Christian Picciolini: Building a Life after Hate

Just Governance for Human Security 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."


Featured Story

related stories

Caux Palace view night

Climate and the economy in the post-COVID world

As pandemic-related lockdowns and travel restrictions slowly begin to ease and a return to normal life seems nearer at hand, we are at a critical juncture as to how we choose to act towards our enviro...

Nazarene Mannie

My Learning Story: Nazrene Mannie

Nazrene Mannie is the Executive Director of the Global Apprenticeship Network (GAN) and talks about her learning experiences. Our interview series 'My Learning Story’ hopes to become a global learning...

Daniel Clements

From personal change to conference leadership: Daniel Clements

Daniel Clements, the coordinator for this year’s Creative Leadership conference, would not have become involved with Initiatives of Change Switzerand without his father, who recommended that he attend...

COVID 19 slider EN square

The Caux Forum is going online!

Our team together with the international IofC Network is working hard to give you an online 2020 Caux Forum, trying to get you as close as possible to the “Caux experience”. Although we will not be ab...

COVID 19 slider EN final

COVID-19 : The Caux Forum 2020 is being transformed

In light of the global health crisis surrounding coronavirus, as well as its organizational and financial implications, the Council of Initiatives of Change Switzerland has decided to adapt the Caux F...


Job offers for the Caux Forum 2020

For the Caux Forum 2020 IofC Switzerland is looking for a Dining-room Manager, a Cash Desk Manager, a Buffet Manager, an Allocation Manager and a Support Team Manager....

Open House Day group with kids

Internship: Open House Day & Project Support (40%)

IofC Switzerland is looking for an intern who will be in charge of the Open House Day on 5 July 2020. The intern will also support IofC's projects in the area of trustbuilding, in particular with rega...

Caux Palace, credit: Paula Mariane

3 Job Offers: Dining-Room Assistant / Technical Services Assistant / Reception Desk Assistant

You would like to work in an inspring place with people from all over the world? IofC Switzerland is looking for a Reception Desk Assistant, a Technical Services Assistant and a Dining-room Assistant...

Michael Akampa

Making investment work for the people

The Caux Dialogue on Land and Security (CDLS) in 2017 was a ‘turning point’ for sustainable investment professional, Micheál Akampa, who was invited to speak at its Invest in Peace conference. ‘I met ...

CDLS 2019 Tom Duncan

Empowering communities to restore mangroves

Tom Duncan is CEO of Earthbanc and passionate about problem solving and strategic systems thinking, primarily in regenerative economics, green finance and financial technology, as a means of restoring...

Nhat Vhuong

Plucking water from the air

Webmarketing consultant and social entrepreneur Nhat Vhuong is passionate about tackling water scarcity. A Vietnamese refugee, who grew up in Switzerland, he worked in Japan for eight years before ret...

Meghalaya CDLS 2019 Conrad Sangma

Meghalaya’s lighthouses of sustainable development

‘Our goal in Meghalaya is to build a low-carbon economy through complete involvement and ownership of communities,’ Conrad Sangma, the Chief Minister of Meghalaya, told the opening session of the Caux...

CDLS 2019 Chau Duncan

Bridging the financial divides

Chau Tang Duncan is applying over 20 years’ experience in banking, trade and commercial diplomacy to improving the financial access of disadvantaged communities. ...

Aibanshngain Swer CDLS 2019

Protecting Meghalaya’s water sources

Some billion people rely on water sourced in the hills of Meghalaya, in North East India. One of those responsible for water conservation in the State, Aibanshngain Swer, took part in the Summer Acade...

Hartmut Behrend Mali

Combatting climate change in Mali

Taking part in the Caux Dialogue on Land and Security (CDLS) 2014 encouraged  German climatologist Hartmut Behrend to move out of the bubble of well-intentioned international activism to work on the g...