Radical Pedagogy, Vol. 6(2) 2005   

ISSN: 1524-6345       


The Marginal is on the Edge of the Mainstream: An Approach to Teaching about Hate Propaganda


Robert Lanning

Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology Mount Saint Vincent University



This article discusses an approach to teaching about hate propaganda used by the author in university-level sociology courses. Beginning with a study of a court case, the emphasis is on drawing students' attention to the possible connection between discriminatory or racist attitudes evident in everyday life, and the less volatile messages of organized hate groups. Using material from hate groups we attempt to see how these relate to the legal definition of hate propaganda in Canada. An underlying concern is to bring about an understanding of the responsibility for individual awareness of what constitutes hate propaganda.


Organized hate groups may be considered marginal in terms of their numbers for bringing about the social changes they advocate. Under current circumstances, only a small proportion of the population of North America will likely become active members of these organizations, and it may be commonly assumed that individuals who do become members are extremists. The perceived dominance of tolerance over prejudice in schools and society generally may suggest a less immediate need to address ideas held by a marginal segment of the population. Educators may recognize the harmfulness of hate messages, but may also believe that messages of tolerance have a deterrent effect and presently have the upper hand. On a related issue, Robin Crews (1999, 25) has noted that the end of the cold war brought about a perception that the need for peace education had been superseded by events. This caused a reassessment of peace studies, in the sense that peace is not merely the absence of war, and that conceptions of peace and education for it necessarily turn on a more complex understanding of society and conflict. Similarly, the existing social emphases on tolerance and civil rights achievements cannot be sustained simply on the absence of open racial or ethnic conflict; addressing the issue of hate propaganda requires a complex understanding of social problems and individual attitudes.

Knowledge about multiculturalism, the problems of racism and anti-Semitism, and the impact of civil rights movements, are topics to which many university students are exposed. Students may see the propaganda of hate groups as socially marginal and politically insignificant and may, therefore, feel they are a safe distance from their messages. In his study of mass hatred Kressel (2002: 206) has made the point that institutions of higher education are more liberal and tolerant environments where critical knowledge can be developed to counteract discriminatory attitudes. But Kressel and others (Adorno, et al., 1982/1950; Blee, 2002) illustrate that higher education neither ensures an acceptance of arguments for tolerance and equality, nor does it necessarily offset the influences of racist attitudes students experience elsewhere. Historical studies such as Christopher Browning's Ordinary Men (1992) and Jan Gross's Neighbors (2001), or arguments in political philosophy such as Norman Geras's The Contract of Mutual Indifference (1998) provide cautionary arguments against the assumption that normative socialization in relatively tolerant societies insulates us from hatred and its consequences.

Some recent studies illustrate the importance of developing critical approaches to attitudes young people have about inter-racial and inter-ethnic relations. In her study of high school and university students, for example, Carolyn Turpin-Petrosino (2002) found their receptivity to the messages of hate groups, which have increased their presence on high school and college campuses, to be significant especially through inter-personal contact. Otis Grant (2003) has argued that some students' negative attitudes about the attributes of racial minorities are so deeply rooted they are prevented from accepting knowledge that challenges their learned beliefs. Solomon and Levine-Rasky (1996) encountered similarly rigid attitudes in attempting to teach anti-racist methods to student teachers. These studies demonstrate that socialization processes in varied periods of life and social circumstances are factors that may limit the effectiveness of the evidence and arguments critical educators bring to the classroom. Education at all levels requires a critical perspective on the power and reproduction of normative cultural attitudes and the marginal propaganda that can perpetuate them. However, despite liberal and tolerant educational environments and the efforts of critical educators, not all students are willing to critique the familiar and comfortable beliefs they have acquired in supportive environments, such as home, school, peer groups, and religious or other community institutions.

Taken-for-granted beliefs acquired through socialization that may include discriminatory and intolerant attitudes, represent what Philomena Essed (Blee 2002:75) calls "everyday racism," a category of attitudes that reflect "negative, stereotyped views of minority groups, [but] lack systematic explanatory force”.  Such attitudes can be self-legitimating in the sense that they are grounded in myths, hearsay, and rumor that offer a rationale for everyday encounters and experiences.  Self-serving beliefs of this kind acquire an aura of truthfulness because they are claimed to be commonly held (within peer groups, for example), generated through widespread experience, and enduring over generations. One need not be a member of an organized hate group to hold and communicate such views.

