Stephan Goetz, professor of agricultural economics and regional economics, at Pennsylvania State University and director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development, said the number of Walmart stores in a county is significantly correlated with the number of hate groups in the area.
The study, published in the Social Science Quarterly, said the number of Walmart stores in a county was more significant statistically than factors commonly regarded as important to hate group participation, such as the unemployment rate, high crime rates and low education.
Local business owners are typically members of community and civic groups, such as the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, but local merchants often find it difficult to compete against large retailers and go out of business.
Losing members of these groups, which help establish programs that promote civic engagement and foster community values, may cause a drop in community cohesion, Goetz said.
"While we like to think of American society as being largely classless, merchants and bankers are part of what we could call a leadership class in a community," Goetz said in a statement. "We're not trying to pick on Walmart, in this study, Walmart is really serving as a proxy for any type of large retailer."