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sow seeds of doubt, but not try to win arguments
February 19, 2014 4:49 PM   Subscribe

How to "Cure" a Nazi.
posted by Sticherbeast (65 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
From the piece:
One of AVE’s goals is to develop best practices, a kind of manual for how to effectively de-radicalize people. Academic and government conferences have studied the effectiveness of one-on-one mentoring. “An important principle in mentoring people involved in extremism is to sow seeds of doubt, but not try to win arguments,” concluded one conference, co-sponsored by the Danish Ministry of Social Affairs and Integration. They have also considered specific policy questions, like "Should violent extremists who are arrested be jailed in isolation so that they won’t radicalize other inmates (this is the strategy in Holland)? Or should they be dispersed so that they are shaken out of their extreme element (this is the strategy in Denmark)?" Such is the art of extremist extrication.
Thank you for posting this. I wish it talked more about the best practices. I have long found that sort of thing fascinating. I used to say on an old email list when flame wars broke out 'Fighting against the fighting is still fighting." At the time, I had little more to offer than that observation that more fighting does not promote a peaceful environment. It is something I still struggle with but I know more than I did then.
posted by Michele in California at 5:01 PM on February 19 [9 favorites]


The most direct way to cure a Nazi was developed by the Soviets during WWII and has yet to be improved upon.

You know who else advocated the extermination of undesirables?
posted by Sys Rq at 5:06 PM on February 19 [18 favorites]


"If any man says he hates war more than me, he better have a knife."
-Jack Handey
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:08 PM on February 19 [11 favorites]


Wow the article is actually really really gross.

It starts getting into all this feel-good google-sponsored stuff, and they lump someone like "a former Tamil Tiger" in with Neo-Nazis(!!!). Seems like kind of a Junior Guantanamo designed to classify any person whose political beliefs happen to be unpopular with the US government as not only a "terrorist" but also equivalent to a Nazi for good measure.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:12 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


[Maybe stay away from "kill em all" comments and RTFA?]
posted by jessamyn at 5:13 PM on February 19 [8 favorites]


I may be crazy, but I cannot understand how ANYONE would think it would be cool to be a type of nazi. Didn't the early-mid 1940s teach us any lasting lessons?
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 5:19 PM on February 19


The British working class showed exactly how to cure Nazis 78 years ago. An actual fascist movement cannot be stopped by therapy; it needs to be fought in the streets.
posted by graymouser at 5:21 PM on February 19 [9 favorites]


I used to be like you guys, but then I joined Against Snark and Sarcasm. ASS can help you, too.
posted by orme at 5:30 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]


I did RTF. It's about some people's practice in thought control, but it's totally fine because they're only going to use it on Nazis and Bad Muslims.

It's more humane to kill an offensive person than to deny their individualism by manipulating their free will.

I hope that my positions aren't deemed inappropriate by some authority and erased. There's more dignity in killing me for what I believe.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:32 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


It's more humane to kill an offensive person than to deny their individualism by manipulating their free will.

You're right, we must only make perfectly factual statements and never attempt to persuade anybody of anything.

*jerking off gesture*
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:33 PM on February 19 [27 favorites]


The Bear Jew cures Nazis.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:33 PM on February 19


The most direct way to cure a Nazi

Sugar, smoke, nitrites, salt.
posted by benzenedream at 5:34 PM on February 19 [23 favorites]


The idea of grouping all extremism together as a sort of mental health problem makes me uneasy, but I can see there being some basis for it with particular extremists. Take the neo-nazi Swede for instance. Here you are, growing up in one of the world's richest nations, without threats of malnutrition or disease, and a welfare state that I would consider one of humanity's great achievements and... you fucking hate the Jews? Or Muslims? Or whomever? That is goddamn crazy and maybe it should be seen as having some behavioral/mental problem or component.

Also, I know it's all fun to wish violence in the street on Nazi scum, but let's remember Woody Guthrie had the best machine for killing fascists!
posted by boubelium at 5:36 PM on February 19 [5 favorites]


I mean, don't get me wrong, fuck the AVE- lumping in anti-apartheid terrorism and other violent liberation struggles with Naziism and the like is some straight power-serving horseshit, and the idea that you'd only turn to violence because your parents didn't love you enough is so disgusting I can't even begin to articulate how fucking gross it is. But the idea that fists should be the first and only tool against fascism is just as stupid and counterproductive as the idea that words should be.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:37 PM on February 19 [4 favorites]


We need more communists to fight the Nazis.

See also: the cure for swallowing a spider
posted by blue_beetle at 5:37 PM on February 19 [7 favorites]


*jerking off gesture*

It's specifically referred to as "deprogramming" in the article I was earlier accused of not having read, not simple convincing through give-and-take. Deprogramming of ideology. Leftists aren't too well-received in many places, so maybe I'll be seeing you at re-education.

