A Call to Educate, Participate, Invoke and Indict

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A Call to Educate, Participate, Invoke and Indict

Postby admin » Sun Mar 08, 2015 7:32 am


by Lacy G. McNamee, Brittany L. Peterson & Jorge Pena



June 2010

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. [1]

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. [2]

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

Literature Review

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.

Data Collection

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.

Data Analysis

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.

Analytical Rigor

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.
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Re: A Call to Educate, Participate, Invoke and Indict

Postby admin » Sun Mar 08, 2015 7:32 am



The third prominent theme in online hate group messages is the allusion to divine power and influence. Featured in messages that describe the characteristics, responsibilities, and mentality of the group, supernatural invocation is a key dimension of online hate group communication. Within this concept are four interrelated message categories that invoke the divine: perceptions of being anointed and endowed with superiority, as well as references to the group’s Godly obedience and acts of virtue. Although these categories are similar, they each possess distinct characteristics that are discussed in turn.

Anointed. Throughout their messages, hate groups convey a belief that they are anointed or specially chosen and set apart by God. This theme is infused in discussions of the group’s entitlement to specific rights and exemption from certain behavioral norms. This is implicitly proclaimed in many KKK websites, such as the Texas Knights of the Invisible Empire who refer to themselves as ‘‘the sons and daughters of the living God,’’ and America as the ‘‘regathering place of His people.’’ Likewise, the largely Caucasian Christian identity group, The Gospel Broadcasting Association, refers to itself as ‘‘a chosen race, elected by God.’’ The notion of being anointed is not limited to white groups only, though. The Nation of Islam website also exemplifies this theme, stating, ‘‘We believe we are the people of God’s choice, as it has been written, that God would choose the rejected and the despised. We can find no other persons fitting this description in these last days more that the so-called Negroes in America.’’ This example is unique from the previous ones in that it highlights the low rather than high status of the group; nonetheless, each message shares the common idea of being divinely chosen or set apart by God.

Superiority. In a similar vein, there is a related message which proclaims the hate group’s God-granted and fundamental superiority. That is, the hate group largely insists that its status is naturally preeminent and, therefore, distinct from other races and cultures. In many of these messages the hate group emphasizes that it bears no resentment or aggression toward other groups whom it views as fundamentally inferior (e.g., other race or cultural groups). To demonstrate, the Lone Star Skinheads claim that although they have a ‘‘God-given right . . . to survive as a distinct people’’ they are pleased to act as ‘‘servant-leaders’’ to others. In conjunction with these claims, though, the hate group typically expresses a desire to ‘‘rightfully’’ distinguish itself from all other groups. For example, the National Knights of the KKK argue:

The Bible clearly shows we are of one lineage, and makes reference to Beasts who walked on two legs . . . So we believe that blacks are not our Brothers and Sisters, but are beasts of burden. To accept evolution fully, is to say that we are equal with these animals, which history shows that we are not equal to, and in fact are superior to.

Bipedal walking and running are the normal human gaits. Apes and a population of Japanese macacques sometimes walk bipedally (Napier & Napier, 1967). Kangaroos and a few rodents hop bipedally. Birds on the ground walk, run or hop. Some lizards run bipedally, and cockroaches have been filmed running bipedally at their highest speeds (Full & Tu, 1991).

-- Bipedal Animals, and Their Differences From Humans, by RMcN Alexander

In sum, these messages often emphasize goodwill toward others but also clearly reject the familiar notion of ‘‘separate but equal’’ as contrary to spiritual truth.

Obedience. The third facet of invocation deals with obedience to God as justification for the hate group’s attitudes and actions. That is, actions are attributed to following God’s will, as is illustrated in the NOI statement that, ‘‘Through God’s Divine Guidance . . . we are forging ahead in the Spirit of Almighty God.’’ Further, many of these messages juxtapose hate group actions as condemned by human standards but revered by divine standards. For example, the Power of Prophecy proclaims, ‘‘We view the world through biblical lenses and always seek the mind of Christ. We do not shy from being branded ‘politically incorrect’ or ‘religious extremists,’ when these terms apply to our stand for Jesus our Lord, for righteousness, and for Truth.’’ Thus, the theme of invocation is prominently represented through messages that position hate groups as dutiful servants who are simply abiding by God’s orders.

