My bio: My name is Christian Picciolini. I am a former member of America's first neo-Nazi skinhead gang (Chicago Area Skinheads/Romantic Violence). I was recruited in 1987 when I was 14 years old and stayed in the movement for seven years, until I was 22 in 1996. I held a regional leadership position in the Hammerskin Nation, America's most violent skinhead group. I stockpiled weapons hoping to overthrow the US government, and I was asked to meet with Muammar Gaddafi to form an alliance. In 1996, I decided to leave the vicious movement I helped create because I could no longer reconcile my hateful ideology and thoughts with the empathy I began to feel and the compassion I began to receive from those who I deserved it from the least -- those who I previously hated.

After nearly two decades of self-reflection and atonement, in 2010 I co-founded a nonprofit called Life After Hate to help educate people on issues of far-right extremism and radicalization and to help people disengage from hate groups and to love themselves and accept others, regardless of skin color, religious belief, or sexual preference. I helped launch ExitUSA, a program of Life After Hate, which acts as a beacon and support system to those wishing to leave hate groups.

I published my memoirs, Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead last week. My story is a poignant cautionary tale that details my indoctrination when I was barely a teen, a lonely outsider who, more than anything, just wanted to belong. When my mentor went to prison for a vicious hate crime, I stepped forward, and at 18, I was overseeing the most brutal extremist skinhead cells across the country. From fierce street brawls to drunken white power rallies, recruitment by foreign terrorist dictators to riotous white power rock music, I immersed myself in racist skinhead culture, hateful propaganda, and violence.

More info on the new book:

My Proof


Comments: 1181 • Responses: 59  • Date: 

Khao7ik1267 karma

Hey just got released from Mansfield Correctional Institution in February of this year... I am a part of the neo-nazi movement currently and am just wondering how you made it out alive? Did you have problems leaving?

cpicciolini60 karma

Well, for one, I'm not a rat. Even in my book, I don't "out" anyone except for myself. I have been called a traitor and had my address and phone number published online. But never a threat of physical violence. I initially had some serious problems when I left, but I can't live my life scared to do the right thing.

jackwillis95525 karma

Are you worried about how easy it is nowadays to become part of an extremist and hateful ideology? Especially when you see young people going over to join such groups, such as ISIS.

cpicciolini1094 karma

I think that anytime there are large unemployment rates, inequality, lack of opportunity ANY society will have to deal with extremism. I joined the white power movement for the same reasons that young Americans go to Syria and join ISIS.

Need to fix this problem everywhere.

Chel_of_the_sea233 karma

What are those reasons?

cpicciolini1250 karma

Promise of power, inclusion, protection, sense of community, your ideology shifts once you're given reasons to blame others for your shortcomings or problems.

27th_wonder129 karma

Golden Dawn have also been getting popular recently, especially with Greece's ongoing economic troubles underlying everything else.

cpicciolini282 karma

Unemployment, inequality, volatile country, financial problems...boom.

jackwillis9548 karma

sounds a bit similar to the BNP however they seemed to have fizzled out now.

cpicciolini70 karma

Very similar, more militant.

dewsbury89371 karma

You mention being 'indoctrinated' into the group. What form did this take?

Did you posses any racist views prior to joining the gang, or were they developed during your membership?

cpicciolini674 karma

Repetition of thought. Rhetoric. Reinforcement of insecurities backed by promises of comfort, power, and supremacy. Music was the most effective propaganda tool for white power skinheads in the 80s and 90s. Even now.

I was not raised to be a racist. In fact, my parents came to this country in the 60s from Italy and they were often the victims of prejudice themselves. I formed these opinions on my own because I was searching for meaning. I wanted to fit in. When I met a group that I thought filled those needs, I was like putty.

thats-mine209 karma

When you say music, how did they use it? I can't imagine a camp fire with a guitar singing skinhead 'kumbaya'

cpicciolini430 karma

Music has a great influence on society: fashion, language, culture, behavior, appearance.

The lyrics in the songs I listened to inspired violence and hate. They were filled with words that gave me the (perceived) answers to my problems. It was an outlet for my angst and confusion. Listened to enough times, it became my education. I then did the same when I wrote my lyrics and music. It was a recruiting tool and very effective. It was a community.

jonboiwalton371 karma

What was meeting with Gaddadfi about?

cpicciolini972 karma

It's a great scene in the book. He sent an attache to meet with a Canadian racist, who in turn sent someone to ask for my group to be involved in a trip to Libya to receive funds to fight the Jews in America. I turned it down. I wasn't interested in being a traitor to the US. Turned out to be a Canadian Intelligence undercover operation. Phew!

jonboiwalton159 karma

How so you think technology helps or hinders hate groups now? I'd think that tech used for recruitment could would be largest boon. Do you consider location tracking a concern for most members of similar groups? (I figure lower on totem pole louder the digital presence?)

cpicciolini221 karma

I acually wrote about this in Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen's (Google) book, The New Digital Age.