Jerk off to that hot scene.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:39 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


How insecure do you have to be to see this as mind control?
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:41 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I don't see deprogramming as an inherently bad thing. What other method would you proscribe to help someone who has been brainwashed?
posted by MrBobaFett at 5:41 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


People wind up believing all kinds of crazy shit, usually because someone saw a confused angry person and filled them full of crazy shit for their own ends. Figuring out how to either prevent or reverse that process is worth figuring out, if you ask me.
posted by jonmc at 5:42 PM on February 19 [16 favorites]


I cannot understand how ANYONE would think it would be cool to be a type of nazi.

There are so many reasons it (and other extremism) can be appealing. You gain someone to blame for your problems, and/or for society's problems. You become special - you get to cast yourself as the noble underdog fighting for Truth against overwhelming odds. Or the free-thinker against the great conspiracy. You enjoy the benefits of the social contract without feeling you owe any dues. You gain a new family of people like you, people have your back. It's tribal. It's primal. It's powerful.
posted by anonymisc at 5:43 PM on February 19 [19 favorites]


In particular, critics object to AVE’s grouping of gang violence, neo-Nazism, Islamism, anti-apartheid-inspired terrorism, guerrilla war crimes, etc., into a single category. This strategy, critics claim, denies any validity to the formers’ ideas of national liberation and struggle against oppression. Extremism, in other words, is painted as a symptom of unloving fathers or unstable households rather than something political.

Ok, sure, I guess this is a criticism but I don't see any proof of any sort that the bulk of modern extremists aren't just looking for group identity.
posted by GuyZero at 5:44 PM on February 19


One of the thing I found most repellent about the church in which I was raised (besides the endless contempt for women) was the simultaneous views that Of course this is the zone Truth that Conquors All and everyone must be protected from everything but the Truth so they won't be Led Astray.

It seems to me that, if there is not at least some chance of persuading a Nazi of the error of his ways, then what is the value of the systems I hold dear? Unless Nazism is a kind of incurable mental virus that calls for immediate cauterizstion, it can be fought with words as well as fists, and it's way harder to use the first after the second have been deployed.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:53 PM on February 19 [6 favorites]


I cannot understand how ANYONE would think it would be cool to be a type of nazi.

For quite a long time, I lived in a decaying, crime ridden, East Coast city, with a mixed (and tense) racial demographic. There was a large jail/short-term prison nearby. I remember one day I went to a local strip mall (dubbed The Mall of Despair, since in consisted of a cheap liquor store, a storefront church, a bail bondsman, a pizzeria, and a jewelry store that sold fake gold chains off of big spools). There was a guy sitting on the sidewalk shirtless, with a tattoo (jailhouse tat looking) that said "Aryan Warrior." He didn't bother anyone and nobody paid him any mind. But I figure that places like that breed certain things.
posted by jonmc at 5:57 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]


"It starts getting into all this feel-good google-sponsored stuff, and they lump someone like "a former Tamil Tiger" in with Neo-Nazis(!!!). Seems like kind of a Junior Guantanamo designed to classify any person whose political beliefs happen to be unpopular with the US government as not only a "terrorist" but also equivalent to a Nazi for good measure."

Dude, they invented the suicide belt, killed Rajiv Ghandi, attacked civilians on multiple occasions, used child soldiers, and expelled Muslims from their homes as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing. All of Sri Lanka's civil war was deeply fucked up, but let's not let general anti-U.S. skepticism make us blind to the fact that, frankly, the average Neo-Nazi is less dangerous than a veteran of a vicious civil war.

And if child soldiers and ethnic cleansing aren't unpopular with you, I don't know what to say.
posted by klangklangston at 5:59 PM on February 19 [37 favorites]


I read the article and thought it was a very shallow magazine overview of a large and interesting field. However I really have to take issue with the wholesale dismissal of oh these violent jerks want to blame their parents for not loving them enough... as an invalid excuse/reason.

Childhood trauma and neglect (often from external poverty and oppression) very often leads to massive behavioural problems later. Some kids thrive against the odds and grow up to be loving and healthy people. Some kids from loving kind homes grow up to become violent and cruel. But these outliers don't mean jack against the huge damage that a horrible childhood can cause to most of the children who are damaged by it. Most of those kids can recover, but to dismiss childhood trauma as a strong risk factor to violence as adulthoods is flat out wrong.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:03 PM on February 19 [15 favorites]


Extremism, in other words, is painted as a symptom of unloving fathers or unstable households rather than something political.

Taking it further, the implication is that the systematic use of violence by a non-state actor is a mental illness.

That, or Cheney is totally going to own the room if he eventually joins Formers Anonymous. "Fucking lightweights, all of you. One time, this country pissed me off...".
posted by kithrater at 6:05 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


Unless Nazism is a kind of incurable mental virus that calls for immediate cauterizstion, it can be fought with words as well as fists, and it's way harder to use the first after the second have been deployed.

Fascism is a movement which attracts mentally ill and violent people, not really an ideology in itself. It becomes a mass movement when these people are able to pass off their ideas as a viable alternative, either to fringe elements (what Leonard Zeskind calls vanguardists in his Blood & Politics) or to get elements of their ideas accepted on a larger scale (what Zeskind calls mainstreamers). Mass mobilization - not violent, but capable of self defense - is needed to prevent these scum from gaining any legitimacy and the ability to recruit marginalized young people who are susceptible to these ideas. I don't see any value in creating a dichotomy of "words" versus "fists" when the need is for mass action.
posted by graymouser at 6:14 PM on February 19 [6 favorites]


I don't see deprogramming as an inherently bad thing. What other method would you proscribe to help someone who has been brainwashed?

