Researchers have spotted a correlation between the number of Walmarts in a county and the number of local hate groups. Indeed, the number of stores appeared more significant than other area characteristics—unemployment, poor education, and high crime—commonly associated with hate groups. The researchers from Penn State, New Mexico State, and Michigan State were quick to offer caveats to their findings, however. "We're not trying to pick on Walmart," says one. "In this study, Walmart is really serving as a proxy for any type of large retailer."
One explanation for the link might be that big-box stores threaten local businesses—and local business owners are key to promoting a sense of community in an area. Societies also tend to be tighter-knit when members believe others are keeping an eye on them; people may be less likely, for example, to steal from a shop whose owner they know, LiveScience reports. In light of the findings, the researchers are encouraging Walmart to promote community organizations.