April 23, 2020

Webinar Event: White Supremacy Extremism Trends: Exploiting COVID-19, U.S. Sanctions, and Evolving U.S. Policy 

April 23, 2020 | Online Webinar

The Soufan Center hosted a webinar on April 23 – White Supremacy Extremism Trends: Exploiting COVID-19, U.S. Sanctions, and Evolving U.S. Policy. The webinar explored recent trends in transnational white supremacy extremism (WSE), including the emergence of new groups and how current groups are operating, how WSE actors are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic, and the recent action taken by the U.S. Department of State to designate the Russian Imperial Movement as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” entity, alongside three of its leaders.

The webinar, hosted by Emerita TorresDirector of Policy Research and Programs at The Soufan Center, featured three panelists:

  • Jason BlazakisSenior Research Fellow at The Soufan Center
  • Colin P. ClarkeSenior Research Fellow at The Soufan Center
  • Irfan SaeedDirector of the Office of Counterterrorism Violent Extremism, Bureau of Counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department

: As highlighted during this discussion, white supremacy extremism is far more complex than simple racism or bigotry. Its drivers include hatred based on race, immigration, gender, in addition to anti-multiculturalism, and anti-globalism ideologies. White supremacy extremist “individuals and groups often define themselves against an out-group that they feel is threatening their perceived in-group,” explained one of the panelists. This is especially the case for groups and individuals that believe in accelerationism and who view COVID-19 as a force that is accelerating the end of the current world order. As a result, the pandemic has become the perfect opportunity to motivate individuals to carry out violence or to recruit new members to their cause. As the global pandemic persists and governments are not responding rapidly and effectively, WSE groups and individuals have taken advantage of this vacuum to weaponize information and push their hateful and violent narratives. The Internet has been one of the primary tools used by white supremacists to finance, spread their propaganda, and to recruit followers. With the stay-at-home restrictions imposed during COVID-19 and people spending more time online, the risk of individuals coming across WSE content has also increased. Gaming platforms are being exploited by white supremacists, as underscored by one of the panelists. The speakers also explored the recent decision of the U.S. State Department to designate the Russian Imperial Movement as a terrorist organization, and the tools now made available to U.S. law enforcement and the private sector to counter the group’s activities. The Soufan Center also announced its new report, highlighting the activities and operations of RIM and its transnational connections, including to the United States. All panelists agreed that there is a clear need for more research to better understand the WSE movement. “Open source research is paramount,” indicated one of the panelists. Finally, all speakers advised that many of the efforts deployed to counter Salafi-jihadists should be taken to counter the WSE movement. “We shouldn’t have a double standard when it comes to counterterrorism. We should go after white supremacy extremism the way we go after Salafi-jihadists. If you are in counterterrorism, you should be agnostic to the ideology that motivates actors to conduct violent acts,” said one of the panelists.


This webinar, part of The Soufan Center Salon Series, was made possible with the support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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