Virtue. Finally, messages of obedience are often featured in tandem with the final category in the invocation concept: references to the hate group’s embodiment of divine virtues. These messages deny any vitriol or violence and focus alternatively on how the hate group exhibits Godly virtues such as love, charity, and purity. For example, the Empire Knights of the KKK touts itself as ‘‘a non violent, non hate group for this is not the way of Jesus Christ. We try to better ourselves as well as others by teaching Christ’s ways in our daily lives.’’ In a similar vein, the NOI proclaims, ‘‘He taught us the ways of love and peace, of truth and beauty. We are being led into the path of a new spiritual culture and civilization of complete harmony and peace.’’ These virtue messages, then, not only stress the group’s Godly characteristics but concurrently deny any unholy, impure, or devilish transgressions. The aforementioned messages of obedience do not necessarily feature this latter denial. Together with the messages of anointed and superiority, though, these four categories all invoke a higher calling and power that is used to account for the hate group’s viewpoint and actions. And while these messages focus positively and inwardly on the group itself, the final message concept, indictment, is characterized by a contrasting negative and outward focus.


The fourth thematic concept represents messages that blame other groups for various offenses. Specifically, hate sites indict the government, media and entertainment industries, and other groups within one’s own central hate group category (e.g., a Klan group indicting other KKK groups). Chiefly, hate groups blame these outgroups for stigmatizing, misrepresenting, and failing to serve them. As every group is blamed uniquely, though, each group is addressed in turn.

Exposing the government. These messages are filled with accusations that state and federal officials have continually failed to protect and serve the hate group’s wellbeing. In many of these messages the group contends that it would not be compelled to act in such an extreme or violent manner if not for these governmental failings. These arguments are communicated through subtle as well as explicit, outright accusations. The American White Knights of the KKK’s website provides an example of an implicit accusation with their vision of an America where offenders will not ‘‘get away with . . . murder, rape, and child molestation.’’ Although not a direct affront, this message suggests the current state of government has failed to make this vision a reality. In contrast, there are also overt messages of intolerance for past government actions, such as the Border Guardian’s condemnation of ‘‘Police provocateurs’’ who assaulted protesters and the Aryan Nation’s insistence that President Bush possessed hidden global agendas.

Demonizing media and entertainment industry. The perceived role that the news media and entertainment industry plays in spreading negative views of hate groups is prevalent throughout hate site messages. Tales of hidden agendas in media and entertainment industries are offered as explanations for why public perceptions of hate groups are so unfavorable. This is illustrated in the Bayou Knights of the KKK’s claim that ‘‘Jew controlled’’ industries ‘‘made it a point to focus on the negative conduct of a few individuals and use this as a brush to paint all Klan organizations.’’ Other messages more generally focus on the idea that the media portrays the group unfairly. For example, the NOI argues that the media uses ‘‘inflammatory rhetoric’’ when reporting about the group. Essentially, these messages accuse the media and entertainment industries of bias.

Denouncing similar groups. Finally, the hate group also blames similar or copycat groups for its negative status. Such messages acknowledge the hate group’s unfavorable status in the eyes of the general public but then attribute these views to the fact that the group is perceptually linked to other inferior or inauthentic groups. For example, a KKK group may attribute its unpopularity to the possibility that it is wrongly linked to other subversive KKK groups. The Empire Knights exemplifies this type of message, stating, ‘‘Any group of fools can purchase Klan robes and patches. These groups are Imposters and will someday be held accountable by God for the negativity that some of them have reflected on our Noble Order.’’ Likewise, the Texas League of the South explicitly addresses its perceived relationship with other groups by providing a list of ‘‘hate groups and bigot-oriented organizations that the Texas League of the South will not keep company with.’’ Thus, though many hate site messages may be seemingly innocuous and affable, these and other indictment-centered messages are more generally provocative in tone.

