White supremacy vs. white nationalism: Here are the differences between the far-right factions


In the wake of the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally and deadly car attack, Americans on both sides of the political aisle have been quick to denounce white supremacy, neo-Nazism and other extremist groups.

While neo-Nazi, white supremacist, alt-right and other terms have often been used interchangeably, however, these descriptors for the various far-right factions often represent specific racist ideologies.

Here’s what you need to know about each of these extremist terms.

White supremacy

White supremacy is the broad racist ideology that believes the white race is “inherently superior” and should control those of other races, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Beliefs in white superiority are often based in ideas of “scientific racism” — the pseudoscientific belief that different races are genetically predisposed to different traits or behaviors.

In addition to an individual’s belief in the idea white supremacy, the term can also refer to a broader racial hierarchy and system of oppression, in which white people are the primary beneficiaries of political, economic and social policies.

David McNew/Getty Images

White separatism

White separatism is a form of white supremacy that believes white people “should exist separately from all inferior, non-white races,” according to the Anti-Defamation League. The separatism would occur either through the creation of a separate, all-white state or by eradicating non-whites from society.

“Loving one’s people is natural,” white separatist Matt Heimbach told ABC News about his beliefs in 2013. “Every other group is allowed to love their race for the best interest of their race. There’s no reason why whites shouldn’t.”

White nationalism

White nationalism is a version of white supremacy or white separatism that defends “country by white racial identity,” CNN notes.

White nationalist supporters believe in a country “built by and for white people,” Southern Poverty Law Center senior fellow Mark Potok told CNN.

Supporters of white nationalism don’t necessarily believe in an 100% white society like white separatists — believing that to be an unrealistic goal — but rather advocate for “the idea that whites should dominate,” Potok added.

Opponents of white nationalism have said the term amounts to little more than a “euphemism” for white supremacy, however, which doesn’t carry that term’s stigma and stereotypes.

“There really is no difference [between white nationalism and white supremacy],” Ryan Lenz of the SPLC said in an interview on MSNBC. “White nationalism is ultimately an expression of white supremacy which believes that the United States is fundamentally and originally intended for white people.”


The “alt-right,” an abbreviation for “alternative right,” is a broad descriptive term used by current members of the racist far-right to identify themselves and their movement.

Rather than describing a specific ideology, according to the Anti-Defamation League, the alt-right is an “extremely loose movement,” and those who consider themselves members of the alt-right “identify with a range of different ideologies that put white identity at their centers.”

Not all members of the alt-right are necessarily white supremacists, the ADL notes, although many do hold white supremacist views.

The term was first coined by Richard Spencer, the ADL notes, who used the name “Alternative Right” for an online publication in 2010.

“I like the term alt-right,” Spencer told CNN. “It has an openness to it. And immediately understandable. We’re coming from a new perspective [than white nationalism].”

The extreme far-right group rejects mainstream conservatism, the ADL notes, and often condemns “traditional” conservatives as not being sufficiently supportive of racism and anti-Semitism.

David J. Phillip/AP


Neo-Nazism, the modern iteration of the ideology that first took hold in Germany under Adolf Hitler, is a racist faction that primarily targets those who are Jewish, the SPLC notes. According to the SPLC, neo-Nazis believe that the country’s social problems can be traced back to a “Jewish conspiracy that supposedly controls governments, financial institutions and the media.”

Neo-Nazis also share a love of Hitler and Nazi Germany, the SPLC notes, and may hold prejudiced views towards other minority groups, though Jews remain the “cardinal enemy.”

The most visible neo-Nazi group in the U.S. is the National Alliance, the SPLC notes. On their website, as quoted by the SPLC, the group advocates for “a thorough rooting out of Semitic and other non-Aryan values and customs everywhere.”

“In specific terms, this means a society in which young men and women gather to revel with polkas or waltzes, reels or jigs or any other white dances, but never to undulate or jerk to negroid jazz or rock rhythms. It means pop music without Barry Manilow and art galleries without Marc Chagall. It means films in which the appearance of any non-white face on the screen is a sure sign that what’s being shown is either archival newsreel footage or a historical drama about the bad, old days,” the group continues.

Ku Klux Klan

Chet Strange/Getty Images

The Ku Klux Klan is a white supremacist group in the U.S. founded in 1865. Though the KKK’s popularity has risen and fallen throughout the group’s over 150-year history, the racist group enjoyed revivals in the 1920s, when it amassed four million members by 1925 in response to a surge in immigration, and in the 1960s as a backlash to the fight for civil rights. The SPLC currently estimates that there are between 5,000 and 8,000 active KKK members in the United States.

The organized group, which is known for its uniform of hooded white robes, has primarily been known an anti-black organization since its post-Civil War years, when the group existed as a “vigilante group to intimidate Southern blacks,” according to the SPLC. However, the organization has also long been opposed to other non-white groups, along with Jews, immigrants, the LGBT community and Catholics.


Neo-Confederacy is a “reactionary conservative ideology,” the SPLC notes, which revives the pro-Confederate sentiment in the U.S.

According to the SPLC, neo-Confederates are strongly nativist and seek to preserve “fundamental values” of Christianity and heritage, which supporters believe modern Americans have abandoned.

Neo-Confederates, many of whom are “openly secessionist,” oppose immigration and are “openly hostile towards democracy,” the SPLC notes. The group is also opposed to homosexuality and advocate for traditional gender roles.

Sean Rayford/Getty Images

In terms of race, the SPLC notes that neo-Confederates often favor segregation and hold racial views that “suggests white supremacy.” The group’s views often overlap with those of white nationalists, the SPLC notes, which is evidenced by the number of recent protests — such as Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally — that have united members from various far-right factions to protest the removal of Confederate statues from Charlottesville and other Southern cities.