This Group Has Successfully Converted White Supremacists Using Compassion. Trump Defunded It.
Date Written: 2017-08-17
Publisher: The Intercept
Year Published: 2017
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX21325
Life After Hate is a Chicago-based nonprofit that does path-breaking work. Founded by former white supremacist leaders in 2011, it studies the forces that draw people to hate and helps those who are willing to disengage from radical extremist movements. In June, the Department of Homeland Security revoked a grant to the nonprofit, telling The Huffington Post that it wants to focus on funding groups that work with law enforcement.
Many Americans are wondering: What draws people to white nationalism, and what do we do about it?
Life After Hate’s approach focuses on compassion, counseling, and redemption. The idea of redeeming a white nationalist or neo-Nazi is understandably shocking to many Americans
Imagery of young men clad in armor, carrying weapons, and chanting anti-Semitic slogans is naturally terrifying, and the idea that these people could one day leave extremism and embrace tolerance can seem far-fetched.
But history is full of examples of people who’ve shed their hatred and repented later in life. Rangel is a believer. He himself comes from a life of redemption. A former member of the Maniac Latin Disciples gang, he spent time in a maximum security prison; later in his life he co-founded Life After Hate to help people of all backgrounds step away from extremism and violence. He rejects the idea that people drawn to extremism can’t be redeemed based on his own experience.
“How do we know people are redeemable? Life After Hate is completely made up of Formers,” he said, invoking a phrase the organization uses to describe people who have successfully departed hate groups. “The rest of the team were all members of white supremacist groups and were in leadership roles. They were the core of those groups.”
“I myself was an extremist,” he said, pointing to his former gang leadership. “I had a lot of mental health diagnoses that said I was incorrigible, I was anti-social … basically that I couldn’t change, and yet here I am.”
Rangel said there was one thing that he and the other former extremist leaders who work at Life After Hate share. “What we all have in common, for the most part, is that compassion and empathy are common themes in what helped turn us around,” he said. “What finally got through.”
That puts Rangel’s organization on the opposite side of activists and organizations that are using punitive tactics, such as online shaming and physical fights, against white nationalist groups.
He cited one of the organization’s co-founders, former skinhead Frankie Meeink, as an example. “No matter how many beer bottles flew past his head in these fights, he never walked away once re-thinking his life,” he explained. “The negative things that we think to do to challenge the other side only help us dig in. It’s only through kindness, it’s only through understanding, it’s only through compassion and peace that people were able to get past all of our armor. It was never aggression, it was never shaming."