What factors into far-right extremism? A UMN researcher wanted to find out

A University of Minnesota researcher identified two traits that may come together to create a far-right extremist.

Sarah Mai

Sarah Mai

Hana Ikramuddin

A recently published study by a University of Minnesota graduate student sought to understand some of the factors that can lead to far-right extremism.  

Published earlier this month, the study focused on two main personality traits that can be found in far-right extremism: a focus on hierarchical structures in society and to what extent an individual identifies as “white.”  

The author of the study, Max Hui Bai, gathered data independently and from other universities to make his conclusions. 

“Social dominance orientation,” or SDO, measures an individual’s support for social hierarchies and was one major aspect of the research.

“Basically, [it is] how much people prefer hierarchy versus a society that is rather egalitarian,” Bai explained.

Those with higher SDOs could support organized class systems, or the separation and ranking of different groups within society as examples of hierarchical structures.

“Where you fall along that spectrum dictates how you think groups ought to interact with one another in a society,” said Ezekiel Wright, a colleague of Bai and a University graduate student studying similar topics. “I think a good example is kind of income inequality and whether you think greater inequality economically is good or bad for society.”

The research connected far-right extremism to how closely extremists identify with the white racial aspects of their identity, as opposed to their ethnicity or heritage, such as being German or French. 

“It is … a shared kinsmenship with other people who are white. Believing that [having] a shared sense of fate where your well-being is tied up or connected with other people of your racial group,” Wright said. “White identity doesn’t [necessarily] go hand-in-hand with far right extremism or kind of racist sentiments or anything …  it’s not necessarily racist or hostile.”

The study indicated that someone may hold a strong connection to their white identity, but that would not necessarily factor into extremist beliefs unless it is coupled with SDO. 

“It’s not just a matter of seeing oneself as white, it’s seeing oneself as white and also being committed to an anti-egalitarian worldview,” said Christopher Federico, a professor in the University’s psychology department.  

Through more research and knowledge on what factors and causes come together to cause extremism, researchers can begin to find different avenues to combat it, Bai said.