The Children of Victimizers ~ The Invisible Legacy of Multigenerational Trauma

It takes generations to undo the imprinting of an autocratic-despotic ideology. This is because the ideology becomes more than an opinion but rather an embedded belief that imprints the mind, heart and spirit of generations of adults, and lamentably, the most innocent among us – the children. No child is born a racist nor should be taught and mentored racist ways.

No child is born to hate others. There is no “hate” gene. The intense hate for others and difference – that loathing is modeled and learned.

Just as compassion, empathy and love are nurtured and mentored, hate is learned by a host of influences. What psychologists and social scientists agree on is that children learn the construct of hate at en early age by way of environment, language, mimicking and modeling.

The learning process takes place over time in concentrated doses consciously and unconsciously. Family members, neighborhood, region, school, friends and social media can contribute to developing predispositions and prejudices about others.

The seeds of hate that are planted early can result in a belief system that becomes a pathological disease as an adult. It is during the early years that children are a captive audience and totally dependent on adults.

No child should have to deal with the politicization, radicalization and indoctrination of evilness. The sins of adults should never become regrets and trauma of the youngest among us. Unfortunately, history provides examples of mass indoctrination of evilness.

In 1926, the Hitler regime founded the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls. The original purpose was to train the boys to enter the SA (Storm Troopers). The learning process dealt with indoctrination of beliefs, control of language, rituals, providing uniforms and creating the illusion of belonging to a master race.

Superiority and supremacy over others was taught. The indoctrination and dogma was so ingrained that after the unconditional surrender of the German armed forces in 1945, some of the Hitler Youth, known as “Werewolves” continued to fight with blind loyalty.

The Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend, or HJ) was the Nazi-organized youth movement. It was made up of different sections for boys and girls. The boys’ branch was simply called the Hitler Youth. The girls’ branch was called the League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher Mädel, BDM).

1926 seems so far away and what does it have to do with our American children? In 2019, the FBI provided an extensive report and warning that Domestic Terrorism, White Supremacy groups and hate crimes were on the rise.

Consequently, that warning was repeated in 2020, 2021 and 2022. One of the findings was that hate groups recruit, indoctrinate and radicalize American youngsters targeting high school and college students.

Recruitment takes place with precise propaganda strategies aimed at highlighting the advantages of joining the group. The group is portrayed as offering status, prestige, loyalty, smart uniforms, weapons and loyal camaraderie.

Social media is a primary tool for recruitment by Domestic Terrorists, White Supremacists and Hate Groups.

The experience is presented as an opportunity to obtain power. At some point the ideology of white supremacy is introduced. Grievance politics and blame-based politics fuel and funnel negative views about others.

Resentment and indignation for specific groups, race, ethnicities, sexual orientation, gender, immigrants, religion groups and government authority figures becomes the norm.

On January 6, 2021 an insurrection took place in Washington D.C. Present were the Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, Boogaloo, Proud Boys, Nationalist Socialist Club-131, Rise Above Nation, No White Guilt, Baked Alaska, QAnon supporters and militia groups.

What did these groups have in common? Members of some of the groups were also participants in the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. What they also have in common is that they are considered by the FBI to be militant, extremists, violent, white supremacists, domestic terrorists, racist, anti-Semitic and diehard supporters of Republican Trumpism.

Lecia Brooks, chief of staff for the The Southern Poverty Law Center that tracks and monitors hate and extremist groups explained that these groups are well organized, internet savvy and have sophisticated recruitment strategies targeting young children.

In 2018, she told Congress that two years after Trump’s election, hate groups rose to a record high of 1,020 with White Nationalist groups rising by nearly 50%.

She emphasized, “Long before he took office, [Trump] embraced and helped propagate the kind of false conspiracy theories that animated far-right extremists and helped to push their radical ideologies into the political and media mainstream,” Brooks told Congress. “After he took office, Trump continued to use his platform to promote the baseless conspiracy theories and fabrications of the radical right, many of them freighted with racial and antisemitic undertones.”

White Supremacists and Domestic Terrorists victimize through fear, intimidation, suppression and violence. There is no compromise, concession or collaboration. Good will, discourse and bipartisanship are not reciprocal. Blind loyalty is expected.

Historians, psychologists and social scientists have researched the multigenerational trauma suffered by victims at the hands of extremists. The numbers of victimized children who were brutalized continues to be documented to this day.

The bronze sculpture by Marie Uchytilova in Lidice, Czech Republic commemorates the children who were killed by Nazis in the summer of 1942. It honors a group of 82 children – 42 girls and 40 boys – all of whom were gassed at Chełmno. The Polish town housed a Nazi concentration camp built in World War II. In fact, it was the first German extermination camp set up specifically to carry out ethnic cleansing through mass killings.

But there is one classification of victims that is often not mentioned nor studied. These are the children of victimizers.  Yael Danieli, in her watershed study, International Handbook of Multigenerational Legacies of Trauma, (1998), did not exclude surviving family members of tyrants, dictators, their allies and followers.

What is different about Danieli’s book is that she emphasizes not to lose sight of the fact that the children of the victimizers are left with their own legacy of trauma. In other words, children and young adults left to deal with the sins of family members, colleagues and friends. 

Representative Liz Cheney, during the House Committee hearings of 2022, investigating the January 6th insurrection, echoed what Yael Danieli reminds us. Representative Liz Cheney offered a stark message to members of her party who continue to support Republican Trumpism. She said:

“Tonight, I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”  

What she did not say is that the weight and burden of the dishonor, shame, guilt and its trauma will be waiting for the children of the victimizers to unpack.  

I posit that Republican Trumpism will fall like a house of cards due to its inherent corruption, criminality, its dishonest fraudulent ideology and above all else, the lack of credibility and trust. Yes, it may take an entire generation, but it will cave as other autocratic ideologies have.

I believe that the children of Republican Trumpism, as adults, will become aware of the isolation and limitations of MAGA ideology – particularly living in the reality of the 21st century with its emphasis on diversity and inclusivity.

The 2022 mid term elections clearly showed that the Gen Zers voted in record numbers across the nation and helped to stop the anticipated red wave. Keep in mind that each incoming year another senior class graduates from every high school in the country.

It is not rocket science to notice the shifts of the growing multi-ethnic-racial-lingual-cultural realities in real time and space of American life. Countless examples abound – in classrooms, children’s playdates, graduations, workplaces, subdivisions, shopping centers, sporting events, concerts, local parks, airports, weddings and family holiday gatherings that introduce new relationships reflecting a wide range of diversity.

Have you recently paid attention to TV commercials and movies? What do you see? Father Knows Best and Ozzie and Harriet? Or a bi-racial family with bi-racial children with diverse neighbors and friends? America’s majestic rainbow is in full display and in HD for all to see and experience.

Inclusivity, civility, cognizant awareness and respect for others, collaboration and recognition to foster the greater good will be waiting for the children of Republican Trumpism who will have other options rather than to view the world in isolated and absolute terms.

The choice will be theirs – but they will be welcomed because that is part and parcel of what it means to live in a Democracy – inclusivity rather than divisionism.

Yael Danieli does not only deal with the tenets of lingering trauma, but also expresses the hope that one day the children of the victims and the children of the victimizers will address their trauma at the table of honest discourse and healing.

As Yael Danieli writes in the dedication,
“To the children yet unborn with the hope that we leave them a better world in which to grow.”

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