Karuna Center and Critical Connections held a discussion at the Flywheel Arts Collective in Easthampton, MA with Christian Picciolini, a former neo-Nazi skinhead who is now a peace activist and co-founder of Life After Hate. The discussion, held in April but all too relevant this August, moderated by Mehlaqa Samdani of Critical Connections. Community discussions followed (but are not recorded here) facilitated by Olivia Dreier of Karuna Center.
You can also watch the full video of Christian's talk here.
Christian was born and raised on the outside of Chicago in a working class neighborhood called Blue Island, the birthplace of the American white power skinhead movement. At 14 years old, Christian became entrenched in the first neo-Nazi skinhead gang in the United States. From violence to weapons, he immersed himself in the racist skinhead culture at an early age and quickly became one of the movement’s most respected leaders and musical influencers. In 2009, Christian co-founded Life After Hate. He went on to earn a degree in International Relations from DePaul University in Chicago, started his own global multi-media company, and was appointed a member of the Chicago Grammy rock committee. In 2016, he won an Emmy award for directing and producing ExitUSA’s There is Life After Hate PSA. He is a noted speaker, media commentator, and subject matter expert in far-right violent extremism. In 2015, he published his book, Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead.
Christian: Well, first let me say that this is really the epitome of community engagement and I commend you for being here, because I have spoken to other communities and I have not seen this type of turnout and embracing of what a community ideal is. So hats off to you for being here, for talking about a very, very hard subject that is sometimes very difficult to broach, and it’s really wonderful to see you here. As far as my story goes—In 1987, when I was 14 years old, I was a pretty normal teenager. I liked to chase girls, I liked to play baseball, but I also was very insecure, and had low self-esteem. Just like every other teenager there were three very fundamental needs I was searching for: an identity, a community, and a sense of purpose. And those are fundamental needs that I think everybody in this room has gone through, probably during their most vulnerable times as a young person—is who am I? where do I belong? and how do I affect the world or leave my mark or change the world? that’s something we all go through.
Unfortunately for me, even though I was raised by very loving parents in a very good home environment, my parents were Italian immigrants who came to the United States in the mid-1960s and had to work very, very hard to make it. So when they came, they opened a small beauty shop and that kept them away from home 7 days a week 14 hours a day. So while I was surrounded with love and I wasn’t raised with racism—in fact it was the opposite, because they were the victims of prejudice when they came to this country—I really felt abandoned by them. I didn’t understand at that age why my parents weren’t there for my school events, or why they weren’t home when I came home from school, or why when I had a baseball game my parents were the only ones that weren’t there. I didn’t quite understand that, so I felt very abandoned by them and I went in search of this identity and community, this sense of family elsewhere.
So one day, while I was standing in an alley at 14 years old and I was smoking a joint, a man drove his car up that alley and he screeched to a halt just a few inches away from me. And when he got out of the car, he had a shaved head and he was wearing boots and he walked over to me and he grabbed that joint from my mouth and he said, “Don’t you know that’s what the Communists and the Jews want you to do to keep you docile?” I was 14, I didn’t really know what a Communist was, except for my favorite movie, Rocky, with the bad guys. And if I’d met a Jewish person I didn’t know it, and I hardly knew what the word “docile” meant. But I was struck with this man’s charisma. He was twice my age, and I had lived a very powerless existence, and he promised me one thing, and it was very simple, it had nothing to do with ideology, it had nothing to do with racism, it had to do with acceptance. And at 14 years old, I was brought in to America’s first neo-Nazi skinhead gang, by the man who was America’s first neo-Nazi skinhead, who happened to live right across the street from where I lived.
So to some degree I was a victim of circumstance, but I was also searching for something, and at a vulnerable age. He understood very well how to pay to those vulnerabilities, the same way many people today who are leaders within this ideology know how to pinpoint marginalized young people—maybe not even young people so much anymore these days, but marginalized people—who are looking for an easy solution for their problems. Because what the main crux of the movement is, or what a hateful ideology is about, is about blaming someone else for the problems that exist in your life without forcing you to reflect internally about whether you are party to that or whether you cause them or not. It’s an us-against-them kind of mentality. So I would say to sum up, I was a normal kid who was looking for normal teenage things like identity and community and purpose, and suddenly somebody intercepted me when they knew that was what I was looking for, and didn’t have a positive outlook for it, and brought me in under the promise of paradise. They said, “Come with me, and all your problems will go away.” They gave me somebody else to blame. And that’s essentially how I started out. I stayed in for eight years until I was 22 years old, so from 1987 to 1995, roughly.