In this paper I discuss an approach to teaching about hate propaganda in university courses on social problems, deviance and the sociology of education. The discussion here is thematic rather than a detailed "how-to"; the general emphasis is on drawing students' attention to the subtle elements of hate propaganda with a view to locating similar ideas they have witnessed others communicating. The discussion begins with a legal case study of the limits of free expression. I then discuss recent social research that demonstrates the existence of intolerant attitudes among a minority proportion of the population. Finally, I discuss some examples of the subtler forms of propaganda of hate groups, by which I mean those messages that are motivated by hatred but which may not so clearly meet the test of hate propaganda.

Propaganda refers, at base, to the dissemination of ideas.  Propaganda that promotes hatred requires a more precise definition.  The propagation of ideas may carry the force of a powerful social institution or other means to persuade or coerce an audience to adopt a particular doctrine.  Commenting on a court case involving hatred, Mme. Justice Beverley MacLachlin of the Supreme Court of Canada posed an important and basic distinction relevant to students’ concerns: “Where does dislike leave off and hatred begin?” (qu. in Matas, 2000, 44).  That is, what is the difference between expressing a personal opinion and the actual or potential effects of that expression on others?  David Matas argues that the test for determining that a particular passage is hate propaganda is whether “the contested speech [is] likely to arouse hatred in third parties…. The ultimate focus of the laws is not the perpetrator, the vilified group, or even the message, but rather the potential convert" (Matas, 2000, 45). The message itself may or may not be evidently hateful and harmful, but the potential of the message to produce more hatred is the central concern of the law against hate propaganda. Such a definition of hate speech is crucial for educational dialogue; it draws out attention to the target and content of the hateful message, while it has the potential to move students to question their position as passive recipients of information, and teachers to reassess their role as disinterested conveyors of factual knowledge.

With the growth of the internet, hate groups have been able to disseminate their propaganda with relative ease. In presenting their arguments some groups have become more sophisticated (Schafer, 2002; Glaser, et al., 2002). Hence, an important focus for teaching about hate propaganda concerns how propaganda is used to attract people to a hate group's point of view when the message appears in a less volatile form, embedded in the rhetoric of individualized values or community feeling, and represents an identifiable community of like-minded people. Consequently, one premise of my approach to teaching about hate propaganda is that students' gut-feeling of its wrongfulness may be an insufficient deterrent. Stephen Bronner (2000, 8) has made a similar point in his discussion of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, that "simply disproving the various falsehoods of works like the - Protocols is insufficient. Anti-Semitism is ultimately, in practical political terms, a matter of faith”.

Teaching about hate propaganda requires a basic methodological schema in which participants are able to communicate openly about their advocacy of tolerance or misgivings about social groups other than their own, their abhorrence of hatred or their curiosities about hate groups. Bob Peterson's (1998) criteria for a social justice education are helpful in attempting to establish such an environment: dialogue, the critique of biases, questioning and problem-solving, grounding the curriculum in the lives of students and, above all, teaching with a view to creating social activists. This approach helps to construct a teaching-learning paradigm that encourages the examinations of issues beyond a basic sociological description. Of central importance is an appreciation of the tensions and contradictions that lie above and below the surface of students' social experience and to make these subjects of discussion and critique.

"Wilful Blindness" and the Use of Hate Speech

One purpose of progressive and critical pedagogies is to provide the social space and resources for students to question attitudes and debate ideas. For university students, debate over many issues can be regarded, in part, as a search for clarity and certainty, and is an important element of the ongoing process of socialization. Thus, initiating a discussion of hate propaganda by examining the meaning and limits of individual circumstances and free expression helps to construct a frame for critical analysis of less explicit racist propaganda. One helpful beginning is discussing with students the contexts (places, people) in which they have heard, read and/or experienced racist speech or writing. Understanding the development and possible impact of propaganda must include a consideration of our own reaction to these experiences, or exposure to racist material whether subtle or volatile. It is also important to consider whether our knowledge about what constitutes racial slurs or hate propaganda is sufficient, and whether our responses to such language and ideas are adequate to reduce the impact of them. The discussion establishes a basis for comparing the potential relation between personal opinion and propaganda.

Students are aware of the importance of free expression and are often concerned about constraints on it. In Canada, freedom of expression is constitutionally "subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society" (Canada, 1982, Section 1). In practice the limitation in Canada is, like the U.S. context, subject to the influence of hegemonic interests, as well as to changing social values and judicial determination. Court decisions regarding hate speech and hate crime reflect the accommodation of new meanings, changing public knowledge and expanding contexts of the law (Phillips and Grattet, 2000). In the classroom these issues are addressed as matters relevant to the continuous acquisition of knowledge and of individuals' development of a sense of place in the wider world.

