Insight on White Supremacists, and an Action Plan

Image: Dayton police released photos of the weapon and drum magazines used in the attack on August 4, 2019. (From

There is a remarkable article in a recent issue of The Atlantic. Yara Bayoumy and Kathi Gilsinan interviewed Christian Picciolini, a reformed white nationalist. They wrote A Reformed White Nationalist Says the Worst Is Yet to Come.

Picciolini joined a neo-Nazi hate group more than 30 years ago. Now he works to help people leave such groups. In the interview, he made some connections that I found really helpful in understanding what we are up against. I recommend you read the article, but here are some high points that stuck with me:

  1. The standard against which the violent white nationalists gauge their success is Timothy McVeigh, the anti-government terrorist who blew up an Oklahoma City federal building and killed more than 100 people in 1995. High body count is the point. In Dayton, the attacker used the equipment pictured above to kill 9 people and injure 27 within 30 seconds – more than one person hit per second.
  2. Revisions in the gun laws will help to limit the violence, but they will not solve the problem. Right now guns are the easiest way to kill large numbers of people. McVeigh used a car bomb and Islamic terrorists have used cars and airplanes as weapons, to name just a few deadly options. We need to get weapons of war away from hate groups, yes, but we also need to recognize that they will adapt.
  3. Racism and white supremacists have been part of the USA from the beginning, but conditions have changed. With the advent of the Internet, it is no longer necessary to recruit new members in person – young men looking for meaning in life find this philosophy online, and radicalize without ever meeting anyone in person.
  4. When we watch the videos with the attached ads, we are funding the hate groups. Many of these groups and individuals make their operating funds via advertising attached to their videos. So think twice before clicking on their websites, their videos, and any other such media.
  5. People who leave white nationalism behind do so because they have an emotional experience that changes their perceptions. For instance, they get to know someone from the targeted group. Arguing with racists does not change their minds, no matter how many facts are at hand. Experiences and time are what open hearts.
  6. Picciolini says, “There aren’t programs being funded to help people disengage from extremism.” In other words, our government is doing exactly nothing to counteract this movement and its ideology.

The quote that knocked me off my feet was this:

Typically what I found is, people hate other people because they hate something very specifically about themselves, or are very angry about a situation within their own environment, and that is then projected onto other people.

– Christian Picciolini, quoted in A Reformed White Nationalist Says the Worst Is Yet to Come , in The Atlantic, 8/6/19, accessed 8/10/19.

If this is true, then the meanest haters out there are filled with misery and/or anger. Nothing I say is going to persuade them of anything, because they will simply read it into their narrative. Dealing with actual violence or plans for violence is a job for law enforcement, and we need to insist that law enforcement step up their game.

Finally: some action items for myself – feel free to join me in any of them that appeal to you:

  • I am going to write and call my elected officials and ask for funding for research and programs for helping people untangle themselves from extremist groups.
  • I am going to insist that my representatives press the FBI to put a priority on white nationalist domestic terrorism.
  • I will continue to contribute money to organizations that track hate in America.
  • I will control any urge I have to make snarky comebacks to any such people I encounter on social media. Nothing I say in that environment is going to change their minds; it may serve to harden their position. Instead, I will work to encourage the good I see, taking as my inspiration from Hillel’s advice below.
  • I will correct false information I see spread about, but I will do it calmly and politely. I will not engage.
  • I will continue to search my heart and my behavior for my own racism and participation in racist systems.
  • I will maintain my awareness that all of us who are hated by white supremacists are in this together. I will not let that awareness be disrupted by side-trips into other political issues.

Hillel used to say: be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving mankind and drawing them close to the Torah.

Pirkei Avot 1:12