White Nationalists- What Justice Professionals Need to Know: An Interview with the SPLC’s Laurie Wood

White Nationalism. White Supremacy. Skin Heads. Neo-Nazis. … It’s easy to get confused by the sheer enormity of the racism facing society today. Each of these groups – while still White Supremacist in nature, indeed have their differences… differences that justice professionals need to ascertain.

Join us for this recorded webinar, as Laurie Wood of the Southern Poverty Law Center:

  • Provides an overview of the White Nationalists’ beliefs,
  • Profiles the groups and leaders involved in this movement,
  • and details the ever-changing strategies and tactics they may use when they come to your area.


Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): For some of us, the idea of White Supremacy is a topic that perhaps we thought was once dead or was a bygone era of the Klan. Has White Nationalism ever really died, or did it just evolve and adapt?

Laurie Wood: White supremacy very much exists in our country today, as evidenced by recent, tragic events. We’ve seen groups and belief systems ebb and flow, but they have never completely died out. In fact, the number of hate groups has doubled in the last 10 to 15 years. In 2014 that number dipped to the lowest level in more than a decade, then the following year it rebounded and has continued to do so.

A good example is the Ku Klux Klan. I imagine there are many people asking, “Really? The Klan is still alive and well in 2017?”

The answer is yes. While the groups are disorganized and their numbers are currently on the decline, the Klan is a uniquely American creation. It was this country’s first racial terrorist group, and with that legacy of hate, I would be hard-pressed to think that it completely disappear from the fabric of American culture.



White nationalism is really white supremacy dressed up

and trying to present itself as more educated and sophisticated.


JCH: Expanding on that, White Supremacy seems to be an umbrella term that includes a range or types of groups. Without giving away the whole presentation. Can you highlight those important groups that the justice community should know about? And help us understand the differences in these terms that we’re using.

Laurie: I think it would be helpful first to define white supremacy and white nationalism, since white nationalism is one of the subgroups, or set of beliefs, in the white supremacist movement.

The accepted definition of white supremacy is that it is the belief that white people are superior to other races, especially minorities, and therefore should be dominant.

The white supremacist movement encompasses the more traditional white hate groups like the Klan, neo-Nazis and racist skinheads, but also includes white nationalists, who were much on display in Charlottesville.

White Nationalists are not the ones in the hoods and robes. They’re not the ones, by and large, wearing the swastikas. White nationalists espouse white supremacist or white separatist ideologies, often focusing on the perceived inferiority of non-whites.

They like wearing the veneer of pseudo-intellectualism, of academia. They like to present themselves as better educated, articulate, not confined to any specific subset – like the Klan or the Nazis. For instance, one of the earliest White Nationalist groups, one that we listed as a hate group for years, was the Council of Conservative Citizens, which was actually built upon the mailing list of the White Citizens’ Councils of the 1960s —the white-collar version of the Klan back then. White nationalism is really white supremacy dressed up and trying to present itself as more educated and sophisticated.

JCH:  Is it the White Nationalist groups who are also attempting to recruit on so many college campuses here in the US recently?

Laurie: Exactly. College campuses and universities have really become ground zero for the White Nationalist message. They target institutions of higher learning because they’re looking for young, educated, articulate, intelligent people who might be receptive to their message. These are young men and women who are still shaping their view of the world, still forming their own belief systems, and White Nationalists like Richard Spencer and others want to engage them in that environment and try to sway them to their set of beliefs. So it’s the perfect target area for the White Nationalist movement.


…[E]ven though all of these groups don’t necessarily like each other,

or agree with one another’s message,

they decided to band together under the rallying cry “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

That’s really what we saw in Charlottesville.


JCH: We’ve learned in other presentations that White Nationalism is seen all parts of the US. But do the types of groups vary depending on what the part of the US we’re in? For example, are certain factions of White Nationalism more prevalent in the Northeast, versus the South, versus the Pacific Northwest? Is there any geographic locality to these types of groups?

Laurie: I think that it’s long been a pre-conceived notion that the Klan is just in the South; neo-Nazis in urban areas like Detroit, or Chicago; racist skinheads on the west coast, ideas like that. Now, is the Klan more prevalent in the South? It is. But there are also Klan groups in places that you might not expect – on the West Coast, or in big cities.  It’s not just a Southern phenomenon. The same thing with racist skinheads — they’re found throughout the United States. So one group or subset is not confined to one geographic area.

JCH:  White Supremacy rearing its ugly head now? What insights or trends can you show?

Laurie: Charlottesville was a pivotal event within the white supremacist movement as a whole. There we saw white nationalists backed by Klansmen, Nazis, racist skinheads, and the neo-Confederate hate group the League of the South. It was really a melding of all these different beliefs, at least for that point in time. And even though all of these groups don’t necessarily like each other, or agree with one another’s message, they decided to band together under the rallying cry “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” That’s really what we saw in Charlottesville. These groups were willing to put aside their ideological differences to present a united front against what they perceive as the enemy, which is anything they deem as a threat to their white supremacist belief system. And after three deaths, multiple injuries, and a weekend that signaled an increase in confrontations between hate groups and protesters, Charlottesville made headlines around the world.

Another trend is an increasing number of people becoming radicalized online. It’s easier to interact with others who share similar beliefs, and it’s also easier to test drive your belief system. In the past, if you wanted to join a hate group, you would have to find a Klan rally or a meeting to attend, or you might have to search for a website to contact them. Now, the interactive nature of social media and online forums has contributed greatly to the spreading influence of white supremacy. One doesn’t have to join a physical group to embrace and propagate, that message of hate.



…[T]he interactive nature of social media and online forums,

has contributed greatly to the spreading influence of white supremacy.

One doesn’t have to join a physical group to embrace and propagate that message of hate.


JCH: What keeps you going in light of everything that you’ve just shared, everything that you’ve seen?

Laurie: I come from a law enforcement family. I think law enforcement is probably one of the most underappreciated, yet most important, careers out there. I know people in law enforcement related fields put their lives on the line every day. I know my parents did. I want to help keep them safe, so they can keep us, and our communities, safe. I think I’m in a unique position where this is all I do – monitor domestic terrorism. And many people in the law enforcement arena don’t have that luxury. So, if I can share the information and knowledge we gather and it helps keep even one person safe – that’s why I do what I do.

JCH: A large number of our readers and subscribers are in law enforcement, as you and I have talked about in the past. But we have a representation from a large swath of the justice arena.  Can you share some specifics of what types of justice professionals or first responders, of what they’ll gain by attending the webinar? What they’ll learn, maybe some new skills or knowledge they’ll gain that they could use the next day on the job?

Laurie:  We provide free, in-person training for law enforcement and those in related fields. At first, our audience was usually line officers or attendees at gang conferences. But in recent years, more and more we’ve been training probation and parole officers, corrections officers, and those in the judicial system.

But in any of our classes, there are certain identifiers – signs, symbols, language — that I want every attendee to remember. I don’t care if they’re a patrol officer, or a dispatcher, or probation and parole, there are certain indicators that across the board – it doesn’t matter what part of the profession you’re in — you need to know. They might be ways to assess a threat level or identify a specific group to which an individual belongs. We try to present detailed information that helps officers have a better idea of what hate activity might be occurring in their areas. Heightened awareness can mean heightened safety for all.


Click Here to Watch “White Nationalists: What Justice Professionals Need to Know.”



Additional Resources
2 years ago
The History, Beliefs and Symbols of the White Nationalist Movement
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3 years ago
Understanding and Investigating White Nationalists: An Interview with Brent Smith
Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. League of the South. National Alliance. Volksfront. The Klan […]