Americans are crazy about at-home DNA test kits, with millions of people submitting their saliva samples in the hopes of finding out more about their genetic makeup. One group in particular hasn’t been too satisfied with the results however, and has been especially vocal in recent months: white nationalists.
An article in the New York Post detailed some 70,000 discussion threads about DNA testing on popular white nationalist website Stormfront, posted by more than 300,000 users. Sociologists at UCLA and the Data and Society Research Institute examined the posts, and found that one third of those who posted their findings were pleased with their ancestry test results, but the majority (two thirds) of posters were upset because they weren’t “100 percent” white European.
“They will talk about the mirror test,” Aaron Panofsky, sociologist at UCLA’s Institute of Society and Genetics told STAT News. “They will say things like, ‘If you see a Jew in the mirror looking back at you, that’s a problem; if you don’t, you’re fine.’”
Some other Stormfront readers were not deterred, claiming that the test results didn’t matter because they were already committed to the white nationalist cause. Others claimed the tests results were part of a Jewish conspiracy to confuse “true” white Americans.
DNA testing companies Ancestry and 23andMe were quick to respond and distance themselves. Ancestry, who reported a customer database of over 5 million people last month, said in a statement: “We not only condemn the violence that occurred but we are deeply disturbed by the ideologies of the white supremacist groups who marched there. To be clear, we are against any use of our product in an attempt to promote divisiveness or justify twisted ideologies. People looking to use our services to prove they are ethnically ‘pure’ are going to be deeply disappointed. We encourage them to take their business elsewhere.”
“We do not report on race,” 23andMe told the New York Post. “In part this is done by using an algorithm to compare large segments of their genome to 31 different reference populations — both publicly available reference data as well as reference data that we have internal to 23andMe. From this, 23andMe is able to estimate percentages of a person’s genome that come from these areas, for instance, sub-Saharan African, Iberian or European.”
The researchers presented their findings a few days after the attacks at Charlottesville; the timing a coincidence since it had been scheduled far in advance. White nationalists had organized a rally in Charlottesville the previous weekend called “Unite the Right,” drawing national attention and violence that resulted in several injuries and the death of a young female counter-protestor.