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Movement That Fueled New Zealand Terror Attack Percolating Through Mountain West

Photo of posters.
Nate Hegyi
Posters that were found on the University of Utah campus from a white nationalist group with ties to the identitarian movement.

European authorities are looking into whether the suspect in last week’s terror attack on two mosques in New Zealand was inspired by an emerging, European-based breed of white nationalism.

The identitarian movement, formed in France in 2016, broadly believes that white people in Europe and North America are being displaced by non-European immigrants.

Over the past few months, groups affiliated with this idea have strung banners and put up posters on college campuses in Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and Montana. Their members are mostly anonymous and espouse racism and hate online.

“They’re reframing themselves as victims,” said Richard Medina, a University of Utah professor who co-authored a study on the geography of hate groups. “It’s working, sometimes, for young white kids who feel victimized in a lot of other ways. It gives them a group to feel welcomed in.”

Medina said there are parallels between those who join white nationalist groups and those who join other extremist groups like al-Qaeda or ISIS.

“They see a threat to their own culture, history or their ethnicity, and they’re just trying to maintain that in a lot of ways,” he said. “Often that comes out in the wrong way.”

The Mountain West is not the only target for these white nationalist groups. A recent report from the Anti-Defamation League showed that protests and posterings increased across the country by more than 180 percent in 2018.

After the mass shooting in New Zealand, The U.S. House Judiciary Committee announced plans to hold a hearing on the rise of white nationalism here at home.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

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