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SPLC Analysis: Small, Opportunistic Group of Extremists Flock to #BuildTheWall to Promote Racist Message

An SPLC analysis of Twitter activity in 2016 found that extremists drove the messaging behind Donald Trump's promise to build a wall on the border with Mexico. 

During his presidential announcement speech last year, Donald J. Trump introduced one of his campaigns flagship promises: to build a wall between the United States and Mexico.

“I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me,” he told a crowd gathered at Trump Tower in New York City. “I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

Particularly on social media, that campaign promise became one of the most often repeated of the candidate’s vitriolic catchphrases. A Southern Poverty Law Center analysis of extremist content on Twitter has documented 55,451 uses of the hashtag in 2016.

Of those tweets, 60% (33,005) were unoriginal, or retweeted, content. This trend held true for other popular hashtags derived from the Trump campaign’s at times conspiratorial messaging –– hashtags such as #hillaryshealth and #draintheswamp.

Usage of #buildthewall, possibly because of its central focus in the Trump campaign’s messaging, was more steady than other hashtags investigated. Of the top ten hashtags used in tandem with #buildthewall, three were explicitly racist: #whitegenocide, #waronwhites, and #antiwhite (sixth, eighth, and ninth, respectively) – more than any of the other hashtags that were investigated.

Notably, despite the volume of usage of #buildthewall, the campaign never trended among the identified community of extremists and users using extremist rhetoric. This indicates that the hashtag had sustained popularity, but usage never spiked like with #hillaryshealth and #draintheswamp. This is supported by the omnipresence of “the wall” during Trump’s presidential campaign.

More explicitly racist accounts –– four out of the top ten, in fact –– used #buildthewall in the period studied than other hashtags, such as #hillaryshealth or #DrainTheswamp. Two of that top ten appear to have been suspended (@WLMM12 and @jack_jdcagle). Users @WhiteStorm14ws, @NorvinHobbsWS, and @RainbowCh1ldren – the fifth, sixth, and tenth most frequent users among identified extremists – all outwardly promote white supremacist causes in their account handles or descriptions. Both @WhiteStorm14ws and @NorvinHobbsWS’s account descriptions feature #whitegenocide and appear to be run by the same individual. @RainbowCh1ldren, who is also a frequent user of #whitegenocide, has an account description that reads, “Fewer and fewer white in our lovely new rainbow nations.” The account also regularly promotes The Mantra, a 241-word white supremacist attack on multiculturalism penned by Robert Whitaker –– and spread by propaganda created by Tim Murdoch of White Rabbit Radio ­­–– that advocates for ethnostates.

The top ten accounts in the extremist community most mentioned in conjunction with #buildthewall are much closer to the mainstream than those promoting it most heavily. Of the ten most mentioned accounts, only two are overtly white supremacist and both have been suspended: @Ricky_Vaughn99 and @WLMM12.

This is the third installment in an ongoing series analyzing Twitter hashtags during the latter quarter of the 2016 Presidential election.

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