A CALL TO EDUCATE, PARTICIPATE, INVOKE AND INDICT: UNDERSTANDING THE COMMUNICATION OF ONLINE HATE GROUPS
by Lacy G. McNamee, Brittany L. Peterson & Jorge Pena
NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT
YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.
This study analyzes the messages in hate group websites using a grounded theory approach. Through this process of interpretive inquiry we propose four prominent themes -- educate, participate, invoke, and indict -- that characterize the messages examined in 21 hate groups. These message themes speak to the: (a) education of members and external publics; (b) participation within the group and in the public realm; (c) invocation of divine calling and privilege; and (d) indictment of external groups including the government, media, and entertainment industries, and other extremist sects. In advancing a substantive grounded theory of online hate group communication, we also explore the potential of these themes to ostensibly reinforce the hate group’s identity, reduce external threats, and recruit new members.
Keywords: Group Communication; Hate Groups; Extremist Groups; Grounded Theory
This is an institution of Chivalry, Humanity, Mercy, and Patriotism . . . working to rebuild our collapsing society on the basis of faith, honor, duty, courage, and brotherhood. 
As I have been saying for years, nothing but VIOLENCE upon our enemies will accomplish anything. Public marches, rallies, meetings . . . foster nothing but unneeded attention. 
The tones of the above statements stand in stark opposition with one another. One is patriotic and even affable, whereas the other is subversive and violent. Ironically, though, both messages are featured on extremist or hate group websites. This contrast begs the question of whether hate groups exclusively and explicitly convey hate in their online communication. News reports often lead us to infer that overtly hateful speech is prominent among hate group websites (e.g., Kilchling, 2008; Scheider, 1995). However, the perception that hate groups’ online messages are exclusively and explicitly inflammatory may be erroneous. Some studies offer evidence to support the notion that hate groups put forth violent messages (Bostdorff, 2004; Glaser, Dixit, & Green, 2002). However, these and other studies often also highlight the fact that hate groups communicate congenially by focusing on their own identity, mission, and prestige (e.g., Duffy, 2003; Gerstenfeld, Grant, & Chiang, 2003). Thus, the literature may convey a somewhat uncertain view of the messages that hate groups communicate online.
One fact is clear, though: hate groups are increasingly using the internet as a vehicle to spread their message. Two of the leading watchdog organizations, HateWatch and the Southern Poverty Law Center, respectively catalogued 400 and 366 hate websites by the year 2000 (cited in Levin, 2002). Representatives of hate groups have also confirmed the pivotal role that the internet plays. For example, the National Director of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), Thomas Robb, stated in a recent interview, ‘‘we don’t really need the media any more . . . the only thing we need is the internet’’ (see Garland, 2008). Considering this, it is critical for communication scholars and practitioners to decipher the range and depth of messages found on hate group websites in order to understand, theorize, and respond to these often elusive groups.
Accordingly, the aim of this study is to offer a qualitative assessment of the messages put forth by hate groups on the internet. In pursuit of this aim, we use an interpretive grounded theory approach (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) which promotes the systematic generation of conceptual frameworks and theories through a uniquely inductive, iterative process of data collection and analysis (see also, Bryant & Charmaz, 2007a; Strauss & Corbin, 1990, 1998). In essence, we arrive at discovery in a way that is informed by the prevailing theories and literature but is foremost anchored or grounded in the data itself (Charmaz, 2000). Previous scholars have contributed to our understanding of web-based hate group communication by taking a number of valuable approaches including rhetorical criticism (Bostdorff, 2004; Duffy, 2003; McPherson, 2000), cultural studies (Zickmund, 2000), content analysis (Douglas, McGarty, Bluic, & Lala, 2005; Gerstenfeld et al., 2003; Schafer, 2002), experimental design and questionnaires (Lee & Leets, 2002), interviews and ethnographic inquiry (Glaser et al., 2002), network analysis (Burris, Smith, & Strahm, 2000), and historical, legal analysis (Levin, 2002). To date, though, there have been few, if any, studies that take a grounded theory approach to analyzing online hate group communication.
