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 standinsolidarity@yahoo.com.

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.

A Few Quick Updates

On Wednesday next week, May 13, I am joining Eric Warwick and Lupe Wolfe on a webinar encouraging people to talk with their kids, and to understand and prevent online recruitment into hate movements during this pandemic. Please consider signing up or inviting interested parents or others who work with youth. (The suggested ticket price goes to supporting the work of local social justice group PJALS, the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane. However, if the cost is prohibitive, you can register for free.)

My co-edited book on Erich Fromm’s critical theory (Eds., Kieran Durkin and Joan Braune, Erich Fromm’s Critical Theory: Hope, Humanism, and the Future, Bloomsbury, 2020) is now out in print. It’s a great anthology (though I might be biased)—admittedly pricey, but we are hoping to get it into lots of libraries, and a paperback edition will hopefully be out in the future. It is exciting to see the renewal of work on Erich Fromm’s contribution to Critical Theory, and the anthology represents some of the best work on Fromm done recently, including looking at applications of Fromm’s work to contemporary theory and praxis in responding to authoritarianism, as well as looking at Fromm’s contributions to Marxism, Critical Theory of Religion, and bringing Fromm into dialogue with feminism and other lenses.

Spectres of Fascism (Pluto, 2020), Edited by Samir Gandesha, is also out now in print. I have a chapter in the book exploring Steve Bannon’s ties to fascist ideology. Samir is organizing a number of online presentations from contributors to the book in coming weeks. I am looking forward to joining one of the panels to share some of my more updated research on Bannon, including especially my response to Bannon’s campaign against China and my take on the latest revelations of Bannon’s ties to fascism in the problematic new book War for Eternity by Benjamin Teitelbaum.

I have a new article out in Spokane FAVs (Faith and Values), exploring the psychological appeal of conspiracy theories during the coronavirus.

I was guest again on my friends’ radio show in Milwaukee, “The Grass is Greener”: https://soundcloud.com/user-240416425/the-grass-is-greener-2020-04-2. Topics included: Talk to your kids; Steve Bannon and the Falun Gong; Conspiracy theories.

I also had the honor last month of presenting over zoom to Emerge Washington’s cohort of young progressive Democrat women in training for political leadership and candidacy. We talked about the growing threats communities face due to white supremacist and fascist movements and far-right militia networks.

Pandemic: Talk to Your Kids

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.

Chertok Lecture Report-Back

I had a great time speaking at Eastern Washington University as the annual Chertok Lecture speaker. The student newspaper there carried this article on the event: “Scholar Offers Chilling Assessment of an Ongoing Threat.” We had a packed house and more chairs had to be brought in; audience members, including students, asked a lot of great questions. I met for a couple of hours with student leaders later that afternoon and am impressed by the great work of EWU students against hate and for social justice. I am speaking to faculty from Gonzaga University and EWU next week as the final Chertok Lecture-associated event of the year, this time discussing approaches to dealing with white nationalism on campuses and in our classrooms.

2020 Chertok Lecture

I am looking forward to speaking at Eastern Washington University in a couple of weeks on white nationalism and how we can push back! In addition to this public lecture, I will also be meeting with student leaders of color, having a lunch with faculty and administrators, and presenting in February at a related event for faculty, on how white nationalist ideology shows up on campuses and how we can respond effectively.

Upcoming Talks in 2020

I have a number of upcoming talks in 2020:

In January and February, I am giving a number of talks as the 2020 Chertok Lecture speaker at Eastern Washington University. The main talk, on January 23, is on “Understanding and Resisting White Nationalism in the U.S. Today.” I will also be giving separate talks to student activists at EWU, to faculty at Gonzaga University and EWU on the question of white nationalist organizing on campuses and how to push back, and as part of a panel on whiteness.

In April, I will be flying to San Francisco for the Pacific conference of the American Philosophical Association, where I will be on panels for the Radical Philosophy Association (a panel I organized) and for the North American Society for Social Philosophy. Both panels are covering the themes of racism, authoritarianism, and far-right populism.

In April and May, I am speaking to two conferences of practitioners in Spokane on how to counter white nationalist recruitment of youth. One is a workshop for teachers, and the other is the east-side conference of the Washington Association of School Social Workers.

At the beginning of October, I’ll be speaking in Buffalo, NY at the Buffalo Conference on the Reception of Critical Theory. The conference is convened by John Abromeit, and he has recruited some big names, including Seyla Benhabib and (one of my personal Critical Theory heroes) Stephen Eric Bronner. I am on a panel with Martin Jay, addressing the far-right’s reception of Frankfurt School Critical Theory. I plan to speak on my research on the antisemitic conspiracy theory of “Cultural Marxism” as well as the influence of far-right intellectual and mentor of Richard Spencer, Paul Gottfried, on right-wing critical theory journal Telos.

In addition, I’ll be giving some smaller talks to local organizations, including the St. Aloysius Catholic Parish young adults group (on interfaith dialogue and Islamophobia/antisemitism) and the Spokane Democratic Socialists of America (on local hate groups and how we can push back). As event announcements and Facebook events are put out, I will try to keep you all updated.