Mehlaqa: So once you were sort of sucked into this group, how did you interact with other members of the group? When you heard them, those who were completely immersed in the ideology, were they talking about white identity and how it was under threat and what did you think about that?
Christian: It started off as a very soft, benign pitch, where I was told I should be proud of who I was, proud of my European heritage, proud of the accomplishments that white culture has brought to the world. That’s how I was brought in. And I was pretty proud of being Italian, and that’s really all I knew, so I related to that message. I didn’t understand when the conversation started to go into, “Well, the immigrants are coming to take away your jobs.” I thought, “Well, my parents were immigrants and they never took away anybody’s job, they started their own business.” So I didn’t really relate to that at first, and I didn’t really relate to the fact that they were blaming African Americans for “coming into our neighborhood to cause crime,” or Latinos who were supposedly “coming into our neighborhood to rape women or sell drugs,” or the Jewish people who “controlled the media or the finances.” I was 14 years old and I didn’t see any of this, but I believed it, because I thought these people were smarter—because more than anything else I wanted to fit in and matter. Above anything else. And I can tell you this because I’ve talked to at least a thousand people who are both members of extremist groups and former members, and when I ask them, “Why did you join?”—because I’m genuinely curious—almost to a one, every single one of them told me, “I joined because I just wanted to belong to something.” And the ideology comes later. Nobody is born racist. I certainly wasn’t. It was something that I learned, and I learned it because of the other reasons. I wanted to fit in, I wanted a family, I wanted to be respected, and I wanted to change the world. And they kind of bastardized my altruistic sense of wanting to make an impact in the world and shifted it towards “saving the white race.” That became my mission, because we were told that “diversity” was a code word for “white genocide.”
Mehlaqa: What was that point, as you rose through the ranks in this group—when did it turn into violence? How gradual was that process in which you felt like, “Now, I can actually perpetrate acts of violence”?
Christian: It was relatively quick, not because the violence was something that attracted me, but because it was something that you almost needed to do to be accepted. But then certainly, I take full accountability. It was something that I became intoxicated with, that I fully did at my own volition, because it became something that kept me relevant in this movement. Not only did it keep me relevant, it propelled me into positions of power. The older people set an example. Two years after I joined, at 16 years old, the man who recruited me, who was America’s first neo-Nazi skinhead leader, went to prison for a series of violent hate crimes—one of the first hate crimes [convictions] in the history of our country. And one of those was they saw a fellow skinhead girl hanging out at a bus stop with a Black man, and they went later to her apartment, and they beat her, they pistol-whipped her, and before they left, they painted a swastika on her wall with her own blood.
And for that, thankfully, they were arrested. But what that also did for me is it put me in a position where there was a void of leadership. Because now, I had been around for two years, and because I’d learned the propaganda methods and I’d learned how to recruit. I’d learned the rhetoric. Everybody who was recruited after me, which was everybody who was left, looked to me as their leader. And now, for the first time in my life, I wasn’t just this marginalized kid who was bullied growing up, or who didn’t matter, or was made fun of because my parents didn’t speak perfect English, now I had stepped into a different level. I was a leader, I was respected, I was feared, and the bullies who had picked on me now would cross the street when they saw me coming—and later, I would recruit them. And so I kind of did a complete 180 switch, and all of a sudden I was intoxicated with this level of false power and false respect that just kept fueling me to do more and more and more, and it really was a chase of power because for my whole life I’d never really experienced that and now that I had it, I wasn’t willing to let it go.
And I even did things—First of all, I always questioned my ideology, there was always something in the back of my mind because of the way I was raised that allowed me to question what I was doing. And I’m really really glad that that existed, because that really stopped me from doing some things that I know I would have regretted more than the things that I did that I do regret, and I credit my parents for that. I wouldn’t have wanted to associate with them during that time, but what they taught me at a young age still lived inside of me. And I committed those acts of violence because I was angry and being a part of that movement, and having that ideology, gave me a license, I felt like, to commit violence. I also feel like I acted out and hated other people not because I hated other people but because I hated myself. I was trying to remove the pain that I was feeling, the loneliness, and projecting that onto other people so that I wouldn’t have to feel it anymore. I was transferring that.
Mehlaqa: You mentioned your parents: looking back on your processes of radicalization, what role do you think either your extended family, your parents, your educators, the schools that you were in, local community leaders—what role could they have played to keep you off of that path to begin with, or veer you away from it?