In taking this approach we offer four theoretical propositions about the central themes in hate group messages, and we explore three ways that these message themes may serve the group. Previous quantitative content analyses (e.g., Gerstenfeld et al., 2003; Schafer, 2002) have identified different message topics (e.g., criteria for group membership, group mission and goals), but these studies seldom offer extensive appraisal of the qualitative dimensions in these messages. For example, while Gerstenfeld et al. (2003) surveyed 157 websites maintained by multiple types of hate groups, their study only calculated the presence/absence of nine elements (e.g., multimedia content; mentions of economic issues; advocacy of violence). Conversely, rhetorical studies have provided some noteworthy insight into message dimensions (e.g., Bostorff, 2004), but these studies have been typically confined to a single type of hate group (e.g., all KKK sites) (see Duffy, 2003 for an exception). Further, many studies to date (e.g., Burris et al., 2000; Glaser et al., 2002; Lee & Leets, 2002) have focused exclusively on a particular group (e.g., a KKK chapter) or set of groups (e.g., white pride). Scholars such as Bostdorff (2004), though, have encouraged researchers to examine multiple groups in order to advance theory about hate groups as a whole. Thus, the present study extends the current literature by providing a rich, qualitative analysis of the communicative themes in an array of different hate group websites. In pursuit of this aim, the following section expounds on the existing literature and opportunities for continued discovery. Subsequently, the methods section explains the rationale and structure for this study design. Next, the messages analyzed are discussed in terms of four central themes and 15 subcategories of meaning, followed by a discussion of how these themes may ostensibly serve the group. Finally, the paper concludes by addressing the study’s limitations and highlighting several opportunities to advance the grounded theory presented here in future studies.
I first met Weev in an online chat room that I visited while staying at Fortuny’s house. “I hack, I ruin, I make piles of money,” he boasted. “I make people afraid for their lives.” On the phone that night, Weev displayed a misanthropy far harsher than Fortuny’s. “Trolling is basically Internet eugenics,” he said, his voice pitching up like a jet engine on the runway. “I want everyone off the Internet. Bloggers are filth. They need to be destroyed. Blogging gives the illusion of participation to a bunch of retards. . . . We need to put these people in the oven!”
I listened for a few more minutes as Weev held forth on the Federal Reserve and about Jews. Unlike Fortuny, he made no attempt to reconcile his trolling with conventional social norms. Two days later, I flew to Los Angeles and met Weev at a train station in Fullerton, a sleepy bungalow town folded into the vast Orange County grid. He is in his early 20s with full lips, darting eyes and a nest of hair falling back from his temples. He has a way of leaning in as he makes a point, inviting you to share what might or might not be a joke.
As we walked through Fullerton’s downtown, Weev told me about his day — he’d lost $10,000 on the commodities market, he claimed — and summarized his philosophy of “global ruin.” “We are headed for a Malthusian crisis,” he said, with professorial confidence. “Plankton levels are dropping. Bees are dying. There are tortilla riots in Mexico, the highest wheat prices in 30-odd years.” He paused. “The question we have to answer is: How do we kill four of the world’s six billion people in the most just way possible?” He seemed excited to have said this aloud.
Ideas like these bring trouble. Almost a year ago, while in the midst of an LSD-and-methamphetamine bender, a longer-haired, wilder-eyed Weev gave a talk called “Internet Crime” at a San Diego hacker convention. He expounded on diverse topics like hacking the Firefox browser, online trade in illegal weaponry and assassination markets — untraceable online betting pools that pay whoever predicts the exact date of a political leader’s demise. The talk led to two uncomfortable interviews with federal agents and the decision to shed his legal identity altogether. Weev now espouses “the ruin lifestyle” — moving from condo to condo, living out of three bags, no name, no possessions, all assets held offshore. As a member of a group of hackers called “the organization,” which, he says, bring in upward of $10 million annually, he says he can wreak ruin from anywhere....
I asked about the status of Weev’s campaign against humanity. Things seemed rather stable, I said, even with all this talk of trolling and hacking.
“We’re waiting,” Weev said. “We need someone to show us the way. The messiah.”
“How do you know it’s not you?” I asked.
“If it were me, I would know,” he said. “I would receive a sign.”
Zeno of Elea, Socrates and Jesus, Weev said, are his all-time favorite trolls. He also identifies with Coyote and Loki, the trickster gods, and especially with Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction. “Loki was a hacker. The other gods feared him, but they needed his tools.”