I don't think that's what AVE is, despite the article's reference to deprogramming. Deprogramming is by definition forcible, and from what I've read, actually has a pretty nasty history of being used against leftists and LGBT persons in the US.


Also, from TFA:

People who lost relatives in a shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012 have paired with Arno Michaelis, the former white supremacist who sprayed the bullets.

Actually, the white supremacist who sprayed the bullets is dead.
posted by Androgenes at 6:19 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]


I cannot understand how ANYONE would think it would be cool to be a type of nazi.


A former friend of mine is. I didn't even know a Neo-Nazi goth could be a thing.

Basically, in her case, you grow up in a very conservative area constantly suckling the sweet milk of classic American propaganda: You work hard and do the right thing and then you get rich and a house and you get all the stuff you deserve.

But because you live in the area of deindustrialization, there's literally nowhere you CAN work hard, because all the industry has been shipped off, so you work a series of meaningless jobs and you find yourself getting poorer, kind of trapped in that spot where you have a job and there's no ladder to climb so you're not going to make any money but you're not so poor you qualify for food stamps or social support.

In the meantime, everyone you trust is telling you that it's the fault of the Mexicans or...well, it's everyone else's fault. And, again, every media source and other source you trust is full of news about people fighting for the rights of African-Americans or gay rights or, basically, everyone but "poor white people living in towns where cases of soda can be a de facto currency".

So then along come these guys that say "Hey, yeah, nobody IS fighting for you" and they help you out with some situations. They offer a fellowship. They offer togetherness. They say they are fighting for you and all the people you know, which nobody apparently is.

And please remember your history education has been perfunctory and very black and white, so "Nazis" are about as scary as "stormtroopers from Star Wars". It's kind of hard to take them seriously when they've been mowed down in an unending torrent of movies and video games and your history class treats them as "And then Germany turned into a bunch of Nazis for some reason and then we kicked their ass at the following battles that will be on the test: ". You spent maybe a week on World War II and watched Saving Private Ryan. Hitler's basically a video game end boss for you. He turns into a robot for the end battle, you know?

And saying things like "These Mexicans should all go home so True Americans can have jobs" isn't even controversial in very conservative areas. They speak the code. From there it's not a far jump to "Look, all we're saying is let's let all these races go to their own areas, their own living space if you will, and then everything will be fine" and a bunch of pseudoscientific hoo-ah about how all the races are different and hey presto, you're a white supremacist.

Please note I'm not endorsing these views, I'm just presenting things as she presented them to me.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:26 PM on February 19 [86 favorites]


I cannot understand how ANYONE would think it would be cool to be a type of nazi.

Why not? All sorts of things are possible if you're ignorant or misinformed enough. How likely is it that people might be ignorant or misinformed? How about in the richest and most powerful country in the world - "The survey included more than 2,200 people in the United States and was conducted by the National Science Foundation.":

1 in 4 Americans unaware that Earth circles Sun

"Just 74 percent of respondents knew that the Earth revolved around the Sun, according to the results released at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago.
Fewer than half (48 percent) knew that human beings evolved from earlier species of animals.
The result of the survey, which is conducted every two years, will be included in a National Science Foundation report to President Barack Obama and US lawmakers.
"

This is for the general population. Do you imagine that somehow a Nazi is going to be better informed than your average joe? In my experience, they are even more misinformed. Have you ever listened/talked to a Nazi sympathizer? These guys aren't exactly well informed - about anything; take your pick - history, political science, sociology, really anything. With that kind of informational context, is it really that surprising that someone can be a Nazi?

Why do you imagine nations keep making the same political mistakes over and over again? Historical memories are very short, usually limited to a generation or two at most. And education has not stepped in to alleviate that effect. Most neo-Nazis are far removed from WWII, and have learned nothing at school. I'm not surprised.
posted by VikingSword at 6:28 PM on February 19 [5 favorites]


Ctrl-F "forgive" - 0 results found
Ctrl-F "empathy" - 0 results found
Ctrl-F "second chance" - 0 results found

It's hard to leave a movement that is so one-way. People are at a loathe to ever repersonalize a nazi in their minds. So it becomes a choice between people you hate and people who won't connect to you. And when it becomes that sort of choice I can guarantee you that a human will pick connection every single time.

Some times people do terrible shit, have fucked up ideas and ideals but we need to reach out to them and say, "hey, we all make mistakes when we're young but come back to the fold and we'll forgive you and forget this whole incident ever happened so long as you grow from it and learn from it".

That's how you cure a Nazi. By making the first step viable and visible.
posted by Talez at 7:02 PM on February 19 [10 favorites]


So deprogramming is the same thing as brainwashing? That is shitty development of language. The structure of the word would clearly suggest it is the undoing of brainwashing.
posted by MrBobaFett at 7:36 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I cannot understand how ANYONE would think it would be cool to be a type of nazi.

