At "White Lives Matter" rallies held in cities across the country last Sunday, turnout was very low, but experts who track extremist movements online warn that this doesn't necessarily mean white supremacists are losing ground.
Having just a few people show up could have been the strategy all along, Peter Levi, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Orange County and Long Beach, told the Los Angeles Times. When a handful of supporters face off against vocal counterprotesters, this "feeds into the agenda that white men no longer have constitutional rights," Levi said. "They try to assemble, and they can't assemble. They try to have free speech, and they can't."
Before the Sunday rally in Huntington Beach, California, some organizations tried to dissuade counterprotesters from going to the event, saying they would play right into the white supremacists' hands. "They use this for lawsuits," Black Lives Matter Los Angeles co-founder Melina Abdullah told the Times. "They use this for PR. They use this for media attention, and it's hugely problematic. We don't want to buy into their narrative; we don't want to feed their narrative."
It's also possible the low turnout wasn't strategic, and was aided by a lack of leadership. The "White Lives Matter" rallies were first promoted on Telegram in March, but no one stepped forward as a central organizer, the Times reports. Huntington Beach Police Department spokesman Lt. Brian Smith told the newspaper officers tried to reach organizers to remind them of laws and municipal codes ahead of the rally, but they were never able to track down anyone behind the event.
Many white supremacist groups are using hot topics like immigration and police brutality to get their followers riled up and attract new members, experts who monitor these groups told the Times, and this could lead to lone-wolf attacks. "Don't think the extremists are out of commission — they've just realigned in ways that are disturbing," Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, told the Times. "Now we're seeing a leaner, meaner, and less publicly brazen type of extremism taking place." Read more at the Los Angeles Times.