Hate messages are communicated in social contexts such as North America in which there is a societal expectation that people will be aware of the inappropriateness of discriminatory language, and that the legal prohibition of racist speech and actions are justified by public efforts to acknowledge and redress past inequalities. The section of the Criminal Code of Canada on the promotion of hatred (Canada, 1985, Section 319) is an important classroom focus. It denotes the prohibited action, inciting or promoting "hatred against any identifiable group," and outlines the legal exceptions to a criminal conviction, such as establishing that the statements made were true, or that the statements were a religious opinion expressed in "good faith", or were intended to educate the public about hatred. It provides students with a framework for understanding the free expression provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Multiculturalism is a federal policy and is promoted in all levels of schooling across Canada; the Charter is a subject of instruction in high school and university, at least. It is reasonable, therefore, to expect that a large proportion of the population has been exposed to the principles embodied in public policy over the last two decades, and has adopted an attitude of tolerance over the last two decades.

This expectation of public knowledge is evident in legal judgements. One example is the decision by the Court of Appeal for Ontario regarding a conviction for "wilfully promoting hatred against Muslims".  Mark Harding had been convicted of distributing leaflets in 1997 at high schools in Toronto, Ontario, and using the telephone system to communicate his beliefs that, among other things, all Muslims are associated with terrorism, that a local high school auditorium had been "turned into a mosque for the children to pray," and that Islam poses a "threat to our children" (Harding v. The Queen, 2001, 34).

Harding appealed the conviction on the grounds that he did not intent to promote hatred. The appeal was denied on the basis of the legal concept of "wilful blindness".  As a point of law, "wilful blindness" provides a strong caution against accepting and disseminating any ideas or beliefs without establishing their veracity. The Ontario Appeal Court accepted the lower court’s ruling that "equated wilful blindness with foreseeing the consequence of one's acts with substantial certainty" (Harding v. The Queen, 2001: 16). Citing Glanville Williams's Criminal Law, the judges affirmed that "wilful blindness" is equivalent to knowledge. "[T]he rule is that if a party has his suspicion aroused but then deliberately omits to make further enquiries, because he wishes to remain in ignorance, he is deemed to have knowledge" (Harding v. The Queen, 2001: 17). That is, the person chooses to act on the basis of hearsay or stereotype, rather than investigating to ascertain more comprehensive and accurate knowledge. This is affirmation of "objective liability" as Verdun-Jones (1999: 93) points out, "does not take into account what was actually going on in the head of the accused at the time of the alleged offence; rather, it is concerned with what the reasonable person would have known if placed in exactly the same circumstances as the accused."

Thus, Harding's actions meet the test of hate propaganda noted above; that is, it had the potential to encourage or incite others to promote hatred. Harding's case provides an important ground for discussing the social expectation of personal responsibility in relation to hate propaganda. Our class discussion centers on the availability of a quality of knowledge much different than Harding was propagating. Among others, the following questions have been posed: If Harding chose to adopt certain information, what did he choose to ignore? Where can knowledge about Islam can be found, as well as knowledge about terrorism? Did he get his attitudes solely from organized hate groups? Was his "everyday knowledge" about Muslims - erroneous though it was - made sharper by his contact with such groups? We arrive at a conclusion that in Canadian society (in this case) personal opinion, freedom of expression and limited knowledge do not outweigh the responsibility to hold a fuller knowledge of people and issues that supports progressive social values and related expectations of behaviour.

Marginal Public Opinion: The Ground of Hate Propaganda

Our discussion of Harding's case is mediated by evidence found in social research demonstrating the existence of intolerant attitudes among a minority of the population. In using this research the intention is to establish that attitudes among a small proportion of the population mimic the less volatile messages of organized hate groups. Hate groups may develop unique programs of propaganda but the "thresholds" of their organizations are beliefs and attitudes communicated in some contexts of everyday life by people who are not members of hate groups.

The periodic resurgence of race or ethnicity as an explanation of intelligence, unemployment, poverty and welfare dependency, and the persistent claims that Jewish financial and political interests control the world lends some sense of social permanence and utility to such ideas when and where hate organizations have a receptive audience, or when public opinion, motivated by the vicissitudes of political and economic life, contests tolerance and rational analysis as a normative basis for social life. The resurgence of such claims in mainstream media and public debate may imply "societal permission" to engage in hate crime (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2001: 10) or to disseminate hate propaganda. Public controversies over the use in schools of children's books on gay and lesbian families, for example, may suggest to some that attitudes of tolerance toward these groups are sufficiently unsettled to allow actions against them to be undertaken with impunity.

