To educate yourself about the contemporary iterations of white supremacist groups in the United States, below is a cheat sheet of some basics about the terms “white supremacy,” “white nationalism,” and “neo-nazism.”
White supremacy is the belief that (Christian) people descended from Europe are inherently superior to the rest of the world’s people and are thus uniquely fit to rule over them. The ideology has existed at least as far back as the 15th century, though traces of it can be found in earlier texts as well.
Although European belief in the “civilizing mission” of Christianity was the ideology that underpinned the global systems of slavery and colonialism that spanned the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, white supremacy as an ideology took on a different register beginning in the late 19th century with the advent of something called scientific racism.
Scientific racism used “science” (which has now been debunked as pseudoscience) to provide “physical evidence” for the superiority of the white race. Scientific racism capitalized on the emerging findings of evolutionary theory to posit the existence of a hierarchy among different human races, with the “lower races” (Indigenous, African, and Asian people) being less evolved/developed (i.e. closer in kind to the animal kingdom and therefore less “human”), and white Europeans being the most highly evolved/developed/most “human” race. They used pseudoscientific methods like phrenology—the belief that the physical shape and size of someone’s skull had a direct correlation with their intelligence—to reinforce claims about the superiority of the white race.