A Former White Supremacist Explains How to Combat White Supremacy
Christian Picciolini has dedicated his life to deradicalizing extremists and educating federal agents on best practices. But under Trump, the government no longer seems to care.
After the shooting by an alleged white supremacist in El Paso that left 22 people dead, it seems highly likely that there will be more race-based bloodshed on the horizon. That’s a grim prediction, but how could anyone wager otherwise? Since the massacre, police have apprehended a number of other white supremacist men who were plotting attacks in places like New Jersey, Ohio, and Nevada.
But just as dangerous as the individual hate-mongers, argues Christian Picciolini, is the larger bureaucratic framework that turns a blind eye to — and sometimes encourages — this behavior.
We’d be wise to listen to Picciolini: Not only is he the founder of the Free Radicals Project, which provides counseling to extremists questioning their involvement in hate movements, but he once embodied the very cruelty he now seeks to treat, having spent eight years as a member of a neo-Nazi faction.
“I went searching for identity and purpose,” he tells GEN, recalling his recruitment into a neo-Nazi group. “I started to see the rewards of being involved. I started to feel powerful instead of powerless.”
Since abandoning the skinhead movement in the mid-1990s, Picciolini has dedicated his life to white supremacist outreach. But the Free Radicals Project is now in danger: Under Donald Trump, the Homeland Security Department has rescinded a major grant, issued during the Obama administration, to fund the group’s work. That decision coincides with the White House’s recent instruction to DHS to prioritize jihadist threats over domestic terrorism — despite the fact that the latter has killed more people than the former in the years since 9/11.
Picciolini spoke with GEN this week, shortly after he launched an online fundraising initiative for the Free Radicals Project. He opened up about his past, how best to confront bigots, and why he believes the president has implemented a white supremacist agenda.