Hate Inc.: Examining “Legitimized” Hate Groups and their Multimedia Strategies

(Roundtable / In-Person)

Special Session
Composition and Rhetoric / Cultural Studies

Tyler Thier (Hofstra University)
tyle@****.com (Log-in to reveal)

What do we make of designated hate groups, prejudiced websites, and malicious publications that go beyond the usual KKK or neo-Nazi fare? What happens when they style themselves in ways that are “rhetorically complex” or familiar to the extent of sounding legitimate, complete with institutional language, business-savvy marketing strategies, and ambiguous or veiled statements of ideology? This panel aims to interrogate such cases across a diverse range of disciplinary knowledge and methodology.

Hate groups are sometimes as blatant as can be – like the Aryan Nation or chapters of the Ku Klux Klan still in operation. But not always. Sometimes they disguise themselves as legitimate corporations, or media conglomerates, or academic thinktanks. This panel seeks to approach the multimedia output and rhetorical strategies (written documents, PSAs, digital petitions, website mission statements, interviews, and more) of designated hate groups from a multitude of perspectives

Take, for instance, the organization Alliance Defending Freedom; their website seems harmless at first, an advocacy group that attempts to secure religious liberty for all through legal action. But how about their mission statements that specify further that they believe only in “man and woman” family units, or their media clips that interview people raised by gay parents who attest to their upbringing being “unethical” or stunting to their growth. This panel is concerned with the more “rhetorically complex” dimension of hate groups and other nefarious entities.

Maybe the nature of “labelling” an organization as such is to be examined – for example, why do some watchdog sites designate a Kentucky-based “mom and pop” shop specializing in Civil War memorabilia as a hate group? Why is a boutique jeweler in Georgia – run by women of African descent – listed under “Black Nationalist”? What about the bookstore down the street from me in NYC, which sells “Egyptian mysticism” titles all written by the same man?

Perhaps composition studies offers a promising framework for rhetorically analyzing these groups’ materials. One starting point is Frankie Condon and Vershawn Ashanti Young’s Performing Antiracist Pedagogy, in which a political and civic distinction is made between “personal/confessional” narratives and “collective/transpersonal” narratives. What separates an impassioned opinion from tangibly “activist” literature? What if they are interwoven in dangerous, misleading ways?

Jenny Rice establishes theory for these studies as well; in her recent book Awful Archives, she discusses bases for conspiracy theory, “evidentia” and how we interact with or change evidence for our own uses, the productive and counterproductive outcomes of “going down the rabbit hole,” “subtraction by accumulation” when offering evidence, and so forth. Further, famous quotes and cultural artifacts can often be contorted, decontextualized, recontextualized, or otherwise repurposed by conspiracists and extremists to lure potential recruits to their ideology.

All methodologies and critical lenses are welcome to submit to this panel – marketing, business, web design, philosophy and theory, rhetoric and composition, creative writing and literature, STEM, etc. The through line is to generate conversation or further add to our understanding of what makes a “hate group” based on the persuasive tactics, documents, and public image they put out to the world.

Note for conference participants who already have a traditional paper accepted or submitted: you are still eligible to participate in this round-table as it is not a "traditional" session. (PAMLA conference rules do not allow an individual to present two traditional papers, but participants may present one traditional paper in a panel, and also participate in a roundtable or creative session).