A quick search on the internet reveals several good sources on these hate sites: the Southern Poverty Law Center, in particular, has done a yeoman’s labor in documenting and mapping these various hate groups.
An issue is that labeling these groups “hate groups” makes them catnip to the rebellious teenage mind. These lists are a good resource to help adults avoid reading biased information; however, to adolescents, they are honeypots of tantalizing political incorrectness.
Spend an hour, if you can stomach it, reading a hate site. Probably the most influential “white nationalist” site is called “Stormfront,” which is about as old as the internet. Absorb some of the argot; note which news stories are discussed. Then, go to YouTube and read the comments under any political video. The notion that these sites exist in some “dark corner” of the internet will immediately be dispelled.
History teachers have cowered behind that “dark corner” argument for too long. A generation of students has gone into an online world unarmed against these hate groups, who actively recruit youth. Young people today can participate in these hate forums entirely anonymously, leading double lives.
A craven argument is that “hate speech,” and therefore these websites, should be censored. Aside from completely violating the First Amendment, the natural anonymity and fluidity of the internet would make enforcing this proposal impossible. And anyway, any attempt at censorship would make these groups even more attractive.
Hate sites should be covered in history classes. Students should read and analyze these websites with the guidance of a teacher. Our “pay no attention to the pink elephant” attitude is a complete dereliction of our duty to produce informed, engaged citizens.
Here are a few fantastic ideas for lessons:
- Logical Fallacies: the hate sites are a treasure trove of poor reasoning (obviously). Teach your students straw dog, ad hominem, and the black or white fallacies and let them have fun finding examples of them on these sites. Most of these sites also advocate various conspiracy theories, which are perfect for explaining how to analyze evidence. Here is a good source: https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/
- Propaganda: these sites are chock full of lingo, images, cartoons, and posters with the same goals and techniques as the propaganda you cover in history class anyway. Scapegoating, questioning a person’s patriotism, manhood, or loyalty, and the bizarre utopian views of the future that were so effective in the totalitarian 1930s are in full view today.
- Current Events and the Media: when something happens in the news, have your students gauge the reaction of various hate sites. This activity will help them read all the news skeptically and better understand the various political spectrums.
These lessons will vividly reinforce philosophical habits that are often neglected in high school: rational thinking, skepticism, and engaging with a wide array of ideas and voices. They will channel your adolescents’ rebellious attitudes into productive thinking skills (rebel to ruler). Isn’t that preferable to constructing a totalitarian censorship system?