Empirical evidence from recent population surveys and studies of hate propaganda shows that small but significant proportions of research samples continue to hold negative attitudes about racial and ethnic minorities. For example, David Raden’s (1998) study of preferred social distance shows that 22% of blacks and 13% of whites would not favor living in a neighborhood that was at least half Jewish. Nearly the same proportions would not favor a close relative marrying a Jew. One-quarter of Americans surveyed in 2001 by the Committee of 100, a Chinese-American organization, held "strong negative views toward Asians," while the same proportion disapproved of inter-marriage (Anti-Defamation League, 2001). Turpin-Petrosino's (2002) university-aged subjects strongly disapproved (58%-67%) of intermarriage (white-black, Jewish-nonJewish, white-Hispanic, white-Asian). A survey of attitudes regarding the relative power of various ethnic groups in Canada (Winn, 2001) indicated that 14% of respondents felt that Asians and Jews have too much power; 8% believed that Italians and 5% believed that African-Canadians had too much power. Little change was evident from a 1986 survey, although respondents who felt these groups did not have enough power doubled between 1986 and 2001. A recent Anti-Defamation League survey (2002) showed another rise in anti-Semitic attitudes in the United States (after a decline in 1998) with 17% of Americans, in general, "strongly anti-Semitic," and twice that proportion among Hispanics and African-Americans.

The actual level of receptivity to hate messages is difficult to trace, especially because much may be attributed to situational factors that provide the ground in which racist propaganda can take root (cf. Green et al., 2001: 494; Rubin, 1994). Survey results such as these do indicate that small but significant proportions of populations (in Canada and the U.S.) consider certain forms of inter-racial and inter-ethnic relations and the perceived social power of minority groups to be problematic. However small, data of this kind nevertheless indicates a potential audience for hate propaganda. As Henry, et al. (2001) have shown, this is a potential that has been real and persistent in social surveys over a twenty year period from 1978 which have indicated that 10-20% of Canadian respondents are "extremely intolerant of racial minorities".

Individual responses to survey questions express personal opinions, which may include a feeling about what is good for society. The combination of motives implicitly questions the prevailing social principles of residential mobility and personal choice in relationships. Hate groups take the expression of personal opinion a step further by framing their propaganda in social scientific methods and language. Ernst Zundel's internet site (, for example, tries to disprove the Holocaust by introducing purportedly scientific evidence hitherto suppressed. David Matas has suggested that these kinds of messages "succeed by the imagery and references they contain," and that the "overall impression … is one of research and reflection" (2000: 47).

One purpose of education, and something students often demand, is the presentation of different points of view and alternatives to dominant ideas. Some purveyors of hatred have become sophisticated enough to present their messages in a form that corresponds to the typical classroom mode of disseminating knowledge. That evidence found on Zundel's site, for example, is false will be beside the point for the naïve entrant to this website, or for those whose anti-Semitic leanings outweigh the need for veracity. But the "scholarly" presentation may well attract those whose educational experience has exposed them to the scientific method, even if only as a self-legitimating claim.1  Zundel attempts to legitimize Holocaust denial by taking the position of "disinterested educator", repeatedly denying he has advocated violence, and by arguing that he cannot take responsibility for what others do with the information he provides (Makin, 2004). Zundel exploits the tension between received social knowledge and the right to a contrary view. He has tapped into the space of open debate that liberal states have found difficult to control or to expunge from utility poles or cyberspace.

It is important for students to examine the form of argument found on Zundel's site and others, just as they should examine any other evidence they may encounter, scholarly or otherwise. Teachers must be cautious not to promote debate for its own sake, which may imply to some students that any received social knowledge can be turned on its head with alternative claims of scientific truth. Teachers should also be cautious not to dismiss students' doubts about the veracity of historical claims which may represent the absence of exposure to accurate and comprehensive historical knowledge about the Holocaust or the destructive effects of everyday racism. In my own teaching experience, I find that university-level students do not possess much beyond a basic knowledge of the Holocaust. Consequently, exposure to the history of Anti-Semitism, autobiographical narratives of survivors and resisters, and at least an awareness of the existence of the voluminous factual literature brings students closer to a more comprehensive knowledge and helps them avoid the problem of wilful blindness.2