--The Trolls Among Us, by Mattathias Schwartz
One of the prominent interests in general studies of hate groups (i.e., studies not necessarily confined to the internet) is the extent to which hate groups advocate violence (e.g., Blee, 2007). In line with this interest, web-based studies have also focused on whether hate groups explicitly promote violence and express inflammatory views (e.g., Douglas et al., 2005; Glaser et al., 2002). Glaser et al. (2002) explored this issue by interacting with individuals in white supremacist chat rooms. The researchers presented messages to participants that represented the following threat types: low (e.g., job competition), moderate (e.g., minority immigration), and high (e.g., interracial marriage); they also manipulated variations in the threat’s reach along personal, local, and national scales. The authors discovered that respondents only advocated violence in response to issues perceived as imposing a high and intimate threat (e.g., a firsthand encounter with interracial marriage). In line with this conclusion, Douglas et al.’s (2005) study of self-enhancement strategies in white supremacist websites also found minimal levels of violence advocacy. Alternatively, they discovered that white supremacist websites were more likely to feature socially creative strategies, or indirect and unorthodox strategies of comparison against targeted outgroups. Essentially, they contend that website content is centered more on reframing audience perceptions of the white supremacist group and less on overt campaigns against other outgroups.
In a slightly different vein, Zickmund (2000) posits that hate sites put forth subversive messages by focusing on blameworthy outgroups or ‘‘the other.’’ She argues that these sites demonstrate that ‘‘radicals are supportive of persecuting innocent members of society,’’ but she also highlights the fact that hate groups promote these attitudes in subtle and unconventional ways (p. 251). For example, she notes that extremist Christian groups do not simply advocate violence toward Jewish people; rather, Zickmund offers evidence that these hate groups present narratives and distorted historical accounts in order to demonize Jewish people and position them as deserving of punishment. Finally, Gerstenfeld et al.’s (2003) content analysis of 157 hate group websites found mixed results regarding overt promotion of violence, as well. Essentially, they found evidence of both nonviolent and violent messages among the numerous categories of hate groups examined. The existing literature suggests, then, that hate groups may avoid openly advocating violence online in an effort to enhance their image (Douglas et al., 2005) and/or circumvent governmental sanctions (Gerstenfeld et al., 2003; see also Levin, 2002). As such, it follows that hate groups must communicate something other than violence centered messages.
Hence, scholars have also devoted considerable attention to how hate groups persuade outsiders and recruit new members. For example, Lee and Leet’s (2002) experiment examined the persuasiveness of hate group narratives with adolescents. Toward this end, the authors used stimulus materials gleaned from hate group websites that reflected levels of story involvement ranging from high (i.e., extremely detailed plot with characters) to low (i.e., no plots and thoughts were not meaningfully linked together), and beliefs ranging from implicit (e.g., ‘‘Rich heritage is an honor and a privilege’’) to explicit (e.g., ‘‘To be born WHITE is an honor and a privilege’’) (p. 937). The authors concluded that highly involved stories with implicit messages were most persuasive or likely to change participant attitudes. In a similar vein, Blazak’s (2001) examination of the recruitment strategies of Nazi skinheads suggests that these groups use the internet to specifically target teenagers and ‘‘indoctrinate them into a world of terror’’ (p. 982); albeit, the author does not specifically address how the hate group indoctrinates teenagers through their messages.
Previous rhetorical analyses do, however, provide more detailed accounts of these persuasive strategies. For example, Bostdorff’s (2004) analysis of KKK websites suggests that there are six prominent elements in the group’s persuasive messages: (a) inflammatory speech; (b) religious imagery and language; (c) pleas to mobilize and action; (d) appeals to white masculinity; (e) special attention to women and children; and (f) promotion of violence but in a plausibly deniable manner. Additionally, Duffy’s (2003) fantasy theme analysis provides insight into the persuasive nature of hate group online messages. Using Bormann’s (1972) symbolic convergence theory to frame the study, Duffy concludes that hate groups cite ‘‘legitimizing authority in the form of a greater force -- God, Jesus Christ, Yahweh, Allah, or Nature’’ to justify their attitudes and actions toward other groups (p. 310). She also argues that Bormann’s (1985) notion of two American rhetorical visions, God’s chosen people and we shall overcome, aptly summarize the rhetorical visions of hate groups. In sum, she contends that these messages rally hate group members together and help them to justify their views. In addition to religion, McPherson’s (2000) rhetorical analysis demonstrates that Neo-Confederate websites intertwine place, race, and identity into their messages. McPherson posits that though racial entitlement is a fundamental issue, it often is not overtly addressed. Rather, the author contends that it is subtly addressed through messages about land entitlement and historical identity. By emphasizing the ideals of the ‘‘Old South,’’ McPherson argues that group members rhetorically construct a positive group identity.