Christian: A lot. They could have done a lot. Growing up in Blue Island, we were a pretty lower-middle-class neighborhood, very blue collar. There weren’t a lot of opportunities for young people, let alone adults. And what I’ll say to that, is looking back now and doing the work I do to help pull people out of hate groups for the last at least 15 yrs, I can say young people want to be heard. They don't want to be talked to. They’re smarter than we give them credit for, they’re very ambitious. They may not have the experience that adults have, but they really need to have their passions amplified at a very, very young age. As adults we have been there. We know how hard it is to be a teenager—how hard it is to feel lonely or picked on or how hard it is to work to fit in—and I think our job now, having learned those lessons, is we need to do everything we can to support young people in positive ways. We should all be teachers, we should all be guides, and we should all be platforms and launch pads for the success of our young people. And if somebody had come to me at 14 years old and said, “Hey, you’re a pretty good artist,” or “You’re pretty good at baseball,” or maybe a good actor, or whatever, I probably would have gone that way. Because I was really screaming for somebody to just pay attention to me. And the person who heard me is the one who kind of took me under his wing.
I never had teachers who said, “I don’t agree with what you’re saying, but let’s sit down and talk.” I had teachers who suspended me and put me in detention and expelled me. I never had somebody pull me aside and say, “Hey, what you’re doing is horrible, but I get it. I get why you’re doing it. And it’s not because of why you think you’re doing it. How can I help you? How can I enable you or empower you to do something that you love, instead of just filling your life with all this hate so you get the attention that you’re seeking in negative ways?” I wouldn’t have spoken to a police officer, or a teacher, or a counselor, or a therapist, or even a parent in those days because everyone was my adversary. Had somebody stepped in and said, “I don’t like what you’re doing but I get it. Let’s find something you’re passionate about, and what can I do to help you?” I think most young people would really appreciate that, because it seems most young people are at odds with adults. And you have to understand, these young people, for the first 18 years of their lives, they live under a dictatorship: Parents who tell them where to go, when they need to come home, who they can hang around with. At a young age they’re ready to be independent, they’re ready to rebel and create that identity. We have to be careful because if we don’t allow them to create a positive narrative for themselves, and enable them to do that, somebody will come along and give them a narrative to adhere to. It will happen, because kids are looking, and there are people who are very interested in providing a narrative that suits their own selfish needs. So I think we really need to embrace young people, listen to them, and empower their passions.
Mehlaqa: How and when did you actually decide to leave the movement—and was it a gradual process, or one pivotal, transformative experience that got you to move away?
Christian: It was not an overnight thing. I didn’t go to sleep one night reciting Hitler speeches and wake up the next morning saying “I love everybody.” It was an eight-year process with a series of events. What it came down is, I hated people I’d never met. I didn’t even know the objects of my hate. I didn’t have meaningful conversations with African Americans or Jewish people or Muslims or gay people or anybody that was different than me, it just didn’t happen. But at an age around 19 years old I opened a record store because I wanted to sell white power music. That’s all I knew, and I did, and I sold a lot of it. In fact, it became 75 percent of the gross revenue at my small record shop. This was before the internet so people were driving from all over. But what happened was, because I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I started to sell other music like punk rock and hip hop and heavy metal. And when the customers would come in to buy that music, at first I was very stand-offish, but the customers were Black and gay and Jewish and Asian and you name it. The more they kept coming back, the more the conversations turned away from, “Do you have this in stock?” to more personal conversations, and for the first time in my life I started to have really meaningful interactions with the people who I thought I hated, and for the first time in my life I began to humanize them.
And when the Black teenager would come in and I could tell he was sad, and then he would open up and tell me it was because his mother had passed from cancer, I knew that I felt the same pain that he did when my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Or when I saw the gay couple who clearly loved their son, I knew that they loved their son the same way that I loved my son. So suddenly I started to become very confused, because the reality that was living in my head didn’t match the reality that I was feeling with my heart. And I became very close to these people, and essentially, receiving compassion from the people that I least deserved it from, when I least deserved it, was what helped me make that transformation. And it was those things happening over, and over, and over—and I can tell you that most of the people I work with who hate Muslims or hate Black people or hate Jewish people, they’ve never met them, they don’t know, they’ve never had an interaction with them. So it’s easy to hate somebody you don't know. Because it’s easy to blame somebody. It’s hard to love, because you risk losing something when you love something. But it’s also much more rewarding, and it helps you humanize and understand yourself and the world around us. And it helps us realize we need each other to fix this broken world, and the more that we’re polarized, and the more that we’re divided, the more our world is broken.