The Subtle Communication of Hate

Another aspect of teaching about hate propaganda is the way hate groups use socialization, storytelling and self-help advice to establish common interests. While the development of racial and ethnic distinctions and discriminatory attitudes can begin in the early experiences of socialization (Van Ausdale and Feagin, 2001), the possibility of being attracted to, and involved in sub-cultures like hate groups may occur in biographical moments of tension, threatened identity, or a sense of alienation, and may be associated with exposure to competing ideologies. It is within the frame of family life, schooling and the workplace that people become aware of competing values, the news of demographic changes, or the undercurrent of active or residual racial and ethnic tensions. In highly competitive societies, with a history of social divisions based on class, race, ethnicity, and gender, people may not look for the cause of their problems in the structural arrangements in their society, but in the different kinds of people with whom they compete. Despite C. Wright Mills' (1959) oft-quoted hope that people will find the public issue in their personal troubles, individuals may rationalize their personal dilemma in reactionary terms of reference.

For example, Blee (2002: 28) argues that racism was not the cause of her subjects' entry into hate organizations, but a consequence of membership and activity. Many women in her study speak of their "search for meaning" as a process that led to racist involvement, suggesting that the racism of these groups was a vehicle for the development of a positive self-image. However, two considerations are important. One is a person's predisposition to racist messages as explanations for personal or social problems. The other is the importance of socialization processes intended to develop a receptivity to the self-affirming meaning of racist ideologies, confirming that a racist group can provide an environment considered by some to be personally rewarding. Given our initial discussion of wilful blindness, no participant in a racist community can escape responsibility for that choice. Nevertheless, comfortable inter-personal relations and a supportive community may be a sufficient condition for a person to adopt a racist ideology. Randy Blazak (2002) points out that young men are often recruited - if not to an organization, then to a message - by contact with others who become trusted acquaintances and who help them deal with the perceived threats to their status as white boys, heterosexuals and future workers. One of the most worrisome aspects of hate group participation is, therefore, the supportive community built around the language, behavioral expectations and sympathetic interest in the problems of self-identification, which may confirm Blee's consequence-not-cause thesis. A loose sense of community may develop around shared attitudes such as those indicated by public opinion surveys.

One component of organized racist activity is language, some of which supplies more sustained meaning and rationale than others. Overtly racist (cf. Kennedy, 2002) or anti-Semitic language may attract those looking for an immediate identifier for racist ideas and action. In the case of hate propaganda, some subtle statements attempt to shift linguistic meaning away from a direct identification with hatred (cf. Morgan, 2001) and are, therefore, more persuasive than provocative.

One example is the use of the term diversity.  At base diversity is only a recognition of multiple ethnic groups, sexual orientations, religions, and other group affiliations. The concept of diversity acquires a more substantive value with a consciousness of its democratic meaning: assuring equal status to all groups and knowledge of their distinct historical experiences and social conditions. In the hands of organized hate groups, diversity can be deterred from its normative meaning by emphasizing the importance of permanently separate identities and social space.

On the children's pages of the Ku Klux Klan website the meaning of diversity appears to be based on the freedoms of expression, mobility, and religion. The Klan provides the curious reader with a form of logic that suggests the real meaning of diversity is actually threatened by the acceptance of positive inter-racial relations. Diversity, for the Klan, is the quantitative, eternally distinguishable variety of creation. "There will be no more of God's rainbow.... People are getting tricked. They say they believe in diversity if everyone in the world mixes up into the same thing" (The KKK has many goals, 2002)3 . In a "commentary" in the youth section of the same website, Rachel Pendergraft offers some parenting advice that references such variety and cautions against extremist socialization.

You must plant the seed of love for their own NOT hatred for others. Some parents have the misguided idea that raising their children to mimic the stereotyped actions of Hollywood racists is a foolproof plan guaranteeing noble racialist thinking. Such is not the case. Teaching Christian conduct in relation to all people, teaching that we are the real promoters of diversity and showing the fallacy of those who believe that an entire world of mixed 'brown' people is somehow diverse, and being a good example yourself of a dedicated, concerned, compassionate and caring racialist is the best indicator that you will have a well brought up child. Pendergraft (2002)

In this particular message the Klan does not want to appear to be creating ranting, uncontrolled racists, but principled racialists who can help their children understand the aphorism that everything in God's universe has its proper place, and that component groups of a diverse society should be distinct from each other and their singularity protected.

