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Fox News personality Tucker Carlson claimed white supremacy is a hoax and "not a real problem in America." But that’s not what the evidence shows.
Speaking on his Aug. 6 show, which reaches around 3 million viewers nightly, Carlson said:
"The combined membership of every white supremacist organization in this country would be able to fit inside a college football stadium. I mean, seriously. This is a country where the average person is getting poorer while the suicide rate is spiking. White supremacy, that's the problem. This is a hoax. Just like the Russia hoax, it's a conspiracy theory used to divide the country and keep a hold on power. It's exactly what's going on."
As a social ill, white supremacy is difficult to quantify — despite Carlson’s suggestion that a headcount is easily obtainable.
But the available data suggests a more pressing story than Carlson's take. While the FBI doesn’t code incidents as being committed by white nationalists, officials reported a 17 percent increase in hate crimes in 2017 over the previous year, and more than half were motivated by biases based on race, ethnicity or ancestry.
David Sterman, a policy analyst who studies violent extremism at the left-leaning think tank New America, said Carlson’s argument amounted to willful denialism.
"The United States has a long history of white supremacist violence," Sterman said. "The claim that it is a hoax is absurd."
Here are five points that refute Carlson’s claim. (Fox News did not respond to a request for comment.)
An unclassified May 2017 intelligence bulletin, jointly authored by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, found that white supremacist extremists killed more people than any other domestic extremist movement from 2000 to 2016. (The domestic terror classification excludes the Sept. 11 attacks by jihadists.)
The agencies warned that white supremacist extremists "likely will continue to pose a threat of lethal violence over the next year," and cautioned that the "often spontaneous and opportunistic nature" of this type of violence makes it particularly hard for law enforcement to prevent.
Yet the intelligence memo also revealed that law enforcement had managed to foil a mass-casualty plot in which a juvenile suspect, whose phone contained Nazi imagery and language advocating the slaughter of Jews and African Americans, planned a shooting at an Ohio high school.
The Anti-Defamation League reached findings that paralleled the federal agencies’. As a share of all killings committed by right-wing extremists in the United States over the last decade, 76 percent were committed by white supremacists, the Anti-Defamation League told PolitiFact. Last year, 39 of 50 domestic extremist killings were committed by white supremacists, the ADL’s head Jonathan Greenblatt wrote on Twitter in response to Carlson’s claim.
Carlson’s claim is at odds with the view of top law enforcement. At a hearing before a congressional panel in April, FBI Director Christopher Wray was asked what danger white supremacy poses to the country.
"The danger, I think, of white supremacists, violent extremism or any other kind of violent extremism, is significant," Wray told the House Appropriations Subcommittee. "We assess that it’s a persistent, pervasive threat."
In July, following Wray’s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the FBI said a majority of arrests related to racially motivated domestic terrorism over the previous nine months were believed to be inspired by white supremacy.
Carlson said you could fit white supremacists in a college football stadium. We reached out to Fox News and didn’t hear back, and we didn’t find a solid calculation of how many people this would include.
Experts told us to look at polls to get an idea of how prevalent white supremacy is in the United States.
After the deadly 2017 clashes in Charlottesville, Va., one poll asked Americans: Do you think it’s acceptable or unacceptable to hold neo-Nazi or white supremacist views? According to the ABC-Washington Post poll, 9% percent said such views are acceptable.
As the country has seen a rise in hate crimes among most groups, American attitudes about the state of race relations have soured, according to a trove of opinion polling cited by Brian Levin, who directs the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism.
"Recent social surveys mirror these findings, showing an increase in social distancing and fear," as well as reduced tolerance for people belonging to other groups, Levin wrote in the center’s annual report.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization that has tracked hate groups since the 1980s, says that the number of white nationalist groups grew from 100 to 148 in 2018. Many of the groups on the list are various state chapters of the same umbrella organization. (For example, The Right Stuff is listed dozens of times.)
White extremist terror attacks have been on the rise in recent years. This finding comes from an investigation the New York Times published in April that drew from the Global Terrorism Database and coded attacks carried out from 2011-17 by ideological motive.
The newspaper defined "white extremist" as including white nationalist, white supremacist, neo-Nazi, xenophobic, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic ideologies. As the chart below shows, the paper identified a surge in the number of white extremist terror attacks in 2015, largely owing to attacks on migrants residing in Europe, with a dropoff in attacks the next year followed by an uptick in 2017:
Source: The New York Times.
With today’s social media platforms, it is easier for white supremacists to share their views.
"We know the rise in violent white supremacy is partly fueled by their use of social media platforms that connect like-minded individuals who are geographically isolated to share hate-filled, violent material," said Elizabeth Neumann, an assistant Homeland Security secretary, in recent written testimony for a House committee hearing.
For example, the shooter who killed 50 people in an attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, drew inspiration from far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 in Norway in 2011, as well as other perpetrators.
Authorities are investigating an online post uploaded before the Aug. 3 shooting in El Paso. The opening line reads: "In general, I support the Christchurch shooter and his manifesto."
ABC News/Washington Post poll, Aug. 21, 2017
House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, April 4, 2019
FBI-Department of Homeland Security joint security bulletin, May 10, 2017
Anti-Defamation League, "Murder and Extremism in the United States in 2018," Jan. 2019
Washington Post, "Wray says FBI has recorded about 100 domestic terrorism arrests in fiscal 2019 and many investigations involve white supremacy," July 27, 2019
Washington Post, The state of hate, Nov. 8, 2018
Assistant DHS secretary Elizabeth Neumann, Written testimony and testimony before the House committee on oversight reform, June 4, 2019
PolitiFact, "Donald Trump doesn’t think white nationalism is on the rise. Data show otherwise," March 20, 2019
Interview with Brian Levin, director of Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism-California State University, San Bernardino, Aug. 7, 2019