My name is Christian Picciolini. I am a former member of America's first neo-Nazi skinhead gang (Chicago Area Skinheads). I was recruited in 1987 when I was 14 years old and stayed in the movement for eight years, until I was 22 in 1996. I held a 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 for, and the compassion I began to receive from, those who I deserved it from the least -- those who I previously hated and hurt. After over two decades of self-reflection and atonement, in 2009 I co-founded a nonprofit called Life After Hate, and in 2018 the Free Radicals Project, 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 published my memoir, WHITE AMERICAN YOUTH: My Descent into America's Most Violent Hate Movement—and How I Got Out (Hachette, 2018) recently. My story is a 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.

Thirty years after I joined this movement, we have seen a metastasis of this movement: from shaved heads and boots to "fashy" haircuts, polo shirts, and suits. But is what we're seeing now any different than the hate groups of the past? Has white supremacy become normalized in our society, or was it always "normal?" Most importantly, how do we combat this growing youth social movement that is killing more people on American soil than foreign terrorism has?


EDIT (6/28/18 - 2:07pm MT) Thanks every one! Great questions. I may pop back in again, so keep them coming!

EDIT 2: Check out my Aspen Ideas Festival speaker's page where you can see video from my panels.

Comments: 1218 • Responses: 49  • Date: 

spoopy__pants373 karma

Was there a specific incident that made you realize, "Okay, I've been wrong this whole time," or was it a gradual realization from lots of little things?

How hard was it for you to leave the community? Did any of your former brethren take it well, or was it all threats and nastiness?

cpicciolini540 karma

Not one instance it was series of events where I was shown compassion by those I thought I hated.

KidAtmos288 karma

Did you see a lot of predatory behavior on poor and disenfranchised youth when you were younger in the recruiting methods the groups used? What was the common type of person who would join one of these groups?

cpicciolini575 karma

Absolutely! We sought marginalized youth and promised them "paradise." Today they are using nefarious tactics like going to depression and mental health forums and in multiplayer gaming to recruit those same people.

David920217 karma

You mentioned multiplayer games. Do white supremisists have people who just sit and play Overwatch, League, that type of thing and just spam their slurs or what is that tactic like?

cpicciolini385 karma

They drop benign hints and then ramp up when hooked.

cpicciolini138 karma

Fortnight, Minecraft, COD, all of them. Yes, mostly foreign recruiters from Russia and eastern Europe and Poland.

demon_hanzo36 karma

Yes they are definitely active in gaming platforms. They know how to avoid the mechanics in place on such platforms in order to find new “recruits”. I did once message Blizzard about such a group on World of Warcraft. Their support did nothing about it as they did not say anything “openly” offensive or anything that was against the TOS. I even linked a few twitter accounts of members and pictures from their accounts which indicated involvement in a far-right group. I mean what other indication do you need when they are posing with guns, a typical nazi skinhead attire and doing the hitler salute!? It was quite disappointing that the support of Blizzard was quite ignorant about the topic! How do you guys work against the spreading of far-right movements on gaming platforms?

cpicciolini7 karma

we educate people that it is happening first. Most are clueless, including those who fall for it.

RazeSpear5 karma

I'd love to see screenshots of white supremacists trying to make a sales pitch in an online game. The idea of a group like the Aryan Brotherhood starting a Minecraft server...

cpicciolini8 karma

You wrongly assume the movement is still about skinheads, KKK, and AB.

DayOff4Superman228 karma

Do you see levels of white supremacy in police today?

cpicciolini537 karma

Yes, we encouraged people to become cops and go to military. Blend in.

bustnutsonbuttsluts214 karma

Do you have to constantly watch your back?

cpicciolini358 karma

Yes. I get death threats every day.

humblecactus128 karma

From who? White supremacists or from people that knew you were one?

cpicciolini504 karma

White supremacists, Russian trolls, and angry leftists who don't believe you can unlearn hate.

abluersun211 karma

Do you believe that ignoring white supremacists and any demonstrations they have is a wise response? If not, what do you see as the best way to deal with public displays such as these?

cpicciolini572 karma

No! They love silence and violence. Both allow them to grow. We need to be vigilant, vocal, visible, but NOT violent.

cahaseler199 karma

How can we break through to people like this? What can we doin our everyday lives to de-radicalize these people?

cpicciolini514 karma

I think first we need to understand that while they are doing monstrous things, they are broken human beings and not monsters. Start with that and figure out what human voids needs to be addressed.

