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Trump's Words And Tweets Spur Interest In White Supremacist Groups


The Trump campaign is trying to explain how an image of Hillary Clinton created by white supremacists ended up in a tweet by Donald Trump. The graphic shows Clinton with a six-pointed star over a pile of money. Trump's campaign deleted the tweet after many people called it anti-Semitic, but this is not the first time that Trump has retweeted something that had been posted online by white supremacists.

Sophie Bjork-James of Vanderbilt University tracks the white nationalist movement online. She joins us now to discuss how it has responded to Trump's candidacy. Welcome.


SHAPIRO: Now, the biggest white nationalist website is called Stormfront. Its homepage says, we are the voice of the new embattled white minority. And while the page is not connected to this specific tweet, you have monitored it for more than a decade. What has happened there since Trump came to national prominence in politics?

BJORK-JAMES: Sure. So over the course of the last 11 years since I've been monitoring this site, the site has grown exponentially. So when I first discovered stormfront.org in 2005, they had 30,000 members, which I was appalled by. But today they have 313,000 members.

The other dimension of the site is that there's over 30,000 visitors a day currently that visit the site and become exposed to the kind of racist rhetoric that dominates the site. But also back in December, Politico reported that Stormfront actually had to upgrade its servers due to a rise in interest related to Trump. They called it the Trump traffic spike.

SHAPIRO: And how do the goals of people who use Stormfront align with the goals of the Trump campaign, such as building a wall with Mexico, limiting Muslim immigration to the United States and so on?

BJORK-JAMES: From what I see, the main relationship between what is talked about on Stormfront and Trump's campaign is this broader validity of white supremacist ideas. And so...

SHAPIRO: Do you mean he's giving them legitimacy that they didn't have before?

BJORK-JAMES: Right. There's two prongs to this. On the one hand it's giving a valid white supremacist or white nationalist hope that they can actually have a broader political platform because they've been incredibly marginalized for decades. And then Trump's messages are also creating a significantly larger audience for Stormfront.

So what ends up happening is Trump will make comments about Muslims or Mexicans or, like, kind of using implicitly anti-Semitic images or statements, and then people will end up using Google to find out more information ending up on stormfront.org and then developing a more precisely racist consciousness.

SHAPIRO: Trump denies any connection to white supremacist groups, but can you tell to what extent he is actively appealing to them as opposed to just saying things that they happen to agree with?

BJORK-JAMES: So there has been - Trump's been walking this line around saying he doesn't support the white supremacist movement but continually retweeting and using images and messages that resonate with white nationalism. And so it's hard to say that he keeps accidentally engaging with this movement and sharing its messages. The impact is still the same irregardless of whether it was based on ignorance or a planned attempt at courting the white nationalist vote.

However, there has been the consistency of Trump using these messages that do resonate so strongly with white nationalism. It makes it seem like it has to be somewhat coordinated or planned or at least in complete alignment.

SHAPIRO: That's Sophie Bjork-James, a post-doctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University who studies white supremacist groups in the U.S. Thanks for speaking with us.

BJORK-JAMES: OK, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.