Experts on countering white nationalist recruitment are concerned that the Coronavirus outbreak will likely lead to a spike in recruitment into violent white nationalist and fascist organizations. Given the ways that recruiters play on the vulnerabilities of youth who may be feeling isolated and afraid, who may be looking for answers, and who may be spending large amounts of time online (due to having to be inside and not in school), many youth in particular may be targeted for online recruitment at this time.
Recruitment into racist extremist movements can occur at very young ages, and there is no single profile of youth vulnerable to recruitment. Parents and others who work with youth have an opportunity to be proactive in talking with their kids about their online experiences, sharing together in their online life, and helping them grow into critical and caring thinkers and actors in the world. It is not so much a cause for panic as it is a necessary opportunity for families and others who work with youth to foster anti-racist values and teach about online safety.
The best document I have seen on the topic since the pandemic outbreak is this Twitter thread, available here (and also here). It is co-authored by Nora Flanagan and Shannon Martinez. (Nora Flanagan co-authored the important Western States Center pamphlet on Confronting White Nationalism in Schools; Shannon Martinez is a former white nationalist now involved in helping people disengage from hate groups.)
“Get to know your kids’ online spaces,” they recommend. “What games are they playing? Who do they interact with? What support platforms do they use? Steam, Twitch, Discord, Gab, Telegram, Signal, Wire, WhatsApp? What videos are they watching? Which youtubers do they follow? Why?”
“Parents with younger kids: ask if anyone has ever contacted them inside games like Roblox, Minecraft, or Fortnite. Reportedly members affiliated with the hate group Atomwaffen, whose members traffic in child pornography, have reached out to kids as young as 8 years old,” they write.
The idea of course is not to panic about particular platforms—hate is ubiquitous on the internet, and I cannot imagine that any child spending hours a day or week on the internet will not be exposed to it. Rather, experts are urging families to have conversations with their kids about online hate and their online experiences. Check the link for more insights on how to do this.
While not directly on the topic of white nationalist recruitment, I would also like to recommend this series of resources put together by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance team, on dealing with youth trauma during the Coronavirus outbreak; it is likely to be useful to teachers, parents, and others. Parents who are homeschooling (or trying desperately to keep kids occupied) due to the virus, may find useful materials for teaching on the Teaching Tolerance site; for a broader social justice curriculum, I also like the Zinn Education Project and Rethinking Schools.
Periods of global crisis like the one we are currently facing always present both challenges and opportunities. We can respond with fear, racism, xenophobia, nativism, militarism, securitization, and hoarding of resources. Or we can use this opportunity to rediscover our need for community, to rest and reflect with those closest to us (in person or through technology), and to let our vulnerability unite us as we care for each other and create stronger social supports.