Portland State Sociologist Randy Blazak Discusses Youth and Hate
Randy Blazak, a sociologist at Portland State University in Oregon, has spent eight years studying white supremacist Skinheads in the United States and Europe. Specializing in the connections between conceptions of masculinity, gang crime and hate group youth recruitment, Blazak has emphasized the socioeconomic and subcultural roots of youth hatred in his work.
He has written on various aspects of the racist youth movement and is the co-author of a forthcoming book, Renegade Kids, Suburban Outlaws, about youth crime and Skinheads. In 1997, he created Oregon Spotlight, a small organization that monitors hate groups and provides resources to courts, parents and youths concerned about hate crime.
The Intelligence Report asked Blazak about his views of the motivations and psychology of white supremacist youths and the social milieu that helps to produce them.
INTELLIGENCE REPORT: How did you begin your research?
BLAZAK: The first thing I did was look for a Skinhead population that I thought was fairly representative of what was happening in the country.
I ended up spending 13 months hanging out with different cliques of Skinheads in Orlando, Fla., including a group called the Youth Corps Skins, which had ties to the Klan. I was going to meetings and drinking beer and slam dancing and doing all those things that Skinheads do.
IR: What attitude did you approach them with?
BLAZAK: An important part of it was seeing them as human beings and not as cartoon figures or caricatures of evil. They were really concerned kids who cared about social justice in a weird, warped sort of way.
On a certain level, I admired these kids because they were 17 years old, politically active and knew all about the changing economy.
They could just as easily have wound up in the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade. But it was the right wing that had access to them. It was the Klan and [California neo-Nazi] John Metzger who gave them the analysis.
And of course the analysis was ZOG [many white supremacists believe that the federal government — which they term the "Zionist Occupational Government" (ZOG) — is secretly run by Jews]. It's all a big conspiracy.
IR: Were you surprised by what you found in Orlando?
BLAZAK: My initial theory going into the field turned out to be really off base. I had thought these were a bunch of bullies, or kids who had been bullied and were becoming bullies. What I found was a wide range of personality types.
But the one thing they had in common was this fear that the America they had grown up with — or their image of America — was disappearing. And that image was one that was based on straight white male supremacy. Of course, the big issue that also came in was the fact of economic downward mobility.
A lot of them had parents who had been laid off from the textile mill or downsized or whatever. If they hadn't directly experienced this, they knew other people who had.
They were very cognizant of the fact that the American dream — that everyone will be judged on the merits of their hard work and move up the ladder accordingly — was shrinking, a fairy tale.
Everybody gets excited about the Dow Jones being above 10,000. But another way of looking at that is how well corporate America is downsizing. It's great for the investors, but for the middle class it's often a nightmare.
These kids had this intense frustration. You know, if your dad works at a factory you can still go to college. It may not be Harvard, but you can go to college. Dad gets laid off, and you don't go to college.
Then you hear about affirmative action and what you perceive to be quotas or free rides and all of a sudden you see yourself as having been screwed. And it becomes the fault of the Jewish conspiracy. You could blame the multinational corporations and the economy, but it's much easier to pick a certain scapegoat.
IR: Were objective conditions or subjective perceptions more important in forming the world view of these young people?
BLAZAK: The most hard-core kids had experienced some first- or second-hand downward mobility. But the propaganda around the changing face of the American Dream was just as powerful. The perception was that all white people are moving down, and all minority people are moving up: "The working-class white man is losing out on America, the country that he built." So it becomes a mythology that is based on reality.
When I started doing my research, all the bitching was about "The Cosby Show," which of course was the most popular show on TV at the time. They were like, "Look at what this nigger family has, and look what we have. He's a doctor and she's a lawyer. They have a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights. And I live in a trailer park."
There was a study on the impact of the show that found that it had actually hurt race relations because it gave the impression that racism had been solved and that all black people live like that. To me, the show was clearly symbolic of a shift in the perception of race relations in America.
IR: What are some other reasons young people join hate groups?
BLAZAK: There are a number of factors that drive kids into hate groups. You have the kid who's been laid off, the kid whose dad is in the Klan, and just the kid who's pissed off at his parents and because they're left, he's going to go right — the basic motivation of teenage rebellion.
All of these kids can be drawn into the mythical world of hate groups, which is appealing because of its very simplistic world view, especially now with its presence on the Internet. The ideology is so taboo in this politically correct era that it has to be intoxicating to kids.
And obviously, those kids who come from the more desperate situations are going to need something that gives them a sense that there's a reason their lives are so screwed up.
All subcultures offer some type of solution to a problem, whether it's getting money or ending the war or whatever it is. The hate group subculture offers a solution on the media level: "I have a group now, a political voice that speaks for me."
IR: How deep did the racism of these recruits seem to you?
BLAZAK: I think their racism was an excuse or a pose. Ultimately, when they sat down and thought about it, they couldn't defend it. But it gave them an excuse to be macho, to be righteous and take a stand on issues of justice.
One of the big things I saw in Skinhead culture — and I studied both racist and anti-racist Skinheads — was the feeling that not only were they losing their status as economic citizens but they also were losing their gender status, their opportunity to prove their masculinity.
The only difference between racist and anti-racist Skinheads I saw was racism. The anti-racist Skinheads were just as homophobic, just as sexist, and just as violent as the Nazi Skinheads.