A former white supremacist has a potentially unpopular message for how to stop extremist movements


Hate groups are on the rise in the US, prompting
questions over how to stop the spread of such

The deadly white supremacist rally in
Charlottesville, Virginia, has laid bare the reality that
far-right, extremist movements are on the rise in the US,
prompting questions about how to combat the spread of hate

The rise has coincided with increased activism against those
groups, most prominently
by the so-called antifa movement. The decentralized movement,
which includes a mixture of anarchists, socialists,
communists, and other far-left activists, has taken
a direct-action approach to combat far-right

In many cases, that has turned to violence and property
destruction. Sometimes, that has come in self-defense, as appears
to have been the case in Charlottesville. Other times, it has
not, such as when antifa activists smashed windows and hurled
smoke bombs during a series of riots following Trump’s election
in Portland,
Oregon. Or when an activist
punched avowed white nationalist Richard Spencer in the
face on Inauguration Day.

“You need violence in order to protect nonviolence,” Emily
Rose Nauert, an antifa member best known for being punched in the
face by a white nationalist during a clash at Berkeley in April,
told The New York Times. “That’s what’s very obviously necessary
right now. It’s full-on war, basically.”

But Christian Picciolini, a former white
supremacist, says violent resistance is likely to
do more harm than good in efforts to diminish far right groups’
power and size. 

“I don’t think anyone in the world became anti-racist
because they were punched in the face by a protester or hit with
a bottle of urine,” Picciolini told Business Insider. “
simply becomes harder for them to come back. They get pushed
further away.”

Disowning or publicly shaming family members that
participate in far-right groups,
as happened after the Charlottesville rally, is likely

drive them “further down that path,” rather
than shock them into leaving, he said.

Picciolini has a potentially unpopular message for how
to deal with neo-Nazis and white supremacists: Show

“All of us who left received compassion from the people we
least deserved it from when we least deserved it,” he said. “It’s
the disarming of the people we hated when we don’t deserve it
that helps people get out.”

Picciolini would know — after spending his teens and early
20s as the leader of the neo-Nazi group Chicago
Area Skin Heads, he left the movement and its hateful

Christian Picciolini   4
Life After Hate co-founder
Christian Picciolini

Courtesy of
Christian Picciolini/Photo by Britton

These days, he leads Life After
Hate, a nonprofit
organization dedicated to helping neo-Nazis, white
supremacists, KKK members, and other activists leave their
organizations and rehabilitate. 

Life After Hate
uses one-on-one counseling to convince extremists to leave their
organizations. The group also arranges meetings between
extremists and the people they profess to hate. Continuing
group therapy and connecting with a network of “formers”

Most people in white-nationalist and neo-Nazi movements,
Picciolini says, are “marginalized,” alienated, and often
desperate young people who have had their insecurities exploited
by others. 

“I’m not defending

, but at some point
we have to look at them as victims that were co-opted and put on
that path,” Picciolini said. “They didn’t find what they were
looking for in the real world and they started looking on the

The question of how to turn the tide against right-wing
extremism and white supremacy isn’t a small
Heidi Beirich, the director
of Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC)
Intelligence Project, which monitors hate group activity online,
told CBS News that the SPLC has “never
seen” the amount of hate groups operating today or the
extent to which their ideas have proliferated.

The SPLC currently estimates there are around 900 active hate
groups in the US, a number that has been rising since 1999
and saw major spikes after the presidential elections of Barack
Obama and Donald Trump.

boston free speech rally
large crowd of people gathers ahead of the Boston Free Speech
Rally in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., August 19,


That has left Picciolini, whose group has rehabilitated hundreds
of extremists, wondering how to scale Life After
Hate’s approach.

While one-on-one counseling is the best method, he says,
instances of
mass peaceful demonstration as happened in Boston last
weekend can be effective, as well. But, he says, in many ways,
responsibility lies with each American individually to make
anti-hate a part of daily discussion and to reach out to those in
their network who may be veering toward an extreme path.

Life After Hate
was awarded a $400,000 grant for its work by the Obama
administration days before Obama left office, but the grant was
rescinded without explanation in June. Picciolini said the
organization had seen a flood of
donations since the events in


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