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A Generation in Trouble

Conditions helping to fuel the rise of young Americans involved in hate groups.

In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a 12-year-old boy distributes propaganda for neo-Nazi leader Matt Hale, a man whose one-time deputy murdered two people and wounded seven others last July. In Cleveland, a group of white 14- and 15-year-olds allegedly plans an October massacre of black students on homecoming day.

And in Pasadena, Calif., four 13- and 14-year-olds, one of them fond of swastikas and similar symbols, are accused of drawing up plans in September to murder Armenians — an ethnic group that the children's leader had apparently decided was not truly white after reviewing stacks of hate literature.

Who are these children, these young white racists who have made newspaper headlines in the last few months? Where are they coming from?

As adults and parents, it is hard for most of us to fathom the motivations of such children, much less see them as the peers of our own offspring or those of our friends. But the fact is, these youths, along with many thousands of others like them, are not so different from the kid next door.

They are part of an alienated new generation of white youths, young people who in many cases have been hit hard by socioeconomic changes and dislocations.

They are children facing tough times.

The 'Intense Frustration' of the Young
Just as plant closings and farm failures created fertile ground for recruiting by hate groups in the 1980s, newer types of social changes are now helping to shape another generation of haters.

Globalization, a technological revolution and strong downward economic pressures on the middle class have all contributed to the rise of an underclass of working- and middle-class white youths — a group of angry young people unusually susceptible to the pitches of organized hate.

In this issue's special report on youth, the Intelligence Report takes a hard look at the objective conditions helping to fuel the rise of a violent generation.

While it is true that many young people come into the organized white supremacist movement through no particular hardship, it seems clear that for many youths — particularly those hanging on at the lower margins of the middle class and living in aging suburbs with changing racial demographics — these kinds of conditions, along with changing family life, are key determinants.

Randy Blazak, an Oregon sociologist who has extensively investigated racist youth, says that although the young Skinheads he studied encompassed a wide range of personality types, they all shared the idea that the America they had grown up with was disappearing. A large part of that feeling, he believes, stems from socioeconomic changes.

"A lot of them had parents who had been laid off from the textile mill or downsized or whatever," Blazak says. "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. ... These kids had this intense frustration."

Family Life, Music and Hate Groups
Armando Morales, a psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences professor at the UCLA School of Medicine who has treated gang members for 40 years, notes another factor — "emotional neglect caused by economic necessity requiring both parents to work two or more jobs in order to support two or three cars, a hefty mortgage, several large color TVS, VCRS, private school and college tuition."

One result, Morales wrote in The Denver Post recently, has been a marked growth in middle-class gang members during the 1980s and '90s.

But even such dislocations in economic and family life do not fully explain what is happening to this new and troubled generation. Today, hate groups are actively seeking to recruit these youths not only by playing on their angers and resentments, but also by using racist rock 'n' roll. This music is remarkably effective in proselytizing to youth.

Now, as reported in this issue, America's most important neo-Nazi — William Pierce of the National Alliance — controls the nation's premier white power enterprise. Pierce's acquisition of Resistance Records, which in the past has sold 50,000 racist CDs a year, puts him in a position to build an increasingly broad-based revolutionary movement.

There are no easy solutions to these problems. Much of what is shaping this new generation comes from powerful social forces that are still unfolding. Music and other forms of propaganda being used to recruit the young are clearly protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

But as parents and concerned members of the community, we owe it to our children to try — to make an attempt to reshape the lives of the young within a more nurturing, tolerant and just society.