(CN) – While the rise of hate groups is a national issue, the underlying factors that fuel the formation of these factions vary by region, according to a new study.
In the report, published Friday in the journal Annals of the American Association of Geographers, University of Utah researchers map the patterns of active hate groups in all U.S. counties in 2014 and analyze their potential ideological and socioeconomic drivers.
The study finds that population change, ethnic diversity, conservative political affiliation, higher poverty rates, and less education all correlate with a greater number of hate groups. The magnitude of these drivers, however, has regional differences, which could stem from diverse cultural and ethnic histories.
One factor – religion – even alternated between having a positive and negative effect on the number of hate groups in a given county.
The team says these groups are propelled by the desire to protect an area from the perceived threats that “outsiders” pose to identity and socioeconomic security. They find that “hate” is influenced by the present-day conditions and combined histories of a place.
“There is a lot of uncertainty in the country today, and a lot of change,” said senior author Richard Medina, an assistant professor in the department of geography at the University of Utah. “For those involved in hate group activities, they see their actions as a way to secure the future of their people. Unfortunately, that fear turns to hate, and in the worst case, violence.
“Hate is a geographic problem. The ways people hate are based on the cultures, histories, ethnicities and many other factors dependent on place and place perception.”
Co-author Emily Nicolosi, a doctoral student at the University of Utah, says that at its root, hate stems from concerns over identity.
“Some people have strong feelings about who belongs, and who doesn’t belong in ‘their’ place,” she said. “When they see people coming in that they think don’t belong, their very identity feels threatened.”
Hate groups express prejudice against people with a specific identity – whether it be based on their gender, race, religion, disability, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
While organized hate has always coexisted, 2016 featured a near-record number of hate groups in the United States, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Using the center’s database from 2014, the team mapped active hate groups for every U.S. county. They compared the connections between these groups with local socioeconomic factors – poverty, diversity, population stability and education levels – and ideological factors like conservatism and religion.
“People hate for different reasons because U.S. regions have different situations and histories,” said Nicolosi.
“For example, the Northeast is a place of power that may be seen as elitist and well-educated. Is there still hate? Yes. Some of the reasons people hate there are different than in the South, where there’s a different history of the Confederacy, of discrimination, and so on.”
The study is one of the first to examine hate groups from a regional perspective and analyze how motivating factors vary locally. The drivers of hate previously had not been distinguished for specific places.
Medina and Nicolosi now want to study the differences between various types of hate groups and whether they are connected to violent behavior.
“First and foremost, I want our paper to help people understand how much we don’t know about hate – hate is not a uniform phenomenon. Hopefully this study motivates people to start asking more questions, especially right now,” Medina said.
“We have a long way to go before we really understand the drivers and patterns of hate in this country.”