POLITICS

New Data Show The State Of Hate In Texas

People searching online for violent extremist content in Texas are mostly young, male and neo-Nazi-inclined.
Members of the National Socialist Movement and the Adirondack Fraternity White Knights, which claims affiliation with the KKK
Members of the National Socialist Movement and the Adirondack Fraternity White Knights, which claims affiliation with the KKK, in Hunt County, Texas, in 2014. People searching Google in Texas for violent extremist content overwhelmingly favored neo-Nazi terms.

People searching Google in Texas for violent extremist content overwhelmingly favored neo-Nazi terms, with “Sieg Heil” the top search result, according to data collected since the end of 2017 by Moonshot CVE, a London-based company focused on data-driven solutions to violent extremism.

Texans Googled “Sieg Heil” 7,085 times in that period, followed by 6,220 searches for “1488,” a reference to a 14-word white power slogan and “Heil Hitler” (since H is the eighth letter in the alphabet). The third-most-popular search term was simply “Heil Hitler,” with 4,630 searches.

Although neo-Nazi content tops that list and “alt-right” neo-Nazi organizing in Texas has surged in recent years, people who appeared interested in joining a white supremacist organization still turned their gaze to the Ku Klux Klan, which has a long and violent history in the state. Almost all the top search terms that indicated an interest in organized extremist activity were related to the KKK. People searched often for “KKK hotline,” “KKK membership,” and “KKK sign up.”

And the searches happened all over Texas, regardless of the type of community. Limestone, Borden and Blanco counties had the most per capita searches for violent extremist content. These are rural, sparsely populated and deeply red counties that voted heavily for Donald Trump in 2016 and supported Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections. But just behind them were the urban, densely populated Democratic strongholds of Dallas and Travis counties.

People in Texas looking for violent extremist content tended to be young and male. Nearly half were age 18 to 34. And 75 percent were male, according to the data, which Moonshot CVE collected from publicly available search data from Google.

Ludovica Di Giorgi, a Moonshot CVE expert on the far-right, built a database of about 50,000 extremist terms — from slogans to the names of white-power bands and their songs. She then assigned each term a risk rating from 1 to 6, with 1 indicating a nonviolent interest in extremism that might encompass a swath of people searching for these terms, perhaps even minorities concerned about racist activity. As the risk ratings go up, they take on an increasingly violent tinge. The eighth-most-popular search term in the data, for example, was “how to kill blacks.”

Moonshot CVE has partnered with Google in an effort to steer budding extremists away from content that might further radicalize them. As people search for such content, Moonshot CVE pushes them ads in the Google search results that link to websites, videos and other content that counters hate. 

“If you’re searching for how to get a swastika tattoo, I’m probably going to direct you to a service that is based where you’re based that specializes in getting a swastika tattoo removed,” Di Giorgi said.

The company has used a similar program to counter ISIS in other countries and has redirected tens of thousands of people looking to engage with ISIS content.

Moonshot CVE hopes to use the same methods not just in Texas but across the United States to disrupt far-right extremism, which is metastasizing throughout the country. The program could be especially effective at times when news events send angry people scurrying to their keyboards to search for hate online. Di Giorgi said she noticed a spike in her data beginning on April 24 last year and lasting two days. Searches for violent extremist content went up by more than 150 percent. People were searching mainly for the white supremacist 14-word slogan, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

April 24, 2018, was the day that a third federal judge shot down Trump’s attempt to scrap the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as youths from deportation.

CONVERSATIONS