I pose a question at this juncture: Beyond race or ethnicity per se what is implied in these different meanings of diversity? If diversity means recognition of a variety of social groups and equal treatment for them, it must also mean some degree of movement toward the equalization of social power. Applying this to the context at hand, students acquire an understanding of the practical problem embedded in the Klan's "diversity": previously hegemonic groups in North American societies have had to relinquish the power by which they retained their dominance. Amid the bluster about the decline of public morality with respect to a range of issues the Klans' rationale can be found: that white people are in danger of losing their historic place and power because of intermarriage and a generalized increase of social integration in every aspect of society.

The Klan offers youth some answers to their queries about its view of African Americans. The concept of diversity once again serves the interests of recognizing differences, but also the importance of social distance to maintain them and is, therefore, implicitly linked to the public opinion noted earlier. The Klan acknowledges that, "Sometimes people think that the KKK doesn't like Black people" (I've heard some bad things about the KKK, 2002). Alluding to slave rebellions and crime committed by African-Americans, the Klan attempts to draw the reader to an awareness of white victimization, but more important is a subtle argument about the white supremacists' version of what might be called "diversity through distance," such as referring to poor whites and blacks getting along in the South, the relative hate between the two groups (some white people hate blacks just as some black people hate whites), and the fact that many black families try hard to keep their children away from drugs and crime. The two races can live side-by-side, the argument goes, so long as race-mixing does not occur, and so long as groups of minorities living in the same neighborhoods or cities do not become so large that they believe they can dominate white people. The argument need only play on fears of crime by African Americans, the "there-goes-the-neighborhood" response to residential integration, and riots against oppressive conditions to establish a convenient springboard to argue that society would be more peaceful if only minorities and whites alike would respect a necessary and preserving social distance.

This language of socialization promotes a value orientation toward identity with one's ethnic group, using concepts of diversity and compassion, and an interest in effective and affirmative child-rearing. To some extent, these examples are what Evelyn Kallen (1998: 12) calls an "invalidation ideology" that "inferiorizes target populations [and] singles them out as dangerous and threatening." While the Klan uses such an invalidating strategy, its language also suggests that the "inferiority" of a group is less of a problem if they remain a safe distance from white society and if white people do not risk inferiorizing themselves through integration and intermarriage.

Despite the possibility that these views may be the source for developing committed racists, it is unlikely they would meet the test for the promotion of hatred. From the point of view of a critical approach to learning, however, it seems crucial to explore possible meanings and uses of the Klan's arguments. Pedagogically, it is important that students acknowledge the existence of racist and other discriminatory views that are outside the organizational boundaries of hate groups and within the frame of mainstream society. In as practical a manner as possible, I want to affirm the proposition that the approach the Klan takes in these less volatile statements is already evident in a small but significant proportion of the population. Students can then discuss more comprehensively the sentiments behind such views and speculate on why people may hold them. The superficial "reasonableness" of the argument is the threshold intended to permit a more comfortable entry into the sphere of hate groups for people with similar concerns about themselves, their children, and the future of their place in North American society, and to validate those concerns.4

In the view of white supremacists, these arguments are intended to buttress against the excessive extension of liberal rights and freedoms. While accepting the principle of free discussion and individual autonomy, an underlying message is their dangerous character. The form and import of this message has its roots in one of the classic documents of anti-Semitism, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. The Protocols is a direct assault on the Jewish people, but it also contains a generalized warning that liberal democratic rights have undermined the power of traditional institutions and provided social space for a destructive pluralism (Bronner, 2000). The Klan picks up this form of argument and makes it more accessible to a potential audience uncertain of the value of expanding liberal freedoms.

Stories and fables directed toward children carry messages that are also less volatile on the surface. Often these stories include an Aesopian moral that may or may not be understood immediately but address a perceived or future problem of everyday life, one that needs an answer best found in riddle rather than reason. During its existence,5 the Church of the Creator adopted the Aesopian fable as a form of story-telling for children, complete with a didactic moral at the conclusion of each tale. "In love with the White People" (WCOTC, 2002) is a story of children exchanging Valentine cards in a classroom, "in the lush valleys of the Great Smoky Mountains." The tale begins innocently, but with the promotion of the Church of the Creator through its symbol on the card distributed by one student, "a little yellow halo floating over a red crown and a black 'W", and the exclusion of "certain diverse elements of the class." The story ends with a moral about pride in the white race.

