Angela King is a co-founder and programs director of Life After Hate.
In 1998, at the age of 23, I’d landed myself in federal prison for my part in a hate crime. By then, I had been a fully radicalized violent far-right extremist for about eight years.
I looked, spoke, and acted the part. Everything from the foods I ate, the music I listened to, the television I watched, and clothing I wore were prescribed by the ideology. I wore it all like a badge of honor, to remind and prove to myself that I was committed, and to send the world around me a message.
But prison didn’t care for all that. That’s where I embarked on the painful, complex path of deradicalization. While prison forced me to disengage—the physical distance from and participation in violent extremism—I had also decided to work on changing my belief system and abandon the worldview that violence can ever be a solution.
The only problem was that back then there was no support for people like me.
Today, there is a different landscape and structure to the violent far-right. Not everyone is a walking billboard for hate like I was as a violent neo-Nazi skinhead. The challenges, however, remain the same and, with all the advances of technology, I would argue, have become even more complex.
It was almost exactly a decade after my release from prison when I met the other co-founders of Life After Hate while attending the Summit Against Violent Extremism in Dublin, Ireland; a ‘summit’ that brought together individuals who had in some way been affected by violent extremism; as victims, perpetrators, or concerned members of the community who had the means to offer some sort of assistance to the fledgling field of countering violent extremism.
As a former—an individual who at one time, subscribed to, promoted, or perpetrated violence in the name of a particular extremist ideology, has denounced the violence in which we were once involved, and actively sought to grow beyond our past—my experience at that summit was multifaceted.
But one of the things that stood out the most was the relief of being around others who knew where I’d been in life. Who knew the struggles and pain of reconciliation and of having to reform one’s entire identity, top to bottom.
It was in the spirit of understanding, but also out of a desire to make the transition from violent extremist back to citizen a smoother one for those who would come after us, that Life After Hate was born. Today, we’re growing beyond what we envisioned all those years ago.
As a co-founder and programs director for Life After Hate, I can share with pride that creating this system of support during such a complex transition has become my life’s work, and I’m exceedingly grateful for that.
It means that I have the opportunity to synthesize the most painful experiences of my past into meaningful change and pathways forward for others. There is still much hard work to do, but the mission and spirit of Life After Hate endures a decade on, and there is a peaceful army of us at the ready to ensure that we continue to endure, in the spirit of understanding and with the belief that even the most difficult change is possible when we do it together.