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Is fatherlessness the key to neo-Nazi violence?

Is fatherlessness the key to neo-Nazi violence?
Why are its foot-soldiers so vulnerable to radicalisation?

By Michael Cook
Aug 16 2017

Who were the foot-soldiers at Charlottesville? Despite the forest-levelling media coverage of the riot at a university town in Virginia, it's hard to capture who participated.

@YesYoureRacist on Twitter has been naming and shaming the neo-Nazis and white supremacists by identifying faces in the media coverage. He has scored about half-a-dozen scalps so far. One of them was immediately fired from his job as a cook at a hot dog restaurant in Berkeley, California. About 10,000 people have signed an on-line petition asking that another be expelled from the University of Nevada.

The driver of the car who drove his car into a crowd of protesters, killing one of them, was most recognisable face: a 20-year-old from Ohio, James Alex Fields Jr. He has been charged with second-degree murder and malicious wounding.

What strikes you when you look at the angry faces on both sides, neo-Nazi and leftists, is their youth. No one seems to be over 40 and most are in their 20s. Where did they get their nutty antiquated, neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic, racist ideas? Not from their high schools or their universities. Probably from the internet.

But why were they so vulnerable to radicalisation by the dark corners of the internet? More than wall-to-wall coverage of the fatal riot, what the media should provide is context for the protest. Who are these guys (they are nearly all guys)? What do they have in common?

Judging from the sketchy reports, this might be a fatherless home.

This is certainly true of James Alex Fields Jr. His father died before he was born. Media reports say that his disabled mother had to ring police a couple of times when he was 13 or 14 because he was threatening her. He is a very troubled young man.

Many of the perpetrators of mass killing in the United States come from troubled, fatherless homes.

* Wade Page was a white supremacist who shot six Sikhs dead in Milwaukee before being killed by a police officer earlier in August 2012. His parents were divorced.
* In December 2012, Adam Lanza, 20, killed his mother, six staff at a Connecticut primary school, and 20 school children before shooting himself. His parents were divorced.
* John Zawahiri, 23, killed five people in Santa Monica in 2013 near and on the campus of a state college. His parents had been separated for years.
* Dylan Roof was a 21-year-old white supremacist who killed nine black people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. His parents were divorced.

Fatherlessness and family breakdown have also been fingered as a possible cause of ISIS-inspired terrorism. According to The Guardian "some reports indicate that foreigners fighting with Isis often come from families where fathers were abusive or absent."

In 2013 three eminent scholars published a major article in the Annual Review of Sociology, "The Causal Effects of Father Absence". After reviewing dozens of studies they found that growing up without a father lowered the likelihood of academic success and graduation from high school for children, affected their mental health as adults, and was associated with lower levels of employment.

This doesn't always happen and it doesn't have to happen. But fatherlessness is certainly a risk factor for confusion and unhappiness.

The probability of a civil war sparked by young men chanting neo-Nazi slogans is vanishingly small. But their rage is real. If we want to find out why they are so confused, deluded and hate-filled, perhaps we need to examine the health of the American family.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.

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