I have had this bizarre obsession with reading neo-Nazi tumblrs -- mostly ones by high school students -- and it's a lot of unhappiness, or isolation from other people (which can be explained as them not understanding the importance of Nazism), or fear of the future and of not knowing what rules to follow. (They're all generally a-ok with Asians, who are a large undifferentiated bloc [sometimes two, Japanese and everyone else], but particularly hate Jews and Blacks.)

It's sometimes infuriating and sometimes sad and a total black hole.
posted by jeather at 7:39 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


Have you noticed that our caps have actually got little pictures of skulls on them?
posted by XMLicious at 7:49 PM on February 19 [5 favorites]


There are so many reasons it (and other extremism) can be appealing. You gain someone to blame for your problems, and/or for society's problems. You become special - you get to cast yourself as the noble underdog fighting for Truth against overwhelming odds. Or the free-thinker against the great conspiracy. You enjoy the benefits of the social contract without feeling you owe any dues. You gain a new family of people like you, people have your back. It's tribal. It's primal. It's powerful.

And it worked on King George III.

I too find myself a little uncomfortable at the idea the article describes, this decision to treat extremism as a kind of mental illness. Just because someone's ideology is repellant to me does not mean it is not an ideology. At the same time, I do think there is a similarity there --- that the same causes can push someone into a paramilitary organization as well as a street gang, and which side of the law the group they join is on has more to do with the specific circumstances of that culture than the human drives and needs which tip someone one way or another. Is the kind of punk who becomes a racist skinhead all that different from, say, Andreas Baeder? Different era, different politics, different definition of cool and edgy and rebellious, same kind of punk...

The trouble is, if you simply classify everyone with "extremist views" as a plain nutter is prevents you from estimating the strength of their arguments to people who are not like you. After all, who listens to the mutterings of the mad? Whereas if you start from the premise that they're rational people who view the world differently than you you can maybe start to appreciate whether or not there may be lots of people who'd agree with the basis of their arguments, if not their methods...
posted by Diablevert at 8:14 PM on February 19 [5 favorites]


Having read the FPP, it appears the deprogramming programs they cover are voluntary. Any effort that reduces violence and interpersonal harm, is an improvement. Prevention would be best, but after the fact is better than never.
posted by Dreidl at 8:16 PM on February 19


"Whereas if you start from the premise that they're rational people who view the world differently than you you can maybe start to appreciate whether or not there may be lots of people who'd agree with the basis of their arguments, if not their methods..."

If you start from the premise that they're rational people, you're regularly frustrated and confounded by their behavior. Most extremist views aren't in any way coherent, rational or based in any form of objective reality.

You're confusing how attractive arguments are with how strong they are.

"Is the kind of punk who becomes a racist skinhead all that different from, say, Andreas Baeder? Different era, different politics, different definition of cool and edgy and rebellious, same kind of punk..."

Wait, is that the example you want to go with? Is a Neo-Nazi that different from a brain-damaged idiot who blew up banks under the cover of some agit-prop? I would have no real problem with sending an RAF member to any of these "formers" organizations.
posted by klangklangston at 10:30 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Take the neo-nazi Swede for instance. Here you are, growing up in one of the world's richest nations, without threats of malnutrition or disease, and a welfare state that I would consider one of humanity's great achievements and... you fucking hate the Jews? Or Muslims?

Muslims (and sometimes, but mostly not Jews) are seen as "others" who are coming to sweden (SWÄRJE!!) and exploiting the system in a way similar to Mexicans are seen in America, but with the added edge of "and then they also want to impose Sharia law." Which I think is a trope for which we can blame the American right.
posted by beerbajay at 12:23 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


It's good to see after an initial burst of shallow opinion, the thread has changed into something interesting. The article isn't especially outstanding, but there's a very interesting discussion to be had here.

The idea cited in the title, 'sow seeds of doubt, but not try to win arguments', is one that really speaks to me. In my life I haven't knowingly spent time with extremists of this nature, but casual racism, sexism, and homophobia abounds in this world.

Part of me always wonders if I should feel ashamed that when I hear someone express really problematic views like this, that I don't 'call them out'. But really, how effective would that be, other than to pump myself up with a sense of rightenousness (the legal version of kicking ass and taking names)? In all probability, the person who expressed these views wouldn't be suprised that someone disagreed with them - that's half the point. And often these things are far more nuanced than we of the lefty bent might be inclined to think.

A young man who was emotionally abused by their mother and has only had problematic relationships with women may have a raft of sexist opinions. A young women who feels intimidated by middle eastern men after a negative experience may generalize her feelings well out of proportion. Perhaps some times it is indeed nothing more than pure ignorance, but anger is usually born out of fear, of some kind or another.

