Media, Schools and Extremist Organization Membership
What is the role of media and schools in propagating and/or preventing interests and membership in extremist organizations?

What is the role of media and schools in propagating and/or preventing interests and membership in extremist organizations?

Radical right-wing movements emerge from specific political and social contexts, such as increasing immigration and xenophobic subcultures (Karpantschof & Mikkelsen, 2017).

These movements attract and recruit individuals with shared historical experiences and/or present fears. Some of these historical experiences extend back to schools where teachers have indirectly (or directly) contributed to the appeal of extremist organizations.

white supremacy and school influence

Primary and secondary stigmatization in schools

Mattsson & Johannsson explore the role of primary and secondary stigmatization by analyzing the voices of former neo-Nazis and their teachers.

The study reveals commonalities among interviewed former-school children who joined extremist groups, such as violence in the home, unsupportive parents, psychological distress, and a lack of stimulation. These socially vulnerable environments contributed to primary stigmatization in school, which transformed into secondary stigmatization through confrontations where they could retaliate with violence.

Most importantly, these students found community and belonging among the local skinheads and the neo-Nazi movement. Through the study, there is a visible pattern of stigmatization, resistance, and identity formation. Whether or not these developments could have been intercepted is a discussion necessary for future generations.

Failed responses that drive membership

Teachers were unequipped to manage and support these students who developed a “violence capital” (Mattsson & Johannsson, 2020). Instead, the school attempted to contain their behavior through isolation and correction — which further fed secondary stigmatization. Students were already untrusting of adults due to their tumultuous home lives, and the lack of support or awareness from the school amplified this frustration.

The study concludes that the school (and the teachers) were unable to differentiate between promoting an anti-racist agenda and “satisfying the cognitive and emotional needs of the racist students” (Mattsson & Johannsson, 2020).

Instead, the increased isolation drove students to extremist groups where they felt a sense of belonging and discovered a way to express themselves without judgment from their peers.

Rise of the youth involved

Right-wing terrorism is rising. With the modern advantage of technology, far-right extremists have become increasingly active on social media and the internet. As Jones suggests, this online activity has moved the primary battlefield against right-wing terrorism to the virtual world rather than the streets (2020). The process of online radicalization of youth is a global and multi-faced phenomenon. Social media, in particular, is used as a strategic tool to try and incite violent behavior (Alava et al., 2017).

The mainstream media, which contributes to mobilizing radical forces by covering public debates, has further opened opportunities for radicals to exploit (Karpantschof & Mikkelsen, 2017).

As the Radicalisation Awareness Network confirms, the new right-wing extremists emerging on the scene are much younger, and we can not ignore the spread of fake news, which is described to be “like a virus” (2020).

Schools provide an early opportunity to identify vulnerable individuals and meet their cognitive, emotional, and educational needs to reduce recruitment to right-wing extremist networks.


  • Alava, S., Frau-Meigs, D., & Hassan, G. (2017). Youth and violent extremism on social media: mapping the research. UNESCO Publishing 
  • Jones, S., G., Doxsee, C., and Harrington, N. (March 2020). The right-wing terrorism threat in Europe. A report of the CSIS Transnational Threats Project. Center for Strategies and International Studies. 
  • Karpantschof, R., & Mikkelsen. F. (2017). The rise and transformation of the radical right movement in Denmark 1980–2015. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 40, 8, 712-730. 
  • Mattsson, Ch. & Johansson, Th. (2020) The hateful other neo-Nazis in school and teachers' strategies for handling racism. British Journal of Sociology of Education 41, 8,1149-1163 
  • Radicalisation Awareness Network (2020, May 22). The rise of violent right-wing extremism in Europe. [Video]. YouTube