Credit: Julio Sosa

While a genetic ancestry test is often a peek into one's lineage, the new technology is making waves in white supremacist groups.  

At a speaker event in Claudia Cohen Hall, UCLA professor Aaron Panofsky discussed the influence of genetic ancestry tests have on white supremacist groups, specifically members of the website Stormfront, the web's first major racial hate site, on Feb. 13.  

His discussion focused on genetic ancestry tests, a DNA test that reveals a person's genetic genealogy, and how white nationalists react to them, in his talk called "When Genetics Challenges a Racist's Self-Identity." Despite aggressive attempts at denial, results from these tests are forcing Stormfront members to reconsider what it means to be a white supremacist. 

Stormfront is an online political space for white nationalists and white patriots. Panofsky noted that the website, created in 1996, encompasses 50,000 unique posters, 7 million posts, and attracted 400,000 visitors and 4-5 million views per month in 2014. 

Approximately 3,070 posts mentioned GAT and other genealogy-related discussions. There were 153 GAT results posted on the site. Although the numbers seem small in comparison to the website's total following, Panofsky stressed that the low number is likely the result of self-selection, especially since members are more likely to post confirmation of racial purity as opposed to racial mix.  

Panofsky and his team analyzed different reactions to genetic test results that Stormfront users posted, and mapped out a "GAT tree" of common reactions. The tree split into a "good news" branch or a "bad news" branch -- good news typically takes the form of confirmed “racial purity,” he said. 

Bad news comes when GAT test results revealed a background that is not purely white.  Comments to "bad news" either confronted the evidence, rejected it, or dismissed it as "fake news," Panofsky said.  Some even claimed in the comments that a Jewish conspiracy is controlling genetic testing companies.  

Attendees of the event noted how scientific evidence can be interpreted in different ways.  

"Genetic studies are being used by white nationalists and being used in a manner to support their beliefs," School of Arts and Sciences graduate student Akshay Walia said. "Primarily to over-amplify the differences among different people and so provide proof for their claims that people from different parts of the world have different capabilities and won’t be able to coexist in the U.S. without being a negative influence.”

At times, comments below “bad news” results are harsh and cruel. However, Panofsky added, some commenters exhibited a deep understanding of scientific concepts by discussing complex genetic components, such as mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosomes.  

The education behind such conversations shows a problem in assumptions about white nationalists in today's political climate, Panofsky said.  

“The way mainstream political culture approaches white nationalists as fundamentally based in ignorance is misleading," Panofsky said. "If we want to confront white nationalism, we can’t assume that means political people know more than them and that superior knowledge is going to win. We need politics to challenge white nationalism, not just science, not just education.”  

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