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Austin Zinkle

Research Interests:
20th century United States history
Youth Activism
Black Freedom Struggle
United States Social Movements
United States Conservatism
Office Hours

By appointment


Ph.D., University of Kentucky, 2023

M.A., University of Kentucky, 2017

B.A., Auburn University, 2015


Austin Zinkle is a PhD graduate in history at the University of Kentucky where he studied twentieth century United States Social Movements, with an emphasis on youth activism. Originally from Knoxville, TN, Austin graduated from Auburn University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in History. It was at Auburn that he established an academic interest in the movement organizing of the Civil Rights Era, specifically around the work of youth-centered groups like SNCC and CORE. This interest continued into his MA thesis research where Austin studied African American youth activism in Kentucky during the 1940s and 1950s, arguing that demonstrations and protests by NAACP Youth Councils in the border state not only articulated more radical anti-racist activism than older, adult organizers, but the work from these Youth Councils expanded the timeline of progressive youth demonstrations against civil and social injustices decades prior to the 1960 sit-ins. Austin's PhD dissertation continued a research interest on young people and details the rise, methodology, and evolution of radical racist right youth activism during the 1960s and 1970s. In his spare time, Austin enjoys playing his piano, basketball, and cheering on all things Auburn Tigers. 



Dissertation: The Kids Were Alt-Right: Radical Right Youth Activism and the Origins of the White Power Movement, 1960-1980

This dissertation explores the young people—primarily young men—involved and weaponized within the radical racist Right during the 1960s and 1970s in the United States. This project argues that young people were an active bedrock of support within racist and antisemitic organizations such as the American Nazi Party, the National Alliance, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and others, and created a unique coalition that ultimately developed into a revolutionary racist Right and eventual white power movement by the 1980s. This dissertation makes a significant intervention in scholarship on the radical Right’s development over the past sixty years and serves as a historical foundation and origin for the youth-driven and internet dwelling alt-right and right-wing militias in the twenty-first century. This project reorients the scholarly lens of the genesis of the white power movement to decades prior to the militia movements of the 1980s, in dialogue with the social movements of the New Left and with attention to American youth as drivers of the movement. This analysis purposefully uses radical racist Right instead of "far Right" to describe a political identity based in a racist and antisemitic movement to dismantle liberal democracy, and demonstrates how youth involvement within the radical racist Right made up a significant counterculture movement of their own.

The Kids Were Alt-Right argues that youth activism within the radical racist Right began—in part—as a cooptation to leftist social movement organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), reappropriated leftist movement methods, organizational framework, and political language, but eventually metastasized as a unique revolutionary coalition. The deployment of youth culture by adult leadership, detailed primarily as racist jokes and humor, produced a unique youth identity that gravitated young people to these organizations. By the 1970s, the youth identity embraced a politics of violent rebellion and the youth dominated radical racist Right transitioned into the revolutionary racist Right. Using personal correspondence, organizational publications, newspapers, and extensive files from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, this dissertation chronologically examines the youth involved within radical racist Right organizations and the adult leadership that incorporated and mobilized young people, and a youth identity, for their own political purposes. Beginning in 1960 with the formation of Young Americans for Freedom as a reactionary conservative student movement—and whose membership later moved towards more openly racist and antisemitic organizations, The Kids Were Alt-Right chronicles the youth and youth identities within the adult-led radical racist Right organizations like the American Nazi Party and the National Youth Alliance, the youth leadership in the 1970s revolutionary racist Right, and culminates in the paramilitary alliance that ignited in bloodshed at the Greensboro massacre in 1979 and the formation of a violent white power movement.

Advisor: Anastasia Curwood

Exam Fields: African American History, United States History since 1865, Twentieth Century European History (Extremism and Social Movements)