If we actually want to make a difference, and not simply feel good about being on the right side (which no one ever unambiguously is) then one has to treat whomever one wishes to affect as a human being. You must listen to where they're coming from, find the inconsistencies, and help them see it. If you simply tell someone, "You're wrong!", you're almost certainly not getting at the core of the issue. Maybe they're "wrong" about how they're expressing their pain, but that they've been traumatized, abused, impoverished, neglected, or oppressed, is not wrong. It's the truth that drives them.

Yah, what can I say, I'm a bleeding heart. Even for the "worst" amongst us. I believe that anger and hate is a disease born out of pain and fear. I believe that people want to connect with each other and live in peace, and that this is, in some sense, the natural state of human kind. I also believe that when people have been pushed away from this, punishing them makes it worse, and that all we can do is to try to remind them what human connection is like, even with those they've come to hate.
posted by Alex404 at 1:12 AM on February 20 [14 favorites]


Oh, and one caveat:

My comment doesn't address those cases where large scale violent action seems required for the sake of revolution or protection against genocide. Since Gandhi didn't even have a perfect answer for what to do there, I'm going to defer. I do think there's a lot of change we can effect though by focusing on our interactions with other individuals.
posted by Alex404 at 1:31 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


Part of me always wonders if I should feel ashamed that when I hear someone express really problematic views like this, that I don't 'call them out'. But really, how effective would that be, other than to pump myself up with a sense of rightenousness (the legal version of kicking ass and taking names)? In all probability, the person who expressed these views wouldn't be suprised that someone disagreed with them - that's half the point. And often these things are far more nuanced than we of the lefty bent might be inclined to think.

I dunno, man, I've had reasonable success objecting to people casually using anti-gay slurs (almost never meant with malice toward gay people, but using them casually to mean "jerk" or "shitty") and explaining why it's crappy to do that. Some people don't want to hear it, but more people than you'd think are willing to hear you out.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:38 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


From the article:

Some are skeptical that formers can ever be fully reformed.

I was brought up from birth in a "brainwashing" religious cult and believed it like I believed grass was green, but now I'm an atheist so I call bullshit on those skeptics.
posted by walrus at 2:22 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


I dunno, man, I've had reasonable success objecting to people casually using anti-gay slurs (almost never meant with malice toward gay people, but using them casually to mean "jerk" or "shitty") and explaining why it's crappy to do that.

Fair enough. I guess the point is where is the slur coming from. If it is just from simple ignorance, the person probably doesn't care to much about it one way or the other. If you simply tell them, "hey, that's a shitty thing to say", that might just work because they may honestly have not realized that.

When I was writing my comment those were not the kinds of situations I was imagining. I was remembering those times I was dealing with people who had strongly held, but very problematic opinions. You could probably make a spectrum of people who say things but don't mean them, people who means things but wouldn't act on them, and then finally those who would and do act on them. The first part is what you're talking about, the second is what I'm talking about, and the third is more the subject of the article.

Hopefully I'm not beanplating this. It's just something I often think about.
posted by Alex404 at 4:17 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


If you start from the premise that they're rational people, you're regularly frustrated and confounded by their behavior. Most extremist views aren't in any way coherent, rational or based in any form of objective reality.

You're confusing how attractive arguments are with how strong they are.


How can it be a weak argument if it is capable of persuading many people?

"Rational" was probably the wrong word to use , because it connotes "logical, susceptible to proof and refutation" --- and you're right that many people with extremist views aren't.

What I meant by using Baeder was to suggest that the same sort of psychological profile might be behind people drawn to both the extreme left and the extreme right, in some circumstances, and maybe it just depends on which one they're exposed to in their milieu to see which way the frog jumps.

But on the other hand I think it's dangerous to pathologize extremism as if it is simply a manifestation of psychological problems. Because that sort of elevates the current political status quo to a Panglossian state of nature: The way things are now is the way things naturally are and must be, and so the people who want to overthrow the current system are clearly insane. But I think a lot of the time extremists, are, well, simply extreme --- the may be pressures and tensions and power imbalances which affect whole strata of society, and a handful of people are hardened by that into wanting to overthrow the current power structure entirely. Shift the pressure, intensify it, and you may find that that handful grows and grows.
posted by Diablevert at 5:40 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


While Pope Guilty's approach surely has its place, I found Alex404's suggestion to be more freqently relevant in my past experiences - and when applied to myself personally. When I was called on my shallow thinking and poor reasoning as a member of my former religion, I saw it as an attack. This automatically triggered the training I'd received for handling these "situations", in addition to my personal defensiveness and other character flaws.

I used these encounters as a chance to practice defending my beliefs, make them stronger, then gathered with my fellows to crow about my "victory" in defending our side. (It didn't matter if I'd actually engaged in a balanced discussion or been truly logical or reasonable. As long as I'd gotten the "script" right, I'd "won".) If I'd been more open-minded, a more direct approach might have had a chance, but, then, I wouldn't have stayed in the group as long as I did, either.
posted by Wyeldfire at 6:40 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


I may be crazy, but I cannot understand how ANYONE would think it would be cool to be a type of nazi. Didn't the early-mid 1940s teach us any lasting lessons?

