White supremacists are busy recruiting a new generation and have devised creative ways to lure children.
Children who Google Martin Luther King Jr., for example, might click on a “.org” site that comes up as a top result. It appears to link to King’s speeches and a civil rights library. Actually, it’s run by the Neo-Nazi site Stormfront, created by Don Black, a former Ku Klux Klan leader. The links from that particular MLK site lead to neo-Nazi propaganda.
Earlier this year, Newsweek reported on an interview with an editor of the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer on a white supremacist radio show. The editor, Andrew Anglin, admitted that the purpose of the conspiracy site is to radicalize children as young as 11.
“My site is mainly designed to target children” for radicalization, Anglin reportedly said on Radical Agenda, a radio show hosted by Christopher Cantwell, one of the marchers at the Charlottesville, Virginia rally in August. “(Age) 11 through teenage years ... Young adults, pubescents.”
Linda Woolf, professor of psychology and international human rights at Webster University, has tracked these trends. She has been studying the recruitment and radicalization tactics of hate groups.
“I’m sure in schools they are warning kids about online predators,” she said. “My guess is that many don’t talk about online hate groups or cults. They use the same recruitment techniques.”
Unsuspecting tweens or teens stumble upon such sites or groups on social media, which number in the tens of thousands, and are invited to chat privately. The conversation doesn’t start with hate. Instead, the white supremacists groom the child by giving them attention and a sense of belonging. They wish them a happy birthday. They target those who already feel disillusioned, isolated or disenfranchised.
“People don’t always join hate groups because they hate,” Woolf said. Rather, they join to meet other social and emotional needs, such as finding a place to fit in. On college campuses, the recruitment events often feature free food to appeal to hungry students. The groups’ tactics have become more difficult to research after the initial contact, as many of these activities move to the dark web, requiring special passwords.
As most casual observers can tell, hate speech has been trending upward in America. For the past three years, there’s also been a documented rise of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups in America. The number of hate groups has risen 20 percent since 2014, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The SPLC identified 954 hate groups in the US in 2017, compared with 784 in 2014.
It’s not just the number of groups and hate crimes that are surging; white supremacists are more emboldened and trying to ascend into visible positions of power and social influence.
At least eight white nationalists are running for state or federal office, according to SPLC tracking. This appears to be more than in any other election in modern history.
We’ve seen a mainstreaming of language that dehumanizes racial, ethnic and religious minorities, along with alt-right creep into the public square.
Corey Stewart, Republican nominee in the Virginia Senate race, has ties to numerous white supremacist activists. He had described Paul Nehlen, the self-professed “pro-white” candidate for Congress, as his “personal hero,” but later disavowed him and said he wasn’t aware of his racist views.
Republican congressman Steve King also recently retweeted a Nazi sympathizer, Mark Collett, later saying he wasn’t aware of his Nazi affiliation. Collett is a well-known British white supremacist who has spoken admiringly of Adolf Hitler and was once featured in a documentary called “Young, Nazi and Proud,” according to the New York Times.
It’s no surprise that white supremacist hate groups are enjoying a resurgence in America, and that they are focusing their efforts on targeting younger white men to join their ideological ranks.
Woolf says the greatest danger these hate groups pose is the way they tacitly encourage individuals to commit violence -- including those who just casually consume their content.
She encourages schools to include these hate group tactics as part of media literacy education. She also urges parents to keep an eye on their children’s peer groups and try to monitor their online activity, especially if their child seems isolated and spends a lot of time online.
“I think the general public may underestimate the danger these groups pose,” Woolf said. “They work to infiltrate and target those most predisposed to violence.”