In response to RQ1, then, the themes of education, participation, invocation, and indictment provide an interpretive, coherent representation of the central messages put forth by hate groups online. Albeit, there were some discreet messages of individual groups that did not conform to the interpretations in this analysis, the results of this analysis represent the central overarching themes shared among all of the groups. Together, these message themes may serve several group functions (RQ2) that are explored further in the following section.

Discussion and Interpretations

In response to the second research question, we propose that the four conceptual message themes may work together to: (a) reinforce hate group identity; (b) reduce external threats; and (c) recruit new members. Although each function corresponds to certain thematic concepts more than others, it is important to note that the relationships between concepts and functions are not mutually exclusive. That is, a particular message theme or concept may promote multiple functions. These interrelated functions are discussed in turn.

Reinforce Group Identity

Perhaps the most prominent way that these messages may serve the hate group is by internally bolstering and reinvigorating the group identity. This is achieved largely by constructing messages which valorize the hate group and demonize others outside of the group. These messages are not mutually exclusive, though. Rather, ingroup- and outgroup-centered messages are often intertwined in the website content. Nonetheless, for the purposes of clarity in the discussion we first address messages that are focused inwardly on the hate group followed by messages that are focused outwardly on external events or other groups (e.g., government bodies; new media organizations; other racial and cultural groups).

First, hate groups may strategically construct self-valorizing views by invoking religious language and imagery. In line with the assumptions of symbolic convergence theory (Bormann, 1972), such discourse provides a vocabulary for hate group members to positively process their experiences and share them with one another. These behaviors and actions, in turn, strengthen the group identity (Bostdorff, 2004; Duffy, 2003). For example, the language of service and sacrifice epitomized in the obedience messages potentially helps members to frame their viewpoints, experiences, and actions in terms of carrying out God’s will. These findings resonate with Duffy’s (2003) argument that hate groups often champion themselves by casting their efforts into the realm of the divine. Likewise, virtue-, anointed-, and superiority-themed messages promote self-enhancement by focusing on the group’s positive traits and unique preeminence.

Alternatively, the hate group identity may also be bolstered through telling stories centered on members fighting against other groups to protect their lives and futures. Dramatic metaphors such as ‘‘battle’’ and ‘‘war’’ featured in the waging battle messages strengthen hate group identities by positioning them as warriors fighting against an unjust or vile enemy. Such imagery beckons hate group members to figuratively take up arms and protect their allies which, in turn, reflexively promote unity and overall positive feelings toward the group. McPherson (2000) supports this idea, arguing that ‘‘battle’’ is a key component in the rhetorical vision and identity of hate groups.

In a similar vein, the entire indictment concept and reinterpreting history messages epitomize a saga, or dramatic interpretation of past events, which functions as a focal point whereupon members converge and create common understandings (Bormann, 1996). As Frey and Sunwolf (2005) note, groups may scapegoat or shift the blame to outside groups to frame and manage members’ negative behaviors. In this case, the hate group actually presents itself as a mere victim of other groups who: (a) fail to do their jobs (e.g., government); (b) compromise public morals and values (e.g., entertainment industry); and/or (c) reinforce negative stereotypes of their own group (e.g., hate groups with similar characteristics or goals). Thus, whereas historical accounts of the hate group may cast it in a negative light, the creation of sagas helps members to recast the group in a positive light. For example, the Bayou Knights KKK’s claim 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’’ provides an opportunity for members to unify around their newfound interpretations. Likewise, legacy-centered stories of courageous group leaders (e.g., David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Knights of the KKK) and historical milestones (e.g., public marches) help members to claim a sense of enduring, positive identity.

This argument is consistent with Bormann’s (1972) symbolic convergence theory, which asserts that creative interpretations of group experiences (i.e., fantasies) reinforce the group identity and fulfill members’ emotional, psychological, and rhetorical needs. In particular, the hate group’s discriminatory attitude toward those outside the group is imaginatively reinterpreted as divine obedience, and its negative reputation is countered by a theme of victimization. Such reframing serves to reinforce group identity and, consequently, promote member unity and commitment to the group (Frey & Sunwolf, 2005).