I think it helps AND hurts. It helps extremist groups because the reach is broader (social media), it's relatively anonymous, and it's cheap to use to recruit and disseminate propaganda. People can be racist without having to do it in person. The internet acts as a buffer. It hurts because it has a much more effective close rate (referring to recruiting) if it's performed by a face to face interaction. Closing the deal and keeping engaged has to be done in a high touch way.

jonboiwalton38 karma

Thanks for the replies. It seems that more that leaning the hard way might be only way out of rabbit hole?

cpicciolini109 karma

If we change education, we can avert it altogether.

Eli-Thail80 karma

Turned out to be a Canadian Intelligence undercover operation.

So Gaddadfi wasn't really involved?

cpicciolini137 karma

I believe he was supporting US groups with money. Though this particular instance was a setup. Several even visited Libya and met with Gaddafi's people.

JeffersonSpicoli335 karma

Did you guys really think you could overthrow the U.S. government? How was this a reasonable supposition?

cpicciolini627 karma

Like the rest of our ideologies, we were delusional.

Though I do believe that most revolutions have started with just a spark. Our spark was unsustainable and illogical.

nightscout1115 karma

I wish you would talk some sense into my brother. He's got this crazy Aryan ideology sprinkled with pagan influence. Sad part is there's people like him out there, and he's found them. How do I show him he's on a path of destruction? I've tried countless hours of explaining the bigger picture, but he's stubborn as a mule.

cpicciolini51 karma

I am happy to talk with him. Send him to We set that up specifically to help people disengage from hate groups.

27th_wonder230 karma

Have you ever seen American History X ?

and if so, when was it, and what did you think of it?

cpicciolini320 karma

Yes, I have. Only once a bit after it came out in the 90s. I did download it on Google Play a few months ago, though I have yet to watch it again. I think it's a pretty accurate, though dramatized, depiction. Frank Meeink, who is my great friend and also a board member of Life After Hate, our nonprofit, is a large basis of Ed Norton's character. Check him out. He wrote a book called Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead. I think Daniel Vinyard in AHX was a composite character based on a few people.

subcultureart179 karma

It looks like you've kept some of your white-supremacy-related tattoos. Can you talk about the decision keep them? I'm sure that you get some looks for those from folks who don't know you.

cpicciolini313 karma

I have covered some -- the most hateful ones. The others are a reminder. Some I just haven't gotten to yet. My tattoos are my permanent diary. Some that I'm embarrassed of for sure.

friggysmalls167 karma

What was the first moment you realized that what you were doing in the extremist group was wrong and hateful? What other discoveries and occurrences led you to realize your extremism?

cpicciolini319 karma

I wasn't raised racist, so I had small moments of doubt throughout my whole 7 year involvement. It didn't make sense 100% of the time. But my first real "moment of clarity" came when a group of us attacked a group of black youth at a McDonalds. They shot at us and when the gun jammed, we beat the gunman. While kicking him, I had a moment of empathy and it stung me.

KingEuronIIIGreyjoy164 karma

Hey, Christian. I think it's great that you've not only come so far in your mission of acceptance, but that you're helping others out as well. Just one question to lighten the mood, as I always try to ask.

Any thoughts on Game of Thrones?

cpicciolini300 karma

Dude. Thank you.

I have watched every single episode and I still have no fucking idea what is going on. It's an amazing show, but I'm constantly lost. Though I have a bit of a crush on Cersei.

KingEuronIIIGreyjoy90 karma

I'd recommend just going on YouTube if you're confused. There are a ton of videos that explain it better than just the show. And congrats on having a crush on the worst fucking person in all of Westeros. Lena Headey is one fine woman, but Cersei is awful. Stick with Margaery. ;)

cpicciolini120 karma

I will do that. I think I just like Headey from 300. She is evil.

