Differentiating Online Posting Behaviors of Violent and Nonviolent Right-Wing Extremists

Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2022, Vol. 33(9) 943 –965
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/08874034221095398
Differentiating Online
Posting Behaviors of Violent
and Nonviolent Right-Wing
Ryan Scrivens1, Thomas W. Wojciechowski1,
Joshua D. Freilich2, Steven M. Chermak1,
and Richard Frank3
There is an ongoing need for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to detect
and assess online posting behaviors of violent extremists prior to their engagement in
violence offline, but little is empirically known about their online behaviors generally
or the differences in their behaviors compared with nonviolent extremists who share
similar ideological beliefs particularly. In this study, we drew from a unique sample of
violent and nonviolent right-wing extremists to compare their posting behaviors in
the largest White supremacy web-forum. We used logistic regression and sensitivity
analysis to explore how users’ time of entry into the lifespan of an extremist sub-
forum and their cumulative posting activity predicted their violence status. We found
a number of significant differences in the posting behaviors of violent and nonviolent
extremists which may inform future risk factor frameworks used by law enforcement
and intelligence agencies to identify credible threats online.
right-wing extremism, posting behaviors, violent extremists, nonviolent extremists,
1Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA
2John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York, NY, USA
3Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada
Corresponding Author:
Ryan Scrivens, School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University, 432 Baker Hall, 655 Auditorium
Road, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA.
Email: rscriv@msu.edu
1095398CJPXXX10.1177/08874034221095398Criminal Justice Policy ReviewScrivens et al.
944 Criminal Justice Policy Review 33(9)
Like most of us, violent extremists and terrorists often leave a digital footprint behind.
Notable examples include Anders Breivik, the Norwegian far-right terrorist convicted
of killing 77 people in 2011, who was a registered member of a White supremacy web-
forum and had ties to a far-right wing social media site (Bartlett & Littler, 2011);
Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old who murdered nine Black parishioners in Charleston,
South Carolina, in 2015, allegedly posted messages on a right-wing extremist (RWE)
website (Southern Poverty Law Center, 2016) as well as hosted a website containing
his alleged manifesto (Southern Poverty Law Center, 2015); and 28-year-old Australian
Brenton Tarrant who, before killing 51 people in two Christchurch, New Zealand,
mosques in 2019 and live-streaming his attack, announced his intentions on 8chan and
produced a manifesto linked on the website (Conway et al., 2019).
In these cases, many researchers, practitioners, and policymakers raise questions
about the role of the internet in facilitating violent extremism and terrorism in general
(see Conway, 2017) and the impact of an offenders’ consumption of and networking
around violent extremist online content in their acceptance of extremist ideology and/
or their decision to engage in violent extremism and terrorism in particular (see
Scrivens et al., 2020a).
Understandably, questions are also raised about whether such violent individuals
can be identified online prior to their attacks offline. Yet despite these ongoing con-
cerns, few empirically grounded analyses have identified which online users have
engaged in violent extremism offline and then assessed their digital footprints
(Wolfowicz et al., 2021), and even fewer analyses have identified differences in post-
ing behaviors of those who share extreme ideological beliefs but are violent or nonvio-
lent in the offline world (Scrivens, Wojciechowski, et al., 2021). Instead, research has
overwhelmingly focused on identifying “radicals” online (e.g., Scrivens, 2020;
Scrivens et al., 2018, 2020b), and not those who adhere to radical beliefs but are vio-
lent as well (Wolfowicz et al., 2021). In addition, research on violent online political
extremism has been concerned about the extent to which individuals are immersed in
violent extremism online, with a particular focus on the relationship between the
impact of extremist online content and violent radicalization (see Scrivens et al.,
2020a). But overlooked in this regard has been an assessment of how immersion and
participation in online extremist spaces influence users’ posting behaviors (Scrivens
et al., 2020c).
The current study identifies a sample of violent and nonviolent RWE users in a sub-
forum of the largest online forum of the extreme right, Stormfront, and examines
users’ posting behavioral patterns. We explore how users’ time of entry into the lifes-
pan of an extremist sub-forum and cumulative posting activity at a sub-forum and
forum level predicts their violence status. Importantly, our unique data include a com-
parison group of nonviolent RWEs which helps us to build an understanding of how
violent extremists—violent RWEs in particular—engage the internet compared with
nonviolent counterparts. This study represents an original contribution to the academic
literature on violent extremism and terrorism in general and violent online political

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