by Dale Yeager
Negative behavior youth movements come in various forms; Goths, Juggalos and the most recognizable, Straight Edge. They are not well known by the general public but their increasing involvement in violent crimes and domestic terrorism is a growing concern for law enforcement and Homeland Security. These groups vary in objective but all of them share a common anti-establishment mentality.
The most serious concern that many professionals have about these groups is that they routinely attract members who come from difficult lives filled with trauma, parental neglect and, in many cases, serious mental disorders. This combination makes them easily manipulated by the leadership of radical organizations who have for the past several decades used these groups as recruiting centers. In order to understand the ideals of negative behavior youth movements, we must examine the political and philosophical ideologies of the 18th and 19th centuries.
The French Revolution, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx and the work of Francis Galton all contributed to a new view of human nature called the “noble savage”. This philosophy which first appeared in the 17th century held that people are innately good and that selfishness and violence is a construct of self-centered societies.
As this philosophy grew in popularity over the next two centuries, it morphed into two compatible ideas, humanism and socialism. These new philosophies were firmly based on Rousseauian ideas of egalitarian unity and societal evolution. This amalgamation of philosophy and economic theories would, several hundred years later, bring about significant changes in the 20th century worldviews of academics, psychologists and scientists.
From the late 19th century until the late 1950’s, the “Austrian” model of human behavior dominated most of the medical and scientific world. Freudian ideas of the conscious, pre-conscious and unconscious mind would dominate most of the academic thinking about human nature. The Austrian model was based on a view of human nature that was pessimistic. It viewed humans as innately selfish from birth. Selfishness was biological and influenced by human based trauma and the unconscious mind.
However, paralleling this view was another view of human nature; the humanistic model. It was nicknamed “moral relativism”; there are no absolutes, only personal moralities. Children were a “blank slate” born without selfishness or evil intent. Eric Fromm, John Dewey, Abraham Maslow and Carl Rodgers would become the key players in this new movement. Their writings would find their way into popular culture and college curriculum’s in the 1960’s and 1970’s. This view of the human mind and human nature would become the basis of modern parenting, education and therapy in the second half of the 20th century.
From this view sprang several socially significant changes in American culture. Parents began to befriend their children, loosening behavioral controls of the past. Teachers began to promote the concept of self esteem and a culture of relativism grew in all aspects of American society.
The “me decade” of the 1970’s produced children who were the social satellites of a 1960’s counter culture revolution and the self-centeredness of the disco era. Out of this clash of decades came punk music.
Punk and the culture that sprung up around it were nihilistic at their core. Punk culture was angry and cynical. By 1979, the movement was over but its influence was not. In 1980, the post-punk era began and American culture changed forever. This was also a time when the philosophies of humanistic relativism would begin to dominate all areas of American society.
The Era of Dysfunctional Youth
During the 1980’s in the United States, social structure changed dramatically from the previous decades. Divorce rates increased (ADR), the use of day care increased and the focus on self-improvement all conspired to drive parents from their children. During this time, public and private schools were aggressively pushing the “self esteem” philosophy at every grade level. This educational philosophy championed by John Dewey, the “father of American education”, and psychologists Maslow and Rodgers theorized that if there was no one in your life to esteem you, you will need to esteem yourself.
A generation of self focused, socially isolated adolescents who were living in various types of dysfunctional homes began to find others like themselves in the underground world of the post punk scene. This music also had a new name, hardcore. During the early days of this new punk genre, two separate hardcore cultural scenes were evolving; one on the east coast and another on the west coast of the United States (Dementlieu). The west coast scene was concentrated in southern California and the east coast scene was concentrated in the Washington DC area.
As part of this new music scene, a rebellion took place among a small number of the devotees. These followers became disenchanted with the large amount of violence, substance abuse, and sexual promiscuity that was becoming common place in the hardcore scene. Some of the bands who were popular at the time, namely Minor Threat, began to write songs with “counter” lyrics, decrying the excesses. This was the start of a new movement called “Straight Edge”.
