How White Nationalist Groups Recruit
White nationalists today recruit in person and online. Specific locations and events can become hotspots for recruitment, where white nationalists introduce ideas, form social connections, and build trust. They conduct one-on-one outreach with friends, relatives, classmates, neighbors, and online relationships, and they also broadcast their ideas to the general public. They chat face-to-face at gyms and on campuses; they chat online through social media channels and in private white nationalist forums. They make use of real-life social connections as well as social media algorithms.
Over the past decade, many white nationalists concluded that flagrant displays of violence and admiration for white supremacist movements such as Nazism were limiting the acceptability of white nationalist ideas in America. As a result, some white nationalist groups banned Nazi symbols and terms, and they traded tattoos and shaven heads for sports jackets and well-groomed hair. This new style is designed to attract middle-class young people. White nationalists can seem friendly, funny, and smart, and their tactics can appeal to young people’s everyday needs and emotions.
Recruitment can happen anywhere, but today it is most common online. It may look like an ordinary, friendly conversation at first, on a forum or comment board, or during gaming. Contemporary white nationalists seldom fit the old image of Nazis or skinheads.
Ways white nationalists promote their ideas
White nationalists use many different media and channels to distribute their ideas, attract interest, identify potential recruits, and engage young people in conversation. Increasingly, the first contact happens online. Some websites are known hubs for white nationalists; others are ordinary sites visited by millions of people, where young people unwittingly make contact. As a result, a young person may not recognize where the conversation is heading. Some online platforms and websites screen this kind of content, but new sites are constantly popping up.
As kids become active on social media at increasingly younger ages, it’s essential to understand how and where white nationalists connect with young people, what their communications look like, and why some young people are drawn in.
This site intentionally does not link directly to white nationalist sites for ethical and privacy reasons. If you plan to investigate such sites, we advise downloading security software, to hide your IP address, such as a Virtual Private Network (VPN). But we have provided a listing of prominent white nationalist sites and forums so that you can recognize these red flags if you see them in a browser history or hear them mentioned.
Personal social contact
Recruitment often involves personal connections and social contact. White nationalist group members may approach friends and relatives to share their ideas. Younger white nationalists may attract attention through their clothing, jewelry, or tattoos with white nationalist phrases and symbols. Conversations with friends or classmates may lead to recruitment. The high energy of small-scale events is also conducive to recruitment. Young people may be invited to attend White Power concerts if they have shown some responsiveness. Some white nationalist groups enforce fitness regimes and encourage participation in mixed martial arts (MMA) as part of the “warrior” profile associated with their movement. Some gyms can become hubs for recruitment.
Online chat and comments
YouTube videos, social media channels, and gaming platforms attract young people, and white nationalists use those venues and their chat functions to engage and recruit new members. Comment threads on right-leaning news and feature sites provide additional opportunities to attract young recruits. Specific chat boards, such as those on 4chan or 8kun, are safe spaces for open conversations among white nationalists and sympathetic posters from various anti-government groups that can draw young people into their orbits. What begins as exploring a music video, a game, or a comment thread on a news story may lead to white nationalist linked content, websites, and social media accounts.
Young people exploring music videos or general vlog content on YouTube may unknowingly access videos or channels with explicitly white nationalist content or a solid white nationalist fan base. Comments may promote white nationalist ideas, websites, or social media accounts. The YouTube algorithm will then suggest related videos, with additional white nationalist content and comments. Some posters will watch for replies that indicate interest, and then establish personal contact for extended interaction.
White nationalist groups and individuals see online gaming sites as promising venues for recruitment. While gaming attracts a wide demographic, and nothing makes gamers as a whole more vulnerable to recruitment than others, the gaming community does include the type of young people in search of identity and community that white nationalists target. In multi-player gaming, where strangers are brought together in teams that exchange messages as they play together, a few friendly words in a side conversation can test whether a young teammate seems responsive to a race-based message. If they do a white nationalist team member can follow up, sometimes by posting or mentioning the location of a dedicated white nationalist site.
Websites and webzines
Organized white nationalist groups maintain websites to advertise their ideas and activities and draw recruits, though many now prefer to operate through social media or encrypted sites. In addition, prominent individuals maintain personal websites promoting white nationalist ideas. There are also many online journals (webzines), some with powerful, long-standing institutional backing, that young people who seek intellectual stimulation and argumentative strategies may visit as their engagement increases, especially those who have reached college age.
For a survey of dedicated sites and other locations where white nationalism is encountered on the Internet, see White Nationalism Online
Flyers and other print materials
White nationalist groups have long spread word of their ideas and organization through print materials; for instance, the KKK used to operate newspapers. Today, groups still distribute and post flyers, most often on college campuses, and they occasionally hang large banners on highway overpasses. There is also a lively market in white nationalist books, including political tracts and fictional works such as The Turner Diaries. Vivid narratives can be persuasive communication and motivational tools.
Demonstrations and other events
Many white nationalist groups hold regular political action initiatives such as marches, protests, vigils, and other public events that attract curious young people. On college campuses, controversial invited speakers associated with white nationalism can draw large crowds (pro and con). In addition, prominent white nationalists may organize meetings and conferences either on or near campus.
Cynthia Miller-Idriss’s Hate in the Homeland, includes a focused overview of recruitment approaches (pp. 111-128), and our description is informed by Christian Picciolini’s Breaking Hate and Michael Kimmel’s Healing from Hate; recruitment is theme that runs through both books.
For sources and discussion concerning various forms of online recruitment, see White Nationalism Online.
The role of music in recruitment is discussed in detail in Kimmel’s Healing From Hate (especially pp. 155-161). SPLC, Hate Music is an overview as of 2020.
The increasing role of MMA is documented in Miller-Idriss’s Hate in the Homeland (ch. 4); we also consulted Bryan Schatz, The Terrifying Rise of Alt-Right Fight Clubs and Tess Owen, A White Supremacist Is Organizing Fight Clubs Across the US. Owen’s article describes how “Active Clubs,” white nationalist-sponsored MMA clubs, are being promoted on social media. The leaked confidential communications of a major white nationalist group specify fitness criteria for membership and explicitly promote MMA.
These same leaked conversations repeatedly discuss posting flyers, banner drops, and personal contact as primary recruitment tools that members should employ in fulfilling their active missions.
Kurt Braddock’s Weaponized Words (pp. 74-80) analyzes the functions of narratives in white nationalism. J.M. Berger describes the impact of The Turner Diaries in, Alt History: How a Self-Published, Racist Novel Changed White Nationalism and Inspired Decades of Violence.
“MMA is the perfect incubator for the far right. It helps recruit new youth to the movement from adjacent subcultures.”
- Cynthia Miller-Idriss, Hate in the Homeland, 100
Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was devoted to The Turner Diaries. He had excerpts with him when he blew up the Murrah Federal Building in 1995, using a bomb modeled on one described in the novel.
Updated, October 2021