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Third Wave

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This is about the experiment on Nazism. For the feminist movement which opponents sometimes claim is Nazi, see third wave feminism.
We have seen that fascism is not just something those other people did. No. It's right here. In this room. Scratch the surface and it appears. Something in all of us. The belief that human beings are basically evil. A belief that demands a strong leader and discipline to preserve social order.
—Ron Jones, creator of the experiment[1]
Image from the German film Die Welle,Wikipedia which is inspired by the events of the experiment.
Tell me about
your mother

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For our next session...
Popping into your mind
A lunatic Chaplin imitator
and his greatest fans

Icon nazi.svg
First as tragedy
Then as farce
The Third Wave was an experiment in 1967 that purported to show how people were willing to accept the Nazi regime, with the belief that it gives you a purpose you didn't have before.[1] The guy who started the experiment ended it after it grew immensely beyond its intended scale, swelling from the 30 students in the class to over 200 throughout the school week,[1] many of whom cut classes to participate.[1] One other result is that the teacher who performed the experiment began to enjoy the power.[1] Ron Jones (1941–), who created the experiment, says he regrets it to this day.

The experiment[edit]


History teacher Ron Jones of Ellwood P. Cubberley High School (Palo Alto, California), was questioned by one student how the Germans were willing to ignore the atrocities while under the Nazi regime. This inspired him to create an experiment which he felt would show how easily people would give up their individuality to feel included.[1] The revolutionary counterculture of the 1960s made it a great time to test it out.

Day one: Strength through discipline[edit]

The experiment began with the introduction of "strength through discipline". To test this, a "seating posture" was introduced, which after testing, it only took the class five seconds to get into the position. To see how far they would go, he introduced the new rules of "Students must be sitting in class at the attention position before the late bell; all students must carry pencils and paper for note taking; when asking or answering questions a student must stand at the side of their desk; the first word given in answering or asking a question is 'Mr. Jones.'; short 'silent reading' sessions." None of this was seen as unacceptable.[1]

Day two: Strength through community[edit]

On the second day, "strength through community" was introduced. He was surprised to find that all the rules introduced were followed perfectly. He made up stories of his past to teach this. The phrases "strength through discipline" and "strength through community" were made the motto, and all the students were successfully taught to recite it. At the end the class he had created a secret salute for members of the Wave, which was a cupped hand raised up to one's chest. Once again, nobody questioned it.[1]

Day three: Strength through action[edit]

On the third day, class started with 43 students instead of 30. Almost one-third of the students had cut class to attend this. Membership was issued to every student who wanted to remain in the experiment. None decided to leave. Three were assigned to report any members not complying with the rules imposed. He then described how the first two mottos were meaningless without action. "Action" meaning doing anything for your allies. The students began to rapidly excel at academics due to the pure devotion. Each student was given a special assignment to feel important. However, about twenty students had reported members to him for violating the Wave's rules, even though only three had been assigned to do this. Finally, a process for joining was introduced. Any new member had to be recommended by an existing one and given a membership card by him. By the end of the day membership had surpassed 200. One well-built student even volunteered to be his bodyguard because he feared something would happen to him, and followed him everywhere in the school.[1]

Day four: Strength through pride[edit]

Eighty students attended the class that day, meaning that less than half of the class was there just two days earlier. Jones felt he had effectively become a dictator, and was slowly ending the experiment, which was beginning to disrupt the entire school. As the movement increased in scale, Jones decided to tell the members that they were one of over a thousand similar groups throughout the country as part of the nonexistent larger Third Wave movement.[1] A presidential candidate would be introduced the next day at a secret rally in a small auditorium, and nobody outside the Third Wave was to know of it.[1]

Day five: Strength through understanding[edit]

The auditorium was filled to the brim, every seat taken. A small TV set was placed for everyone to see. After a few minutes of white noise, everyone was surprised that nothing still happened. This is when Jones revealed that it was all fake, and claimed that this showed that the students were no better than the Nazis, having fallen victim to the exact same fate.[1] A rear screen projector switched on, showing the Nuremberg Rally.[1] Everyone in the room was shocked, and some were crying. The Third Wave had become everything to many of them.


Jones was fired a year later for unrelated reasons.[2] He never heard anyone mention this for the rest of his teaching career at the school, which he interpreted as meaning that everyone was too ashamed to admit they participated in this.[1]


The experiment was meant to demonstrate how a peoples' desire to be a part of something bigger can be used to manipulate them into joining dangerous movements, such as fascism, Nazism, and cults, both religious and personalistic.

Our desire to be included overrules our logical thought processes, making our entire species a target for members of it that wish to exploit this. Everyone wants to fit in somewhere, anywhere, which would explain why some spend so much time trying to find people they can relate to. This is how populist movements grow. They appeal to our desires we didn't even know existed. In essence, anyone can fall to those who want them to under the right conditions. Humans are fragile creatures, and this can turn for the better, or the worse. Often, leaders fall victim to their own propaganda, as Jones later admitted that he liked that all the students were following him.

It is not clear, however, that the Third Wave experiment effectively models dangerous movements for a number of reasons.

  • Given the obvious parallel between "Third Wave" and "Third Reich," which the students had already learned about, it is possible that many of them were aware that they were participating in a Nazi simulation and going along with it to create the desired effect and receive a good grade.
  • The primary features of the experiment were community, purpose, and deference to authority, all of which are variously present at schools throughout the democratic world, especially military schools, and they are generally approved of as long as they aren't accompanied by repugnant ideologies.
  • It is not clear that students were ever presented with any abhorrent political or religious ideas as part of the experiment, so it is not clear if they would have stuck with it if they had been.
  • Most information about the event comes from Mr. Jones' own retelling from years later, which may have been embellished.


[Jones] helped wake us up, and I've always been grateful. Good experiences aren't necessarily pleasant. I've often thought about it, and I'm glad I had it. I would want my kids to have it.
—Alyssa Hess Reit[3]

The teacher basically got away with experimenting on 200 students and burdening those students with a secret for life. He manipulated 200 students into joining his "Third Wave" group. Somehow no student reported to be damaged by the "Third Wave" experiment.[3] Ron Jones is praised by parents and staff for being a really good teacher.[3] All goes to show that dictators almost never get punishment for their actions.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]