Dontbesoshitty282 karma

This is very well said. I also used to be a white supremacist, but I typically keep that part of my past under wraps. I often struggle to explain to people I know now that white supremacists can be reasoned with and can see the error of their ways, particularly without outing myself.

cpicciolini367 karma

Message me privately. We have a support group for Formers. Great people.

KcrinBlue56 karma

I have messaged you I hope you don't mind.

cpicciolini19 karma

not at all

hey_im_cool173 karma

Did you ever honestly hate other races, or do you think it was just an act that you put on?

cpicciolini381 karma

Looking back now, I think I hated myself and projected. I don't think I was a true believer even though I acted like it.

sjrsimac8 karma

Where do you draw the line between being a true believer and acting like a true believer?

cpicciolini8 karma

No such thing as a true believer IMO. The only true believers are the manipulators at the top and they only believe in control.

JTC80148 karma

Have you seen American History X? How accurate is it, based on your experiences?

cpicciolini241 karma

Yes, partially based on my life I believe. Accurate depiction of Nazi skinheads mostly, not the movement as a whole.

AlphaBaymax115 karma

What was the recruitement process like? How did they convince you to be a Neo-Nazi at the time?

cpicciolini280 karma

they appealed to my desperate need for identity, community, and purpose. I was bullied and they provided safety. I was lonely and they provided family. That's how they draw people in, with a sense of belonging and "humanitarianism."

RambleMan64 karma

This sounds exactly how my uncle became a Jehovah Witness back in the 80's. I hadn't considered that neo-nazi type groups are like cults.

cpicciolini13 karma

as are ISIS, gangs, and political parties.

thunderemoji102 karma

What is the single most impactful thing you'd recommend civilians do to stop the spread of and normalization of hate?

What other advice do you have in general for us to consider?

cpicciolini260 karma

Listen for people's traumas. No one is born a racist, even if born to a racist family. They adopt it as a permission slip to be angry.

josechung9685 karma

As someone who has now obviously seen the error of your ways, how did you used to rationalize your hatred towards people simply because of the color of their skin? Do you feel that it was simply because you were raised in that culture of hatred and with age comes wisdom or were there things about yourself that you weren't happy with that caused you to lash out at other races and cultures as well?

cpicciolini163 karma

I fooled myself and was fooled into thinking they were the cause of my problems. They weren't. I was. I know know that I was projecting my own self-hatred and insecurities. Same goes for most people in these movements.

David92075 karma

Hi Christian. I am from a very small town where the majority of the population is white.

I've noticed that a lot of ignorance rages over logic in my town and I was just wondering how I, as a young person, can try and change that. How can I do my part to stop the hate and stop intolerance from being taught and passed down?

I've just felt so helpless these past couple years and I just feel like I can't do anything.

cpicciolini182 karma

Hatred is born of ignorance. Fear is its father and isolation its mother. Listen, don't judge, connect.

Onepopcornman66 karma

What do you think makes hate movements so appealing to young people? What is one thing that everyday people can do to make it less appealing?

cpicciolini146 karma

Identity, community, purpose. Something we all look for.

mad_humanist60 karma

Where are you on the Hope/Fear spectrum with regards to American and Global politics?

cpicciolini96 karma

Hopeful, so long as we commit to positive action now.

MerlynAFC59 karma

Is violence, specifically sexual violence to female members, rampant? were you recruited at 14? Did they plant a seed and gradually become more radical or did they come at you full force and bring you in?

cpicciolini115 karma

Yes. It's not a mandate per se, rather male insecurity, misogyny, and poor values reinforced.

Yes, it started with a gateway drug of feeling accepted and using very benign language that is the equivalent of the #ItsOKtobewhite hash tag nowadays

BlatantConservative58 karma

Hey, thanks for doing this.

I'm a moderator of several large subreddits that deal with white supremacy pretty often.

