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Psychologists surveyed hundreds of alt-right supporters. The results are unsettling

The white supremacists marching at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year were not ashamed when they shouted, “Jews will not replace us.” They were not ashamed to wear Nazi symbols, to carry torches, to harass and beat counterprotesters. They wanted their beliefs on display.

It’s easy to treat people like them as straw men: one-dimensional, backward beings fueled by hatred and ignorance. But if we want to prevent the spread of extremist, supremacist views, we need to understand how these views form and why they stick in the minds of some people.

It’s important because they’re not going away. This weekend in Washington, DC, a second Unite the Right rally will convene. No one is really sure how many white nationalists will attend, or if the counterprotesters will greatly outnumber them. But they plan to meet in front of the White House to once again put their beliefs on proud display.

Last year, psychologists Patrick Forscher and Nour Kteily recruited members of the alt-right (a.k.a. the “alternative right,” the catchall political identity of white nationalists) to participate in a study to build the first psychological profile of their movement. The results, which were released in August 2017, are just in working paper form and have yet to be peer-reviewed or published in an academic journal.

That said, the study uses well-established psychological measures and is clear about its limitations. All the researchers’ raw data and materials have been posted online for others to review. Meanwhile, Forscher and Kteily are working on an extended, more rigorous version of the survey, which will pull from a nationally representative sample of Trump voters. (Read more about their plans here.)

So while last year’s survey is a preliminary assessment, it validates some common perceptions of the alt-right with data. It helps us understand this group not just as straw men but as people with knowable motivations.      Continue Reading