I have been friends with two former Nazis/skinheads. They are both now involved with antifa work. They are both really good people - thoughtful, kind, considerate, and they both now hate Nazis more than I or anyone else ever could. Why did they think it was cool?

Largely, I think, because the line between "Scandinavian/Viking Heritage" and "White Power" is so thin these days in other parts of the world. It doesn't have to be, but because it is often populated by Nazis, it tends to be self-reinforcing. If you're into futhark? You're more likely than not to be involved with some sort of white power group, because those are the people who are super into futhark and go all-out with it. If you want to do Viking re-enactment? Probably the same, because those guys flock to stuff like that and chase other people out.

So if you're born what is often referred to as "white trash," and you're looking for pride in your ancestry - any kind of pride, proof that you came from some sort of noble stock, something that had meaning, that your people weren't always subsistence farmers or living in trailers or what have you - these are the people who are looking for you. These are the people who are opening their arms to you. And they will love you. They will love you so hard.

It's hard not to see how that's tempting for people. Isolation breeds fanaticism. Isolation and loneliness and shame breed the need for obsession.
posted by corb at 6:53 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]


Hopefully I'm not beanplating this. It's just something I often think about.

Not beanplating at all! The reason why I posted the article was because it opens a door on an uncomfortable and complicated topic. It's interesting seeing the various reactions people have to the general concepts.

I presume that the "beating and killing fascists is the best thing" faction are disappointed that they can't travel back in time to beat or kill the "formers" before they had changed their minds. Or, if they aren't disappointed by this, then they don't really believe it when they say things like that.

It's also bemusing to see people pretend that many militant organizations are not always noble warriors, but rather groups which can regularly engage in atrocities - both war crimes and "regular" crimes. Not every conflict has neatly drawn good and bad guys, and often even the "good guys" do horrible things. It neither absolves the Sri Lankan state nor comments on the underlying issues to point out that the Tamil Tigers have committed numerous extreme atrocities - not just violence against the state, but purposeful civilian attacks, ethnic cleansing, human trafficking, etc.

It's bemusing as well that a Tamil Tiger who wishes to renounce their former lifestyle is considered...what? Inexpert on their own experiences? Inattentive to the psychological needs of Westerners? "Gross", for finding common ground with others who need and wish to change their lives?

I may be crazy, but I cannot understand how ANYONE would think it would be cool to be a type of nazi. Didn't the early-mid 1940s teach us any lasting lessons?

Many things go into it, but one factor I'd like to highlight: because there is power in being a Neo-Nazi. Look at all the florid gut reactions people have to Nazis. People hate and fear them, to the extent where they regard them not merely as political enemies, but as dangerous Others. To somebody who feels that they cannot get respect from others, that kind of negative attention is often good enough. No, it doesn't mean that all Neo-Nazis are one hug away from redemption, but neither does it mean that they are all literally inhuman monsters.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:06 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]


I presume that the "beating and killing fascists is the best thing" faction are disappointed that they can't travel back in time to beat or kill the "formers" before they had changed their minds. Or, if they aren't disappointed by this, then they don't really believe it when they say things like that.

Yes, because advocating the use of force in defending against fascists means that you really want to hurt people, and there's no reason to advocate such a thing other than a desire to hurt somebody.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:12 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


I think we should work to understand many common cognitive biases, thought distortions, harmful ideologies that are popular or thriving in small groups and ask people to be willing to challenge and educate themselves, and work to break through the power of the ideologies and groups which fester them.

I kind of disliked that they used the terms "radicals" to represent people with harmful ideology, any time you get people who have all the "right" answers assuming they can deprogram others and can't be questioned-- it starts getting weird- but I don't think that's what they're seeking to do.

I just want to point out the language you use matters and some radicals are good. Questioning authority or the dominant paradigm can be good. So is looking for facts, attempting to use logic, knowledge, reason and intelligence to challenge not only the dominant paradigm but your own BS of which every human has some amount of.

Take Rick Ross for example who has devoted himself to deprogramming of people brainwashed by cults but has run into plenty of criticism and controversy for some of his techniques and lack of credentials vs Steve Hassan who at least has a mental health license to be practicing as an assistant to people who've dealt with cult or harmful group think experiences. I've known many people who reported being taken advantage of in 12 step programs and other situations where they were supposedly being helped, and there is still a dynamic between "deprogrammer" and "deprogrammee" in which helping someone discard harmful thinking patterns and replacing them with your own can get just as weird- yet it often a part of family, mentoring, and community support systems.

Having shared and pro-social values is probably a good thing, and I like these group of projects as described. So long as these groups don't REPLACE law enforcement response to criminal behavior- certainly more support to help people before they commit offenses or live out toxic ideologies that harm everyone around them is a GREAT thing. But these groups don't necessarily have to replace the normal healthy anger people who haven't "repented" yet, or who have a history with hate groups might face from other community members worried about the safety issues of having people like this interacting in their communities. Not EVERYONE needs to be understanding and nice to people have issues with say, wanting an entire race of people to be destroyed. A pissed off "F you" is a pretty decent response to that sort of harmful BS. I don't know, it takes all sorts of methods to combat stuff like this and I think this should be one of them.
posted by xarnop at 7:15 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Yes, because advocating the use of force in defending against fascists means that you really want to hurt people, and there's no reason to advocate such a thing other than a desire to hurt somebody.