The Straight Edge movement began slowly as an intercultural reaction to anti-social behavior in the post-punk community but soon grew to a significant youth movement by the late 1980’s. However in the early years of the movement a problem arose that would affect the lives of thousands of people over the next 20 years.
A small group of male followers were targeted by a new coalition of white supremacy groups. During the mid 1980’s, white supremacy groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, American Nazi Party and Aryan Nation had joined forces in a coalition based at the time in the western United States (Political Research Associates, 2008). Because of increasing pressure from federal law enforcement, these groups sought out young males to join their cause of white supremacy. This subgroup of Straight Edger’s shaved their heads and was known by the street name, “Skinhead” (Nelson, 2005). These rogue Straight Edger’s became a type of ad hoc army for the traditional racist groups providing muscle to carry out the violent intent of the adult leadership (Nelson, 2005).
Today, the remnants of this rogue subgroup remain in the Straight Edge movement. An interview with Ogden Police Detective Jeremy Nelson in 2007 revealed a fact confirmed by various prison gang experts throughout the United States. While Straight Edge members lean decided left politically, when they are incarcerated for a crime, they overwhelmingly join White Supremacy gangs while in prison.
However, Straight Edge would take a decidedly different political turn in the late 1980’s when some of its leadership began to promote animal rights and vegetarianism. This change caught the eye of leaders within animal liberation and radical environmental groups. In 1999, various environmental, animal rights and anti-globalization groups met for a historic meeting in London to create a coalition. This coalition would formalize a long held idea called “Direct Action” (LARC). With this new coalition, members would be needed for protests and various tactics such as “Black Bloc” and many of these new recruits would come from the willing ranks of Straight Edge (Nelson, 2005).
Violent behavior by Straight Edge followers has also increased as the line between the group and the Direct Action movement narrows. The author has interviewed Straight Edge members who participated in various violent protests and has seen this fusion of movements over the past nine years (anon., 2000 / 2003). With this fusion, the movement’s attacks by Straight Edge members on police have increased dramatically over the last decade.
In the 1990’s the amount of violence by Straight Edge members increased as a gang mentality began to develop within the movement. Many members saw the world in black and white terms; people who did not follow the principals of purity and Straight Edger’s who did (Straight Edge, 2009). Along with attacks on outsiders, attacks on their own members became common. Disciplining wayward members became the norm.
The New Era of Youth and Domestic Terrorism
Over the past 9 years of the new millennium, leftist groups have aggressively recruited from middle schools and high schools. Using the internet and direct recruitment many adolescents have become participants in actions both socially aggressive and criminal by groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Center for Consumer Freedom, 2008).
As various extreme environmental, animal rights and anti-globalization groups become emboldened by increased funding from NGOs and leftist political action committees, the use of youth movements such as Straight Edge for recruitment of members will increase in the author’s opinion. Just as the White Supremacy movement of the 1980’s found these movements ripe with emotionally troubled youth, the radical leftists groups are using them for the same purpose of filling there ranks with eager “solders for their causes. Soldiers who are willing to commit illegal and violent acts for a cause”.
ADR. (n.d.). 03statab. Retrieved March 28, 2009, from Divorce Reform: http://www.divorcereform.org/03statab.html
anon. (2000 / 2003, August / July 1 / 20). (D. Yeager, Interviewer)
Dementlieu. (n.d.). 30 Under DC. Retrieved March 28, 2009, from Dementlieu Punk Archive: http://www.dementlieu.com/users/obik/arc/dc/
LARC. (n.d.). LARC 1999 – 2002. Retrieved March 28, 2009, from London ARC: http://www.londonarc.org/larc_history.html
Nelson, J. (2005 / 2007, September 6 & 7). Detective Ogden Utah Police. (D. Yeager, Interviewer)
Political Research Associates . (2008). The White Supremacist Movement. Retrieved March 28, 2009, from Public Eye: http://www.publiceye.org/rightwoo/rwooz9-07.html
Straight Edge. (2009). What is Straight Edge? . Retrieved March 28, 2009, from Welcome to Straightedge.com : http://www.straightedge.com/whatissxe.html