One of the greatest worries that I have in the past 2 years is the rising incidents of racism, Islamophobia, antisemitism, homophobia and the anti-immigrant harassment around the country. The Southern Poverty Law Center has recently reported that the number of hate groups in the U.S. from 892 groups in 2015 to 927 groups in 2016. The rise in hate groups is concurrent with the rise in the Alt Right movement, a white nationalist movement. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes how Alt Right leaders like Richard Spencer, Jared Taylor, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Mike Enoch are promoting the idea that “white identity” is under attack by multicultural forces and that has led the Alt Right movement to attack immigration, the Black Lives Movement, refugees and Muslim Americans. Richard Spencer has specifically stated that the Alt Right movement has as one of its goals to create a new kind of conservative movement to supplant mainstream conservativism.
Because of this, conservatives as well as liberals are concerned about the Alt Right movement and the racism, antisemitism, and Islamophobia that they are trying to incite in the wider society. Conservatives like David Brooks, George Will, Bill Kristol, Glenn Beck and several mainstream conservatives have denounced the Alt Right and its bigotry and xenophobia. I don’t agree with their politics, but I admire the integrity and courage of these conservatives in denouncing the Alt Right and withstanding the criticism of their fellow conservatives. These conservatives realize the long term damage that the Alt Right will do to the conservative movement.
In the 1950s and 1960s, William F. Buckley used his magazine The National Review to fight the attempts of the John Birch Society and other racist groups from gaining a prominent voice within the conservative movement. Conservatives have a similar challenge right now with the Alt Right.
One of the things that gives me hope is a recent article I read in PBS Independent Lens about a group of former white supremacists who are working to get other white racists to reject bigotry in all its forms. Scott Shepard, for instance, is a former Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan who now fighting racism to atone for his past behavior. Reformed racists like Derek Black, T.J. Leyden (a former member of Hammerskin Nation, a neo-Nazi group), and Duke Schneider rejected their racist ideals when they were forced to confront the humanity of the individuals they were taught to hate. One former white supremacist, Arno Michaelis, helped found a group called Life After Hate where former white racists help people leave hate groups and build a more positive life.
Life After Hate, Inc., a 501(c)(3) U.S. nonprofit, was created in 2009 by former members of the American violent far-right extremist movement. Through powerful stories of transformation and unique insight gleaned from decades of experience, we serve to inspire, educate, guide, and counsel.
Whether working with individuals who wish to leave a life of hate and violence, or helping organizations (community, educational, civic, government, etc.) grappling with the causes of intolerance and racism, Life After Hate works to counter the seeds of hate we once planted. Through personal experience and highly-unique skillsets, we have developed a sophisticated understanding about what draws individuals to extremist groups and, equally important, why they leave. Compassion is the opposite of judgment and we understand the roles compassion and empathy play in healing individuals and communities.
Jay Reeves wrote an article for Salon titled Former White Supremacists Help Others Leave Hate Groups. Reeves wrote:
“We act as a group of people who understand each other,” said former skinhead Christian Picciolini, an old friend of Martinez who founded the Chicago-based Life After Hate. “We understand the motivations of where we came from and why we joined. We understand what keeps people in. And we help each other detach and disengage from that ideology and provide a support system for them as they go through that transformation.”
Founded in 2009, Life After Hate was awarded a $400,000 Justice Department grant in the closing days of the Obama administration — funding that could be endangered if the Trump administration decides to refocus a federal program combatting violent extremism solely on Islamic radicals, as is being considered.
While several other grant recipients are dedicated to countering radical Muslim ideology, Life After Hate concentrates specifically on showing white extremists there’s another way.
The group operates a website where people who want to explore leaving white extremism can submit contact information. It also conducts educational and counseling programs including the Facebook group where members sometimes chat with extremists trying to change their lives, Picciolini said.
Here are some articles about former white supremacists who moved away from racism
From KKK Grand Dragon to Anti-Racism Crusader: The Remarkable Reinvention of Scott Shepard by Gareth Platt for The International Business Times
The White Flight of Derek Black by Eli Saslow for The Washington Post
Why I Left White Nationalism by Derek Black for The New York Times
Former Neo-Nazi Risks His Life to Fight Racism by Adam Grannick and Antonia Marrero for The Daily Beast
The Rehabilitation of ‘Pitbull’, a Former Wrestler and Neo-Nazi by Joseph Goldstein for The New York Times
Ex-Skinhead and His Victim Form an Unlikely Alliance by Dina Temple-Raston for NPR
Former white power skinhead Arno Michaelis responds to a question regarding what brought about his turnaround from hate and violence to peace and love.
Christian Picciolini admits his neo-Nazi past was horrific. Now he’s dedicated his life to helping transition people from that culture of hate to one of acceptance and love.
With the continued spread of white nationalism and the “alt-right” movement in America, this former leader of the movement shows that people can choose to change and stand against hate.