That is not what I said at all, and nor is it relevant to the discussion. The article does not talk about stopping violent action by having an angelic child hold out her palm and coo everyone into a state of sororal love.

Force ought to be stopped with force. What is silly, however, are the comments like, "The most direct way to cure a Nazi was developed by the Soviets during WWII and has yet to be improved upon". That has absolutely nothing to do with changing the hearts and minds of Neo-Nazis (et al.) who are not currently engaging in warfare, be they people who want to change their lifestyles, or people who may be in a window of opportunity to choose a better path.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:20 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


beerbajay: Muslims are seen as "others" ...with the added edge of "and then they also want to impose Sharia law." Which I think is a trope for which we can blame the American right.

This is the kind of thing that worries me greatly. It seems clear here in Canada that this trope is becoming widespread, and many people are ignorant enough to simply add it to their personal narrative without a second thought. Now it becomes a "normal" background idea combined with a certain amount of fear, and we're all simmering in it.

How do we talk to people who seem to have no idea that this kind of thinking might be a problem?
posted by sneebler at 7:22 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


But yeah, there are problems with creating a situation where you might be giving a certain immunity to people with a dangerous or criminal history and expecting them to be given trust in a community that probably SHOULD be suspicious of people with such histories, even if they never actually carried out the crimes they idealized.

To me, this gets into issues that I have problems with in using things like restorative justice or transformative justice to re-enstate abusive people into their communities or former victims lives after they repent and when it gets enforced that these people have to be accepted like nothing happened, things get weird, and potentially really harmful.

It sounds really nice to forgive everything and understand everything and walk in harmony with everyone, but these are the same traits that lead to things like giving second chances to child molesters and dangerous shit that just should not be done.
posted by xarnop at 7:23 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Oh, I see, I should've realized that
I presume that the "beating and killing fascists is the best thing" faction are disappointed that they can't travel back in time to beat or kill the "formers" before they had changed their minds. Or, if they aren't disappointed by this, then they don't really believe it when they say things like that.
actually meant that people who advocate the use of force... actually, no, it's not clear what you're saying, other than accusing people who advocate the use of force to resist fascism of being violent sorts looking for an excuse. I literally cannot find another reading of that. You are accusing people who advocate the use of force against fascists of being actively sad that they have had an opportunity to commit violence and murder taken away from them. That's incredibly insulting and gross.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:26 AM on February 20


If, in response to an article about Neo-Nazis (et al.) becoming former Neo-Nazis (et al.), you had commented that the best solution fascism is either death or beatings, then either:

1) You actually believe what you have written. Therefore, you think that changing fascists' minds is less preferable than death or beatings, irrespective of the level of imminent threat any particular fascist literally poses at any given time. Someone who endeavors to change the mind of a fascist is doing something that is less preferable than simply killing or beating them. Your comment is relevant, as it is your genuinely held opinion that the best cure for fascism is death or beating.

or

2) You do not actually believe what you have written. You are in fact aware that there exist many contexts in which other options are preferable, such as when said fascists do not literally pose an imminent threat to others, and when there is an opportunity to change their minds. Your comment is irrelevant, as the article is not about how to handle fascists who are literally posing an imminent threat to anyone.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:16 AM on February 20


"How can it be a weak argument if it is capable of persuading many people? "

Uh, pretty easily? The argument for a 5,000-year-old earth is incredibly weak, but a lot of people believe it. The arguments for trickle-down economics, the Laffer curve or the invasion of Iraq were all incredibly weak. People believe weak arguments if they get something out of doing so — in this case, a psychological reassurance about their value.

"What I meant by using Baeder was to suggest that the same sort of psychological profile might be behind people drawn to both the extreme left and the extreme right, in some circumstances, and maybe it just depends on which one they're exposed to in their milieu to see which way the frog jumps. "

And again, I don't see that as any real argument against treating the appeal of such movements as psychologically disordered. There are plenty of groups on the left that are full of lunatic assholes — I can acknowledge that even though I'm on the left, and I'm even someone on the left who's not inherently opposed to force or radical action. The RAF, the SLA, hell, the Tamil Tigers are all leftist pseudo-cults that prey upon the insecurities and neuroses of their followers, manipulating them into sociopathic action. Outside of quibbles about doctrine, I don't see a huge difference between them and the Manson Family.

"But on the other hand I think it's dangerous to pathologize extremism as if it is simply a manifestation of psychological problems. Because that sort of elevates the current political status quo to a Panglossian state of nature: The way things are now is the way things naturally are and must be, and so the people who want to overthrow the current system are clearly insane. But I think a lot of the time extremists, are, well, simply extreme --- the may be pressures and tensions and power imbalances which affect whole strata of society, and a handful of people are hardened by that into wanting to overthrow the current power structure entirely. Shift the pressure, intensify it, and you may find that that handful grows and grows."

