I thought this was bogus when I read the headline. But it was a real study. And the underlying factors are interesting:
An important puzzle piece in this research is that many local merchants, who are often members of community and civic groups, can be forced out of business while trying to compete with Walmart. Losing members of those groups might cause a drop in community togetherness.
When those leaders leave, the presence of ginormous, anonymous juggernauts of big-box retailers could play a role in fraying social bonds. People often act different when they feel like someone is paying attention — like when you decide not to shoplift at the local candy store because the owner is best friends with your mother.
The study only dealt with the correlation between Walmart and hate groups, but the researchers do note that if there’s a Walmart around, other box stores like Target and Home Depot likely are as well. “We’re not trying to pick on Wal-Mart,” said one researcher. “In this study, Wal-Mart is really serving as a proxy for any type of large retailer.”