My Child Is Sharing Conspiracy Theories and Racist Memes. What Do I Say?
Part Six: Calling For or Engaging in Acts of Intimidation or Violence
By: Western States Center Staff
This is the final post in the six-part series “My Child Is Repeating Conspiracy Theories. What Do I Say?” authored by Shelly Tochluk, Christine Saxman, and Joanna Schroeder. Read the first post and access links to the entire series here.
No one wants to believe a child or teen in their care will encounter or be influenced by hateful extremists. However, due to the nature of today’s online environment and devastating examples of murders committed by young people like those at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and at a peaceful demonstration in Kenosha, Wisconsin, this possibility cannot be ignored.
Adults must recognize the danger that exists when calls for violence are shared via online posts and memes. Even if the child or teen in your life does not embrace violence, they may witness dehumanizing content and underestimate its link to real-world consequences. This proximity can negatively influence them and even put them in physical danger.
- A school counselor hears from a student that a classmate has shared images that call for harm to immigrants.
- A parent discovers her son is researching how to buy a gun to arm himself for “the coming race war.”
- The police contact a foster family to report that the child in their care has been accused of doxing classmates online.
- A man lets his teenage brother use his gaming console and later comes across an open chat window in which his brother’s avatar brags about being violent toward women.
- A parent contacts another guardian to say that their sons have been looking at Discord channels where mass shooters post their manifestos, discuss the number of people they’ve killed, and glorify violent action against specific groups.
Watch for signs of increased isolation.
Increase your efforts to maintain connection by expressing care and concern.
- I want you to know how much I value you.
- I think you have a lot to offer the world. What do you see as your strongest gift?
- What do you see for yourself in the future?
Proceed with extreme caution. Direct confrontations or questioning can backfire, rendering you unable to exert any influence at all.
Engage Other Adults and Experts
If you’re concerned about an adolescent in your life or community:
- Consult with the school counselor and other school officials about your concerns immediately.
- Consult with a team to determine a coordinated response. Who has the closest relationship with the person in question? Who is the best person most likely to connect with them and determine what is going on?
If you suspect a possible attack, contact law enforcement and ask for guidance.
- Access local, national, and other community organizations for assistance.
- Talk to other adults in the child or teen’s life. Ask what they have observed.
- Strengthen community bonds. How could the school or community organize in response to increased hostility from those espousing extremist views?
- Organize community and school discussions of Western States Center’s Confronting White Nationalism in Schools toolkit and SPLC/PERIL’s Building Resilience and Confronting Risk in the COVID-19 Era.
What Not To Do
- Don’t go it alone. Seek or create a support network that can work together to educate your community and coordinate responses to threats.
- Don’t turn away. White nationalists who have left the movement report that a key factor helping them break away was people extending empathy to them when they didn’t feel they deserved it. Staying connected to those who access violent content may provide a lifeline at a time when they need it most. Model love, acceptance, and kindness. Inspire a different vision of the world.
- Unconscious bias can prevent people and institutions from recognizing the risk posed by increasing extremist affiliation among white youth. Don’t allow bias, including unconscious bias, to prevent you or institutions from taking action.