Thus, the literature to date suggests the following pertinent ideas: (a) violence is both openly advocated and subtly promoted; (b) messages are often catered to segmented populations such as white males, women, adolescents, and children; (c) themes and symbols are often religious; (d) attention is devoted to reclaiming symbolic status and/or tangible geographic space; (e) outgroups are presented both as blameworthy perpetrators and innocent yet inferior populations; and (f) messages appear to be designed in order to enhance group identity and/or recruit additional members. While this current body of literature extends our knowledge of hate groups and the [PIECE MISSING HERE]
Opportunities for Further Inquiry
First, some studies provide only peripheral treatment of the specific message characteristics in hate group websites. For example, Schafer’s (2002) content analysis examines ‘‘information provided,’’ and ‘‘modes of communication.’’ However, the study focuses more on types of information resources (e.g., information about product sales, membership, and upcoming events) and communication tools (e.g., chat rooms, guest books, personal ads); it does not provide any insight into the qualitative dimensions of the messages themselves. In the same vein, Gerstenfeld et al.’s (2003) content analysis reports on the ‘‘content type’’ in 157 hate sites, but the analysis does not provide an in-depth assessment of message dimensions. That is, the authors extend our knowledge by pointing out that these sites put forth messages that: (a) deny hateful goals or affiliations; (b) simultaneously contradict themselves (e.g., condemn and promote violence); and (c) provide misleading or false information, but they do not extensively develop these ideas. Additionally, Glaser et al.’s (2002) chat room study focuses on hate groups and the internet, but their findings are centered more on how hate group members respond to certain issues (e.g., interracial marriage; immigration) rather than on how hate groups construct their own messages. Likewise, Blazak (2001) mentions that hate groups target teenagers through the internet, but he does not elaborate on how they seduce them with their messages.
Second, although some previous studies offer rich descriptions and appraisals of message content, many of these analyses are limited to a single group or category of groups. For example, Douglas et al. (2005) provide a compelling view of the use of socially creative versus social conflict message strategies, but their study is confined to white supremacist groups. Likewise, Lee and Leets (2002) offer an insightful analysis of the persuasive power of online narratives, but they limit their study to white pride and white supremacy groups. Additionally, the rhetorical analyses to date provide particularly rich views of website messages, but some of these study designs do not lend themselves to theorizing about hate groups in general. For example, Bostdorff’s (2004) and McPherson’s (2000) analyses, while exhaustive, are respectively limited to KKK and Neo-Confederate groups; and, although Duffy (2003) examines four categories of hate groups, her analysis is limited to four discreet websites.
In sum, the literature to date suggests that hate groups communicate in a sophisticated manner online and use an array of carefully crafted, persuasive messages to communicate their ideas, beliefs, objectives, and values. However, present studies do not explicitly address whether the message characteristics in one type of group (e.g., KKK religious symbolism) are consistent with the message characteristics in other groups (e.g., black separatists). Thus, our understanding of the qualitative dimensions that characterize online hate group messages as a whole is still unclear. The present study attempts to advance our knowledge in this area. In pursuit of this goal, two research questions are posed to guide this study:
RQ1: What are the specific messages put forth by online hate groups?
RQ2: What functions do these messages potentially serve for hate groups?
This study employs a grounded theory approach (Glaser & Strauss, 1967), a method of interpretive inquiry that stresses inductive and iterative analysis (see also Bryant & Charmaz, 2007a; Strauss & Corbin, 1990, 1998). Scholars who engage in grounded theoretical analyses adhere to the interpretive values shared by all qualitative researchers. Particularly, though, they emphasize the process of constant comparison (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) of data to theoretical categories and the development of theoretical frameworks through saturation of coding categories (Bryant & Charmaz, 2007a). That is, grounded theorists arrive at discovery in a way that is informed by the prevailing theories and literature but is foremost anchored or grounded in the data itself (Charmaz, 2000).