Without giving any detail about what we already do, what would you advise our plan be as moderators when dealing with large numbers of white supremacists? Keep in mind, all we can do is remove, ban, and maybe write macros to respond to people.

cpicciolini114 karma

Become educated on the gateway drugs they use to indoctrinate people. ie racial IQ science, men's rights movements, #ItsOKtobeWhite

toasted_bread_43 karma

How do you reconcile your previous ideology and actions with your current ones?

cpicciolini363 karma

How do you reconcile knowing that 2+2=4 now, as opposed to when you didn't know how to add as a child. Life is a learning experience. I chose to learn. Some choose not to.

_korbendallas_41 karma

What I find disturbing, is the inability of many racists to even acknowledge their racism. I doubt people go to Klan or neo Nazi meetings and believe they're not racist, but so much dog-whistling and "casual" racism goes by unnoticed by many. I even see the term "racist" being dismissed offhandedly almost as a joke. Any advice for confronting these people in a constructive manner?

cpicciolini63 karma

People who live in a bubble have access to only their info. If it's racism, they may not see it, because they've seen no other way. A pedophile also doesn't like to be called a pedophile, ya know? Same with racists.

bibilots31 karma

Can you be sure that you won’t fall into your old ways?

Was it an experience that changed you or did you just wake up and think that people of other races are people too?

cpicciolini82 karma

I've now experienced that life and a new life. It's been 23 years and I understand the effect it has on people. As a human, I feel moments of hatred of course, but I do not hate or have any interest in going back. I've done massive amounts of self-reflection.

zakats30 karma


Your ama title reminds me of a real world analogy for Khan a la Start Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan.

Relating to your actual post:

using Star Trek as a litmus, have your feelings or interests toward star trek or similar 'liberalish' shows/movies changed since moving into a 'Life After Hate?'

e: i speel gud

cpicciolini91 karma

My darkest secret is that The Clash (a leftist band) has always been my favorite band. :)

Yes, I have been out for 23 years and enjoy a diverse sampling of entertainment...and Star Trek.

brittersbear29 karma

What is the most regrettable thing you've done? What are you doing to try and make up for what you've done, or haven't done?

cpicciolini142 karma

I have spent the last 2 decades trying to undo what I did. Making amends, seeking forgiveness, but also educating people so it doesn't happen to others. I have helped over 150 people disengage so far.

sloopy_sails24 karma

I live in Texas with many friends that are on the pretty far right. I tend to be pretty quiet about my liberal political leanings because many of them would be offended or even outright stop talking to me if they knew. Im new to the area about 3 years in to a move for a job, so I wish to not alienate these mostly very good guys that are my friends, even if we aren't on the same political pages. How can I use my undercover liberal position to try to help sway them gently to a less hateful stance, mostly on Muslims, but in general too. It is hard to hear them talk sometimes, many were in the military and have adopted a very militant anti Muslim stance after serving overseas in the Gulf war and other recent involvements.

cpicciolini64 karma

Again, listen to why not what. Why do they hate? It's usually not about the other person or race. It's a bout self-hatred and uncertainty.

el_monstruo10 karma

Can you give an example of a "why"?

cpicciolini5 karma

Abuse, trauma, mental illness, abandonment...

Evilman201122 karma

How did you get out of the White Supremacist movement and what are your views on the current President Donald Trump and his views and those of his supporters which some would called Rascist or Xenophobic?

cpicciolini80 karma

Basically I faded away because I was scared to address it.

Trump's rhetoric is fueling them.

RudegarWithFunnyHat23 karma

Would his followers write off this comment as leftist fake news ?

cpicciolini107 karma

Yes, they probably would. I'm often called a leftist, communist, cryptojew. I am none of those. The WHOLE purpose of extremism is to disrupt status quo, discredit strong voices, and create fear. In times of uncertainty, this is much easier to induce. We are in a time of intense uncertainty. People looking for answers sometimes stumble onto disinformation and then spread it as misinformation. In Trump's case, he does both. He knows our wounds and grievances and exploits them.

piefordays9 karma

How accurate is Hollywood’s depiction of modern day American nazis?

cpicciolini48 karma

Not accurate in the sense of the real terroristic threat. They focus mostly on the subculture.

