Hate is not a hoax
August 30, 2019 6:47 AM   Subscribe

Christian Picciolini is a former white supremacist who now works to de-radicalize people. He co-founded Life After Hate, a non-profit organization to help people leave white supremacy groups, and later founded Free Radicals Project, a global extremism prevention and disengagement network. Under the Obama administration, this de-radicalization work was awarded federal grants that were then rescinded under Donald Trump. Free Radicals is now launching a fundraising campaign to help expand its outreach, at hateisnotahoax.com. More recent coverage and interviews with Picciolini:

A Former White Supremacist Explains How to Combat White Supremacy (Gen/Medium, Aug 29, 2019)
"I used to train FBI, I used to do speaking engagements for Homeland Security and for the State Department. I used to do dozens a year. Overnight, the minute the administration changed, I have not done one. It’s been almost three years. They don’t want to hear what I have to say. They don’t want to hear about white supremacy.
You got people like Tucker Carlson saying white supremacy is a hoax. It’s not a hoax — I deal with people every day who will happily prove to him that hate is a real thing."
The truth about race-baiting that Trump supporters don’t want to hear (Chicago Tribune, Aug 26, 2019)
"Of course not every Trump supporter is a racist, a Nazi or a white nationalist,” he says. “Racism is nothing new. It has always existed. But the rhetoric out of this administration, and specifically the president, at times mirrors almost identically what I used to say 30 years ago in the movement. Religious-based bans, the way immigrants are demonized, things like ‘s---hole countries,' words like ‘animals’ and ‘invasion.’ They were the exact words of the neo-Nazi movement.”

...Federal funding for Picciolini’s organization through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been drying up, prompting him to launch a grassroots fundraising campaign this week at www.freeradicals.org to help his outreach expand. The feds remain focused on Islamic terrorism, not domestic. But domestic terrorism through white supremacy ideology is a public safety threat. Law enforcement authorities thwart potential attacks routinely. We just don’t hear as much about it.

“The number of people reaching out to us for help is staggering,” Picciolini says. “I get national security threats sent to my inbox. I’m the first (contact) for people who don’t want to go to law enforcement right off the bat."
Fight against extremism for former neo-Nazi from Chicago ramps up after Trump, Charlottesville (Chicago Tribune, Aug 19, 2019)
In cities and towns across the U.S., Picciolini and his team have established networks to provide job training, life coaches, therapists, and tattoo removal.

"When people are more confident and competitive in the workforce, when they feel more whole, they feel less of a need to blame the other for taking away," he said. He also has introduced clients to people they thought they would hate. He and clients have spent the day with a Muslim imam and volunteered at centers that serve the LGBT community.

"Nine times out of 10 they've never had a meaningful interaction or dialogue with the people that they hate," Picciolini said. "They hate other people because they hate themselves."
A Reformed White Nationalist Says the Worst Is Yet to Come (The Atlantic, Aug 6, 2019) – Christian Picciolini discusses the mainstreaming of white nationalism, what it takes to de-radicalize far-right extremists, and why the problem is metastasizing.
"...this is something I’ve been banging the drum about for 20 years—that the escalation of violence would get worse. The [white-supremacist] ideology is spreading more into the mainstream than it ever has before. There aren’t checks and balances to counter it. There aren’t programs being funded to help people disengage from extremism. Some of the rhetoric coming from the very top is emboldening extremists. [...] I never thought we would have a social and political climate that really kind of brought it to the foreground. Because it’s starting to seem less like a fringe ideology and more like a mainstream ideology."
A Former Neo-Nazi Explains Why Hate Drew Him In — And How He Got Out (NPR, January 18, 2018)
"I do think that there were a lot of concerted strategies in the '80s and '90s that we're seeing take hold today. We recognized in the mid-'80s that our edginess, our look, even our language, was turning away the average American white racist — people we wanted to recruit. So we decided then to grow our hair out, to stop getting tattoos that would identify us, to trade in our boots for suits and to go to college campuses and recruit there and enroll, to get jobs in law enforcement, to go to the military and get training and to even run for office. And here we are, 30 years later, and we're using terms like "white nationalist" and "alt-right" — terms that [the white supremacists] came up with, by the way. They sat around and said, "How can we identify ourselves to make us seem less hateful?" ..."
Former Neo-Nazi Says It’s On White People To Fight White Supremacy (Huffington Post, April 24, 2017)
Picciolini says that the recent rise of the so-called alt-right movement ― a white supremacist movement with young leadership, branding meant to appeal to millennials and a large online presence ― makes Life After Hate’s job harder.

“In the old days you could spot a skinhead a mile away ― now it’s harder in a virtual world. And they made the message more palatable, wear suits and ties, don’t shave their heads.

“The only difference between alt-right and what I was in then is packaging. It’s a marketing strategy: They just soften the edges.”