This position is also supported by the social identity theory (SIT) argument that group members enact positive self-enhancement strategies (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). The positive self-concept among hate group websites is demonstrated by and reinforced through the prominent focus on aspects of the hate group such as virtue and citizenship rather than negative aspects of other groups such as their inferior nature. Derogation of external groups, however, may also function to reinforce hate group identity. Although less prominent in the website content, negative messages about opposing groups are evident in several message categories (e.g., reporting news) and the indictment theme as a whole. Often, these messages are not explicitly derogatory but are more strategic and indirect. For example, rather than referring directly to the prototypical outgroup (i.e., African Americans), KKK, White nationalist, and Christian identity sites highlight negative events (e.g., criminal activities) that inadvertently implicate outgroup members. This idea confirms Douglas et al.’s (2005) observation that hate group websites exhibit socially creative strategies, or comparisons along indirect or unorthodox dimensions, to preserve a positive social identity and to enhance group distinctiveness.

Reduce External Threats

Presumably, the subversive and stigmatized nature of a hate group makes it especially sensitive to perceived threats (Blazak, 2001; Douglas et al., 2005). Thus, the majority of hate site messages may be strategically constructed to reduce the likelihood of external interferences. Bostdorff (2004) discusses this in terms of plausible deniability, a rhetorical strategy which may effectively reduce threats toward hate group activities and overall livelihood. Two such threats or interferences include formal sanctions (e.g., website closure; government intervention) and compromising of group boundaries (e.g., infiltration by inauthentic members; move from majority to minority group status).

Pertaining to the threat of sanctions, the internet potentially serves as both a detrimental and beneficial tool for hate groups. On one hand, the publicly accessible and traceable nature of many hate group websites openly invites scrutiny from watchdog organizations, criticism from the general public and, at times, intervention from the government. However, hate groups may also strategically use this medium for positive self-presentation. Previous studies reference this idea as ‘‘image management’’ (Schafer; 2002) or ‘‘sugar-coating’’ (Lee & Leets, 2002). In other words, these groups may actually keep their opponents at bay with seemingly pleasant and harmless messages.

This is potentially accomplished through education-centered messages, particularly, those of citizenship and reinterpreting history. That is, most of the sites continually advertize the fact that the hate group is composed of upright and law-abiding citizens who practice peaceful activities and beliefs. Many of them also clarify that while they may have condoned illegal or subversive behavior in the past, this is not what the contemporary group represents. Beyond denying allegations of negative behavior, many advocacy-themed messages actually portray the hate group as dutifully involved in civil and political activities. Postings which outline the standards for membership also explicitly state that ‘‘hate-mongers’’ and criminals need not apply. Consequently, this rhetoric may convincingly create the appearance of a harmless, loving, and law-abiding group that, in effect, does not deserve any interference or sanctions from outsiders.

In addition to denial and positive self-presentation, though, hate groups may also avoid sanctions by strategically manipulating messages in ways that both promote hate but do not make the group prosecutable by law (Bostdorff, 2004). That is, hate groups craft their messages in a way to successfully avoid the use of ‘‘fighting words’’ and ‘‘criminal incitement,’’ two types of speech that are not protected by the first amendment (see Levin, 2002). For example, many of the waging battle messages clearly evoke hateful ideas, but the words used to convey these ideas are abstract and ambiguous. In sum, the indictment and participation oriented messages often suggest hate-filled views but they do so in a manner that is protected under the realm of free speech.

A second threat that is potentially combated in hate group websites is the possibility of group infiltration and extinction. One of the ways that hate groups may combat this is by using the internet to accentuate the group’s boundaries. Particularly, the invocation theme as well as legacy and duty messages reinforce group boundaries by clearly delineating who qualifies for membership and who does not. Further, these messages also remind members that their boundaries are in danger of being perverted by impure and unworthy individuals (i.e., non-whites, and/or non-Christians). For example, the news reporting content draws attention to the fact that various oppositional groups are rising in population and power (e.g., illegal aliens), and advocacy-centered messages beckon unaffiliated but similar people to join in the group, reinforce its boundaries, and set it apart from other impinging groups. In sum, messages of education, participation, invocation, and indictment may reduce threats toward the hate group by: (a) assuaging criticism and sanctions from external audiences; and (b) spurring members and like-minded others to unite together and reinforce group boundaries.

