Seductive Narratives: The Insurgence and Young White People

Hello White Community, 

We need to talk with our young people about this white extremist insurrection. Far-right recruiters continue to target white youth, liberal and conservative, with tailored messages.  We must counter those seductive narratives.

Not all youth are ambivalent. In some cases, we need to listen to, learn from, and share their level-headed leadership with other young people. For example, Helena Duke, an 18 year old white woman, called her mother out on Twitter for being part of the mob in DC who stormed the Capitol on January 6th. Helena could not tolerate the hypocrisy of her parents’ criticism for her support of peaceful Black Lives Matter protests when they were participating in insurrectionist violence. A young student in Florida videotaped a substitute teacher spreading false conspiracy theories about the insurrection and brought it to authorities. Many white youth are speaking up and taking action against racism and white supremacy. Let us support and encourage them in the face of the opposition. 

For other young people, we need to bring up racism and discuss how to take antiracist action.  If we don’t, white extremists will fill the void. As heart-breaking as it is to believe, images of insurgent white people “fighting” for their beliefs can be attractive and empowering to youth. Martyrs from the insurrection are already being used in recruiting efforts. We must be vigilant about the images and messages our children consume. Please do not allow the white youth in your life to be exposed to these images and messages without providing context and processing that there is another way.

Young white people need to hear that this is not the only way to be white.  They need to know that many white people throughout history have stood up to racism. They need positive role models of what it means to be a powerful white antiracist. 

For many in our country, this attack did not come out of the blue. We’ve had countless warnings from Black people and other people of color, and we haven’t listened. We’ve also had warnings within our own white community. In the New York Times, Joanna Schroeder warned about the desensitizing roles that memes and other online content play. In the Washingtonian, a mother shared the story of how her son was recruited into the alt-right through memes about misogyny, antisemitism, and Islamophobia. He even became a moderator for a far-right Reddit group.  If this feels new to you, take in the power of these stories and the guidance they offer to progressive and liberal parents of white children. These dangers are real.

I was moved to write this after thinking about Kyle Rittenhouse, the white teen from Antioch who showed up armed in Kenosha to “defend property” from Black protesters. By the end of the evening, Rittenhouse killed two white people and injured a third. A detail that many overlook in the narrative of his “pro-police” stance is that he walked alongside Boogaloo Boi members in Kenosha. Far-right messaging claims that Kyle was protecting law and order, and that message resulted in over a million dollars raised in his defense, including from a Christian crowdfunding site

The week after the insurrection, the underage Rittenhouse was photographed at a bar, drinking with Proud Boy members, flashing white nationalist symbolists, and wearing a t-shirt declaring “Free as F***.” As a result, prosecutors have asked that Rittenhouse be banned from such behavior. Rittenhouse is already a hero to some. This is the power of narrative, and why we have to have our own, ready to share with our youth. What will you do if he is a hero to your youth? We cannot fool ourselves into thinking our children are immune. 

The targeting of children persists. In a “Save the Republic” rally on January 5th, Illinois Representative Mary Miller said, “This is the battle. Hitler was right on one thing: He said, ‘Whoever has the youth, has the future.’ ” Although she later apologized for the Hitler reference after pressure, she remained clear about the importance of focusing on youth. Andrew Anglin, the founder and editor of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, has openly stated that they target boys as young as eleven, declaring, “My site is mainly designed to target children.” Our children are indeed the future. Let’s be clear about what kind of future we will guide them towards.

Pay close attention to the ways in which anti-government militias (Three-percenters and Oath Keepers), right-wing propagandists (QAnon), far white Christian nationalists, and other organized nationalist groups (VDARE)  have come together in that targeting by exploiting concerns about free speech and gun rights. I hope to provide an education and discussion guide on those topics soon. In the meantime, here are some resources to help parents, guardians, teachers, administrators, counselors, coaches, caregivers, and spiritual leaders:

Please take courageous action, disrupt the narratives, and build our antiracist collective.

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