The present study is designed to establish a substantive theoretical interpretation of an issue in a particular area (e.g., doctor-patient communication; superior-subordinate relationships; self-managed teams) rather than a formal grounded theory of a generic process that pertains to all groups (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). That is, the results of this analysis foremost offer rich, theoretical insight into the online messages of hate groups, and while these findings may be relevant to other areas of group study, this is not guaranteed in the analysis. As such, our approach reflects a grounded theory epistemological stance that acknowledges a knowable reality but also embraces the notion of reality as multiple and subject to redefinition (Bryant & Charmaz, 2007b). In sum, we view ourselves as ‘‘interpreter[s] of the scene, not as the ultimate authorit[ies] defining it’’ (p. 52). Hence, the goal of this analysis is representation of the phenomena rather than replication. The remainder of this section further discusses how data was collected and analyzed.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s (2008) comprehensive listing of active hate groups in the United States was used to locate the range of hate group websites analyzed in this study. Hate groups primarily established in Texas were chosen because this state has one of the highest numbers of hate groups (55 total), and its border status provided a heterogeneous sample of different types of hate groups (e.g., KKK, Neo-Confederate, Black Separatist). Of the 55 Texas hate groups catalogued by the Southern Poverty Law Center, 28 of them featured a publicly accessible website that was clearly operated by the group. Of these websites, 21 were ultimately included in the analysis for two reasons: Four websites were excluded because they were closed or under construction, and three websites were excluded because they existed for the central purpose of marketing merchandise (e.g., music and clothing).
Thus, seven categories of hate groups and 21 specific websites were examined in the analysis including: two Black Separatist (Nation of Islam or NOI, New Black Panther Party), one Christian identity (Gospel Broadcasting Association), three General hate (Border Guardians, Jewish Defense League, and Power of Prophecy), eight KKK (Imperial Klans of America, National Knights of the KKK, Brotherhood of Klans Knights of the KKK, Bayou Knights of the KKK, American White Knights of the KKK, Empire Knights of the KKK, Texas Knights of the Invisible Empire Inc., and White Camelia Knights of the KKK), one Neo-Confederate (League of the South), four Neo-Nazi (White Revolution, Aryan Nations, National Alliance, and National Socialist Movement), and two Racist skinhead (Confederate Hammerskins, and Lone Star State Skinheads).
All of the websites examined in this study were publicly accessible at the time of data collection and required no membership to observe the main site content. The principal researcher acted as a detached observer during data collection and refrained from interacting with site users. Analyzed data included text from the homepage and tabs accessed from this location. In order to manage the data analysis, all text included was copied into an Excel spreadsheet and catalogued.
The data was analyzed using the constant comparative method of qualitative analysis (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; see also Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Bryant and Charmaz (2007a) summarize constant comparison as a ‘‘method of analysis that generates successively more abstract concepts and theories through inductive processes of comparing: (a) data with data; (b) data with category; (c) category with category; and (d) category to concept’’ (p. 607). In the context of this study, the principal investigator engaged in several rounds of coding, reviews of the existing literature, memo-writing, and analytical checks with the co-authors. These processes are described in turn, but it is important to note that these activities often overlap or occur in tandem (Strauss & Corbin, 1998).
In the beginning stages of the analysis, the principal investigator conducted a round of open coding, a process of ‘‘breaking down, examining, comparing, conceptualizing, and categorizingdata’’ along numerous properties and dimensions (Strauss & Corbin, 1990, p. 61). The units of analysis or incidents used for coding were determined by textual separations put in place by the website authors (e.g., paragraph indentations, line spaces, or bullet points). The motivation for doing this was to attempt to examine distinct thoughts or ideas; thus, a unit or incident may have been comprised of a single sentence or a short paragraph. This activity produced 59 open codes that were both symbolic (e.g., chosen) and contextual (e.g., criticizing the media and entertainment industry) in nature. Next, the researcher reduced the number of codes to 34 by collapsing and reassigning similar or redundant codes. During this process, the principal researcher wrote memos regarding the significance of specific codes and the potential relationships among the codes. After reflecting on the memos and discussing emerging themes with the remaining authors, the principal researcher reduced the remaining codes to 15 categories of significance.