I'll switch to Khaleesi.

salmeida153 karma

I believe I know someone "like you", that once belonged to a hate group but has stepped away from it. This friend of mine has many "nazi tattoos" and I want to be able to talk to him about it but I don't know how to start the conversation. I am worried he still has connections to the group. Question being: What's the best way to start a conversion on the subject? How do I deal with it if he tells me that he still is connected to the group and its vision? What would you tell him in order to show you don't agree with it but not pushing him away?

cpicciolini247 karma

Just ask him. And talk it through. Chances are he is dying for someone to talk to openly about it. He's likely very embarrassed (if he's no longer a part). If he still is a part, ask him why. And then question why you want to be friends with him. Be compassionate. It's hard to counter logically.

salmeida93 karma

I'm going to see him today. I'll get some courage and bring it up. I do think you are right and that he is embarrassed about it. He is very shy and stays "in the background". I just feel weird saying something stupid that I think may be "supportive" but in reality is just patronizing. Would it be rude of me to say "Hey, that tattoo you have , I'm intrigued about it... does it relate to a nazi group?" ?

Thanks for your encouragement! I'm going to do it !!

boringcigars57 karma

Can you provide us with an update of how it went?

salmeida72 karma

Hey, ended up not seeing him today. I will post an update when I see him, and if I still have the guts to mention the subject.

cpicciolini6 karma

Good luck.

Juddston146 karma

You mentioned that your parents were Italian immigrants often subjected to discrimination themselves. How did they handle your indoctrination into a hate group? Did they have any influence on your decision to change your lifestyle to or back from that group?

Thank you for the AMA and all of the good you are doing to eliminate prejudice and hate!

cpicciolini222 karma

My parents were terrified for me. I don't think they ever knew the extent of my involvement, but they were scared.

Thank you!

mrbrightside7592112 karma

Yes Mr.Picciolini sometimes reddit is considered fall into a racist mindset when confronted by racial stereotypes. So I was wondering if you browsed reddit enough to determine what common pit falls reddit falls into when these stories appear and how we can best avoid thinking like this?

cpicciolini237 karma

There is a lot of racism online. It happens on Reddit and on YouTube in the comments. I think the communities need to self-regulate. There is more good out there than bad.

phoebe_be_gone96 karma

What's the best way for me to help others overcome hate?

cpicciolini177 karma

Show them compassion. It was what ultimately changed me. I know it's hard, but it's contagious (unless they are a sociopath or psychopath). Then send them over to Our focus is to be a support system for those who want to get out of hate groups or away from hate in general.

hipsterhijabi72 karma

Hey Hi. what are your thoughts on pegida, the edl and people like Pamela Gellar?

I get that there's ISIS and they're disgusting and wrong.

But I also feel that hating Muslims is acceptable and encouraged in many countries. I feel very unsafe and have ceased wearing hijab as i've been physically attacked once for my appearance and verbally abused more times then I care to count.

I hold no hatred in my heart for any group. :(

cpicciolini12 karma

Pegida, EDL and Pamela Gellar are promoting racism. Even though their brand of racism is more "accepted" because of the climate, don't be fooled. It's still racism or ultra-nationalism.

It's a real shame that many people lump all Muslims with extremism and terrorism.

TheMightyCE70 karma

How do you feel about your past in comparison to your current efforts? Arguments can be made that the reason you have such as impact now is because of damage that you caused in your past. Do you feel conflicted about this?

cpicciolini166 karma

Great question. My past fuels my present. Those seven years I was active, I spread and planted a lot of seeds of hate around the world. I spend most of my time now pulling weeds that have sprouted from those seeds. I'm not conflicted so much as I am committed to repairing what I broke.

TheMightyCE58 karma

In that case, what do you consider your greatest failures from the past, as in the things that you're having the most trouble repairing? Also, what are you most pleased with having repaired so far?

cpicciolini131 karma

My greatest failure is that I wasn't there for my brother as much as he needed me to be. Subsequently I feel responsible for his death/murder. I could have done more to divert his path.

banjoanna68 karma

Are you sure you aren't the guy from American History X

cpicciolini10 karma

Edward Norton's character was a composite of several people. Frank Meeink being one of them. I also think I may have been used as a character study.

dewsbury8959 karma

Thanks for the IAMA, it's a really interesting topic.

In your opinion, are there any popular misconceptions of neo-Nazi groups?

cpicciolini139 karma

The only misconception is that members can't change. In most cases it is a learned ideology and can be "unlearned" through enlightenment.

pofish44 karma

How do you feel about the people recruited in prisons and the best way to circumvent it? I knew a guy who did time, and ended up with white supremacy ink solely because he was white and had nowhere else to "fall into" that would accept him. He definitely didn't prescribe to the ideology, but he needed community and support and protection, and they were the only ones offering it up. Obviously it came at a cost though.

cpicciolini73 karma

Tough one. Don't go to prison is the best answer, I guess. Once you're there, though, not sure there is much else to do but try and get thru it as best as you can.

dewsbury8925 karma

How many members do change? Is the story of a teenage kid getting involved in a gang, then leaving in their 20's a common one?

cpicciolini62 karma

I think many change their beliefs but just don't have anyone to talk to about it. Their past drags them down like an anchor and they never seem to heal internally and lead positive lives. There were no support groups for this before Life After Hate.

