THE BLOOMINGTON COMMUNITY
How can Bloomington build resistance to white nationalism?
Although Bloomington has encountered periodic instances of white nationalism, ranging from isolated, to disruptive, to deadly in scale, the movement does not presently seem to be a strong presence in our city. But the events of 2019, when the city Farmers’ Market was closed because of tensions around white nationalism, suggest that our community would be better off if we took steps now to strengthen our ability to understand, prevent, recognize, and, if necessary, respond effectively to white nationalism. The white nationalist movement has grown significantly in the US over the past twenty years, and it would be naïve to imagine that Bloomington will not encounter it again.
Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a leading specialist in white nationalism and extremist movements advocates treating their spread as a public health issue, not just a political or security issue. The CO•RE website has been designed in that spirit. Its goal is not to be the community response, but to help inspire a community response, one that can be sustained as part of our area’s basic social infrastructure, raising awareness and strengthening the ability of families, schools, youth programs, the faith community, and all residents to prevent the spread of white nationalism and to respond constructively and effectively wherever it may emerge.
Former white nationalist Christian Picciolini points to three main needs that can make young people vulnerable to extremist recruitment: “identity, community, and purpose.” These are needs that all young people share, and where they are fulfilled through a balance of family, school, and community activity, kids will rarely be tempted to define themselves by membership in an extremist in-group. The transition to adulthood is a challenge, and every adolescent is at risk for seeking a dangerous shortcut through it at stressful points. Examples in Europe show that when communities strengthen resources to give young people opportunities to socialize, build skills, and express themselves in constructive work, the attractions of extremism are diminished.
Beyond those basic points, there are a number of ways that communities can strengthen their resistance to white nationalist extremism and their ability to respond to it if it appears.
“By pairing local initiatives with clear, national evidence about what works, fighting extremism isn’t as unwieldy as it may seem. For example, we learned from a study of 750 parents and caregivers that they needed only seven minutes of reading to improve their understanding of how radical ideas spread online. Parents, mental-health counselors, teachers, and coaches can learn to recognize warning signs of radicalization. Public libraries and schools can build media-literacy programs to help people be less susceptible to online manipulation.”
- Cynthia Miller-Idriss, Extremism Has Spread Into the Mainstream
- Communities can keep track of racial incidents through agencies such as local law enforcement. Data can be made available to local agencies that monitor for white nationalist impact on the community.
- Parents, students, and others should be able to quickly and confidentially report concerns connected with white nationalism, for example through hotlines that are prominently featured on school websites.
- Local public and private agencies that work with young people, including schools, churches, sports and other youth programs, and youth counselors, can coordinate efforts and communicate with parents and young people who seek guidance and counseling services.
- Local public and private schools can consider how to assess the vulnerability of their students and ways to strengthen resistance by:
- Ensuring that counselors are trained to detect signs of white nationalist engagement and respond appropriately.
- Building information about white nationalist online tactics into digital literacy programs.
- Developing programs in Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). This educational enhancement has been demonstrated to strengthen resistance to white nationalist recruitment along with many other beneficial effects.
In configuring these sorts of initiatives, communities need to be aware of two factors that will always affect their success:
- White nationalists will attempt to undermine the credibility of any program that seeks to limit their influence. Community efforts will constantly need to demonstrate credibility by remaining knowledgeable about white nationalism’s changing forms. It is important for communities to allow young people to express their true ideas and to respond to expressions of white nationalism by showing concern for all young people, including those who are harmed by it.
- Sharp political differences that currently divide virtually every community in America will impact efforts to unify in resisting white nationalism. To build resistance to something almost all citizens reject, community members on all points of the political spectrum need to listen, learn, and communicate in a shared effort.
We rely chiefly on five sources for this page: Cynthia Miller-Idriss’s, Hate in the Homeland (especially its concluding chapter), as well as her article, Extremism Has Spread into the Mainstream; Christian Picciolini’s Breaking Hate; Kurt Braddock’s Weaponized Words (especially chapter 2); and Preben Bertelsen’s article, Danish Preventive Measures and De-radicalization Strategies: The Aarhus Model, which examines practical steps taken to build resistance to radicalization in response to recruitment by ISIS in Europe.
This brief page is designed to grow as groups and individuals in Bloomington and Monroe County contribute concrete ideas that can translate these broad principles into practices specific to our local area. We also hope to add to the CO•RE website a list of contacts in our local schools, volunteer groups, faith community, and other public and private agencies, who will be working together to address the issues raised on this site, and who are ready to assist residents seeking help.
Updated, October 2021