Mehlaqa: So then you went on and co-founded Life After Hate. So could you tell us a little bit more about what led you to that, and the kind of work you do, and who is involved?
Christian: So when I left the movement in 1995, I tried to outrun it. At the same time I left the movement, I closed my record store, because I became too embarrassed to sell the white power music and because it was so much of my sales, I had to close the store. So I lost my livelihood. My wife and my children left me because they weren’t a part of the movement; I hadn’t left quickly enough. I didn’t have a great relationship with my parents, and I lost my family when I left the movement. So I really went through a period of 5 years where I was suffering a major depression, where almost every morning I woke up and I considered taking my own life. Because even though I had started to treat other people with respect, I was miserable. But that was because I was outrunning who I was. I had moved, I wore long sleeves, I’d grown my hair out, and I wouldn’t talk about it.
And one day, one of my friends, one of the only friends that I had, came up to me and she said, “If you don’t do something with your life, you’re going to die. And I don’t want to lose you. There’s this company I work for, a small company, maybe you’ve heard of them, they’re called IBM, and you should apply there for a job. They’re looking for a contractor temp worker.”
“But let me tell you something: I didn’t go to university, I got kicked out of five high schools, I’m a former neo-Nazi, and by the way, I don’t own a computer or know how to use a computer. What could they possibly see in me?” And she said, “Oh, just tell them you’re good with people.” So I did, I told them I was good with people. I wrote my first resume and I lied on my first resume, and I got the job.
Of all the places—literally millions of customers that IBM has—where did they put me but my old high school, that I got kicked out of twice, to install the new computers for the school. Yeah. I was terrified. Now this was five years after I left the movement, but I knew I’d caused Hell there, so they were going to recognize me within the first 5 minutes, and I was going to lose this first meaningful thing that happened to me. And of course, as fate or karma or kismet or God’s will or whatever it is you believe in would have it: In the first five minutes of my first day at work, who walks by me but the Black security guard who I got in a fist fight with that got me kicked out for the second time. And I was terrified. I was a grown man, and I was sweating, and I couldn’t think of words to say and it was terrible. But I decided I had to do something. I chased this man to the parking lot—probably not a good choice thinking back—but I followed him to the parking lot and I tapped him on the shoulder and when he turned around—this beautiful, jolly Black man who always had this great smile turned around—he recognized me, and he was afraid, and he stepped back. And all I could think of to do at that moment was just extend my hand and say, “I’m sorry.” And he shook my hand and we talked, and we embraced, and we may have cried just a little...
All I could think of to do at that moment was just extend my hand and say, “I’m sorry.” He made me promise one thing. He made me promise I would tell my story.
He made me promise one thing. He made me promise I would tell my story, because he recognized this was not just a story about a kid who became a neo-Nazi skinhead. This was the story of every vulnerable young person who was looking for something and then was intercepted by somebody with an agenda. I didn’t really understand what he meant. I started to tell a couple of people and they couldn’t believe that what I was telling them was true, that I was talking about myself, because they didn’t know me as that person.
I was still a little bit skittish until 2004, on July 3. I got a phone call in the middle of the night from my Aunt saying my younger brother had been shot and killed. And I knew at that moment that I needed to tell my story, because it was important. I knew what had happened to me could affect any young person, whether it was somebody from the inner city who was being groomed by a gang, or somebody who could be flying to Syria to join ISIS, it was really the same. That same lure, that same striving for identity and community and purpose. The ideology is just the tie that binds them, it’s not what draws them in.
And I recognized at that point that because was so hard for me to break away and talk about my past, I knew it must be so hard for other people in the movement to do that too. So in 2009 I co-founded Life After Hate as a support mechanism to help people disengage from hate groups and hateful ideologies. And I’m happy to say that since 2009, we’ve build a network of over 100 people that we’ve helped to leave hate groups.
And you know what’s interesting is the way that we do that, the way that we’ve been so successful, is not by battling ideologically with them. We don't get violent, we don't attack them, we listen. We listen. Because when we listen, inevitably they will tell us what the potholes are that exist that deviated their path. I call them potholes. Because when I identify those potholes—and it could be unemployment, could be poverty, could be trauma, could be mental illness, could be having a swastika tattooed on your face, which makes it very hard to get a job believe it or not—I fill those potholes in with things to make them more resilient. So it could be job training, it could be education, it could be tattoo removal, it could be mental health therapy. Whatever it is, I am trying to make them more resilient without even discussing ideology with them. And what is magical about that is once these people become more self-sufficient, more resilient, more self-confident, the ideology falls away. Because it was just a crutch to begin with: to blame somebody else for their problems. And when they don’t have those problems, and they feel more secure about themselves, and they surround themselves with love, they don’t need that crutch anymore.
