Former white supremacist explains what leads people to the extreme right

Sarah Harvard

A former neo-Nazi skinhead has attempted to pinpoint exactly how white supremacists are radicalised to commit violent attacks against minorities similar to the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand that killed at least 51 people last week.

Christian Picciolini, a former leader of the American white power movement, said more effort needs to be done to protect “vulnerable people before they become radicalised."

The co-founder of Life After Hate, a nonprofit organisation aimed at helping people leave white supremacist groups, was asked on CNN if stationing armed guards at houses of worships could effectively prevent white supremacists from committing a heinous attack like Christchurch.

While Mr Picciolini agreed ‘vulnerable places need to be protected,’ he said more priority should be placed on the forums and sources where men and women are often radicalised by white supremacist ideology.

“Ideology is not what leads them there in the end,” Mr Picciolini said, referring to what drives white supremacists to massacre innocent people, “it’s the pre-radicalisation. It’s the trauma. It’s the abandonment. It’s the isolation. It’s the marginalization. Even the mental illness that leads people to the fringes to accept this narrative.When they’re there, somebody is absolutely waiting to give them this narrative.”

He reiterated that armed security guards won’t prevent white men and women from white supremacy indoctrination, adding that resources should focus on online forums and communities vulnerable to radicalisation.

“What we need to do is protect our most vulnerable communities online,” Mr Picciolini added. “Depression forums, where they’re targeting people, or autistic and Asperger’s communities, where they know vulnerable people might be—that maybe aren’t making connections in real-life.”

In an interview with NPR on Saturday, Mr Picciolini argued that white supremacy is not — and should not be seen — as a “fringe” movement.

“[White supremacy] is certainly not a fringe movement,” the former skinhead said. “It is a large-scale terrorist movement.”

In addition to calling white supremacy a “terrorist movement,” Mr Picciolini noted that Donald trump has been championing policy positions — building a wall and a ban on Muslim immigrants, to name a few – neo-Nazis have been calling for in the last three decades.

“[Trump] is feeding people – the same rhetoric that I used to say 30 years ago – build a wall, Muslim ban, you know, remove immigrants from the country – all the same things that I used to say,” Mr Picciolini added.

He argued that President Trump’s rhetoric and the Internet have helped white supremacist movement grow exponentially.

“Now, because of the Internet, it has spread farther and wider than ever before. And that narrative is landing on people all over the world. So it is not just contained to the United States,” he added. “And never before in my life have I received emails from mothers of 10-year-old sons who are being recruited. So it is definitely growing.”

Life After Hate, the organisation Mr Picciolini co-founded to combat white supremacy, was awarded a $400,000 grant in January 2017 from the Department of Homeland Security under the Obama Administration’s Countering Violent Extremism Task Force.

In June 2017, less than six months since assuming office, Mr Trump discontinued the grant.