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Right-Wing Extremism: How and why are young people under the spell of extreme-right groups?

Times again we see in the media images of young people who have joined right-wing extremist groups and adopted their doubtful ideas. The corresponding look is almost always the same: clothing, body language and slogans. Those images create a threatening image and serve for the members to isolate themselves deliberately from the mainstream society. However, they claim to fight under the pretext welfare for German people.

Young people and the right-wing extremism
Young people and the right-wing extremism
©: Lisa Spreckelmeyer,

The question is why is it that only teenagers and young people are so receptive to the slogans of extreme right groups and, therefore, are drawn to their “cause”?

This question is all the more serious because the majority of those young people fighting with extreme right groups have not developed a political viewpoint yet. Generally they despise all politicians and want hardly anything to do with them. However, when it comes to the politics of the Extremists, right and left winged alike, we find more young people in those camps then in any other political camp.

Contributing conditions within the family

Most likely, by now are most people aware that the majority of young people joining extreme right-wing groups are from unstable or broken families. In this context, it has to be emphasized that, that those young people entering right wing groups neither have the political convictions nor the corresponding political worldviews. Their reasons for joining are quite different. What those young people see in these political groupings is what they did not get from home: Support and stability. In the political group, they find a clear order. There is a leader, structure and clear rules to follow. Young people particular during adolescence need such solid structures to find appropriate support in life. If their parents or other people close to the young person cannot provide this support and structure, then they will try to find it somewhere else.

We can, therefore, sum it up: To be under the spell of extreme-right groups, is by no means a need for right-aligned political inclinations. Also, completely different factors are responsible for ensuring that young people feel well in such groupings, and, as a result, like to join.

However, this thesis does not explain by a long shot, why those young go “right” and join corresponding groups. To understand how they develop these right-wing extremist tendencies, we first need to explore how young people, in general, develop a political point of view.

From the middle of the society into the right corner

It is much more difficult to explain why young people, which are not coming from dysfunctional families but the middle of society, join the right wings. Those young people come from a middle-class background, sometimes even from an upper class. Even they had support and stability, parents who conveyed morals and ethics, yet, they still drift into the right camp.

The reasons for this are manifold. For example, right extremism is known to revalue certain social classes and groups while other classes are devalued accordingly. The former include men, fair-skinned people, and Christians; to the latter consist of Black people, Muslims, and women in general. If the young person has a general low self-esteem, the belonging to a group can raise his self-esteem. However, only on the grounds of innate and not self-selected characteristics. The adolescent feels strong and privileged in the group of belonging while others, outside of this respective group, fall short in the eyes of the young person.

Also, young people during puberty have an insatiable need for recognition and expression of individuality. By identifying with a right-wing group, they highlight their individuality while at the same time receive the desired recognition. Partly from the group of belonging and partly through other groups of society. With his need for recognition and individuality confirmed, the young person believes, that even he belongs to a fringe group he is actively doing something to the society in large. How dangerous this combination can be became evident in the past.

How young people get into contact with extreme right-wing groups and how do they get drawn in?

Usually, the first contact young people have with a right-wing extremist ideology happens through friends. For example, they might be invited to a group meeting or to attend another event. As a rule of the thumb, as soon as a less stable person goes there, this could well be his undoing. Interested and, in particular, interested newcomers are warmly taken in by the higher-ranking members of such groups and “worked” accordingly to make them fanatical followers.

Meanwhile, extreme right-wing groups no longer only recruit new interests only through the social networks. Nowadays they are active themselves, for example, distributing flyers, brochures or CDs with extreme right-wing music, to schools and youth centers. The insidious thing about it: In much of the distributed material, the right-wing reference is not easy if at all, identifiable. For instance, the propaganda might pray on young people’s interest in music or invite them to a meeting with nice people.

In this context, the cooperation between schools, youth workers and parents is paramount when it comes to preventing young people getting sucked into right-wing groups. Schools should be vigilant and pay attention whether there are strangers on the school grounds possibly even distributing propaganda materials. The same applies to institutions such as youth centres and other youth organisations. Parents should always try to talk to their children and thereby also show interest in the political view of the child. Even harmless, secondary made statements may indicate that the child is in a process of slipping towards right-wing radicalism. Only if this tendency is detected as early as possible, preventive actions can be taken.

Is it possible to learn "correct political thinking"?

Hardly any other topic is as often and as passionately debated as political issues. In this context, the question arises whether there is a correct political thinking. And - if so - whether this thinking can be learned.

Previously, it was assumed that the crucial foundation for the later political views of people is already created in the early stages of socialization. Meanwhile, this thesis is highly controversial and partly refuted. It turns out that in particular puberty and adolescence are the formative stages for the later political standpoint and beliefs of the young person. And with respect to this phase it was also assumed that the political frame of parents plays a major role in the young person’s political development. In short, one thought that children just simply take on the parent’s political view without questioning.

However, today we see that also a little bit differently. According to scientific studies, it is not as important what political opinion the parents hold. Regardless of the perspective, it is more important that parents talk to their children and discuss political issues and interests on a regular base. This will positively impact on the growing person’s political outlook. However, this means there has to be sufficient political interest within the family to influence the young person positively.

And, of course, all the other usual governing circumstances, such as how family members treat each other, how they communicate, their values and norms, play a significant role. The more harmonious and understanding the family and the mutual support is the more positive will the political development of the young person be. When we look at it that way, yes, correct political thinking can be learned. However, not the way most people usually think.

Youth groups – integration is not always possible.

Everyone who for any length of time was involved in youth work will know that is not always possible to integrate every youth. This may have various reasons. One of those reasons may be that those so-called difficult young people may leave the group to find a new group where they feel more accepted and integrated.

Aggressive youth, those struggling for recognition, are not always identified by the youth worker as such. He might think they are bothersome and disturb the smooth run of the youth group. Those kids, however, might be the ones leaving the group. Usually, they will be looking for a youth group, less “mainstream”.

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