I also employ immersion techniques where I will introduce them to the objects of their hate in a safe way. One instance of that is—a man read my book from Buffalo and he emailed me, and he said, “I’ve got some questions about your book and oh—by the way, I hate Muslims.” I said, “OK.” I said, “I’ve heard that before.” And I spoke to him on the phone and after a couple times he told me, he said, “I was walking my dog in the park and pushing my daughter in a stroller and I saw a man, a Muslim man, praying, and all I wanted to do was go up to him and kick him in the face.” I said, “Darryl, I am flying to Buffalo tomorrow. You’re taking the day off, and we need to talk.” So I got there and we talked and we had breakfast and coffee and I asked him if he’d ever met a Muslim before and he said, “No, why would I want to do that? I hate them, they’re evil.” I said, “OK. Excuse me, I need to go to the other room. I’ll be right back.” I got on my phone, looked up the local mosque, and I called and I spoke to the imam there and I said, “Imam, I have a Christian man here who would love to learn more about your religion.” [Audience laughs] Did you think I was going to tell him the truth? He said, “Sure, come on over, but I’ve only got 15 minutes because I have to prepare for my prayer service.” I said, “Sure, we’ll be right over, its only 5 minutes away.”
I tell Darryl, “Let’s go get something to eat.” And we get in the car, and halfway there I say, “Oh, but we have to stop somewhere first.” I said, “We’re going to stop at the mosque,” and he said, “Turn around, I don’t want to go, I’m going to throw up.” I said, “I don’t care, it’s a rental car, go ahead, do your business, we’re going. I came to Buffalo—the least you can do is go with me.” And I finally convinced him to go, and we knocked on the door, and the imam says, “I’ve only got ten minutes now. Come on in.” And I said, “We’ll take it.”
We spent 3 hours there talking to the imam, and they were both discussing their religion, and after a while they were crying and hugging and we were all just ugly crying, and after a couple more visits over time I’m happy to say Darryl and the imam are best friends. They go out for falafel every Wednesday.
We really need to do a better job of understanding each other. Empathy is really what changes the world, and there is a major lack of empathy. A lot of people ask me, “I don’t understand why these racist people are like this. Why don’t they see what I see?” And I tell them, because there are two realities. There are people who think very emotionally, almost with the reptile brain—fight or flight instinct—and they’re afraid, and everything that’s different from them is a source of fear. I always say that hatred is born of ignorance: fear is its father, and isolation is its mother. When we’re afraid of what we don't understand and we never have a chance to connect with it to understand it, that creates hate because it is a threat. We need to do a better job of building that bridge of empathy and compassion, and understanding each other. Knowing that we’re going to have differences—we are different. We're all different; every single person here regardless of race or religion is different. If you had a twin you’d be different from them. Those are the things that make us unique and special, not things that drive us apart. They’re things that complement us. Our greatest import as a nation is the immigrant. That’s why we are America. That’s what makes us great. And to take that away and or to say otherwise, in my opinion, is the most un-American thing you could possibly do.
Mehlaqa: In the current socio-political context, another trend we’ve been seeing is that there is a lot of prejudice and bigotry people have held inside for a very long time—some have very overtly expressed it as well—but in the wake of this election we’re seeing so much of that, where people feel they have license to express that hostility openly. We’ve seen the emergence of swastikas on college campuses, racial slurs, all of those things happening on a much more regular basis. And you talk about empathy, but how do you understand this phenomenon, where people are feeling much more empowered to do this, and how do you engage in empathy with somebody like that? Where does that intervention need to take place?
Christian: I think I can explain it pretty easily because 30 years ago, I was part of creating it. We had this idea 30 years ago that the swastikas and the shaved heads and the boots were even turning away the average American racist. It’s true. And we said to ourselves, these boots and these swastikas and these flags, we have to get rid of that stuff. We have to wear suits and ties, we have to go to college, get jobs in law enforcement, run for office, we have to do all these things.
