How Hate Groups Recruit


Hate groups target anyone for recruitment who is white-skinned, heterosexual but not a Jew. But they concentrate on communities undergoing stress from unemployment, immigration fears, farm foreclosures, and particularly young people who are not well integrated into the community. Recently, women, particularly bright young women, are being targeted as spokespersons for groups that want to project a softer public profile. The Heritage Front in Toronto, for example, recruited several young men and women in the early to mid-1990s to provide a more mainstream image to the media.

There are a number of steps used to recruit youth. First contact is typically to develop rapport and friendship. The second step is to provide "a family", support and a network of friends. The third involves reading hate propaganda or attending racist rock concerts. The more sophisticated the group, the longer the longer the indoctrination process may take. Sophisticated groups act like a funnel to direct would be recruits into the more extremist groups where they are likely to commit serious violence.


Emily Heinrichs was interviewed two years after leaving a Christian Identity group based in the northeastern part of the United States. She was then nineteen years old and a full-time college student. She had been threatened for speaking out about the group she had belonged to and did not feel entirely safe. Nevertheless, she felt that it is important to speak out about hate and the process of speaking about her experiences made her feel that she was doing something worthwhile as well as providing her some insight into what had happened to her. Speaking out was in fact a cathartic experience.

Emily spent eighteen months of her life, from the age of 14 to about 16, living in at the Identity compound. She has a young daughter borne when Emily was a member of Christian Identity. Emily was attracted to the Identity group because of youthful rebellion against her parents, the attention lavished on her and the care free lifestyle of young male members.She explains her first encounter with the Christian Identity group: "I met Mark Thomas and his followers in January when I was 14 years old, and they were having one of their annual "white pride days." And a bunch of the young skinheads were outside throwing snowballs and I happened to be walking down the street with my dog and they started throwing snowballs at me and whistling at me, and just, you know. And so I see a bunch of guys, and some of them were cute so I went over there and talked to them."

There was nothing high pressure about the encounter and Emily just began to hang-out with the boys: "...I went over and talked to these guys and they just seemed like friendly guys. They were dressed a little weird, they didn't have hair, and a lot of them had tattoos. But you know I was kind of interested in them, because I was at a new school I didn't really have a lot of friends and here were some guys that were friendly and wanted to get to know me."

Emily was raised in an upper-middle class home where she was taught respect for all cultures. She had two adopted Puerto Rican brothers, yet youthful rebellion, lack of friends in a new community, coupled with the excitement of meeting racist skinheads who treated her with respect and dignity was enough to open the door to a powerful recruitment process that removed all sense of herself as a person who knew better than to become a young mother to the racist movement. But Emily was not asked to accept Christian Identity at first "they just made me feel right at home. They made some home made chicken noodle soup, and we just sat down and talked and the subject of Christian Identity or any kind of skinhead activity was not even mentioned. We just talked about normal things. And I started hanging out there everyday after school just anytime I had free time because they were people who accepted me, and that's what I was looking for."

Emily was slowly introduced to Christian Identity and the lifestyle: "[I]t was a very gradual process. I mean we didn't talk about anything to do with Christian Identity until I was there a few weeks, maybe even like two months. I did learn how to shoot a gun like a week after I had been there. But that was just another thing that kind of appealed to the kid side in me. It was exciting, he taught me how to take apart all kinds of guns. We started with just like a regular pistol, and we moved up to assault rifles and shot guns, machine guns and everything. That was fun, that was the thing that really drew me in, and plus just the company of a bunch of guys that were friendly and liked to hang out. "

After thinking about her experience, Emily summarized the factors that led to her recruitment in the hate group: "I think part of the reason that I was so drawn into Identity was that, first of all I was at a very impressionable age, and wanted to rebel against my parents. And here was an opportunity that I knew my parents didn't approve of it. And [the leader was] a very good teacher and he had some kind of power over me that just made me see everything through his eyes."

There was also an issue of power. "There was a part of me that wanted that power over just all people. There was something in me that needed to feel good about myself, and somehow I just got misguided into thinking that the only thing good about me was the fact that I was white. It seemed that I was always a good student in school, but that wasn't enough, anything that I had ever done was never enough, it just came down to the colour of my skin and I thought that that was enough. I thought that that was power, superiority, Ôwow I'm white so I'm great.' It's so stupid...."

Identity became her Emily's life and she started to withdraw from her the people in school. "So I started kind of not hanging out or associating with anyone in my high school. My grades started to go down because I got involved with the skinheads even more than their religion. And we would go out and drink on school nights, you know, I didn't even have time for school."

But the leader of the group wanted Emily to attend school to help recruit other students. "Actually I was involved in active recruitment in my high school when I bothered to go anyway. We had a whole bunch of literature and tapes and pamphlets and information and I would hand it out. Now a lot of the kids at school just thought it was funny. But a lot of the guys, mainly who were interested in guns and hunting and things like that. We had a lot of pamphlets that were about survivalist things, and mainly involved around guns, and so that really appealed to a lot of the guys."

Emily finally left the group because of a personal crisis. Emily became pregnant and realized that the lifestyle she had plunged into was not what she wanted for her daughter. "[W}hen I looked and saw how Mark's small children acted and how other people in this group acted, little two year-olds ...yelling, Ôheil Hitler', and using derogatory terms for people of different colours. And that wasn't right to me at all, no matter what you believe I don't think that you should force your beliefs on a child that small ...that's what disgusted me, and that's what made me really wake up in a sense. I knew if I stayed in this group, my child would be raised in this way, and I didn't want that for that child. So, I just left... and I'm glad that I was pregnant, because that was what made it so easy to leave."

But the indoctrination into the group left scares. "The process of leaving, although I left physically and in an instant I was gone, it took a long time to work out all the mental, I guess you'd call it indoctrination. Because even now I know I still have some parts of my mind that are a little, I don't want to say prejudiced, but there's still a part of me that's a little bit Identity. It's not just something that you just snap out of, it's definitely a long process of learning. Part of the thing that's helped the most, was going out and speaking about it..."

Emily warns other young people about her indoctrination into Identity: "The scary thing is [that] Mark explained the whole picture of Identity to me as looking at a picture of all dots, and there's a picture in it of like a cat, and you don't see it right away, and then someone points it out to you and shows you where the lines go, and shows you the image, and then every time you look at the picture again you don't just see dots, you see the cat. And that's how Mark taught me what Identity is, he told me I'll always see the picture of Identity, and I guess I always will, not that I will believe it, but there's still something in it that I can't make it into dots again. It's just there."

Emily is enrolled in college now. She continues to speak out against hate groups with the support of her family.