Since President Donald Trump’s election, Picciolini says, the number of requests that have come in to Life After Hate for support have grown ― from one to three requests per week to one to three per day. Most of these come from friends or family concerned that a loved one might be involved in extremism.
More on YouTube:
Christian Picciolini: "Life After Hate" | Talks at Google (2017)
Sarah Silverman Interviews Christian Picciolini- 'I Love You, America' on Hulu (2017)
My descent into America's neo-Nazi movement & how I got out | Christian Picciolini | TEDxMileHigh - TEDx Talks (2017)

Trump Shut Programs to Counter Violent Extremism (The Atlantic, Oct 29, 2018)
posted by bitteschoen (18 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you for posting this. I’ve seen Christian Picciolini talk on YouTube and the work he does gives me hope.
posted by Kemma80 at 8:24 AM on August 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

Bless him and all those like him and all who support this work. This is an antidote, if we have the wisdom and courage to use it.
posted by overglow at 8:48 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

The new Contrapoints on Men has a very salient point on this near the end. Something I think is very important about how these young men are being indoctrinated at their weakest, and the path forward is learning to deradicalize, shut down the places that are doing the radicalizing (8chan is a start) or provide much better visibility of alternate paths to living life than putting your identity in racism and misogyny.

The more threads we have where the dominating feeling is "all white men are trash" is like putting all sex offenders so off the grid that they have to live under bridges and their reoffending rates skyrocket. I'm not a fan. I'm not saying don't be mean to white supremacists, it's the times we let the sentiment of all one group are completely unsaveable and garbage. And we do it a lot.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:49 AM on August 30, 2019 [12 favorites]

I was going to mention that video too - at the end Wynn observes that while she’s been called the deradicalizer of young men, she notes a lot of them become reradicalized in the opposite direction, becoming anarchist or communists, and that this can be another problem cause it does not necessarily provide a good model or the framework they’re craving. So, she calls for a”positive ideal of masculinity in the 21st century” that must come from men themselves. There’s a reddit forum devoted to this process, MensLib (discolure it’s run by a friend and comrade) , which tries to both undo the damage of toxic masculine and provide a place to build a positive, inclusive idea of what being a man is - say by doing white nationalist infiltration work cause you’re a big burly white guy or going to the front of protest lines cause you’re less likely to be arrested if you’re white or being a court Latino for people - or even as the video mentions, unlearning the typical American male socialization style which is very individualistic, competition based, and unemotional cause you get the real feeling these are people looking for something to belong to, and historically that’s been the basis of fascist movements, so we need to construct an attractive, alternative model.
posted by The Whelk at 9:18 AM on August 30, 2019 [25 favorites]

Court guide! No idea how autocorrect did that.
posted by The Whelk at 9:31 AM on August 30, 2019 [6 favorites]

Thank you, The Whelk. I'm excited to check that place out. I know two men (one around 30, one 50) who run what I'd call "positive masculinity" groups (separate groups) which try to provide an emotionally healthy, non-toxic version of living.

This comment in that Joe Rogan thread summed things up in a unique way for me I thought from prize bull octorok, copied below.

Why do cis white straight dudes need a role model that looks like them?

the case for why representation matters has been made innumerable times on MetaFilter. It would be nice if we could get down on one knee and tell young white males that because of a long and terrible history, they are exempted from this need, but it doesn't work that way.

posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:32 AM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Tom Clancy Dads thread got me thinking about how a lot of people have white supremacist opinions, but the media doesn't worry about them or call them white supremacists because they're content. They believe that white people should run the world; they look around and see that white people do run the world; and they go back to mowing their lawns.

A big hubbub is only made about them when someone convinces them that white people don't actually run the world, or white people are about to lose their control over the world, and they decide that they Must Fight Back.
posted by clawsoon at 9:48 AM on August 30, 2019 [23 favorites]

A big hubbub is only made about them when someone convinces them that white people don't actually run the world, or white people are about to lose their control over the world, and they decide that they Must Fight Back.

This definitely describes some members of my family. You'd never have known (well, you might have suspected but in an unconfirmed way) that they held white supremacist opinions until Obama was elected. Suddenly they were like "But... it's just not right... that's not the way it's supposed to be..."

Grandma/Grandpa, this is one big reason I didn't bother to see much of you in your later years. Had I had the courage of my convictions back then, I would have told you I didn't want to deepen my relationship with people who were loving to me but held hate in their hearts.
posted by treepour at 11:47 AM on August 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

No lie, the Whelk, I just googled "court Latino" to see if this was something I didn't know about.😂

Clawsoon, that's a really crucial point. So many people privately hold supremacist beliefs and are fine with keeping them private. But when push comes to shove and sides have to be chosen, they're just as much a danger to those around them. They provide cover, comfort, economic support and media apologetics for the outspoken racists. And they casually convert others, generally with a "aren't you sick of all this PC crap"-style approach.

They're sleeper cells for the white supremacist movement.
posted by captain afab at 12:33 PM on August 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

captain afab: So many people privately hold supremacist beliefs and are fine with keeping them private. But when push comes to shove and sides have to be chosen, they're just as much a danger to those around them.

