Is extremism hitting the mainstream? Here’s what we know

Hate is sadly on the rise during this divisive era

The alleged gunman who killed ten people and injured three believed in the once fringe idea called 'replacement theory'. Experts are trying to understand how social media and other platforms help legitimize this thinking.

DETROIT – As the accused shooter sits in jail Monday (May 16), new clues reveal just how much hate played a role in the tragedy.

Hate is an issue that’s sadly on the rise during this divisive era, and the internet has only helped it grow, which has people asking, is extremism hitting the mainstream?

“We have to hold people accountable for their beliefs,” said Mark Rigstad, Professor of Philosophy at Oakland University. “We have to challenge them when they subscribe to conspiracy theories like the Qanon Theory and Race Replacement Theory that are not rooted in fact.”

The alleged gunman who killed 10 people and injured three believed in the once-fringe idea called Replacement Theory.

The idea of Replacement Theory indicates that white Americans and voters will be replaced with immigrants or people of color sooner than later.

The far-right conspiracy and the hate that comes with it are edging into the mainstream.

“How we get from those little corners of radicalization to it becoming mainstream, Is I think that people crawl out of those corners and into the public sphere and occupy positions in public media and in politics,” Rigstad said.

Both platforms help legitimize what was once only found in the web’s dark corners.

The grocery store massacre was live-streamed on social media, just like the mass shooting at a Mosque in New Zealand, but the same hate-fueled ideology inspired shooters.

“There was the church shooting in Charleston in 2015,” Rigstad said. “The Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018, the Christchurch New Zealand shooting in 2018, and then the El Paso shooting in 2019. All those are cases of, you know, young white men killing people simply for being different from them, and they all come from a kind of hatred that’s also generated by fear.”

Social Media and the misinformation shared online have also played a significant role in spreading hateful propaganda.

“The real problem is the problem of hate and the ways in which both the media and politicians can pander to those kinds of negative sentiments, and that’s the pattern that has to be stopped, both on the level of conversation in polite society and also when it comes to the ballot box,” Rigstad said.

Rigstad said every individual has a role to play. He said that it is important to challenge those who spout those conspiracy theories, and he want those involved to ask about their sources and how people need to start holding those that use their platforms to spread hateful propaganda.

About the Authors:

Priya joined WDIV-Local 4 in 2013 as a reporter and fill-in anchor. Education: B.A. in Communications/Post Grad in Advanced Journalism

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.