Apr 27, 2017

Former Neo-Nazi Says It's On White People To Fight White Supremacy

Christian Picciolini
Christian Picciolini 
“White people need to solve the problem of white supremacy.”

Sarah Ruiz-Grossman
Huffington Post
April 24, 2017

As a 14-year-old in 1980s Chicago, Christian Picciolini was ripe for recruitment into a hate group: He was bullied, didn’t have a lot of friends and felt “abandoned” by his Italian immigrant parents who worked long hours.

One day, when he was standing in an alley smoking a joint, a car pulled up, and a man with a shaved head came out, pulled the joint out of his mouth and said:

“Don’t you know that’s what the Jews and the Communists want you to do to keep you docile?”

That man was Clark Martell, a national leader of the white supremacist skinhead movement. Martell’s history of violence, according to a 1989 Chicago Tribune article, included targeting LGBTQ people and people of color. He once attempted to burn down the house of a Latino family.

Picciolini was recruited into Martell’s neo-Nazi skinhead group in 1987, and when Martell ended up in prison a couple of years later, Picciolini took the helm.

“He made me feel powerful when I felt powerless, gave me family and a sense of purpose,” Picciolini told HuffPost. “I was a nobody kid people picked on for having a funny name ― and [a few years later] I was respected and powerful.”

“False power and false respect,” Picciolini added.

After having children, which Picciolini says challenged his “notions of identity, community and purpose,” he left the hate group in 1995.

Over a decade later, in 2009, he co-founded Life After Hate, a small nonprofit run entirely by former members of America’s radical far-right, dedicated to supporting those who have left, or are seeking to leave, hate groups in the U.S.

It’s the only organization of its kind in the country ― and it’s up against a growing problem: The number of hate groups in the U.S. has doubled in the last 10 to 15 years, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and around 80 percent of those groups advocate white supremacist beliefs.

Christian Picciolini says what attracted him to a skinhead group ended up being “false power and false respect.”



Leaving a hate group isn’t easy. When a woman left his neo-Nazi group in 1989, Martell viciously beat her, according to the Tribune. He reportedly kicked her in the face and drew a swastika on the wall of her home in her blood. He was later arrested and sent to prison.

Life After Hate helps those who have left or are trying to leave extremism behind by providing them with an array of support services. The main tool of the Chicago-based group is a private online network, set up by and for former extremists, to provide them with a new, supportive community.

“People come to us because they know that we won’t judge them,” Picciolini told HuffPost. “As someone who understands their past, we give them a helping hand ― not focused on yesterday, but focused on today and tomorrow.”

Picciolini and his colleagues ― some of whom are social workers, all of whom are former extremists and have worked with psychologists to craft their nonprofit’s approach ― also travel the country to meet with members in person, to provide individualized support. They help connect members to local service providers, including therapy, job training and tattoo removal, to try to tackle the underlying drivers of their hate.

Picciolini says most people who come to them have experienced one of three things: trauma, unemployment or mental health issues.

“I listen for potholes ― or what deviated them from their normal path and led them down this one ― and try to find them services to help,” Picciolini said. “When you make people more resilient, self-sufficient and self-confident, they don’t have anyone to blame, and the ‘us against them’ ideology goes away.”

Privacy is paramount, so before they let anyone into their online group, they spend months chatting with them to make sure they’ve truly left extremism.

“We want to protect the people in the network,” Picciolini said. “It’s a safe place, not for someone vulnerable to going back ― and taking names with them.”

Life After Hate’s reach is relatively small: Its online group currently has 60 members. Some had already left extremism before they joined and were looking for community. Others are actively exiting hate groups.

For Picciolini, who recognizes their group is small compared with the problem of white supremacist hate, it’s all about helping people one by one.

“We reach one person at a time ― we know we can’t solve racism,” he said. “What I do know is I can affect the people closest to me. If everybody thinks that way ― with your coworkers, your friends ― it can change the world.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/life-after-hate-christian-picciolini-white-supremacist-exit-skinhead_us_58fa36cee4b018a9ce5ace1a?txa

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