On the other hand, others never do change and continue down a dark path.

justeeee53 karma

What made you want to join Romantic Violence? What can we do to make sure today's youth aren't susceptible to the same kind of influence?

cpicciolini114 karma

I was a lonely 14 year old kid that was hungry to do something that mattered -- that meant something. I joined because I was ambitious and susceptible. I was targeted by a recruiter, a charismatic individual.

We need to provide education and services geared towards young kids to keep them a young age. People usually join extremist groups/gangs/etc because there are no other opportunities.

one-hour-photo45 karma

What was your favorite part of doing the Adam Carolla Show? Was there ever a time where you met a Jew, during your skin head years, and though, "myeh....he seems like a nice guy..maybe i shouldn't be hating so hard?

cpicciolini99 karma

Everyone at Adam Carolla show was very nice! I even had a chance encounter with Dr. Drew and gave him a copy of my book. I think my favorite part was the looseness of the interview. I'm used to doing very serious interviews. It was nice to relax.

Honestly, I think I met maybe 2 jews the whole time I was a skinhead. Likely none before that. Now, it seems like every one of my friends, colleagues, or business partners are Jewish. I love every single one of them. Like family.

Kiefer043 karma

I don't know whether this will be answered, but when people learn about your past, have you been discriminated against? Or have people been more glad, and supportive of your move out of that lifestyle?

cpicciolini84 karma

Most everyone has been very supportive...and surprised.

Damngladtomeetyou39 karma

Was there a single attack or event that you ordered or were apart of that made you say "this has gone too far," and begin leaving the group? Or was it a gradual process?

cpicciolini71 karma

It was a gradual process. My group, while under my command, was more geared towards marketing and recruiting rather than violence. There certainly was some violence, but mostly not.

I was in one of America's first white power skinhead bands and the first to travel overseas to Europe. My role was to recruit through music.

All_Riled_Up22 karma

How do your experiences recruiting in Europe relate, in your mind to the recruitment of ISIS in the youth of Europe as well? Do you think this means youth are susceptible to this kind of influence all over the globe?

cpicciolini52 karma

Yes 100%. Our young kids are susceptible. The recruiting measures are basically the same.

AMIGO6438 karma

Serious question.

What exactly goes through the mind of a skinhead? Why does he hate so much?

cpicciolini113 karma

First, not all skinheads are racist. There are anti-racist skinheads, communist skins, traditional/apolitical skins etc...

My brand of skinhead was racist/neo-nazi. We were angry, blaming, unwilling to accept responsibility ourselves for our own shortcomings. If something was wrong, it was because of "jews" or "blacks"...not, because I have no education or training and I'm lazy.

I hated because I was ignorant and I blamed others for my shortcomings

subcultureart33 karma

Follow-up question: Knowing that not all skinheads are racist, and that the anti-racist ones have a hard time shaking the connotation, why did you call your book "Memoirs of an American Skinhead" instead of "Memoirs of an American Nazi?"

cpicciolini69 karma

I feel like I want to answer this one more. I have heard many times from people (usually anti-racist skinheads) that I should not have used "skinhead" in the title. And I understand, from a traditionalist perspective why they wouldn't want the term associated with the original meaning of a skinhead -- non-political, fashion-oriented. But the truth was that I was a skinhead, albeit a racist one, for seven years. There are different kinds of skinheads, let's face it. I was the bad kind.

cpicciolini60 karma

Because I wasn't really a Nazi. I was a white power skinhead.

DetroitsGoingToWin30 karma

You've been through an overwhelming change in your thought process and self image from an adolescence to the man you are today, what about you has stayed relatively constant?

cpicciolini69 karma

I am still ambitious, I still love Nutella and The Clash, and I am still shy (though you'd never know it).

dvirsky30 karma

How can someone be racist AND love The Clash? :)

cpicciolini14 karma

It was my dirty little left wing secret. The best band ever.

Supperclub7425 karma

Do you still dress skinhead? Do you still wear boots, braces, etc.? Did you turn into an anti-racist, reggae listening skinhead or did you abandon the style completely? If you're still dressing the part, are you accepted by the anti-racist skins?

cpicciolini63 karma

No I don't consider myself a skinhead in any way. Not saying I don't own a pair of docs or a fred perry, but not to look like a skinhead.

RedditDisco21 karma

As a reformed extremist, how do you view our current (US Govt) approach to preventing extremist in our country?

