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When young people become engaged with white nationalism, signs of that engagement usually appear as new patterns of speech and behavior, as well as changes in social and online activity. Kids may spend more time alone, less time with friends, and too much time online. They may begin using specific words or symbols with white nationalist connections. Being familiar with these will help you recognize possible warning signs. However, be careful of jumping too quickly to conclusions, because many of the words and symbols are also in common use outside of white nationalism.

While teenagers may be intrigued by an initial encounter with white nationalism, most will quickly disengage when they discover ideas or behavior that conflict with their core values. You can help them to disengage by responding in a measured way that reinforces family values while respecting young people’s desire to make their own decisions. Avoid overreacting or aggressively challenging their new interest. Instead, stay low key: good listening and thoughtful questions may be your most powerful tools. Look for opportunities to reinforce positive core values.

Visual symbols

White nationalists use imagery to mark their commitment and signal in-group membership. Recruits may display these symbols on clothes, tattoos, bumper stickers, jewelry, and so on. Some more traditional white nationalist groups continue use the swastika and other images associated with Nazism. But newer groups have replaced those older images with others, such as Pepe the Frog or the OK hand gesture that are less likely to provoke negative reactions. Some white nationalists continue to make use of caricatures that borrow longstanding European anti-Semitic images of Jews as visibly greedy and physically monstrous.

One way people frequently express their engagement with white nationalism is through music, particularly music of performers associated with the ideology, and this music is often accompanied by visual signs. Posters or logos associated with White Power music genres, such as “fashwave” or certain types of “black metal” music (known as “National Socialist Black Metal,” or NSBM), may be signs of engagement. However, heavy metal and punk bands of all kinds use imagery that some people may consider shocking. If a young person has become attached to a band that uses such imagery, search for the band online before assuming it promotes white nationalism; some metal bands, for instance, actively oppose white nationalism.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has an extensive directory of scores of white nationalist “memes,” sortable by category. Consult its “Hate on Display” list if you’re concerned about the visual symbols a young person is using.

In-group speech and trolling behavior

White nationalists coins new phrases and change the ordinary meanings of terms in everyday use. Listen for mentions of “white genocide” or talk of “red pills,” or deriding someone as a “cuck.” Anti-Semitic white nationalists often ironically refer to themselves using the term “goy,” which is a Hebrew word denoting those who are not Jewish.

These are examples of “insider” terms and expressions, mostly used by and within the white nationalist movement. Other terms favored by white nationalists are in more common usage: for example, “snowflake,” “SJW” and “virtue signaling,” and are not in themselves warning signs. See the Glossary for a more detailed list.

Newer white nationalist groups rely on edgy humor and ambiguity, which can allow people to claim that they are just joking when they use insider terms. Phrases are sometimes used ironically. For example, a white nationalist who uses neo-Nazi phrases or symbols may be called a “fash” (for “fascist”) or “wignat” (for “wigged-out nationalist”), mocking the style, but not the substance of their commitment to the movement.

Demeaning language

Speech that mocks or disparages groups of people who are the primary targets of white nationalists because of race (such as people of color, Muslims, or Jews) often signals the influence of white nationalism. But white nationalism in America also has close connections with attitudes that are anti-feminist or plainly misogynist, and with hostility towards LGBTQ individuals.

The use of demeaning terms when speaking of gender or sexuality may also be the product of engagement with white nationalists, although, these views, like anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic views, are also frequently encountered in other spheres independent of white nationalism.

Because demeaning language based on race, religion, or sex is so widespread we can’t assume that an isolated instance of a young person using such language is revealing a connection with white nationalism. But even those who use such speech understand that it violates social rules, and an adult or a young person overhearing such language can always call it out. By simply asking, “Why would you use a word like that?” a parent, teacher, or friend may be able to discover whether the influence of white nationalism lies behind it.