Recruiting New Members

Finally, the message themes presented in this analysis may aid the hate group in member recruitment. As Blazak (2001) notes, one of the biggest challenges to the existence of hate groups is high member turnover and short term membership. Thus, it follows that these groups may strategically use the internet to increase their numbers. As such, we propose that new members are persuaded with messages that feature: (a) fear appeals; (b) an emphasis on member benefits; and (c) inoculation strategies.

Recruitment on the basis of fear appeals is accomplished through the reporting news, waging battle, and duty and solidarity messages, to name a few. These messages target unaffiliated individuals who share the same demographic characteristics or cultural background by convincing them that they are in danger of invasion or even extinction by enemy groups. Further, they beckon individuals to protect themselves by joining up with like-minded, organized groups. Joining is not only framed as a matter of obligation but as a matter of survival. That is, targeted individuals are warned that the fate of their entire class, race, or ethnic group hinges on their willingness to affiliate with the group. As past studies suggest, messages that pose such a negative threat to one’s existence or well-being may be particularly persuasive (Lee & Leets, 2002).

In contrast to fear appeals, advertisements of multiple membership benefits may also attract new recruits. Such benefits include camaraderie, belongingness, protection (evident in duty and solidarity, and legacy messages), and prestige (evident in the invocation theme) to name a few. These benefits are communicated both implicitly and explicitly and may be particularly effective in targeting like-minded, vulnerable individuals such as youths and people without strong social ties and self-esteem (Blazak, 2001). This line of thinking is highlighted in previous work examined from deprivation and interpersonal bond perspectives on group membership which argue that hate groups may appeal to others on the basis of fulfilling individual needs and enhancing social ties (e.g., Turpin-Petrosino, 2002).

Finally, hate groups may also persuade initially resistant individuals to join the group through the use of inoculation messages (McGuire, 1964). Such messages acknowledge a weaker version of a common attack against the group (e.g., the KKK is racist, and violent) and then offer counterarguments to refute the attack (e.g., their predecessors were, but they are not today). The education-themed messages are particularly central to this effort in that they acknowledge the negative reputation of the group but then counter these unattractive aspects by drawing attention to inaccurate or distorted perceptions of the group. For example, many sites were careful to note the distinction between discrimination and difference. That is, many of the religious themes emphasize the idea that they do not discriminate against others; rather, they simply wish to acknowledge what they view as fundamental differences. In a different vein, the idea of inoculation is also present in obedience messages which concede that the group’s actions may be condemned by earthly standards. In tandem, though, these messages emphasize the fact that the group is venerated by God. Douglas et al. (2005) highlights this this notion with their discussion of hate groups presenting themselves as ‘‘righteously aggrieved’’ (p. 74).

Together, the persuasive fear appeals, advertisement of member benefits, and inoculation strategies featured in hate site message themes potentially attract certain individuals to affiliate with the group. This interpretation aligns with past observations of the persuasive strategies of hate groups in both online and in face-to-face contexts (e.g., Blazak, 2001; Bostdorff; 2004; Lee & Leets, 2002).


This study offers a close qualitative analysis of the messages in hate group websites. The results of this inquiry are represented with the following communicative concepts: educate, participate, invoke, and indict. That is, we present the idea that hate group messages focus centrally on: (a) educating others; (b) encouraging participation within the group and among the public at large; (c) invoking divine privilege; and (d) indicting external groups and organizations. We also contend that these four themes may function together to reinforce the hate group identity, reduce external threats from outside parties, and recruit new members. Together, these propositions outline what Glaser and Strauss (1967) refer to as a substantive grounded theory of online hate group communication. In keeping with a constructivist grounded theory approach (see Charmaz, 2000), although we contend that this analysis, while firmly grounded in the data, is but one interpretation of the characteristics of online hate group communication.

