Tempting Hate

Democracy in Danger / Episode 8

A member of the far-right militant group Proud Boys joins fellow demonstrators in Portland, Ore., at an August 22 “Black and Blue” rally. Three years ago, in Charlottesville, similar armed groups attended the “Unite the Right" rally, which ended in deadly violence.

Photograph by Robert P. Alvarez via Shutterstock.com

What draws young people into the universe of toxic far-right groups that pine for a white ethno-state? The temptation to hate often begins with innocent chatter before it’s fed by degrees — and algorithms, says Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a sociologist and education expert who tracks such groups.

While online platforms guide vulnerable users toward more and more radical content, far-right leaders work through a mix of alluring aesthetics, direct appeals in social media and online gaming, and even in old-fashioned flyers on college campuses.

But, Miller-Idriss has found, the path to extremism can be disrupted. And for Siva and Will — ever since the deadly Unite the Right in Charlottesville, in August 2017 — the solutions to that puzzle have become personal, and increasingly urgent.


About our guest

Cynthia Miller-Idriss is a sociology and education professor at American University and the director of the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab, or PERIL. Her latest book is Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right, from Princeton University Press. Miller-Idriss’s extensive research looks at extremism and youth radicalization. Her popular work has appeared in The Hill, The Washington Post, CNN, Politico and more. Follow her on Twitter @milleridriss.

She joined us from Washington by video conference in August. This episode was posted Sept. 10, 2020.

What we’re reading

By our guest

In Hate in the Homeland, Miller-Idriss explores the underworld of far-right recruitment. It’s due out in October 2020.

Writing for the Hill, Miller-Idriss argues that we’re “asking the wrong questions” about hate groups. It’s not about why hate groups do violence, she says, but how people join them to begin with. And, she writes for Politico, we should stop calling them “crazy.”

Read Miller-Idriss’s testimony in Congress last year about white nationalist terrorism in the United States and around the world.

And in 2018, she co-edited a special issue of the journal EuropeNow, focusing the homegrown radicalism and extremist violence threatening Germany and its neighbors.

From around the web

Caleb Cain works in Miller-Idriss’s lab on how to prevent young people from sliding into racism, misogyny and violent nationalism. He should know; after dropping out of college, he fell through “the alt-right rabbit hole.” Read about his story in the New York Times and watch his anti-radicalization YouTube video that went viral in 2019.

The Anti-Defamation League offers online tutorials and resources for families and young people on countering propaganda and online recruitment. Wired, meanwhile, has this advice about how to identify online fakes and manipulation.

And in this story for The Atlantic and ProPublica, Ava Kofman, Moira Weigel and Francis Tseng write about how Amazon’s self-publishing platform became an engine for spreading neo-Nazi ideas to the masses.


A transcript of this episode is available here

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