Online activity

Online socializing is a huge part of most young people’s lives and is usually unrelated to white nationalism. But certain online sites are increasingly the first meaningful points of entry for young people who become engaged with white nationalism. In addition, white nationalists engage their audiences through social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Discord, Telegram, and Gab, and they even recruit through gaming platforms like DLive.

Often young people first encounter sites or YouTube personalities whose ideas seem relatively ordinary and who have attractive presentations. These sites and vloggers, alongside Internet algorithms, such as those used by YouTube to recommend further links based on a user’s past selections, draw young people further and further towards more extreme presentations of white nationalist ideas and calls to action, each step seeming small. Comment sections and links to chat sites with regular contributors reinforce increasingly extreme content by placing it in the context of a familiar community. Through such processes extreme content is gradually “normalized” and reinforced by a social circle. Ideas and positions that a young person might initially have recognized as sharp violations of their values begin to appear acceptable through gradual normalization and group reinforcement.

When young people discover that the white nationalist ideas of these new online social groups are not acceptable to their other friends, they often simply replace local social engagement with time spent on interactive websites. This shift in focus can also begin if a teenager simply has few friends to begin with, feels marginalized, or has been bullied. Increased in-person seclusion accompanied by a focus on Internet activity can be a warning sign that a young person has found new “friends” online.

For a more detailed overview, including a survey of some of the most popular white nationalist platforms and sites, see White Nationalism Online.

Decreased social engagement

When a young person has few friends in daily life, they become vulnerable to white nationalists online, who offer various types of “friendship.” Decreasing engagement with friends in the real world is the flip side of increasing engagement with online communities that may include white nationalists.

Adolescence can be stressful. It’s common for teenagers to go through periods of mild depression or mood swings that may lead to less time spent with friends. While decreased social engagement is usually not connected with issues of white nationalism, when young people do become engaged with white nationalism, it frequently has a strong effect on their social lives.

Sources & Discussion2022-04-23T13:52:30+00:00

Discussions of individual white nationalist memes (icons or words that catch on and spread virally) appear in many books and news sources. George Hawley’s book, The Alt-Right: What Everyone Needs to Know has a particularly helpful introduction to white nationalist uses of visual and verbal memes and clear explanations of some of the most influential (pp. 110-18).

We discuss music here, under visual signs, because the music itself, with lyrics frequently unintelligible, is less likely to stand out initially than CD covers, posters, and band logos. Locating good discussions of “white power music” is complex because the term spreads over many genres (country, rock, metal, electronic), and because singers and bands rapidly come and go, articles on the music scene are quickly dated. Because of repeated patterns and strategies in white nationalist music, however, some older sources still provide useful information, such as the Anti-Defamation League’s The Sounds of Hate: The White Power Music Scene in the United States in 2012. Three more recent short articles by Southern Poverty Law Center are:  Fashwave, the Electronic Music of the Alt-Right, is Just More Hateful Subterfuge (2017), Suspect in Church Burnings Influenced by ‘Black Metal’ Music, Police Say, But Not All Black Metal Is the Same (2019), and SPLC, Hate Music (2020).

“Many people remain mystified as to how an innocuous cartoon frog with no ideological content became associated with white nationalism and anti-Semitism.”

“I had some racist views before I started listening to music but once I heard that first Skrewdriver song, I was sold. It really did change my life.”

Many sources discuss the process through which young people are recruited by white nationalists online. Two that focus on individual cases are Luke Munn, Alt-right Pipeline: Individual Journeys to Extremism Online, and Kevin Roose, The Making of a YouTube Radical. Both include descriptions of the experience of Caleb Cain, a former white nationalist vlogger who now posts videos under the name, Faraday Speaks, recounting how white nationalist material online attracted him. Christy Somos, Dismantling the ‘Alt-Right Playbook’: YouTuber Explains How Online Radicalization Works, describes the analysis of online radicalization developed by another YouTube personality, Ian Danskin, who focuses on the dynamics of white nationalist recruitment.

More discussion of sources appears on the White Nationalism Online page.

Updated, October 2021

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