To get a sense of the attitudes of racists, we are generally left parsing anecdotal data, which is to say we are left finding them in the wild and looking to see what they’re doing, the way one might a raccoon. What do raccoons do as a large population? Hard to say, but I’ve certainly seen some rooting around in garbage cans.
Social media provides a lot more thought-garbage-cans than used to exist in the olden days. While many white-nationalist and racist sites have been taken down in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville last year, there are still a number of self-professed white nationalists and supporters of white nationalism on Twitter. Jared Holt, a reporter at People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch, has been tracking white nationalists on Twitter for some time.
On Wednesday night, he noticed that several prominent white-nationalist Twitter users were celebrating President Trump’s tweet about white farmers in South Africa, an issue brought to Trump’s attention by a segment on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show that evening.
“‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’ exclusive: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has just begun the process of seizing land from his own citizens, without compensation, purely due to their skin color,” the blurb for the segment says on YouTube. “That’s far more racist than anything Donald Trump has ever done, of course, but elites in America barely even care.”
A fact check from the Associated Press indicates that Trump’s tweet isn’t true. The assertion that white farmers are being unfairly racially targeted, though, has been a staple of white-nationalist rhetoric for some time, as Holt and others noted on Twitter. Trump himself implied earlier this month that racism targeting whites was a matter needing to be addressed.
We asked Holt to help identify a nonscientific group of prominent white-nationalist Twitter accounts or prominent accounts sympathetic to white-nationalist ideas. Our goal was to get a sense of how unusual the emphasis on Trump was after his tweet. Using Twitter’s data-collection tool, we loaded the most recent 3,000 tweets for 12 accounts (identified at the bottom of this article). Then we checked the frequency of terms such as Trump and POTUS.
We also checked for mentions of different demographic groups, including whites, Jewish people and immigrants. Because the 12 accounts tweet at different frequencies, 3,000 tweets go back different lengths of time for each user. (Tweet 100 times a day, and it covers a month; tweet once a day, and it’s over eight years.) The number of tweets on each subject are presented as a percentage of all of the tweets from the 12 accounts on that day. Remember that this, too, is a small sample size.
The accounts tweeted a lot more about white people than other groups. There was a big spike in tweets about whites earlier this month, in response to the New York Times’s hiring of writer Sarah Jeong, who was targeted by alt-right groups and other conservatives for a series of tweets about white people.
But notice that last column, representing Thursday. It’s nearly as high. (The tweets were collected through noon on Thursday and may not represent the full day.)
Now to the issue at hand: Here is the frequency of tweets about Trump and South Africa this year. (Why not go back further in Trump’s administration? That 3,000 tweet limit means that we could only access a couple of accounts going back that far.)
The points at which the accounts mentioned Trump the most were on Wednesday and Thursday, in January at the time of the State of the Union address, and last month when conservatives and others on the right alleged that they were being suppressed by Twitter for their views (which wasn’t actually the case). Interest in South Africa among these accounts was heavier in the spring.
It’s worth stepping back here and noting a central challenge in addressing racism in the United States. People associate racist action and thought with the sorts of overt words and signals that we know from the Jim Crow-era South: Ku Klux Klan hoods and the n-word. More subtle racist thought is often dismissed as possibly innocent in part because it doesn’t necessarily conform to what most Americans expect racism to look like. So it’s helpful to turn to people who self-identify as holding racist thoughts and see how they react to more subtly racist ideas.
People like former Klan grand wizard David Duke.
Holt pointed to other, less-well-known white nationalists, such as YouTuber Lauren Rose. Her response to Trump’s tweet was similarly enthusiastic.
Is white genocide about to enter mainstream discourse? Do you realize what Trump just did?— Lauren Rose (@LaurenRoseUltra) August 23, 2018
Carlson is not mentioned often by the 12 accounts we looked at, though he was included in a number of tweets after Trump lifted up his segment about South Africa.
Tweets about Carlson serve as a useful reminder that white nationalists and those sympathetic to their views don’t always agree with Trump. When Carlson criticized CNN for spurring the firing of a former White House aide Darren Beattie, prominent white supremacist Richard Spencer blamed the administration.
On Trump’s lifting up of Carlson’s rhetoric about South African farmers, there was no dissent.
Ending chain migration ... building the Wall ... international sympathy for South African farmers...— Richard 🐇 Spencer (@RichardBSpencer) August 23, 2018
None of these memes came from the GOP establishment or from the grassroots or Tea Party.
They came from Trump.
For Spencer, this is not a condemnation.
The 12 accounts identified by The Post and Holt are: @DrDavidDuke, @IdentityEvropa, @Lauren_Southern, @LaurenRoseUltra, @Nehlen1589, @NickJFuentes, @Ramzpaul, @RealVinceJames, @RichardBSpencer, @StefanMolyneux, @TheMadDimension and @TOOedit.