Illness, Victimization

JEL Classification: K10, I00, O38, O33

Suggested Citation

Boatman, Eleanor, The Kids Are Alt-Right: How Media and the Law Enable White Supremacist Groups to Recruit and Radicalize Emotionally Vulnerable Individuals (December 1, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

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