Additionally, the researcher engaged in a process of axial coding or a type of coding that treats a large category as an axis around which other codes with common relationships, properties, and/or dimensions are tied together (Corbin & Strauss, 1990; Strauss & Corbin, 1990). This process enables the researcher to synthesize the data into a lucid and meaningful whole (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Thus, the 15 categories of significance in this analysis are discussed in terms of four central concepts or themes. As Browning, Beyer, and Shetler (1995) state, this type of coding helps to convey a ‘‘coherent story’’ derived from the data (p. 138). Strauss and Corbin (1990) also argue that this process ensures that the final analysis is both complex as well as precise.
Since the foundation of this study is build upon interpretive representation, it is improbable to assume that bias can be removed from the analysis. Rather, the task at hand is to demonstrate that the process of data collection and analysis was both reflexive and rigorous. Because the first author conducted the bulk of the initial analysis, demonstrating reflexivity, or critically reflecting and accounting for one’s subjectivities throughout the research process (Altheide & Johnson, 1998; Johnson, 1999), was particularly imperative.
This was accomplished, in part, by consulting the extant literature after the initial analysis. Reviewing the literature following the initial analysis ensured that the researcher was not inadvertently guided by the assumptions of previous studies. Subsequently comparing the results with previous studies, though, ensured that we made a significant contribution to the literature. Reflexivity was also ensured through the use of peer review (see Johnson, 1999). Throughout the analytical process the first author discussed her interpretations with the second and third authors, who served as the principal investigators in a related quantitative project. Thus, these authors served as ‘‘devil’s advocates’’ who challenged the first author to offer clear evidence to support her conclusions. These individuals also challenged the first author to critically evaluate whether the final results constitute a theoretically meaningful conceptual product.
Additionally, we took several steps to demonstrate rigor, often referred to as evidence of a committed study, sufficient data, or saturation (see Janesick, 2000; Lindlof & Taylor, 2002; Taylor & Trujillo, 2001). First, we reached theoretical saturation by returning to the websites and continually extracting more data from tabs and hyperlinks about each axial code until this activity ceased to produce further theoretical insight. Essentially, we analyzed and reanalyzed the websites until we were no longer surprised by anything we found. Second, we also engaged in negative case analysis of one website from each of the seven categories of hate groups in an effort to locate incidents that contradicted or challenged the emerging results.
The initial open coding analysis produced 59 codes that were eventually condensed to 15 categories through constant comparison. Together, these categories are organized into four overarching themes, education, participation, invocation, and indictment, which represent the central messages put forth by hate groups online (RQ1). Table 1 provides an overview of the concepts and categories emerging from this analysis.
One of the most prominent themes in online hate group messages is education. This theme is expressed indirectly through the edifying tone which characterizes many messages, but it is also expressed directly as a central aim of the group. For example, some organizations explicitly state that they are fundamentally ‘‘educational organization[s]’’ (e.g., Empire Knights of the KKK). Additionally, specific education-focused treatises include critiques of mainstream educational systems (e.g., public schools) and calls for members to serve as teachers to friends, family, and the public. Four categories characterize the facets of this theoretical concept, and they are described in turn. The first two categories, reinterpreting history and reporting news, address negative issues and perceptions that are external to the hate group while citizenship and legacy alternatively stress positive aspects of the group itself.
Reinterpreting history. Many educational messages explain or clarify past hate group activities and historical events by focusing on perceptions and stereotypes of the group. For example, the Bayou Knights’ website addresses the enduring public perception that the KKK hates nonwhite people, stating that this is one of the ‘‘greatest misconceptions people have regarding the Klan.’’ They attempt to combat this perception with the following historical lesson:
During the Reconstruction Era and the turbulent 1960’s some Klansmen and Klan organizations did strike out against. . .members of the Negro race. Occasionally without a doubt, some innocent people became victims. [But] the FACT remains that many of the acts of violence attributed to the Ku Klux Klan were actually committed by agents of the government and also by Negro organizations themselves.
