How White nationalists mobilize genetics: From genetic ancestry and human biodiversity to counterscience and metapolitics

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2021 Jun;175(2):387-398. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.24150. Epub 2020 Sep 28.


Objectives: Our aim in this study was to understand how genetics ideas are appropriated and mobilized online toward the political projects of White nationalism and the alt right. Studying three different online venues, we investigated how genetics is used to support racial realism, hereditarianism, and racial hierarchy. We analyzed how these ideas are connected to political and metapolitical projects. In addition, we examined the strategies used to build authority for these interpretations.

Methods: We analyze three online venues in which genetics has been mobilized to advance racial realism and hereditarian explanations of racial differences. These were (a) the use of genetic ancestry tests in online nationalist discussions, (b) blogs and other venues in which the human biodiversity ideas are articulated, (c) activities surrounding the OpenPsych collection of online journals. Ethnographic and interpretive methods were applied to investigate scientific and political meanings of efforts to mobilize genetic ideas.

Results: We found that White nationalists use genetic ancestry tests to align White identity with ideas of racial purity and diversity, educating each other about genetics, and debating the boundaries of Whiteness. "Human biodiversity" has been mobilized as a movement to catalog and create hereditarian ideas about racial differences and to distribute them as "red pills" to transform online discourse. The OpenPsych journals have allowed amateur hereditarian psychologists to publish papers, coordinate activity, and legitimate their project at the academic margins.

Conclusions: These various appropriations of genetics aim to further racial realism and hereditarian explanations of racial social and behavioral differences. Beyond these substantive aims, on a "metapolitical" level, they serve to reframe concepts and standards for political and scientific discussion of race, challenge structures of academic legitimacy and expertise, and build a cadre of ideological foot soldiers armed with an argumentative toolkit. As professional anthropologists and geneticists aim to accurately communicate their science and its implications for understanding human differences to the public, they must contend with these substantive claims and metapolitical contexts.

Keywords: alt-right ideology; public understanding of science; race; scientific racism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Physical*
  • Biodiversity
  • Human Genetics*
  • Humans
  • Political Systems
  • Racism*
  • Science*
  • White People*