Oh, That Evil Science!

Members of the National Socialist Movement (Neo-Nazis) during a 2010 march to the Phoenix Federal building (John Kittelsrud/Flickr).

Do you remember when asshole extraordinaire, Craig Cobb got genetically tested? He’s the nazi who tried to set up NaziTown here in nDakota. Mr. Cobb wasn’t terribly pleased with his results, only 86% European. Ooops. He immediately dismissed the remaining 14% as “statistical noise”, and ran to Stormfront to dispute the results. Stormfront’s heyday was quite a number of years back, but it’s still populated with scads of delusional white people, many of whom have turned to genetic testing to affirm their whiteness. That evil science though, it just doesn’t care about a nazi’s sensibilities, and the results have had some interesting results.

With the rise of spit-in-a-cup genetic testing, there’s a trend of white nationalists using these services to prove their racial identity, and then using online forums to discuss the results.

But like Cobb, many are disappointed to find out that their ancestry is not as “white” as they’d hoped. In a new study, sociologists Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan examined years’ worth of posts on Stormfront to see how members dealt with the news.

It’s striking, they say, that white nationalists would post these results online at all. After all, as Panofsky put it, “they will basically say if you want to be a member of Stormfront you have to be 100 percent white European, not Jewish.”

But instead of rejecting members who get contrary results, Donovan said, the conversations are “overwhelmingly” focused on helping the person to rethink the validity of the genetic test. And some of those critiques – while emerging from deep-seated racism – are close to scientists’ own qualms about commercial genetic ancestry testing.


The team winnowed their results down to 70 discussion threads in which 153 users posted their genetic ancestry test results, with over 3,000 individual posts.

About a third of the people posting their results were pleased with what they found. “Pretty damn pure blood,” said a user with the username Sloth. But the majority didn’t find themselves in that situation. Instead, the community often helped them reject the test, or argue with its results.

Some rejected the tests entirely, saying that an individual’s knowledge about his or her own genealogy is better than whatever a genetic test can reveal. “They will talk about the mirror test,” said Panofsky, who is a sociologist of science at UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics. “They will say things like, ‘If you see a Jew in the mirror looking back at you, that’s a problem; if you don’t, you’re fine.'” Others, he said, responded to unwanted genetic results by saying that those kinds of tests don’t matter if you are truly committed to being a white nationalist. Yet others tried to discredit the genetic tests as a Jewish conspiracy “that is trying to confuse true white Americans about their ancestry,” Panofsky said.


For the study authors, what was most interesting was to watch this online community negotiating its own boundaries, rethinking who counts as “white.” That involved plenty of contradictions. They saw people excluded for their genetic test results, often in very nasty (and unquotable) ways, but that tended to happen for newer members of the anonymous online community, Panofsky said, and not so much for longtime, trusted members. Others were told that they could remain part of white nationalist groups, in spite of the ancestry they revealed, as long as they didn’t “mate,” or only had children with certain ethnic groups. Still others used these test results to put forth a twisted notion of diversity, one “that allows them to say, ‘No, we’re really diverse and we don’t need non-white people to have a diverse society,'” said Panofsky.

It really wouldn’t take much for the ranks of wannabe nazis to implode. The full story is here.


  1. lumipuna says

    He immediately dismissed the remaining 14% as “statistical noise”

    My great-grandmother was statistical noise. It’s a dirty little secret in our family.

  2. komarov says

    I had no idea you could do some by actual science wading through the online-forums of horror. Someone should start a campaign to get David Futrelle of wehuntedthemammoth an honorary degree -- he’s been doing this for years. And I’m sure the principal investigators had fun pitching their project to their students: “We want you to read through thousands of nazi comments while taking notes.”

    Instead, the community often helped them reject the test, or argue with its results.

    Under any other circumstances this might have been heart-warming. The community is coming together to help it’s members to come to terms with ‘bad news’. They’re pointing out that while no true Scotsman would put salt in his porridge, there isn’t actually that much in your bowl so it’s okay. The cook’s to blame, no doubt about it. That is, I suppose, one of the reasons to have a community in the first place. But then it’s all about nazism and racism and not very fluffy at all.

    Re: lumipuna (#3):

    They used to be called black sheep, now they’re statistical outliers….

  3. rq says

    Looks like he’s about as pure white as I am pure Latvian. Heh heh heh!!! Eat that, my Belorussian roots on my mother’s paternal side three generations back (apparently this is what makes me so full of feist and passion, ha)!

    Being of ‘pure’ breeding stock, though, shouldn’t be a point of pride -- just lookit how many hereditary diseases you get in purebred animals like dogs and cats and horses… Pfft, mongrels rule.

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