And by the way, the cool word for what we started 30 years ago is the “Alt-Right,” which is no different from what we were. It’s different packaging, it’s marketing savvy is what it is. And they’ve taken their message and they’ve made it a little more palatable, so that it appeals to the masses, and they’ve found kind of the common enemy that everyone seems to be afraid of right now which is the Muslim. I don’t want to say it’s new phenomenon because y’all have been here since the beginning of this country, but now it seems to be the flavor-of-the-month of who we’re picking on. And because of the refugee crisis, and because there is this influx of people who are looking for a safer place to live, certain politicians are using fear tactics and fear rhetoric to make people more afraid. It's the exact same thing we were doing thirty years ago. In fact, some of the words are exactly the same, but what they’ve done is massaged some things and made it just a little bit easier to swallow for somebody who has a grievance, somebody who maybe lives in middle America or somebody who has had an issue in the past. They amplify that.
This fake news and propaganda we hear about—it’s real. It’s not real not in the sense that it’s real news, it’s real in the sense that it’s fake news and it exists. And it exists because we started putting this stuff out even before I was a member 40 or 50 years ago—these conspiracy theories. Now the internet has just made it a really easy place to find it. I used to get pamphlets and books that I had to read; now you just kind of click around and you go down this rabbit hole because of the algorithms on the internet: kind of like when you go to Amazon, and it says, “well you liked Pampers, you’ll like Huggies,” the same thing happens with news. If you start reading some of this fake news stuff, it keeps recommending more of that same fake news to you, and before you know it, that defines your reality. And anybody who thinks different from you must be crazy, because “what are they reading? I read all the news.” So we both live in two different realities. There’s a schism that’s happening and it’s very dangerous, because there are millions of young people sitting behind computer screens who feel marginalized, who don’t fit in in real life, who maybe are socially awkward and are now finding an identity and a community online. And they create this persona online that in the normal, real world they would never do, because they don’t feel comfortable doing that.
So that’s why this is flourishing, that’s why we’re seeing more of this, and the politicians are really emboldening these people who once lived in the shadows to come out of the shadows. But it’s very hard to see who they are because they look just like us. In the old days, you’d be able to spot a skinhead or a klansman a mile away, right, it’s easy. And nowadays that’s passé, and when we think of hate groups that’s what we think about—and hate groups are not the problem. The problem is this individualized radicalization that’s happening, because of this fake news, and they’re finding these communities online. That’s the issue and of course because politicians in some cases seem to reinforce a lot of that.
Mehlaqa: Are there are warning signs that parents can look to? If they hear that their child might be engaging in online radicalization, or be in the process of being recruited?
Christian: There’s really no single profile, which makes it hard. However, there are certain things you can look for. First of all, don’t let it get to that point. Engage your kids from a young age, make them feel loved, teach them empathy, and support their passions. And of course that doesn’t always happen, and there are circumstances where kids have to find their own path, and sometimes they land in the wrong place. Certainly if they’re reading this Alt-Right propaganda online, if they have this very black-and-white thinking and critical thinking skills are kind of minimalized, and certainly language. It’s kind of the same thing you look for if your kids are getting into drugs or in a gang. Did they abandon all the things that they used to love to do? Does their attitude change right away? Did they change the way certain words are being used? Did they withdraw and find a new group of friends? Those are all things to look for, but certainly no indication that your son or daughter or a friend is going to become an extremist. But those are all indications that something is wrong and you should probably address it somehow.
Thank you. Given there is so much overt expression of hostility, especially for young people, what advice do you have to cope with hate speech that is out there, racial slurs on social media, what advice would you give them to deal with that?
I heard from a very, very important person with very wise words that I think you guys all probably know–Dr. Martin Luther King–“Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can.” So I think when we do see something like that, I think the right way to respond is not to attack, is not to confront, but also not to be quiet. I think we need to stand up and surround the people who are being affected with love. Both the victims and the perpetrators. And I know that sometimes is not a very positive sentiment, because people are cheering when Richard Spencer gets punched, and things like that. As happy as it makes me to see a Nazi put in his place, violence is not the right answer, because I tell you if that had happened to me when I as 19 years old I would have been put in jail because I would have come back with a gun or something like that. Compassion, as hard as it is to give to some people who you don’t think deserve it, they’re the ones who need it the most. They’re the ones who really need your compassion, because that’s what’s going to penetrate them, not more words of aggression or anything else. We need to find it in us to give the people who least deserve the compassion, the compassion they deserve or that they need.
Mehlaqa: Easier said than done.
Mehlaqa: Thank you so much, Christian.