The weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, was marred with hatred and violence after scores of white supremacists descended upon the city to protest the removal of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s statue. The protest turned deadly after a white nationalist, identified as 20-year-old James A. Fields Jr., allegedly rammed his car into a group of anti-racism activists, killing a 32-year paralegal named Heather Heyer. Two police officers also lost their lives during the demonstration.
The tragic incident took place mere two months after President Donald Trump, who reluctantly condemned the hate march in Charlottesville after pressure from both sides of the aisle, eliminated the funding for a group combating white nationalism and extremism in the United States.
The Obama administration allocated $400,000 for Life After Hate, a nonprofit run by reformed members of white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations with an aim to counter hatred, but the Trump administration halted its funding earlier this year in June.
The White House went forward with its decision despite the fact that the organization reported a 20-fold increase in calls for help from those reporting signs of radicalization in themselves or others, according to the Think Progress.
“It sends a message that white extremism does not exist, or is not a priority in our country, when in fact it is a statistically larger and more present terror threat than any by foreign or other domestic actors,” Christian Picciolini, founder of the group Life After Hate and a reformed neo-Nazi, said at the time. “We have hundreds of thousands of homegrown sovereign citizens and militia members with ties to white nationalism training in paramilitary camps across the U.S. and standing armed in front of mosques to intimidate marginalized Americans.”
The former government’s Violent Extremism (CVE) program granted $10 million to 31 organizations, of which Life After Hate was the only anti-white supremacy group. Now, there are only 26 organizations on the list based on their partnership with the law enforcement agencies.
The recent neo-Nazi demonstrations in Virginia, where scores of white nationalists took to the streets proudly chanting slogan of racism and hatred, have reiterated the need for such groups in America.
“I believe that the world has now seen what we have been sweeping under the rug for many, many years — thinking we were in a post-racial society. ... I think that this catalyst shows the world 1. That it's a problem, a real problem that exists in our country; 2: that white extremism should be classified as terrorism, and now that we attached the terrorism word to it, it will get more resources. It will be at the top of people's minds,” he recently told NPR, speaking about the Charlottesville rally. “What people need to understand is that since Sept. 11, more Americans have been killed on U.S. soil by white supremacists than by any other foreign or domestic group combined by a factor of two.”
Picciolini became the leader of a group called the Chicago Area Skinheads when he was 16 years old and relinquished his ties to the white nationalist movement in 1996 when he was 22. After co-founding Life After Hate, he also wrote a book titled “Romantic Violence: Memoirs Of An American Skinhead.”
“As former extremists from the far right, what changed us is when we received compassion from the people we least deserved it from,” Picciolini told HuffPost earlier this year. “Often times they’ve never met a black person or had a meaningful conversation with a Muslim or Jewish person. I get them into a situation where they can sit and talk, and realize there are more things in common than differences.”
Thumbnail/Banner: Reuters, Justin Ide