Thus, some messages such as this are crafted in a manner which simultaneously acknowledges and rebuffs history. Other history lessons, though, wholly deny prevailing historical accounts. Rather, they construct alternative truths built upon contradictory narratives and statistical evidence. The prototypical example of this reinterpretation is in the Neo-Nazi denial of the Jewish Holocaust. All four Neo-Nazi sites advanced this alternative truth with statistics and stories featuring titles such as, ‘‘OFFICIAL RECORDS FROM INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS PROVE ‘HOLOCAUST’ WAS A FRAUD!’’ Together, these examples demonstrate that reinterpretations focus both on the hate group as well as targeted outgroups.
Reporting news. In a similar vein, an edifying concept also ran through topics dealing with current events and issues. Like the history-centered messages, these messages often focus on clarifying or contradicting mainstream accounts, but these messages are also unique in that they are typically presented in the tone and style of a news expose´. For example, in their discussion of immigration policy, the American White Knights of the KKK state, ‘‘Find out the true agenda of the Open Borders Lobby. You will be shocked at how they twist, bend, and violate our laws! Our special undercover agent has gone to their meetings, and stripped them bare in these mind-blowing reports.’’ This is one of several messages that positions the hate group as a reporter or watchdog figure. Further, these messages often feature new-style headlines such as the Border Guardian’s: ‘‘N.Y. to issue special driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, October 28, 2007/WASHINGTON.’’ This headline exemplifies a consistent element in these stories: a focus on issues that are perceived to be largely underreported in traditional news media outlets.
Citizenship. In addition to reframing issues that cast the hate group in a negative light, education-themed messages also focus inward by emphasizing the group’s upright and law-abiding nature. To illustrate, the Jewish Defense League claims that it walks elderly people to church, provides food for the poor, and helps to solve problems in its neighborhood. Likewise, the League of the South stresses that it ‘‘disavows a spirit of malice and extends an offer of goodwill and cooperation’’ to people in the area. These statements represent a number of messages that suggest or imply the group’s good citizenship. However, not all of these teachings are presented so subtly. In one of the more overt displays of this idea, The Imperial Klans of America offer a ‘‘DISCLAIMER’’ that ‘‘The Ku Klux Klan is a US Supreme Court recognized and protected Christian Organization in multiple Supreme Court decisions, and has received a Charter from US Congress.’’ These messages explicitly draw attention to the fact that the group is recognized by the government and afforded the same constitutional rights as any citizen group.
Legacy. The second inwardly focused educational message centers on the hate group’s enduring legacy. Some of these messages provide a more straightforward account of formative group experiences, meaningful dates, or member lineages. For example, the National of Islam chronicles the acquisition of its National Center, purchased by ‘‘the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’’ in 1972. Additionally, many messages feature boasting commentaries about the group’s existence. To demonstrate, the American White Knights of the KKK tout:
Something that makes the Klan unique is its ability to adapt to different eras, but yet at the same time retain its message, its beliefs, its principles and ideals. Over the years the Klan has attracted to it men and women of honor, courage, sincerity, love and loyalty. In addition, the Klan has been blessed with leaders of vision.
These legacy-themed narratives, then, provide historical lessons about the group, but they often also imply that the group has an enduring and vital place in society.
In sum, hate groups consistently construct their online communication with education-centered messages. The messages of reinterpreting history, reporting news, citizenship, and legacy are presented with different topics and styles, but all of these messages position the hate group as an educator to both members and the public at large. Whether it be, as the New Black Panther Party states, at ‘‘weekly meetings; public forums; rallies; programs; town hall meetings; on the streets; in the schools; in the projects; on the radio; through electronic and print media [or] anywhere where [PIECE MISSING HERE]
The second theme represents messages that encourage affiliation with the hate group and involvement in societal affairs. This theme includes appeals, standards, and guidelines for participation that are comprised by the following four categories. The first two categories, duty and solidarity and waging battle, feature messages that encourage current and prospective members to become involved in the hate group. The remaining two categories, publicity and activism, are centered on messages that promote actions designed to benefit the hate group.