Other stories used by the Church of the Creator are much less direct in their messages, their hidden meanings perhaps emerging with further indoctrination. "The rat who would be king" tells the story of rats who unseat the lion, the natural leader of the jungle. "Tired of being kicked out of every country they ever lived in," the rats succeed by conspiracy and deception. The morals accompanying the tale, such as, "Treachery comes in all shapes and sizes," provide the didacticism typical of the Aesopian form. Students are generally unaware that the choice of rats as villains is anti-Semitic code for Jews. The effectiveness of obscured meanings is especially important when accompanied by the suggestion of conspiracy; the latter, itself, an historically recurring incitement to hatred of particular social groups. To the naïve or uncritical student, a conspiracy claim serves as an invitation to believability because it allows anyone to assign blame or cause with impunity. Consequently, this kind of tale can acquire more meaning when bolstered by additional anti-Semitic claims that people may encounter as part of everyday life. Tales such as these do not meet a strict test for hate propaganda, but they can serve to facilitate a popularization of the views contained in such stories both by promoting stereotypical attitudes and by attempting to legitimize the message through a moralizing literature.

Monitoring children's television viewing is a concern shared by many parents. Exposure to violence and sexual activity has resulted in rating codes that provide parents with a guide for age-appropriate programming. Public service announcements are commonly made available by private and publicly-funded broadcasters that advise parents about watching television with their children and offer other suggestions for managing this potential problem.

Writing for the Klan, Rachel Pendergraft (2002) suggests that parents become "familiar with the programming offered" and cautions them to "Be realistic. Everything can't be banned from your home and in the media age it will cause resentment in your children." Her statement, "If your favorite programs contain a lot of sexual content, vulgar language, or graphic violence you are sending mixed signals to your children," is standard advice, but her common sense is mixed with discriminatory values: "A weakening of basic core values nationwide has led to the lenience to overlook homosexuality and race-mixing as just someone else's cup of tea." The rating system for programs does not go far enough, she argues, because it does not contain warnings about "interracial relationships, ...homosexual  agenda, or the warning sign that says 'continuous watching of this program may result in the rebellion of your teenager against Christian standards’".  Similar self-help topics are covered on the web pages of other hate groups, in some cases without prejudicial content but with links to various white power communities.6  The superficial reasonableness of self-help guidance appear less problematic than a clearly vicious one. Therein lies the danger of, and the necessity to explore the subtle form of hate propaganda. Like "everyday racism" it does not require a full explanation or rationale to be effective; the message need only to provide a comfortable frame of reference for addressing immediate concerns in order to extend the influence of organized hatred.


Teaching about hate propaganda and related activities should not be confined to providing information about hate groups, or quantifying trends in bias-motivated crime. Central to the purpose for teaching this topic is that students become aware that some organized hate groups do not have their most vicious propaganda on the home page of their websites, and that the "subtle" messages of hatred may be a logical extension of everyday racism. Students may also query their own socialization experiences and arrive at some understanding of how, for example, a commonplace rationale of "searching for meaning" in life can result in the promotion of racist or intolerant views. An overriding purpose is to facilitate awareness of how organized hate groups exploit the presence of everyday racism and bring to it the kind of "systematic explanatory force" it lacks. Progress in intergroup relations, law, and social policy require continuous attention to ensure not only that more principled positions are sustained, but also that their ethical necessity is evident in the on-going process of socialization. This approach affirms two principles of critical teaching. First, that the development of knowledge requires both a dialogical approach (discussion with others) and self-reflection (discussion with oneself). Secondly, critical teaching and learning is not a neutral exercise (Freire, 1998; Peterson, 1998; Burtonwood, 2002: 74-75), but one intended to advance historical accuracy and to support humanistic values for achieving democratic goals and securing the basis for a tolerant society.


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Crews, Robin J. (1999). Peace Studies, Pedagogy and Social Change. Pp. 23-32 in Kathleen Maas Weigert and Robin J. Crews (Eds.) Teaching for Justice: Concepts and Models for Service Learning in Peace Studies. Washington: American Association for Higher Education.

Facing History and Ourselves.

Freire, Paulo (1998). The Pedagogy of Freedom. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield.

Geras, Norman (1998). The Contract of Mutual Indifference. London: Verso.

Glaser, J., J. Dixit, D.P. Green (2002). Studying Hate Crime with the Internet: What Makes Racists Advocate Racial Violence. Journal of Social Issues 58: 177-193.

