On August 13-14 and 20-21, 2021, IRMS hosted the first virtual Summer Institute for Organizers on Contesting Supremacism, cosponsored by the Western States Center. Our program brought together an intimate group of graduate students, professors, community, professionals, and digital organizers from the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Participating organizers came from a range of backgrounds, indicating in their applications that they were dealing with threats to gender equality, LGBTQIA+ rights, and racial injustice in a variety of ways, from a Christian Reconstructionist local political candidate to white supremacist groups targeting a high school Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA).

Researchers provided training designed to address the threats and challenges that participants indicated in their applications. This included how supremacist ideologies (i.e., white, male, cis, Christian, etc.) interrelate and conflict; supremacism on the “left,” such as TERFs; countering disinformation online; techniques for organizing across the netroots and grassroots; and countering effective long-term organizing and institution-building by supremacists.

Then, researchers and organizers strategized in afternoon breakout groups to address actual scenarios organizer participants were facing, with three breakout groups meeting throughout: “Strategies for Anti-Supremacist Work at the Netroots;” “Stopping Anti-Trans Mobilization on the Right and ‘Left'”; and “Challenging Allied White Supremacists and Christian Nationalists on the Ground”.

IRMS provided support in developing these researcher-organizer relationships and engaged research projects to organize against supremacist and anti-democratic mobilizations after the summer institute. Participants were also provided access to IRMS’s digital security training video and other resources.

Sophie Bjork-James, upper right corner, was one of the presenters at the summer institute.

The attendees reported gaining a better understanding of local threats and the distinctions between supremacist groups; tools to use against these threats; and methods of connecting research to organizing. Organizers appreciated receiving perspective, “a sense of hope”, connection with other organizers, and a reminder of “the need for creative joy in organizing work.”

The event was incredibly valuable to IRMS as we attempt to shape our programming and resources to best support effective social justice organizing and change on the ground. It was a useful reminder that in serving grassroots organizers working against direct threats, including as volunteers, we are not necessarily dealing with a trained professional group, but rather people inspired to take up organizing because of threats in their community, a knowledge that will guide IRMS’ work in the future.

Our gratitude to our funder, Mary’s Pence, for their support.

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Upcoming 2022 Summer Organizer Institute!

Based on the enthusiasm for the pilot program, and interest in future training, we are seeking to run a larger 2022 institute. Our aim is to inspire engaged research projects, create creative resources such as zines, and build a community of scholars and organizers collaborating on contesting supremacism. We also plan to cover digital security and the emotional toll of work in this work. The sessions will be recorded, which will also be used to develop asynchronous training options to boost accessibility and reach our international audience.

If you are interested in hearing more information about the 2022 event, go ahead and subscribe to our email list.


Friday, August 13

Morning Sessions: 9 AM PT to 12 PM PT

Introductory Session

We opened our first session with a dynamic introduction where participants not only introduced themselves and shared what they are working on but also shared their intentions for what they intended to gain from the institute.

15-minutes break

Varieties, Intersections, and Conflicts of Supremacism (Part 1)

Supremacist ideology appears in many forms, sometimes at odds with one another, sometimes in conjunction. In this initial training session, we discussed supremacist opposition, what the primary forms of supremacist ideology play out nowadays (with a focus on white, male, cisgender, and Christian supremacisms), why understanding their divergences is important for effective strategizing, and how to apply this understanding to intersectional organizing and effective use of media.

Trainers: Alex DiBranco (IRMS), Sophie-Bjork James (IRMS), Megan Black (Western States Center), and Blu Buchanan (Center for Applied Transgender Studies)

1-hour break

Afternoon Session: 1 PM PT to 3 PM PT

Varieties, Intersections, and Conflicts of Supremacism (Part 2)

As the morning training session continued, we discussed supremacist appeals to traditionally oppressed people such as cis white gay men and cis men of color, and tackled the issue of supremacism on the “left” as part of the equation for radical deep-rooted change, with a focus on anti-trans actors.

Trainers: Heron Greenesmith (Political Research Associates), Blu Buchanan (Center for Applied Transgender Studies), and Alex DiBranco (IRMS)

Saturday, August 14

Morning Session: 9 PM PT to 12 PM PT

Varieties, Intersections, and Conflicts of Supremacism (Part 3)

Opening the second day of the event, we discussed political overlaps between white nationalism and Christian nationalism and how a shared emphasis on male supremacism provides a bridge for Christian nationalists to support white nationalism. Strategies for countering these movements and their use of social media were also discussed.