Just the other day I learned about Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the final solution in Poland, which I want to read. The Goodreads reviews have useful summaries, though of course being the Holocaust there's graphic stuff in there. (Content warning to the max.) The first wave of killings in the Holocaust was done by "these middle-aged police reserve guys, your local baker, pharmacist or gardener, just your regular guys" who "went through their formative period in a pre-Nazi era, came from Hamburg one of the least Nazified cities in Germany, they belonged to social class that had been anti-Nazi." They didn't even have to believe themselves that Jewish people were subhuman, they just had to go along with it. To kill thousands of people in cold blood, they just had to be open to considering the ideas of white supremacy.
posted by clawsoon at 12:47 PM on August 30, 2019 [6 favorites]

somebody convinces them that white people don't actually run the world, or white people are about to lose their control over the world

That's a textbook description of a huge chunk of Brexit voters as well right there...
posted by jontyjago at 12:56 PM on August 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

A "21st Century version of asperational masculinity: thats not uh, being a Nazi?" May be the question of the age. I'd say its "being a good comrade" but what does that even mean? So we have to discuss it, cause the fascists have been on this line earlier and harder with the whole "The future is just another place to go shopping" bit.

A good comrade helps build community bonds in places capitalism has torn asunder, or such. A good comrade realizes all struggles are intersectional. A good comrades lets others speak before them and asks what they need before proscribing solutions. A good comrade believes in self-determination and mutual aide, etc.

I'm not saying we should give this pool of lonely, directionless young men homework to read but ..the fascists are giving them homework to read.

We should also maybe have more town dances. I said it before, a holistic Green New Deal includes dance halls and knitting circles and cabarets and gaming groups and baking clubs and fishing collectives and bowling teams and art drawing classes and play dates and Bingo. We have to unalienate and deatomize society. You should have to look people in the face.
posted by The Whelk at 9:36 PM on August 30, 2019 [11 favorites]

Wait a second. I think we are jumping to hasty conclusions if we start saying that threads hating on whiteness or toxic masculinity are problematic, or if we start believing that it's counterproductive to foster a culture that is hostile to Nazis (in addition to being hostile to merely Naziism).

Look, ALL of these things are true at the same time:

(1) these men become radicalized because of their personal insecurities and feelings of worthlessness

(2) the only way back for them is to be shown kindness, love, and deep understanding; to be given the sort of help that destroys the false sense of power they get from trashing other people and rebuilds their self-esteem on the basis of valuing who they themselves are.

(3) we need a culture that is hostile to Nazis, which makes it as unacceptable to express Nazi sentiments in public as it is to take a shit in the middle of the street... and as unacceptable to express Nazi-adjacent sentiments as it is to fart in an elevator.

Specifically, I want to note that functions (2) and (3) should neither be conflated nor subsumed into one another nor considered to be contradictory/in competition, because what they are is DIFFERENT PIECES of the SAME PUZZLE. Both are necessary. Both work together to make our society safe for oppressed minorities.

(2) is work that is undertaken at a personal level with very particular types of actors in a radicalized person's life: therapists, friends, loved ones, mentors, coaches. The work is best done when it is intensely individual, when it takes the form of self examination with the aid of personalized guidance. To have a loving, accepting, and kind space held for you even when you have chosen to do harm to others? That is powerful and it is work. It's also a privilege -- it should not spill over to become a routine expectation from society at large.

(3) is a cultural movement, a public sentiment, a necessary buttress that gives radicalized people the impetus to do the work of (2). They need that impetus! (2) can never scale without (3). And the job of society and culture at large is, first and foremost, to be(come) safe for people who are oppressed and threatened, not to create a non-confrontational and comfortable atmosphere for Nazis in order to facilitate their personal growth.

Public hostility to Nazis is one of the necessary defenses we have against radicalized people, an important layer of protection meant to arrest whoever slips past the other guards lying drunk at the gates of social fabric, child welfare, healthcare, emotional support, education, political responsibility, and legal constraints. Wake all those other guards up, yes! But keep the public condemnation too! It is not a contradiction of those other efforts; it serves many of the same function as they do.
posted by MiraK at 7:10 AM on August 31, 2019 [10 favorites]

Oh yea I want to make it clear I'm saying and describing a process to prevent radicalization from even starting - Nazis absolutely be afraid to show their faces and symbols in public
posted by The Whelk at 9:25 AM on August 31, 2019

I think it's also worth pointing out, though, that "SJWs made me feel bad for being a white man so I had no choice to become a Nazi" is literally Nazi propaganda.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:34 PM on August 31, 2019 [6 favorites]

True but I think its the same as its up to white people to pull other white people out of white supremacy, it's up to men to pull men out of weirdo macho Nazism.

This is our problem.
posted by The Whelk at 9:14 PM on August 31, 2019

ICE is building a 'state-of-the-art' 'urban warfare' training facility simulationing homes in Chicago and Arizona.
The facility will be built at the Office of Firearms and Tactical Programs' (OFTP) Tactical Operations Complex (TOC) at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Fort Benning is of course infamous for being home to another fascist institution the School of the Amercias.
posted by adamvasco at 4:40 PM on September 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

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