Nonetheless, this study offers two significant contributions to the existing literature. First, with few exceptions (e.g., Duffy, 2003), this is one of the only qualitative studies of online hate group communication that examines a variety of different types of hate groups. The seven categories of hate groups included in this study represent some of the most widely recognized groups in America today (Southern Poverty Law Center, 2008). As such, this study design is appropriate for advancing more general knowledge about hate groups. Previous studies make valuable contributions to our understanding of specific types of hate groups (e.g., Bostdorff, 2002; Glaser et al., 2002; Lee & Leets, 2002), but as Bostdorff (2002) admits, the study of a discreet category of groups ‘‘is but a preliminary step toward a greater understanding of how hate groups use the internet to fulfill their persuasive goals’’ (p. 357). Thus, this study is in line with previous calls to examine and compare multiple hate sites.

Accordingly, the second contribution of this study is its in-depth view of specific message characteristics and themes. The proposed grounded theory recognizes the common communicative elements shared among hate group websites, and it serves to advance theoretical and practical aims. Namely, it provides a theoretically significant understanding of how hate groups communicate in web-based contexts, and it also serves as a practical resource for combating hate groups’ reach. Rowland and Theye (2009) speak to this idea in their study of terrorists and the argument that extremist groups may be contained if we can effectively ‘‘undercut their story’’ (p. 79). Thus, the present study offers understanding into the hate group ‘‘story’’ so that it may eventually be undercut.

However, a potential limitation of the present study is its focus on hate groups housed largely in the United States. Hence, some of the message themes may be uniquely influenced and shaped by the American cultural and political landscape. For example, messages centered on indicting the news media and entertainment industries may not be as prominent among hate groups located outside of the United States. Another limitation is the fact that only text-based messages were included in the study design. That is, no graphic images, photos, or symbols were examined. Considering that previous content analyses (Schafer, 2002; Gerstenfeld et al., 2003) explicitly or implicitly draw attention to the fact that these visuals are a prominent aspect of hate site content, it follows that they also carry communicative significance.

As such, there are several opportunities to further develop the grounded theory presented in this study. First, scholars might incorporate visual images into their analyses and examine whether the four message themes presented in this study comprehensively address visual data, as well. Other future studies could also develop the grounded theory by examining messages and effects within a single study. While the present study proposed potential functions of hate group messages, the relationship between these messages and functions was not empirically examined. Finally, researchers may also aim toward in-depth studies that examine both on- and offline communication among hate groups. Because of its ability to reach current members, prospective affiliates, and the public at large, the internet serves as a powerful communication tool for hate groups (Duffy, 2003). However, hate groups also presumably communicate in face-to-face settings, and it may be that the four themes that characterize hate group websites do not translate to offline interaction. For example, it may be true that websites do not feature overtly illicit or violent messages due to the hate group’s fear of legal sanctions. They may, however, reserve this brand of messages for private, face-to-face settings. Future studies should examine the limits of the substantive theory advanced in this study by comparing both online and offline message content.



[1] Excerpt from website of The White Camelia Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (http:// http://www.wckkkk.org).

[2] Excerpt from website of the Aryan Nations (http://www.aryan-nations.org/).


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Lacy G. McNamee (PhD candidate, University of Texas at Austin) is a lecturer in the Department of Communication Studies at Baylor University. Brittany L. Peterson (PhD, University of Texas at Austin) will be an Assistant Professor in the School of Communication Studies at Ohio University in Fall 2010. Dr. Jorge Pen˜a (PhD, Cornell University) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at The University of Texas at Austin. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 94th annual meeting of the National Communication Association in 2008. The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for providing invaluable insight to help strengthen the manuscript. Correspondence to: Lacy G. McNamee, Department of Communication Studies, Baylor University, One Bear Place #97368,Waco, TX 76798-7368, USA. E-mail: lacy_mcnamee@baylor.edu ISSN 0363-7751 (print)/ISSN 1479-5787 (online) # 2010 National Communication Association DOI: 10.1080/03637751003758227
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