The concern I have is that we have documented and/or recorded (by the internet or NSA) all of the youthful stupidity of all our country and many who would have outgrown this ignorance (as you did) may forever be labeled as a threat and never outgrow it. This may lead many to believe all hope is lost...

How do you respond to this?


tl:dr... kids do stupid shit and because it is forever recorded (and they know it), they will chose to keep on instead of reforming... what think you?

cpicciolini51 karma

I don't really know what our govt is doing to stem extremism. I think there is a concern, but the concern is mitigated by poor programs and band-aid reform.

re: Internet. It's no different than a 14 year old black inner city youth who gets busted with a dime bag of weed. That stays with them forever and hurts his/her chances for success even though they may have grown out of it. Judge people based on their character, not past discretions.

vandeu1219 karma

Have you seen this documentary?

cpicciolini9 karma

I have not. But looks interesting. I will watch it.

InTupacWeTrust19 karma

How do you think the world should handle ISIS?

cpicciolini79 karma

We need to provide young people with opportunity so that ISIS isn't a viable option. ISIS is being effective because they are promising a perceived paradise situation, though it's all a lie, to young marginalized and disenfranchised people.

huehuelewis14 karma

You mentioned in another comment that you had skinhead music influence. How has your musical taste evolved since separating yourself from the skinhead culture?

cpicciolini64 karma

Before I became a skinhead (pre-14), I listened to The Clash, Minor Threat, DRI, Ramones, Bad Brains. When I was a white power skinhead it was British Oi! (4skins, Business, Cock Sparrer, Cockney Rejects, Last Resort) and white power music like Skrewdriver, No Remorse, Brutal Attack, Bound For Glory. After I left the movement, I started to like bands like Social Distortion, Joan Jett, and Bad Religion. Still loved the Clash. Now, I love bands like Riverboat Gamblers, Foxy Shazam, Portugal. The Man. Still love The Clash.

no_one_home13 karma

Do you think people who have a change of heart after committing horrendous hate crimes should be forgiven? If so, do you think there is a border, or set of behaviors that can be crossed where you would have said otherwise?

cpicciolini24 karma

I think most normal people can shed the ideology and change their views with a proper support system and education. On the other hand true sociopaths and psychopaths cannot be changed, IMO.

Gamma-tron9 karma

Social media has proven to be an effective way of recruiting to the side of hatred - what do you think is the most efficient and effective method of using that same media to divert members from hate groups and gangs?

cpicciolini21 karma

Smart counternarratives.

GaryG3129 karma

If "Romantic Violence" becomes a film, which actor(s) do you want to portray you?

cpicciolini40 karma

Interesting question. I'm not so up on my 18-24 year-old-looking actors. Dave Franco?

wzd_cracks7 karma

Are you a traditional skinhead now. Or do you still listen to the music?

cpicciolini15 karma

I am not a skinhead now. I do occasionally listen to some British Oi! I especially like Cock Sparrer and 4skins.

highonstress6 karma

I'm a punk rocker in my 30s so I grew up in the 90s punk scene when "boneheads" would come around to shows and usually get beat up.

How do Nazi skins feel about punks and sharps/trads?

Are they considered traitors? Misguided? What?

cpicciolini4 karma

Well, nazi skins definitely hate SHARPs. Trads are unliked also, though not as bad. Punks are looked upon as dirty. Pretty much anyone who is not in the movement is considered a traitor.

highonstress4 karma

Why did they (boneheads) go to GBH shows (and others) when they knew they would just get beat up and kicked out of the club?

cpicciolini3 karma

To show off or cause trouble. Or to recruit.

majohime4 karma

As someone who has never struck somebody, I cannot imagine what it feels like to be violent. My question is, what did it feel like? And at what point did you realize that it didn't feel good anymore and why.

cpicciolini4 karma

I imagine it's like drugs. It can feel intoxicating when you do it and then you feel sick after the fact. It's awful.

cjb6302 karma

Any other Chicago area Skin or Punk crews ever pop up on your radar? If so, who?

cpicciolini2 karma

I am not really familiar with any of the new groups.

cjb6302 karma

Old groups?

cpicciolini5 karma

In Chicago we had the anti-racist SHOC (Skinheads of Chicago), Bomber Boys, SHARP (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice), Irregulars, Hammerskins.

[deleted]1 karma


cpicciolini1 karma

Thought it was fairly accurate depiction, although a dramatized depiction.

AutoModerator-5 karma

Users, please be wary of proof. You are welcome to ask for more proof if you find it insufficient.

OP, if you need any help, please message the mods here.

Thank you!

I am a bot, and this action was performed automatically. Please contact the moderators of this subreddit if you have any questions or concerns.

cpicciolini4 karma