Chris Picciolini was just 14 years old when he became a skinhead and neo-Nazi. He says he was recruited by America’s first neo-Nazi skinhead.
“I was so willing because they were the only group that were willing to accept me in,” Picciolini said. “It wasn’t about racism for me, it was about belonging, But, I adopted the racism, and I learned it, and I believed it because I didn’t want to lose that belonging,” he added.
Today, he’s working to fix the pain he caused back then. He travels the world speaking to groups about anti-hate and combating white supremacy. He’s the founder of the anti-extremist organization, The Free Radicals Project
“The words and ideas that I put out into the world 30 years ago are still coming to fruition today,” Picciolini said. “They’re still causing people pain.”
Picciolini recently learned that Charleston church shooter, Dylan Roof, had researched hate speech he’d written years ago, just a few months before opening fire at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church.
“Still today, those words have consequences,” Picciolini said. Still today, that may have partially inspired somebody to go in and murder nine people because of the color of their skin. That is something that I will never forget. That is something I will never stop fighting against.”
Saturday, a group of neo-Nazi’s and white supremacists will converge on Newnan. Picciolini says this latest neo-Nazi rally doesn’t come as a surprise.
“There are rallies that happen all the time in cities all across America and we don’t really talk about it,” Picciolini said. “We assume that the Charlottesville rally was some pivot point for them, when in fact, we’ve been ignoring this problem and pretending that we live in a post racial society and ignored the fact that racism exists,” he added.
Leaving the extremist group wasn’t easy. It wasn’t hard to abandon the ideologies he’d learned, but leaving the people who accepted him was a challenge. He separated from the group at 22 years old.
For this weekend’s rally, Picciolini shared advice, from experience.
“There are two things that the neo-Nazi’s love: silence and violence,” Picciolini said. “If we are silent, if we continue to sweep racism under the rug and don’t stand up against it, they grow. If we are violent, if we adopt their tactics and we attack them, they use that as a victim narrative. They say that white rights are being taken away that they’re being silenced that they’re being marginalized. We cannot give them that ammunition. We have to hold them accountable and we do that by being visible, vocal and vigilant, but not violent.”
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