It doesn't have to. I recognize the Foucault complaint about using madness as a convenient excuse for ostracizing people who would agitate for revolution, but there's a huge difference between that and agitating for a race war or becoming a suicide bomber or any number of other sociopathic manifestations. Hell, I'd even say that there's a significant difference between the Weathermen and the RAF — the Weathermen went out of their way to avoid civilian casualties, and their bombing campaign was specifically aimed at governmental offices, a government that was illegally persecuting them and others (e.g. Cointellpro break-in). But even then, Bill Ayers talks about the Maoist self-brainwashing that the group did, where groupthink and isolation pushed them to be both more radical and more unable to reject bad ideas from within the group.

There's nothing Panglossian about recognizing the pattern that marks these extremists as unhealthy and disordered — if anything, radicals need to recognize these potential problems and guard against them if they want to be able to effect change. The idea that because we're all on the left, we ought to stand together becomes quickly absurd when faced with the murder of civilians — think about how quickly the Syrian rebels were discredited once extremists started terrorizing the civilian pro-Assad population. You can legitimately fight an illegitimate government without resorting to terrorism, and should if you want to maintain the support of the people necessary for both legitimacy and success.
posted by klangklangston at 8:38 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


You can talk about the fucked-up actions and internal dynamics of extremist groups without labeling individuals as insane. The discourse of mental illness provides an easy excuse for refusing to engage with people ("Oh, don't listen to them, they're crazy"), but it comes with so much extra baggage that you're just going to create more problems than you solve that way.
posted by twirlip at 10:36 AM on February 20


Did you actually read the article? Because describing it as simply labeling people as insane is such a straw man that I wonder if you engaged with the text.
posted by klangklangston at 10:51 AM on February 20


I cannot understand how ANYONE would think it would be cool to be a type of nazi.

Hugo Boss, the man himself. Especially by gauche American standards they certainly had style.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 11:55 AM on February 20


klang, I'm not talking about the article, I'm talking about your comments in this thread.
posted by twirlip at 10:32 AM on February 21


OK, well, then, read the article because it provides a pretty essential piece of context for my comments. Because as it stands, your comment is over-simplified to the point of irrelevance.
posted by klangklangston at 12:57 PM on February 21


Guys, guys. You may be unaware, but I think we already established that the format for this kind of argument is rap battles. I'm very disappointed in you.
posted by corb at 1:11 PM on February 21 [2 favorites]


this is a story
all about how
my extremist ideology
got flipped-turned upside down
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:18 PM on February 21 [2 favorites]


I'm remembering why I try to avoid political discussions online these days.

Look, I read the article. As far as I can tell, the groups it discusses don't treat extremists as "psychologically disordered" in any clinical sense, let alone as "sociopathic," "lunatic assholes." It seems to me that you are bringing psychiatric language and psychiatric thinking into the discussion -- and very hardline, black-and-white thinking at that. I think it's a really bad idea to frame extremism that way. For one thing, it cuts off dialogue and isolates and pathologizes people in precisely the way that these groups are trying to avoid (one of the formers specifically says he was hesitant to get help because he was "afraid that people were going to judge, to say, you must be crazy or sick"). For another, as previous comments have already pointed out, it's an approach that's ripe for abuse.
posted by twirlip at 2:51 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]


"Look, I read the article. As far as I can tell, the groups it discusses don't treat extremists as "psychologically disordered" in any clinical sense, let alone as "sociopathic," "lunatic assholes." "

It seems odd to object to "lunatic assholes" as an extension of the "clinical sense" of "psychologically disordered." However, Andreas Baeder was pretty much a textbook sociopath, and was indisputably a manipulative person who maneuvered his followers into anti-social action.

"It seems to me that you are bringing psychiatric language and psychiatric thinking into the discussion -- and very hardline, black-and-white thinking at that."

Because I think that people who use suicide belts to blow up civilians might actually have legitimate psychological problems beyond simply an adherence to an extremist ideology? I don't find your objection very persuasive — the greatest weight it could hold is the lack of a formal diagnosis. And not only that, it's not me who introduced the psychological framework here — I was responding to both other comments, and the implicit mode of many of the groups discussed. For example, treating extremism under an addiction rubric is adopting a mental disease framework.

"For one thing, it cuts off dialogue and isolates and pathologizes people in precisely the way that these groups are trying to avoid (one of the formers specifically says he was hesitant to get help because he was "afraid that people were going to judge, to say, you must be crazy or sick")."

There are two points worth making in response: First off, there isn't rational dialogue to be had with most extremists. That's part of what distinguishes them. Secondly, that's like arguing that describing someone as sick will prevent them from going to the doctor.

"For another, as previous comments have already pointed out, it's an approach that's ripe for abuse."

Except there was no real evidence that this instance lends itself to abuse. It was just asserted by people who didn't really bother to read the article.
posted by klangklangston at 5:08 PM on February 21


For years, Michael von Dolsperg provided German intelligence with information from the neo-Nazi scene. But when the NSU terror trio came to light, his file was shredded. Why? Could details he provided have prevented the murder spree?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:06 PM on February 27


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