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How these Oregon teachers are fighting back against white nationalism

The FBI reports that hate crime violence in the U.S. is at a 16-year high. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, meanwhile, says the highest percentage of hate incidents since the 2016 election occurred in elementary and secondary schools. Special correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault takes a look at how this problem has manifest in northwest Oregon -- and what tool teachers are using to intervene.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Last week, the FBI reported that hate crime violence in the country is at a 16-year high. In 2018, there were more than 4,500 such crimes, assaults that were motivated in part or in whole by racial, ethnic or religious bias, as well as discrimination against gender and sexual orientation.

    The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights also reported that the highest percentage of all reported hate incidents since the 2016 election were in elementary and secondary schools.

    "NewsHour" special correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault looks at how this problem has played out in Northwest Oregon and how teachers are learning to intervene earlier.

    It's part of our education coverage Making the Grade and the latest in our Race Matters series looking at solutions to racism. A warning: This story contains some offensive and troubling images.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    At schools just like Southridge High near Portland, Oregon, educators say white nationalists are making inroads, but also infiltrating nationwide from online.

    They're co-opting otherwise innocent images like helicopters, cartoon frogs, and the OK sign, incorporating them widely into racist images and videos. And they're showing up alongside more familiar hate symbols in unlikely places.

  • Woman:

    KCAL Orange County reporter Stacey Butler is live tonight in Newport Beach with that story.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    A swastika made out of red Solo cups at a high school party in California, apparent Nazi salutes in a prom photo in Wisconsin, the OK sign, which some use as a hand sign for white power, flashed in high school yearbooks at schools near Chicago, forcing costly reprints.

  • Man:

    OK.

  • Tristan Madron:

    It's not specifically alt-right. It just can be used in that way, but it can also be used in many other ways.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    Southridge high school senior Tristan Madron says many young people are sucked in with dark humor.

  • Tristan Madron:

    People treat it almost in a joking manner.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    Like?

  • Tristan Madron:

    Like, I don't know, black people are ruining the country, you know, stuff like that. I have seen new iterations of the N-word, sort of treating it like, hah-hah, this is a funny joke. What if we drag someone by a car across the street?

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    Online forums can often pull students in deeper. One student who didn't want to be identified told us that a friend even communicated with the Christchurch, New Zealand, shooter before he murdered 51 people, the student thinking it was all a joke.

  • Student:

    It was in between the first and second shootings, but he didn't know that this was happening. And he was like, the second shooting has commenced or whatever, like blah, blah, blah.

    And then he heard about it. And he was like, wait. Like, that was, like, real? That was something that he was telling all of us.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    At Southridge itself, students recently spray-painted the football field with swastikas. School officials investigated, but never found the culprits, and some students were left feeling uneasy.

  • Emoney Perry-Reid:

    It's like, I'm Jewish and I'm also black. So, seeing that kind of stuff and knowing that I go to the school — I go to school with these people who don't like a part of me scares me.

  • Patrick Griffin:

    You're the target oftentimes. You're the target demographic when people want to change the future.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    That's Patrick Griffin, a Southridge social studies teacher who started looking for ways to fight back when offensive stereotypes made their way into his own classroom.

    He soon found a toolkit online called Confronting White Nationalism in Schools, written in part by Lindsay Schubiner of the nonprofit Western States Center.

    There have been over 5,000 requests from the toolkit from educators around the world.

    Patrick Griffin and Lindsay Schubiner, thank you so much for joining us.

    And I want to start with you, Patrick.

    Can you tell me, what was it that initially set off an alarm bell for you when you heard things that were frightening or threatening or…

  • Patrick Griffin:

    For me, I guess it comes in several parts.

    All of these instances of violence housed in the ideology of white nationalism, I see it affecting my kids. And they're talking about it. And some of them are scared about it. And some of them are scared about talking about it.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    Like what, for example?

  • Patrick Griffin:

    So, we might be having conversations about nationalism in my class.

    And so we'd be having these conversations. And these conversations were happening within the current political climate, and so, inherently, we'd start talking about current events and start talking about the most recent presidential election and whatnot.

    And I'd have some students whose faces would fall and whose eyes would disengage, although, on the other hand, I have got other students who are feeling safe to engage with the conversation in a healthy way.

    I have also had students who are feeling safe to engage in the conversation in some unhealthy ways because they were really happy about the growing movements of taking America back to a very white place.

    And so I put the word out, hey, does anybody have any resources that I could use? And that's how I came across the toolkit.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    Well, Lindsay, this is where you come in.

    There does seem to be, by all accounts, a rise in white supremacist speech. How is it that you came to deal with that, and how did you — what did you come up with?

  • Lindsay Schubiner:

    We also know that white nationalist and alt-right movements are intentionally recruiting young people.

    The editor of a neo-Nazi Web site has written that he designs his Web site to recruit children as young as 11 years old. We're talking about young people who are — who don't yet have fully formed views and opinions about the world. And that's a big reason why white nationalists and alt-right groups are working to recruit them.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    So you have come up with this kit, a kit that you have used in your classes. What does this kit do?

  • Lindsay Schubiner:

    So, this toolkit provides some context and some guidance around the issue of white nationalist and alt-right recruitment of young people. And it also provides a number of scenarios, possible things that might happen in a school community.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    It also contains definitions and a road map to alt-right symbols to help teachers, administrators and community members strip the secrecy from white nationalism.

    So how have you used the toolkit?

  • Patrick Griffin:

    So, I like using the toolkit in my classrooms with my lesson plans, whether it be talking about definitions or scenarios.

    The toolkit has been useful in, heck, conversations in the hallways with students as they're coming up to me to talk about, hey, Mr. Griffin, what do you think about this or that meme or whatnot, whatever's current in their life.

    We're also using the toolkit to create advisory lesson plans that the entire school body, student body will be using.

  • Lindsay Schubiner:

    One thing the toolkit tries to do is empower students that they do have a voice. But it's not their responsibility to take this on. There are adults in the community, and it's our job to take this on.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    And do your students, the students that you're talking with, do they understand? Especially those who are embracing these white nationalist tropes, how do you deal with them and prevent them from moving into the direction of violence?

  • Patrick Griffin:

    If a kid is going through that, then you have got to make them feel known, valued, loved, part of the community, because so much of this is this isolationism that they're experiencing, while also educating some of their ignorance about the greater context of it.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    How — reaching the students in your classroom doesn't address what they're getting at home, so how do you deal with that?

  • Lindsay Schubiner:

    For people who are already deeply involved in white nationalism, this toolkit is not for them.

    But it also, we hope, will help create communities that are openly talking about issues of white nationalism, white supremacy, racial justice, and reinforcing values that include everyone.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    To both of you, how hopeful are you that the kind of extremism that this toolkit is trying to address can be contained or even defeated? Are you hopeful at all, or is it just moving too fast?

  • Patrick Griffin:

    I have a lot of reasons to not be hopeful, I guess. That said, I have a lot of reasons to be hopeful too.

    And it is that these kids are willing to engage in these conversations in a nuanced manner that I don't think some previous generations have been as willing to engage in. And so, if you just keep doing it, eventually, you get an entire new generation in charge, and I suppose there's a lot of hope there.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    Well, that's hope that's where hope….

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Patrick Griffin:

    Yes, right.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    Let's hope for the hope.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Patrick Griffin:

    Yes. Sometimes, that's all you get.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    Well, Patrick Griffin and Lindsay Schubiner, thank you so much for joining us. And all the best with your work in the future.

  • Patrick Griffin:

    Thank you.

  • Lindsay Schubiner:

    Thank you.

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