Who Joins the Alt-Right? A Look at Charlottesville Anniversary

A new University of Virginia study found that white nationalists are likely to be low-income, divorced, uneducated and unemployed.

One year after the Unite the Right marches in Charlottesville, Virginia that led to the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer and dozens of serious injuries, scholars at the nearby university analyzed the demographics of potential alt-right members in hopes of discovering what makes certain Americans susceptible to joining white nationalist movements.

Researchers at UVA's Institute for Family Studies studied responses to 2016 American National Election Survey, and singled out respondents who had a strong sense of white identity, a belief in the importance of white solidarity and a sense of white victimization. The group found that unemployed white Americans without a college degree and with an annual income between $0 and $29,000 were more likely to agree with the principles of the white nationalist movement. These respondents were also much more likely to be divorced than married or never married.

The majority of these people identified as political Independents rather than as Democrats or Republicans, although more did identify with the Republican party than the Democratic. Religious beliefs, gender and age had little impact on whether a white American was held supremacist beliefs or not, the study found.

Members of the Ku Klux Klan arrive for a rally, calling for the protection of Southern Confederate monuments, in Charlottesville, Virginia on July 8, 2017. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images

"Divorce does seem to increase the likelihood a respondent will believe whites suffer discrimination and the likelihood that a white person will agree with all three of the basic premises of white identity politics," wrote George Hawley, an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Alabama, in the studies findings.

A July Anti-Defamation League study also found a clear link between misogyny and white supremacy. "Misogyny has the potential to act as a gateway into the white supremacist world," said report author Jessica Reaves, an expert at ADL's Center on Extremism. "The hatred and resentment of women voiced by groups like involuntary celibates and Men's Rights Activists is disturbingly similar to white supremacists' hatred of minorities. And some white supremacists, especially those on the alt-right, use the same degrading, violent anti-woman rhetoric we hear coming from misogynist groups."

Divorce, of course, also adds to economic instability, nearly half of Americans experience poverty after a divorce.

"Pundits and scholars have spent the last several years debating whether racism or economic anxiety is the main catalyst for right-wing populism and white racial identity politics," wrote Hawley. "It turns out that economic variables are some of the stronger determinants of white attitudes on racial questions. Higher incomes are associated with lower levels of white racial identity, racial solidarity, and feelings of discrimination.