New Article, Conferences, and Fighting Islamophobia

The latest issue of the Journal of Hate Studies is now available (open access) online: https://jhs.press.gonzaga.edu/18/volume/15/issue/1/. It includes my article, “Void and Idol: A Critical Theory of the Neo-Fascist Alt-Right.” There are some other articles I can’t wait to read!

It has been a busy couple of weeks. I participated in the Western States Center’s Activists Mobilizing for Power (AMP) conference, held in Spokane this year. I particularly enjoyed the panel on Islamophobia, and the panel on the far-right conducted by Political Research Associates. I made a lot of great connections for future collaboration.

The following weekend, I participated in the ERIP (Ethnic, Race, and Indigenous Peoples Conference) at Gonzaga University and presented a paper on Erich Fromm’s influence in the Caribbean and Mexico. (It’s long past time to “creolize” the Frankfurt School, as Lewis Gordon and others in the Caribbean Philosophical Association might put it.)

I’m currently excitedly participating in organizing a couple of upcoming events in Spokane on Islamophobia. In light of the current turn against Islamophobic State Representative Matt Shea, with even some local Republican leaders condemning Shea’s extremism, it seems to me that this could hardly be more timely. (Shea has fear-mongered against numerous groups, but he has targeted Muslim groups particularly, even starting a chapter of anti-Muslim hate group Act for America.)

Aneelah Afzali, Director of the American Muslim Empowerment Network, and Lutheran pastor Terry Kyllo will be presenting at two events:

*Thursday, October 3, 6pm in the Auditorium at Jepson Center at Gonzaga University, they will be presenting their “Faith Over Fear Roadshow,” helping us to understand the Islamophobia industry. The talk is sponsored by the Gonzaga Institute for Hate Studies.

*Saturday, October 5, 2pm-4pm, Aneelah and Pastor Terry will be conducting a training for community allies on resisting Islamophobia, at the Spokane Valley’s Islamic Center (6411 E. 2nd, Spokane Valley).

Both events are free; the public talk on October 3 is a good introduction to the topic, while the training on October 5 is aimed at community members who want a more in-depth plunge focused on putting ideas into practice.

Latest Research Projects

It’s hard to believe it’s already the first week of September.

I’ve received edits/feedback back for three of my current projects:

  • A journal article critiquing the antisemitic conspiracy theory of “Cultural Marxism.” (I study the Frankfurt School and fascists, so it’s about time I finally wrote something debunking the fascists’ conspiracy theory according to which the Jewish scholars of the Frankfurt School control the world.)
  • My publication proposal for my forthcoming book on fascism. (I am only slightly disappointed that they recommended a more professional-sounding title than Fascists–Why Are They Like This?)
  • A journal article on ethical considerations in how to share “compassion narratives,” i.e., the stories of former white supremacists who credit the unexpected compassionate outreach of members of marginalized groups with convincing them to leave white supremacist movements. (I’m always happy when people leave hate groups, but we need to find a way to share these stories in a way that helps people weigh the risks of outreach to those who wish them harm and removes any sense of pressure or coercion to engage in such work.)

Welcome — Dr. Joan Braune’s Research and Community Work

I’ve started this blog to help people stay in touch with me about my work in Hate Studies and Critical Theory, as well as my developing community-based work, including trainings for teachers and others on preventing fascist/white nationalist recruitment of youth and students around the country.

I’m Dr. Joan Braune. I’m an academic and a social justice advocate with over a decade of experience in community leadership. For the past few years, my research and activism has focused heavily on countering the rise of fascist movements and hate groups in the U.S. Northwest and more broadly. I’ve worked with community organizations, educators and school administrators, faith communities, organized labor, and others to form responses to threats, targeted recruitment and manipulative messaging by far-right extremists.

For the past few years, I have been teaching at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, where I currently serve on the Council of Experts for the Gonzaga University Institute for Hate Studies. (I am blogging only as myself, not representing Gonzaga University or any other organizations/employers.) For the past three years my research has focused heavily on fascism and hate groups, and how to overcome them. I have put my prior training in Frankfurt School Critical Theory, as well as my experience in both secular and faith-based social justice theory and practice, into the service of work against the spread of fascism and hate groups.

You can see my Curriculum Vitae and some of my writing by following me on Academia.edu, but I will also be posting updates here on my talks and writing.

Here I am at a lake in Montana, not protesting Nazis. Breaks are important!

I received my Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Kentucky in 2014. My dissertation (under Dr. Arnold Farr) and early academic work focused on Erich Fromm’s Critical Theory–Fromm’s work has been very influential on me, and I have been at the forefront of an ongoing Fromm renaissance, as scholars rediscovery Fromm’s contributions to socialist humanist theory and practice, psychoanalysis, and the Frankfurt School. My first book was Erich Fromm’s Revolutionary Hope: Prophetic Messianism as a Critical Theory of the Future. Kieran Durkin and I are co-editing a volume of essays on Erich Fromm’s Critical Theory that will be published very soon by Bloomsbury. (I’ll let you all know when it becomes available!)

I am currently writing a new book, on fascism and how to overcome it–the proposal is under review with Routledge, and I expect that text will become available in Summer 2020.

Here are just a few of my recent talks and shorter pieces, if you’d like a taste of my recent work. My talks on hate groups are not online, because they are usually tailored to specific audiences and often contain confidential conversations with participants. Please reach out if you have any questions about group trainings/workshops: braune.joan@gmail.com.