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Examining Online Indicators of Extremism among Violent and Non-Violent Right-Wing Extremists


Authors: Ryan Scrivens

Date of Publication: March 22nd, 2022

Journal/Publisher: Terrorism and Political Violence

Purpose of Study

Key Questions Addressed

The article aims to address the gap in knowledge relating to online posting activities of extremists prior to their engagement in violence. Alongside this the article also looks analyse the posting activities of violent and non-violent extremists in extremist forums.

Design of Study


The author carries out a content analysis of postings froma unique sample of violent and non-violent right-wing extremists as well as from a sample of postings within a sub-forum of the largest white supremacy web-forum, Stormfront. Here the existence of extremist ideologies, personal grievances, and violent extremist mobilization efforts were quantified within each of the three sample groups.

In total, the web-crawler extracted approximately 125,000 sub-forum posts made by approximately 7,000 authors between September 12, 2001 and October 29, 2017. A total of forty-nine violent and fifty non-violent RWEs were identified from a list of approximately 7,000 usernames. Each of these identified usernames represented a unique forum user and there was no evidence of extremists in the sample using multiple usernames. This was confirmed by a former extremist, whose connections were strong enough to be able to link individuals to usernames. The online content for each user was then identified in the sub-forum data: 12,617 posts from the violent users and 17,659 posts from the non-violent users. This data included 30,276 posts, with the first post made on September 1, 2004, and the last post made on October 29, 2017.

Key Findings

First, a large proportion of ideological posts targeting the out-group were observed in the violent, non-violent, and comparison groups. The results of the current study also suggest that anti-Semitic conspiracy theories were among the most frequently observed ideological discourse across all three sample groups, which also aligns with empirical research suggesting that anti-Semitic conspiracy discussions are rooted in RWE ideologies and in much of the RWE rhetoric expressed online, including in RWE discussion forums, social media sites, and fringe platforms.


the non-violent group contained a much larger proportion of ideological posts than those observed in the violent group and, to a lesser extent, posters observed in the comparison group. Such a finding mirrors empirical research which similarly found that non-violent RWEs tend to be more active online than their violent counterpart in general.

While few personal grievance posts were observed in the sample groups compared to ideological posts, a larger proportion of personal grievances were observed in the non-violent and comparison groups than those in the violent group. There was also some variation in the scope of the personal grievances expressed across sample groups, with more grievance types identified in the non-violent and comparison groups than those in the violent group. The most prominent personal grievances that were observed across the three groups were similar: (1) being the target of an act of prejudice, (2) the criminal justice system, and (3) the educational system.

Although less frequent than ideological posts, much of the sentiment observed in the data, especially in the non-violent group, suggested that posters were preparing to engage in extremist violence or were making efforts to mobilize others to extremist violence.

Key Recommendations

from a policy perspective, the results of the study suggest that analysts who are searching for signs of violent extremists online should perhaps be less concerned about investigating users who post messages that include numerous extremist indicators and instead be more concerned about those who post messages with fewer indicators. This recommendation is supported by recent work on the online behaviors of RWEs which found those who are actively involved in violent RWE activities offline tend to be concerned that law enforcement officials and anti-racist groups are monitoring their online activities and may modify their posting activities to avoid detection.

It may be the case that the violent RWEs in the current study were concerned that, by posting in an online space that can be publicly viewed, they may be putting themselves in a vulnerable position and could become the subject of an investigation from anti-hate watch-organizations or even law enforcement.

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