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Senator Hassan Discusses Threat of Online Radicalization & White Supremacy During Senate Hearing

WASHINGTON – During a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan emphasized the threat online radicalization poses to our safety and democracy, speaking with experts on counterterrorism and antisemitism about how federal agencies can combat online radicalization that can lead to domestic terrorism.  

To watch Senator Hassan’s questioning, click here.

Addressing Online Radicalization

During the hearing, Senator Hassan asked Elizabeth Yates, a senior researcher on antisemitism at Human Rights First, about radicalization online, how it inspires other individuals, and what solutions there are to help prevent copy-cats.

“Terrorist actors, including violent white supremacists, have used the internet to live stream their attacks. These videos are then shared online, glorifying the attacks and potentially inspiring copy-cat attacks,” said Senator Hassan. “Can you discuss trends in how these videos are shared online, how creators may get around restrictions, and how these videos may inspire future attacks?”

In response, Dr. Yates shared that “the livestreaming of white supremacist terrorist attacks is certainly an increasing tactic among this movement. It is popular I think not only because it is a way for them to emphasize their message, but also because it is a tool for them to gain notoriety for themselves.”

She added that perpetrators are making small changes to overcome various elements of technology that would otherwise prevent them from using the platform to broadcast violence or share white supremacist ideas.

Senator Hassan and Yates also discussed how tech companies need to do more to prevent these workarounds and prevent the kind of livestreaming as seen in the Buffalo attack.

Antisemitism Predominating White Supremacist Ideologies

Senator Hassan also raised the link between violent white supremacy and a significant increase in antisemitic incidents, specifically the attacks on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas.

“White supremacist ideology is often linked to Nazis and neo-Nazis. In recent years, we have seen a related rise in antisemitic incidents,” said Senator Hassan. “The attacks on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas elevated national attention on the issue, and the Anti-Defamation League reported more than 2,700 antisemitic incidents in 2021, a 34 percent increase over the previous year. So how would you describe the role of antisemitism in modern domestic terrorism, and what do the latest trends in antisemitic violence suggest we can expect in the coming years?”

In response, Dr. Yates affirmed the foothold that antisemitism has within white supremacism and offered more insight as to why: “Antisemitism is an absolutely critical component of white supremacism. There’s really important research findings in this area that suggest white supremacists when they first sort of enter into this ecosystem, when they’re first recruited, they may have sort of a lot of racism, they may have a lot of bigotry and misogyny and those kind of ideas, but they have to learn the specific antisemitic conspiracy theories that drive I think the most violent actions. And so it becomes this sort of final element of radicalization in some cases where they see this conspiracy as posing this ultimate threat, so it has a really radicalizing dimension in that context.”

During the hearing, Senator Hassan also asked witnesses about data availability and transparency from the Department of Homeland Security about white supremacist violence, and the resources available to parents who are working to combat online misinformation and the spread of white supremacist ideology.