Hate crimes have never been far from the news headlines after the shocking events of Charlottesville in Virginia in August when neo-Nazis clashed with counter-protestors.
The work of one former American white supremacist movement leader from Chicago provides an insight into how so-called alt right groups operate.
The Chicago Tribune reported how nearly three decades ago, Christian Picciolini wrote racist propaganda, devised infiltration strategies and worked on mergers with similar organizations in the U.S.
Today, Picciolini works to a different agenda. He’s the co-founder of Life After Hate, a nonprofit devoted to helping former neo-Nazis and other former extremists shed their former ideology.
He reported a surge in referrals since Donald Trump was elected president. They surged from two a week to five a day. He said contacts with his organization skyrocketed after a car plowed into a crowd protesting a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in August.
Picciolini quickly became the public face of the backlash against white supremacist groups after the Charlottesville violence, reported the Tribune.
However, he has fought dwindling funding. He said the Trump administration in June rescinded a $400,000 grant he was receiving from the Department of Homeland Security in June. Post Charlottesville, a crowdfunding campaign raised more than $220,000.
Picciolini told the Tribune he believes the violence in Charlottesville was inevitable given the president’s rhetoric.
As a teen, Picciolini became involved in the white supremacist movement. He made his way through four high schools. At Eisenhower, he led a cafeteria sit-in of about a dozen students calling for a white student union.
The school took out a restraining order against him after he assaulted a black student and a black security guard. He was not allowed to receive his diploma with other graduates.
Picciolini joined the skinheads. At the time, Clark Martell, the former leader of the Chicago Area Skin Heads, and several members were jailed for smashing windows at synagogues and attacking a former member who befriended a black man. They painted a swastika on the wall of her home with her blood.
Picciolini became the most senior member of the gang and the anointed leader at the age of 16, reported the Tribune.
He opened a record store Chaos Records, in 1994. It was devoted to white power music. He also carried hip-hop music and other genres to make more money from the black clientele who he termed the enemy. However, exposure to these customers changed his life.
He said black and Jews were the only people who showed him compassion. He renounced his neo-Nazi past and eventually set up Life After Hate.
The events in Charlottesville shed a new light on neo-Nazis and raise questions about how much crime is committed by white supremacists.
An article in Slate linked white supremacist gangs to the killings of more than 70 people since 1995. That was the year when Timothy McVeigh, a man with an alt-right agenda killed 168 people in a bombing in Oklahoma City.
In 2015, Dylann Roof murdered nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. He was convicted of murder and hate crimes and sentenced to death.
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