Grant, Otis (2003). Teaching and Learning about Racial Issues in the Modern Classroom. Radical Pedagogy 5.

Green, D.P., L.H. McFalls, and J.K. Smith (2001). Hate Crime: An Emergent Research Agenda. Annual Review of Sociology 27: 479-504.

Gross, Jan T. (2001) Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Harding v. The Queen (2001).  http://www.ontariocourts.on.caldecisions/200 1/decernberlhardingC35767.htm

Henry, F. C. Tator, W. Mattis, and T. Rees (2001). The Victimization of Racial Minorities in Canada. Pp. 145-160 in Society in Question. Robert Brym (Ed.). Toronto: Nelson.

Institute for the Study of Academic Racism.

Kallen, Evelyn (1998). Hate on the Net: A Question of Rights / A Question of Power. Electronic Journal of Sociology.

Kennedy, Randall (2002). Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word. New York: Vintage Books.

Kressel, Neil J. (2002). Mass Hate: The Global Rise of Genocide and Terror. Cambridge: Westview Press.

Ku Klux Klan (2002). The KKK has many goals.

Ku Klux Klan (2002). I've heard some bad things about the KKK.

Makin, Kirk. (2004). Ernst Zundel, civil-rights champion? Toronto Globe and Mail, F3.

Matas, David (2000). Bloody Words: Hate and Free Speech. Winnipeg: Bain and Cox.

Mills, C. Wright (1959). The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford.

Morgan, Jeffery H. (2001). The Rhetoric of Hate: An AP English class unmasks racist propaganda on the Internet. Teaching Tolerance, Fall.

Motherhood. Women for Aryan Unity. or

The Nizkor Project.

Pendergraft, Rachel (2002). Television and Your Kids.

Peterson, Bob (1998). Teaching for Social Justice. Pp. 87-l04 in Making Schools Matter: Good Teachers at Work. Satu Repo, (Ed.). Toronto: Lorimer.

Phillips, Scott and Ryken Grattet (2000). Judicial Rhetoric, Meaning-Making, and Institutionalization of Hate Crime Law. Law & Society Review 34: 567-606.

Raden, David (1998). American Blacks' and Whites' Preferred Social Distance from Jews. Journal of Social Psychology 138: 265-267.

Rubin, Lillian B (1994). Families on the Faultline. New York: Harper Collins.

Schafer, J. A. (2002). Spinning the Web of Hate: Web-Based Hate Propagation by Extremist Organizations. Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture 9:69-88.

Solomon, R.P and C. Levine-Rasky (1996). When principle meets practice: teachers contradictory responses to antiracist education. Alberta Journal of Educational Research 42: 19-33.

Turpin-Petrosino, Carolyn (2002). Hateful Sirens.. .Who Hears their Song? An Examination of Student Attitudes Toward Hate Groups and Affiliation Potential. Journal of Social Issues 58: 281-301.

The United State Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Van Ausdale, Debra and Joe R. Feagin (2001). The First R: How Children Learn Race and Racism. Lanham, Maryland: Rowrnan and Littlefield.

Verdun-Jones, Simon (1999). Canadian Criminal Cases. Toronto: Harcourt Brace.

Winn, Conrad (2001). Attitudes - Patterns of Prejudice in Canada, in 2001 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents.  http://www.bnaibrith.calpublications/audit200 1faudit200 1-01

White Nationalist Baby Forums (2003).

WCOTC (World Church of the Creator), (2001). In love with the White People.



1. Barry Mehler's Institute for the Study of Academic Racism ( offers many examples of the use of scholarly approaches and scientific methodology for these purposes.

2. Among the many possible resources readily available on the web, the following have been very useful: The United State Holocaust Memorial Museum (; Facing History and Ourselves (http://www.facing.orgf); and The Nizkor Project (

3. Material directed to children changes from time to time on the Klan site. Updated versions of the articles discussed here can be found at http:I/

4. In addition to the Klan, children's pages can be found on, and other hate group sites, along with material directed to women. Of particular concern to teachers is a site connected with Stormfront but which is accessible independently. Legitimate in appearance at first sight, it contains much disinformation.

5. The World Church of the Creator had been forced to abandon its website after losing the right to use the name in a legal battle, although it reappeared in late 2003 on For a recent review of this groups' problems, see Beirich and Potok, 2003.

6. See, for example, the online magazine Motherhood on the Women for Aryan Unity site (accessed through  or, and White Nationalist Baby Forums (http://www.longcountyrebel.orglforuni/index.php?).




















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