WickedSushi8 karma

Nathan Larson is running for office, as an open white supremacist and pedophile. Would you say that there is a connection between pedophilia and white supremacy movements?

cpicciolini26 karma

I think there is a connection with "social deviancy" and extremists in general. These are broken people, often with personal traumas that cause them to hurt others.

sunnybitch7 karma

Hi Christian, thanks for doing this.

I live in a blue state where--for the most part--people are pretty accepting of others. What do you think is the best way to reach these people when they don't really run in my circles? Is it as simple as listening to others and fostering a healthy discussion? Also, how optimistic are you about the future considering Trump's and the Republican Party's rhetoric?

cpicciolini36 karma

Listening is the #1 thing. Not agreeing, but listening. Listen for the brokenness and filter those racist noise out. Then help them repair their humanity.

Mal53415 karma

Lately I've seen a lot of people debate 'Hug a racist vs punch a racist'. The former advocates reaching out to racists, showing compassion and trying to convince them that people of different races and beliefs aren't their enemy. The latter advocates a hard line of zero tolerance against racism, and forcing racists and racism out of society via shunning, stigmatization and intimidation.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

cpicciolini6 karma

Option 1 - 100%. But I'm also not a pacifist and will defend myself and others.

siouxsie_siouxv25 karma

How is it dealing with people from your past, family and friends who maybe still subscribe to a hateful ideology?

cpicciolini4 karma

Hardest thing I've ever done.

Inkberrow5 karma

As you see it, are new affiliates of white supremacist prison gangs like the Aryan Brotherhood and European Kindred driven more often by pre-existing racial animus or by fear and self-preservation, given the other typical prison associations tribalized by race?

cpicciolini20 karma


Prison is a different world. It's an organically segregated environment where stereotypes and animus are reinforced. Again, I think many, if not all, are broken human beings that were "radicalized" by their traumas not ideology.

sloopy_sails4 karma

I live in Texas with many friends that are on the pretty far right. I tend to be pretty quiet about my liberal political leanings because many of them would be offended or even outright stop talking to me if they knew. Im new to the area about 3 years in to a move for a job, so I wish to not alienate these mostly very good guys that are my friends, even if we aren't on the same political pages. It is hard to hear them talk sometimes, many were in the military and have adopted a very militant anti Muslim stance after serving overseas in the Gulf war and other recent involvements.How can I use my undercover liberal position to try to help sway them gently to a less hateful stance, mostly on Muslims, but in general too???

cpicciolini27 karma

Listen for their "potholes", the traumas, insecurities and filter out the BS noise. Then help them fill in those potholes. The better they feel about themselves, the less need to blame the other.

EVILB0NG3 karma

How far do you think Neo-Nazis and other white supremacist groups will go if Trump is impeached and removed from office?

President "Very Stable Genius" has a strong, dedicated base of supporters with a penchant for conspiracy theories, are easily riled up, and armed. Considering the actions of that asshole at the Charlottesville protest, I'm legitimately worried there might be an escalation of violence if Trump is removed from office. I'd be curious to get your take on the matter.

cpicciolini31 karma

There will be a conspiracy theory driving the impeachment, etc. I am not comfortable with the increased violence that I think will happen, but I think having him in office enabling these folks is more dangerous.

bill_ding_jr2 karma

Would you agree that Trump is dog whistling? How do white supremasts use his rhetoric?

cpicciolini37 karma

Yes, absolutely. White supremacists either co-opt or invent mainstream words that sound benign: globalists (elite Jews), liberal media (Jewish media), etc. We learned a long time ago that we were too edgy and pushing people away, so we normalized.

RoyalCheeseCrust2 karma

Hello CP,

Looking back now, what would you say surprised/shocked you the most about the white supremacist environment?

cpicciolini4 karma

Never met a person in it with positive self-esteem.

thraxxhouse-17 karma

Do you hate other races?

cpicciolini14 karma


thraxxhouse-12 karma

Then how were you a nazi?

cpicciolini12 karma

Well, that was 23 years ago. You were asking about my current position. I thought I did back then.