Duty and solidarity. Numerous messages appeal to potential members on the basis of duty to their racial or cultural group. Recurring features in these messages are rhetorical questions and emotional appeals concerning an obligation to ensure the freedoms and lifestyle of one’s family and future generations. For example, the Texas Knights of the Invisible Empire asks, ‘‘Will you stand up for what you know is right and just and start to save what is the birthright and inheritance of your children?. . . or will you watch it die, your descendants to lie in the chains of tyranny forever more?’’ Another prototypical call to duty is exemplified in the National Socialist Movement’s call: ‘‘If you really care for our racial heritage and for the future of your children and of our race, then fill out a Membership Application today.’’ In conjunction with these messages of obligation are also references to the solidarity that is felt when people fulfill their duty to affiliate. This is communicated in a variety of ways.
First, solidarity is subtly conveyed through family metaphors such as the League of the South’s reference to group members as ‘‘Brothers and Sisters;’’ this message is also more directly communicated through references that the group is a ‘‘fraternal organization.’’ Second, solidarity messages also come in the form of announcements regarding how members can fellowship with one another. For example, the Empire Knights and National Knights of the KKK encourage like-minded people to attend rallies and even share meals together before and after events. Third, messages oriented around solidarity are also presented like classified advertisements. To illustrate, the Texas Knights of the Invisible Empire, Inc. asks, ‘‘Why would you want to join this organization? If you are looking for a group that is a true fraternal organization, a family of friends and a circle of support, then we are the group you are looking for.’’ Together, then, the duty and solidarity messages promote group participation by means of obligation and privilege.
Waging battle. In a different vein, other action-oriented messages feature a more urgent tone that stresses a figurative and, at times, literal call to battle with the group. Most of these messages speak about war and battle in more abstract or figurative terms. For example, one of the KKK sites poses the rhetorical question, ‘‘Will you stand up and fight for your Race?’’ Likewise, the Jewish Defense League employs the metaphor of ‘‘weapons’’ to refer to its resistance strategies. However, a few messages, particularly those of the Aryan Nations, advocate more explicitly violent actions such as Pastor Harold Ray Redfeairn’s mantra, ‘‘NEVER FORGET: VIOLENCE SOLVES EVERYTHING!’’ In a similar vein, this same group often references sayings by Adolf Hitler such as ‘‘TERROR SHOULD BE MET WITH GREATER TERROR.’’ These messages are particularly battle-oriented in that the language and subject matter are both centered on elicit or violent behavior. Nonetheless, most groups expressed the notion of battle and war in more figurative than literal ways. Together, these messages represent a call to arms or plea to join the group.
Publicity. In addition to appeals to participate within hate group activities, there are also messages that focus more externally on public promotion of the group. Some of these messages are directed to potential members, providing them with information and resources about how to join the group. To illustrate, the Confederate Hammerskins point out, ‘‘Our new website is online . . . You can find here information about our brotherhood. If you would like to come in contact with us, go to our HSN Board or contact your local Chapter.’’ Other messages are directed toward existing members, encouraging them to reach out and acquire new members. For example, the Aryan Nations website provides detailed instructions for how members can publicize the group: ‘‘Pass out Aryan Nations business cards . . . Pass out Aryan Nations leaflets . . . Every time you get postage paid envelopes in the mail, send them back with Aryan Nations literature inside.’’ Many messages, such as this, encourage creative and subtle ways that members may publicize the group. Some of these messages are even designed as step-by-step guides for members to publicly promote the hate group.
Activism. In a similar vein, many of the hate site messages focus on civic and political activism. These messages discuss ways that members can impact society through participation in public meetings, voting, debates, and so forth. The New Black Panther Party exemplifies this idea with the following: ‘‘We will deal with the local city council, regional governments, school boards, ANC’s, etc. We shall back strong Black candidates when they meet the Black Agenda test requirements. We encourage political awareness and activity to further the Black agenda.’’ In addition to supporting and participating in public affairs, though, some messages also advocate peaceful protest. For example, a message featured on the Jewish Defense League website encouraged members to counter protest a local teachers union, saying, ‘‘Please come out on Sunday and show your support for fair funding for our schools . . .We must stand up for our basic rights. Be there.’’ And although the examples provided here feature two different groups, it is important to note that many groups promoted activism through conventional participation as well as protests.
Together these four subcategories highlight an overarching call to participation that comprises much of the hate group communication online. These themes illustrate the various and nuanced ways that groups implore others to join in action. And although these messages are communicated to members and non-members equally, it is continually stressed that only ‘‘like-minded’’ individuals are invited to participate.