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TV Preview: Pulling the plug on hate groups starts at home

Sunday, August 27, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Yoda was one smart Muppet in "Star Wars: Episode 1 -- The Phantom Menace." The movie didn't meet many long-time fans' expectations, but Yoda's words ring true: "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."

"Warnings from a Small Town"

When: 9 p.m. Wednesday on the Discovery Channel.

Reported by Forrest Sawyer


It's a great line of dialogue (one of the few in that film), and it's also the theme at the heart of Discovery Channel's "Warnings From a Small Town."

This one-hour documentary, the latest in a year-long series of programs under the banner "Hate & Violence: No Simple Answers," looks at why teens join hate groups, particularly in "edge cities," where the population of one group is declining and another is on the rise.

Forrest Sawyer anchors the report, looking at the political and cultural dynamics that set teens on a path of hate that often leads to violence and sometimes to death. Steven Stroud, a former skinhead who now works to help reform those still involved in hate groups, makes an excellent expert witness.

"Hate binds people together quicker than a common like of anything," Stroud says in the program.

He knows from first-hand experience. At the recent Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Stroud explained how he got involved with neo-Nazi racism in his youth.

"The simplest reason was because I was looking for an extended family," he said. "I came from a broken home. I grew up on the streets. I got out [of the hate group] as I got into a traditional environment -- a loving foster home. I began to realize that I actually had more anger in myself than I did toward other people. I finally realized that I didn't have to hate other people to feel superior. I began to accept myself, I began to accept other people."

One of the teens profiled in "Warnings From a Small Town" had a similar experience. Josh was a kid on the margins who didn't fit in. While surfing the World Wide Web, he found acceptance and a father figure in a Nazi leader. Stroud said that's typical.

"Originally, my draw wasn't hate. My draw was to individuals that I felt I got along with," he said. "The racist rhetoric was secondary to the allegiance and the brotherhood. If I was going to maintain that type of 'family' environment, then I had to go ahead and adopt these policies and beliefs as my own."

A Northeastern University professor says, during the past 20 years, children who have lacked parental supervision have been asked to raise themselves. As one would expect, they didn't do a good job.

Stroud said hate groups target teens most vociferously on the Internet. Teens who feel that they've been let down withdraw into themselves, find an outlet in an online community and start to build real-life relationships with hate group leaders. That was Josh's experience. He latched onto a group while surfing the Internet at school.

"Warnings From a Small Town" also looks at antiracist skinheads who sometimes employ their own violent tactics in misguided attempts to protest against the violence of racist groups.

At the Discovery Channel press conference, Sawyer said the skinhead movement is not limited to poorer teens, as some might assume.

"It runs across the board, and it runs across classes," Sawyer said. "And it can be as close as your own home where a kid has access to the Internet and is not telling you what's going on. It's a lot about reaching out and communicating to our children, to prevent them going down that road."

"Warnings From a Small Town" shows that once in a hate group, it is possible to get out, but not without scars. Even now, months after leaving a neo-Nazi group with the help of Stroud, Josh finds himself sometimes drawn toward it again, like an alcoholic to a drink. Stroud said he hasn't stayed in touch with the friends he made during his time as a teen-age skinhead.

"I'm not able to actually locate them, except for one," Stroud said. "I'm very well aware of where he is. And every so often, I do go up to Seattle to visit his grave."

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