Did you catch Here & Now last Thursday? Host Robin Young interviewed Christian Picciolini, a former white supremacist recruiter who now works with the non-profit Life After Hate to address rightwing violence and extremism. The organization was founded by and is led by “formers”–people who have left rightwing extremist violence behind–and it offers a number of programs, including ExitUSA, which seeks to build “off ramps” for people seeking to leave hate groups.
I’ve met Christian and some other members of the group in the past, including two summers ago at a conference sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the Department of Justice. I was there because of some work I was doing on domestic hate groups in the US, which made the team of researchers I’m part of and Life After Hate stand out together. Most of the folks at this meeting were working on foreign-based organizations working in the US and Muslim extremists. Before Trump, it was clear that most government support went to combat terrorism by Muslims, not the white Christian men I tend to study.
Worldwide, that makes sense. In much of the world–in Nigeria, where Boko Haram has done tremendous damage; in the Philippines, where ISIS hopes to stake a claim in Southeast Asia–the small but violent faction of Muslims who want… well, what they want varies a lot by who we’re talking about. But to the extent that they want bad things for people who don’t believe exactly as they do (whether those people are other Muslims or Christians or Jews or someone else), we have to pay attention.
In the US, though, it’s pretty well established that far right violence has killed more people in the US in recent years than have Muslim terrorists. Our geographic distance from Muslim-majority nation is one reason why. Our strict vetting procedures for immigrants and refugees are effective; indeed, no Muslim refugee has ever committed a terrorist act that has killed anyone.
In contrast, between September 12, 2001 and December 31, 2016, the Government Accountability Office counted 23 fatal “Radical Islamist Violent Extremist-Motivated Attacks,” which resulted in 119 deaths. In comparison, during that same period, 62 fatal “far-right violent extremist-motivated attacks” which killed 106 people. When you consider that attacks in San Bernardino and at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando accounted for nearly half of those killed by perpetrators with links to Islam, you start to see that rightwing domestic extremists are at least as much a danger to the US as are Muslim extremists. (The GAO’s count, by the way, is pretty conservative. Other groups that track terrorism put the number of deaths at the hands of rightwing groups higher than those attributed to radical Muslims.) White supremacists, in particular, are responsible for the most deaths, according to a Joint Intelligence Bulletin provided to the FBI and Department of Homeland Security.
Anyway, guess which presidential administration just cut funds for research on domestic extremism? Yeah, the one led by a man who can’t distinguish between the “fine people” of the current neo-Nazi movement and those who protest against them.
Picciolini’s Life After Hate had won a grant from the government to continue their work on getting people out of hate groups–domestic de-radicalization, you might call it. Life After Hate saw their number of contacts skyrocket after Trump’s election, Picciolini reported, from two or three calls a week to five calls a day, as folks seek help for themselves or a loved on. They worry, he said, that their child will be “the next Dylann Roof.”
In her interview, Robin Young asked Picciolini why the group was suddenly defunded. Picciolini said he wasn’t told. Instead, the money, which had been promised in January simply disappeared this June.
Young pressed him a bit. Hadn’t he made some tweets about Trump that might not have set well with the administration?
Sure, he had. Here is what Picciolini wrote:
This doesn’t look, to me, too much different from what Trump himself promised all along: That he would “Make America Great Again” by whipping up racist fervor against minority groups, that he’d get white voters out by being explicitly appealing to their racism (This was a campaign strategy that Kellyanne Conway bragged about.). This was the plan, and everything Trump has done since coming to office has been an extension of this. He promised us a racist president, and he has made good on that campaign promise.
And Trump isn’t alone. He’s not unique among Republicans in his willingness to foment violence against non-whites, Muslims, and Jews. It’s happening in your own state house.
In news coverage of the way that the government de-funded Life After Hate in response to some criticism on Twitter, I haven’t seen any news outlets report the second part of Picciolini’s tweet, which makes the point clear: How do we get white supremacy out of the White House after the White House has been under the leadership of Trump, Bannon, and Gorka?
The White House itself is a source of energy for white supremacists. They are emboldened by Trump. Walking that back is going to be hard.
His point was clear. I understand Robin Young’s hesitation to mention that second part of the statement, which links Trump to white supremacy. It has to be hard to be a political reporter right now, when the executive leader of the nation is a liar and a racist but you have to still report on him like he’s a legitimate leader.
But Young should have asked the question: Do you think Trump cut funding for this program because it gives negative attention to the alt-right, which he deliberately fosters good will with?
I can’t speak for Picciolini.
But the answer is yes.
PS. Readers, you can donate to Life After Hate here, if this is a mission you want to support.