Countering Conspiracy Theories and Youth Recruitment; Self-Care

My article on “cultural Marxism” as an antisemitic conspiracy theory about the Frankfurt School was recently published in a special issue of the Journal of Social Justice on antisemitism. The article as well as others are available here through the online, open-access journal.

The webinar on countering youth recruitment into hate groups, which was co-sponsored by the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane and the Eastern Washington University Women’s and Gender Education Center, is available here. I presented alongside autistic disability rights activist and para-educator Eric Warwick and local school counselor Lupe Wolfe. (Eric’s research on how autistic people are targeted by the alt-right as both potential recruits and as victims, is unique and necessary in its emphasis on how racism, ableism, and authoritarianism, especially in schools and the medical system, are driving recruitment of some autistic people to the far-right. This analysis challenges essentialist, biologistic, and ableist theories that claim that autistic people have brains that make them more susceptible to involvement in fascism.)

It was also a pleasure to present recently at the joint conference of the Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies and Institute for Research on Male Supremacism. I gave a brief talk on self/community care for researchers on hate and extremism. Although I do not think a video or transcript will be available I can summarize and suggest that for anyone new to this work:

(1) Limit the time you spend on it and balance your work against hate with hobbies, social life, and projects that are unrelated.

(2) Realize that this work is not like other kinds of research; it takes a toll on everyone, and disproportionately on some, especially people of color. To expect everyone who does this work to just be “fine” would be a form of victim-blaming, but we can all work together to support each other and work to implement certain practices to make it more manageable personally.

(3) I have personally found that exercising outside and spending time in nature has been very fruitful for me personally in coping with the toll of the research. Several other people engaged in this work have told me the same thing.

(4) Watch yourself for signs of compassion fatigue. I suggested watching this Ted Talk by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky as well as reading her excellent book Trauma Stewardship, on managing the toll of activism and social service work. I also suggested that as researchers we need to reflect on “boundaries” as both personal and political, and I recommended Cristien Storm’s book Empowered Boundaries. (Storm is both an activist/educator against white nationalism and a therapist whose writing on “boundaries” comes partly from her experience leading a self-defense training program in Seattle following the murder of a member of the left music scene there.)

(5) See a therapist if you are beginning to feel overwhelmed (or before).

I also told people that if they want to talk to me about their experiences, I can see if I can help, or if not, can connect them to others who are working to build community and support each other in this work. I can be reached at

I am presenting in September as part of an ongoing workshop series on research ethics in research on the far-right, organized in part by Aurelien Mondon, co-author of Reactionary Democracy: How Racism and the Populist Far Right Became Mainstream (Verso 2020). My presentation will cover my research on the ethical implications of “compassion narratives” told by former white supremacists and why as researchers we may want to be more cautious and critical in the sharing of these redemption narratives in the public and through our research, while also acknowledging that people can and do leave white supremacist movements and change.

I am currently working on finishing my book for Routledge’s “Fascism and Far-Right” series. I hope to have more updates soon.

My best to everyone struggling for racial justice, economic and political democracy, and liberation at this challenging time. Let’s all continue to do what we can to stay in the streets, or keep active in whatever way we are able, to support Black Lives Matter and to push back against the growing threat of fascism, as seen for example in the violent police and DHS repression in Portland recently. Like many people watching unfolding events, I am deeply concerned that Trump may not leave office even if he loses the election; an attitude of waiting to see what happens in November will not serve us well, and we must do what we can to organize and prepare for that possibility as activists and public researchers. That’s my take–for what it’s worth.

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