Turning Fear into Compassion: A conversation with Life After Hate

In February, Life After Hate spoke at the University of Southern California’s Price Safe Communities Institute about countering hate and violent extremism. The following is an edited version of that discussion.

THE STATE OF HATE GROUPS TODAY

Tony McAleer: I think the social media phenomenon takes it to a whole other level that wasn’t there before. When I was in my time with the movement you had to order a book and you’d have to wait three weeks for it to come. 

And if you wanted to hear someone speak, or hear these new ideas, you had to go to a physical meeting where you had to worry, ‘Are the police going to identify me? Will I be under surveillance? Are there going to be counter protestors? Am I going to get beat up?’

The process then that took months and years to radicalize — today you can binge watch an ideology in a weekend. And the way that it spreads, there's nooks and crannies that they create that we can't get into, we don't know about. It's a growing problem.  

Angela King: When I was released from prison we still had AOL.com. We didn't have access to what we have today. Technology for a lot of us — we think of positive things. When the incident happened with Dylann Roof and when I started to take a look at how he was radicalized and really realized it was completely online; and knowing that this was true my brain still wanted to reject it.

So I did my own experiment. And with five clicks went from a simple search phrase to one of the most well-known white supremacy forums on the internet. Which is really scary because it means that anyone that has a grievance can type in a few words online and fall down this rabbit hole of hate, full of misinformation, full of fear, full of anger.

WHY WHITE SUPREMACISTS FEEL THREATENED

Sammy Rangel: Think about if you were a homeowner and you have a home that's empty next to you and you start to see that perhaps the building is being vandalized. Do you get concerned about your own home at that point? 

What I'm hearing through the grievances from what we're calling the alt-right is that there is this call for accountability of young men and women who feel it is not their issue to have to fix. 

What does a 20-year-old white male have to do with WWII? What does a 20-year-old white male have to do with what happened in the Civil Rights era? And so a lot of times what I'm hearing is, ‘I have nothing to do with it, but I'm being asked to account for it.’ They feel like this is my space and what other people have done is now affecting me. We're not trying to validate the facts of the matter; we're trying to validate this person's grievance so that that person can feel heard, listened to and understood, which then opens up the opportunity to have dialogue.

ON RECRUITMENT AND EXITING

Tony: After Charlottesville, we got a letter from a mother who said, ‘My son's 18, he's got Asperger's syndrome, and he's gone online and found this white nationalist community and I'm really worried about him. And what scares me the most is that this white nationalist society has embraced and accepted my child in a way that nobody ever has in his life.’

It's not the ideas that get us into this mess.

Sammy: As Dylann Roof pointed out, the only true form of activism is to start a war. It's to sacrifice yourself. What we see is that while it seemed in the beginning there were no strings attached, later down the road there are strings attached.

That's the moment, like when Charlottesville happened, people started second guessing their membership. Because they have to wonder if they are themselves willing to go that far now that they've signed on the dotted line. That's the turning point for some people, either to go deeper into their extremism or to exit at that point. And that’s where Life After Hate is trying to be very pointed about where we stand so that we can receive these men and women at that critical moment. 

ON COMPASSION

Angela: For a very long time I did outreach, I shared my experiences, but there was a key component missing. And that key component was compassion and forgiveness for myself. And were it not for my friends and colleagues I would not have found that. 

Tony: When we have compassion for everybody else, but not ourselves, that's not compassion. That's ego. When we have compassion for ourselves and nobody else, that's not compassion that's narcissism.

Sammy Rangel