Trainer: Sophie-Bjork James (IRMS)

15-minutes break

Countering Supremacist Threats at the Netroots (Part 1)

With the advent of the alt-right, people began to take notice of the significance of organizing online for supremacist groups, though online activity by white nationalist groups, anti-abortion groups, and others far predates the alt-right. There has also been increasing awareness of the influence of disinformation, online harassment (especially toward women, people of color, and queer people), and the use of social media platforms to organize real-world events. With over a year of the Covid-19 pandemic that pushed much of the world to operate primarily online, understanding and utilizing the netroots in conjunction with the grassroots was more important than ever. The training included discussions on how white supremacists, Manosphere groups, and other nefarious actors (like anti-vaxxers, QAnon, and GamerGate, just to name a few) organize and recruit online, and what can we do to stop them. In this session, trainers explored the ways that these kinds of groups exploit the affordances of digital platforms and ways to identify, counteract, and effectively fight online hate and conspiracy theories.

Trainers: Julia DeCook (IRMS), Meredith Pruden (IRMS), and Alex DiBranco (IRMS)

The training did not cover digital safety and security practices, but participants received access to and were encouraged to watch a recording of IRMS’ 2021 digital training session.

1-hour break

Afternoon Sessions: 1 PM PT to 3 PM PT

Breakout session 1

Attendees were organized into breakout groups of organizers and researchers working around similar topics to lay out the on-the-ground difficulties and delve deeper into thinking about strategic action that included the lessons from the training. Participants joined the same breakout group for all the breakout sessions. Those were:

  • “Strategies for Anti-Supremacist Work at the Netroots;”
  • “Stopping Anti-Trans Mobilization on the Right and ‘Left'”; and
  • “Challenging Allied White Supremacists and Christian Nationalists on the Ground.”

Following that, participants were presented with the questions:

  • How can the conversation on this topic shape or change your strategy? and
  • What mistakes have you made in the past around this work that you do not want others to make?

Evening Session: 4:30 PM PT to 6:30 PM PT

Social Dinner Together

Closing the second day, we met back on Zoom for a social dinner for a more casual connection and venting halfway through the institute. We provided GrubHub gift cards to participants for the virtual reception.

Friday, August 20

Morning Sessions: 9 AM PT to 12 PM PT

Countering Supremacist Threats at the Netroots (Part 2)

This session continued with further discussion of tracking supremacist actors and ideologies online, and the dissemination of dis- and misinformation.

Trainer: Becca Lewis (Stanford University)

15-minutes break

Organizing Strategies Against Supremacist Mobilizations

The session discussed how supremacists have successfully made use of local school boards, state legislatures, networks of state think tanks, connections between grassroots organizers and national organizations, and other interventions. The session discussed the opportunities for and importance of increasing intersectional collaboration across issues that often operate separately, for instance, anti-fascist organizing and reproductive justice, and considered multiple points of effective intervention including power-mapping, creative and culture jamming approaches, and other techniques.

Trainers: Cloee Cooper (Political Research Associates), Joel Iboa (Oregon Just Transition Alliance), Kat Enyeart (PopMob), and Alex DiBranco (IRMS)

1-hour break

Afternoon Session: 1 PM PT to 3 PM PT

Breakout Session 2

Attendees returned to their breakout groups from the previous week to continue strategizing. They were presented with the starting questions:

  • With this morning’s focus on specific organizing strategies by the right, where do you see areas of intervention that you can join in? (i.e., local school boards, state elections, etc.)
  • How could your work be more intersectional in taking on this movement? Who could you reach out to? What sectors have vested interests in these or related issues that you don’t already work with?

Saturday, August 21

Morning Sessions: 9 AM PT to 12 AM PT

“Parking Lot” Session

The last training session was reserved for the “parking lot,” with conference organizers addressing items that came up in previous sessions, breakouts, and social time. We expected participants to, in particular, continue to dig into the organizing strategies session from the day before.

15-minutes break

Breakout Session 3

Attendees returned to the same breakout groups for a final short session to prepare what they would like to share and discuss with the full group from their planning.

1-hour break

Afternoon Session: 1 PM PT to 3 PM PT

Final Sum-Up, Sharing, and Next Steps