Lesson plan; Louis Theroux’s Forbidden America

Louis Theroux meets the young and highly inflammatory figures of the latest incarnation of the American far right: a political movement born out of the internet but making its presence felt in the real world, including some of those who came to the broader public’s attention through the notorious Capitol Hill riots.

Louis immerses himself in a growing online community that has navigated the threats of de-platforming to gather a vast audience on phones and laptops around the world, promoting an ideology that is racist, misogynistic, homophobic and anti-Semitic, often packaging the most extreme views as ‘irony’.

With the movement’s most prominent voices having an increasing influence away from the digital realm, Louis attempts to understand their recent surge in popularity and challenges the divisive rhetoric that is being streamed to millions of young viewers online. BBC

Title: Understanding the Rise of the American Far Right

Objective: To critically analyze the rise of the American far right, its online presence, and its impact on society.

Grade Level: Secondary and up

Lesson Plan:

  1. Introduction (10 minutes)
    • Discuss the concept of the American far right and its online presence.
  2. Pre-Viewing Activity (15 minutes)
    • Ask students to brainstorm what they know about the American far right.
    • Write their responses on the board and facilitate a class discussion.
  3. Viewing the Documentary (60 minutes)
    • Watch the documentary “Louis Theroux: Extreme and Online” as a class.
    • Encourage students to take notes on key points, themes, and examples.
  4. Answer the 10 questions to the documentary below,
  5. Post-Viewing Discussion (20 minutes)
    • Lead a guided discussion on the documentary, focusing on:
      • The rise of the American far right and its online presence.
      • The impact of online communities on promoting extremist ideologies.
      • The challenges of de-platforming and countering divisive rhetoric.
  6. Group Activity: Analyzing Online Content (30 minutes)
    • Divide students into small groups.
    • Assign each group a specific online platform (e.g., social media, video-sharing sites).
    • Instruct them to analyze content related to the American far right on their assigned platform.
    • Have each group present their findings, discussing strategies to promote extremist ideologies.
  7. Reflection and Conclusion (15 minutes)
    • Ask students to reflect on what they have learned about the American far right and its online presence.
    • Facilitate a class discussion on potential solutions for countering extremist ideologies.
  8. Fact questions
  1. What is the main topic of the documentary? How does Louis Theroux approach it?
  2. What are some of the extremist ideologies and groups that Louis Theroux encounters in his online journey? How do they use the internet to spread their views and recruit followers?
  3. How does Louis Theroux interact with the people he meets online? What are some of the challenges and risks he faces?
  4. How does Louis Theroux balance his curiosity and empathy with his critical thinking and skepticism? How does he challenge or question the beliefs and actions of the people he meets online?
  5. What are some of the ethical and social implications of the documentary? How does it raise awareness or spark debate about the issues of extremism, online radicalization, and free speech?
  6. How does the documentary compare and contrast with other documentaries or media reports on the same topic? What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of Louis Theroux’s style and perspective?
  7. How does the documentary relate to your own experiences or opinions on online extremism? Have you ever encountered or engaged with extremist views or groups online? How did you react or respond?
  8. What are some of the lessons or insights that you learned from watching the documentary? How did it change or challenge your understanding of online extremism?

Essay questions

  • How does Louis Theroux’s documentary challenge traditional notions of objectivity and neutrality in journalism? Analyze his approach to storytelling and the ethical implications of his interactions with extremist individuals and groups.
  • What role does irony play in the online promotion of extremist ideologies? Explore how extremist groups use irony as a rhetorical strategy to spread their views while maintaining plausible deniability.
  • To what extent does Louis Theroux’s documentary contribute to normalizing extremist ideologies? Examine the potential impact of showcasing extremist individuals and groups on mainstream media platforms.
  • What are the ethical considerations involved in documenting and reporting on extremist ideologies? Discuss the responsibilities of journalists and filmmakers when engaging with sensitive and potentially harmful subject matter.
  • How does Louis Theroux navigate the fine line between empathy and complicity in his interactions with extremist individuals? Analyze his approach to building rapport with subjects while maintaining critical distance.
  • What are the long-term consequences of online radicalization explored in Louis Theroux’s documentary? Examine the social, political, and cultural implications of extremist ideologies gaining traction through online platforms.

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