Psychology white supremacy groups use to influence people

psychology white supremacy

Dierk Schaefer ‘Brain’ Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

Pssst! Did you know that thanks to psychology it’s possible to predict how human beings are likely to respond to certain situations? White supremacy groups know this, and they use this knowledge to influence people and get them to behave in particular ways.  The methods used are so effective yet so simple that many people don’t even realise they are being influenced. Luckily, once you’re aware of the psychological tricks being used you’ll be able to spot them and avoid getting manipulated against your will.

  1. The psychology behind reciprocity

In a nutshell, psychological studies have shown that if someone does something for you, you’re likely to feel obliged to return the favour and do something for them. This is because most people feel uncomfortable ‘owing’ another person.

How white supremacy groups use this

White supremacy groups know that if they can entice people to ‘take’ from them, then the people receiving the ‘gift’ are likely to feel like they owe something back. White supremacists do this by identifying what people value and offering it, for example; a sense of safety and belonging; the chance to feel powerful; the chance to have more status in the group. This even works with small free ‘gifts’ like t-shirts, drinks, stickers or music. Once a person has ‘taken’ the offering, they are more than likely to return the favour in some way. In the example below, Frank Meeink (a former Neo-Nazi) talks about how he used to recruit new group members using reciprocity. He’d start by standing up for a group of kids (even though they weren’t asking for his help), and then that meant they were easier to recruit into his group.

We’d start hanging out with the alternative kids, not that alternative kids like skaters and punk rockers are racist….. but these groups of kids….were kind of picked on a little bit. I remember these main [popular] kids threw a battery at them, like the jock kids one day…..So I went over to the jock kids, pretty big kids, big football players, I went over to them and I said ‘Hey who threw it?’ and they wouldn’t tell me……[But the other kids saw that you were fearless?-interviewer] Yeah. And then I went back over to the skater kids and said ‘Hey, these kids are never gonna throw anything at you again’. So then you start recruiting them.

 Former neo-Nazi Frank Meeink speaking about recruiting new members for his group.

The beauty of using this trick is that the ‘giver’ doesn’t even have to ask for anything back. They can even say their offer has “no strings attached”, because they know that most people will feel obliged to repay the favour anyway.

How to resist being manipulated by reciprocity

Before you accept something, think about if you really want what’s being offered? If you do, what will you feel obliged to give back? Will you feel like you need to give back the same/ or more in return? Will you want to do this? Or do you think you might regret accepting the ‘gift’?

2. The psychology behind commitment (and consistency)

In general, people have a strong desire to be consistent. Usually, once a person has committed to something, they’ll stay committed to it and go through with what they’ve said they’ll do.

How white supremacy groups use this

White supremacy groups constantly ask people to demonstrate their commitment to the group and its cause. Through getting people to do this, these groups know that it makes it a lot harder for a person to change their mind, or go against an earlier commitment. For example, if a person commits to joining a white supremacy group, and then finds that this means cutting ties with other social contacts, they are likely to go along with this expectation because they already committed to being in the group.

How to resist being manipulated by commitment (and consistency)

Before committing to doing anything, even something that seems small, think about the consequences of your decision. Are you happy with the course of action you’ll be taking? Are you worried (even a little bit) that you might want to change your mind in the future? Is there an option to change your mind at a later stage or not?  Practice saying ‘no’ even if you previously said ‘yes’.

3. The psychology of social proof

Human beings are likely to assume that if lots of other people are doing something, then it must be ok. They think “everyone else is doing it, so I should too”. People naturally seek safety in numbers. This is especially true if we think the other people doing the same thing as us seem similar to us in some way. For example a young person might be more likely to join a group if they see people their age, or from their school or group of friends joining it.  People are especially vulnerable to thinking this way when they’re feeling uncertain about a situation.

How white supremacy groups use this

White Supremacy groups work hard to create social proof and show that there are lots of people involved in White Supremacy. They have numerous forums on their websites where people can interact. They promote social events to allow members to feel connected and hold bigger events like music festivals which create a buzz of excitement. When an event has a buzz to it, people are even more likely to be convinced that it must be OK. White supremacy groups specifically target young people who are isolated, feeling alienated from society and looking for answers in life. Through presenting the illusion that their groups have lots of members, they influence people to join their groups. However, the reality is that white supremacists are in the minority. The majority of society does not agree with white supremacy or its  ideas about how the world works.

How to resist being manipulated by social proof

Ask yourself if what other people are doing is right for you? Just because everyone else seems to be doing it, does that mean you want to? Beware of having a  herd mentality!

4. The psychology of liking

We are more likely to be influenced by people when we like them. There’s many reasons why we might find ourselves liking someone – they might be similar or familiar to us, they might pay us compliments, or we may just feel like we can trust them.

How white supremacy groups use this

White supremacy groups present themselves as places where a person can be part of a family, part of a brotherhood with likeminded people. They make the person feel wanted and valued by paying them compliments, such as telling them they are a chosen person of God and part of an elite group. This results in the person having a strong feeling of like for the group. Once this is established, it is then easier for the group to influence the person to behave in certain ways and commit to things.

How to resist being manipulated by liking

Notice when you’re feeling tempted to go along with a suggestion/request/course of action.  Is it something you actually want to do or are you doing it because you like the person and want to hold onto that feeling? It’s great to like and be liked back, but if you’re doing things that aren’t right for you just because you like someone, then that’s how you can end up being manipulated.

Ask yourself why you like the person. Are they paying you compliments to make you feel good? Is it because they are paying you some attention? Is it because they seem to have something in common with you? Be aware of where your feelings of like are coming from and be on the lookout for false friendships.

Good relationships involve a respect for different opinions and diversity between people. You should be able to have your own opinions and choose your own actions without worrying that the other person will reject you.

5. The psychology of authority

People respond to those who hold positions of authority and are more likely to accept and do what they say.

How white supremacy groups use this

White supremacy groups have a lot of rules and expectations that members are expected to follow and not question. Having a hierarchical system with different levels of power, this helps ensure that members go along with what’s being asked of them.

How to resist being manipulated by authority

Ask yourself how the person trying to influence you got to be an authority figure. Do they have a formal right to make demands, and to expect compliance and obedience from you? Do they have expertise? Or are they relying on appearances of authority, and/or using threats of punishment to get people to do what they want? Knowing this can help you decide if you want to go along with their authority. Just because someone is in a position of authority, especially self-appointed authority, doesn’t mean they should be followed.

6. The psychology of scarcity

Things are more attractive to people when their availability is limited, when they are ‘scarce’. For example, a one-of-a-kind painting is seen as more valuable than one that is mass produced. Advertisers know this, and this is exactly what promotions that tell people to ‘call in the next 12 hours and you will get a set of steak knives’ are all about.

How white supremacy groups use this

White supremacy groups present themselves as being very exclusive and only for those people who can prove themselves worthy. It is only through satisfying certain requirements that a person can obtain membership and then, once in a group, there are levels of membership which only certain people can progress to. This creates a feeling of scarcity, meaning that people are more likely value belonging to the group and will try harder to get membership.

How to resist being manipulated by scarcity

Ask yourself if you really want to belong to this exclusive group as it is? Or are you placing so much value on the group because you’re worried you won’t find anything better? If something is really worthwhile it will be there later.