Christian Picciolini: Building a Life after Hate

Just Governance for Human Security 2017

17/08/2017
Christian Picciolini

 

When Christian Picciolini joined the white supremacist skinhead movement at the age of 14, he never would have imagined that he would grow up to reverse what he had helped build in the 1980s and 1990s. He now works to counter racism and extremism.

During a one-on-one interview held as part of Just Governance for Human Security 2017, Picciolini spoke of his recruitment by one of America's very first neo-Nazis who promoted the idea that white people were being pushed out of their country in a way he felt “would lead to a white genocide".

"At 14, for me it was about fitting in. This man promised me a sense of being important when I was feeling unimportant," Picciolini said.  At 16, he became the leader of a well-known white supremacist hate group and said he had become "addicted to this power".

However, things changed after Picciolini had his first child when he turned 19. His view on the world changed and he discovered a new sense of purpose in his life.

"I wasn’t just a skinhead leader anymore. I was a father and I was part of another community I had created, which was my family," said Picciolini. "That challenged my motives and I found real power in being a father," he added.

He started a record company and eventually got to meet his perceived "enemies" for business deals, but when business conversations turned personal, Picciolini could no longer reconcile his hatred for people of colour with the life he was leading now.

"I couldn’t justify the hate that I had anymore because I now knew these former ‘enemies’ as people," he said. "They came in and showed me compassion when I least deserved it.  And I didn’t deserve it," he added.

After he left the violent, far-right movement, Picciolini co-founded Life After Hate in 2009, a non-profit group that helps people to disengage from hate and violent extremism and to find an alternative motivation.

He believes that "the only way to dissolve hate is through compassion", and through Life After Hate, Picciolini is able to connect with youths who were just like him when he was young.  He challenges their stereotyping by introducing them to a person they thought they hated.

"I can connect with people who are in this extremist movement because I understand why they are seduced by the idea, but I also understand what it takes to pull people out of these groups," he said.

As part of the panel that addressed the causes and consequences of extremism and violence during Just Governance for Human Security 2017, Picciolini took participants on a journey through the minds of extremists and why they behave the way they do.  He was able to spread his message of anti-hate and pro-active love.  He reminded us that: "The only way to teach people that there's nothing to hate is to show them that there's something to love."

 

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