On a profound and timely episode of After Hours AM/The Criminal Code — True Crime Wednesdays 9-11pE with hosts Joel Sturgis, Eric Olsen, and secret weapon, forensic psychologist Dr. Clarissa Cole — we speak with multi-talented peace activist, author, and reformed white supremacist Christian Picciolini. We speak with Christian at 10pE; at 9pE Clarissa leads us through the latest, strangest True Crime headlines.

Dr Clarissa Cole tells us in a new article on her Criminal Code site that, “There was a time in America when hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan operated with impunity. They marched through streets and towns, threatening any person of color, even going so far as burning crosses and lynching. And, if you watch media portrayals or read your average high school textbook, you might be convinced that equality has been achieved – that this regrettable chapter in American history is over.

“But you’d be wrong. In 2017 alone there were a shocking number of racially motivated hate crimes, up to, and including, murder….

“Clearly, America isn’t as integrated and healed from the past as textbooks would have us believe. White supremacist ideology is alive and well in the United States today. It is essentially dominated by the core belief that whites will be doomed to extinction due to an influx of non-whites who are ‘controlled and manipulated by the Jews.’ Their goal is to take action, and this rallying cry is typified in slogans such as The Fourteen Words: ‘We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.’”

Christian Picciolini

No one knows this better than Christian Picciolini, an Emmy Award-winning director and producer, published author, TEDx speaker, global peace advocate, and reformed extremist. Picciolini was radicalized at the age of fourteen and went on to become the leader in the notorious Hammerskin Nation, one of the most violent hate groups in the world. After leaving the white power movement at twenty-two, Picciolini began the painstaking process of rebuilding his life. His work and life purpose bear witness to a deep-seated desire to atone for his grisly past, and an urgency to transform the hurts and wounds he inflicted into vehicles for profound healing.

Christian earned a degree with honors in international relations and international business from DePaul University, began his own global media and counter-extremism consulting firm, and was appointed a member of both the Chicago Grammy Rock Music Committee and the Chicago International Movies and Music Festival.

In 2009, he co-founded Life After Hate, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping communities and organizations implement long-term solutions that counter racism and violent extremism. In 2010 and 2011, he was nominated for three regional Emmy Awards for his role as executive producer of JBTV, one of America’s longest-running, nationally-broadcast music television programs. In 2016, he won an Emmy Award for his role in directing and producing an anti-hate advertising campaign called “There is life after hate,” aimed at helping youth disengage from white-supremacist groups.

His involvement in, and eventual exit from, the early American white-supremacist skinhead movement is chronicled in Christian’s memoir WHITE AMERICAN YOUTH: My Descent into America’s Most Violent Hate Movement—and How I Got Out (Hachette Books, 2018). The book is used in courses at Yale University, Texas Woman’s University, Northern Illinois University, and the New York Institute of Technology, among others.

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White American Youth: My Descent into America’s Most Violent Hate Movement–and How I Got Out

As he stumbled through high school, struggling to find a community among other fans of punk rock music, Christian Picciolini was recruited by a now notorious white power skinhead leader and encouraged to fight with the movement to “protect the white race from extinction.” Soon, he had become an expert in racist philosophies, a terror who roamed the neighborhood, quick to throw fists. When his mentor was arrested and sentenced to eleven years in prison, sixteen-year-old Picciolini took over the man’s role as the leader of the infamous neo-Nazi skinhead group Hammerskin Nation.

Seduced by the power he accrued through intimidation, and swept up in the rhetoric he had adopted, Picciolini worked to grow an army of extremists. He used music as a recruitment tool, launching his own propaganda band that performed at white power rallies around the world. But slowly, as he started a family of his own and a job that for the first time brought him face to face with people from all walks of life, he began to recognize the cracks in his hateful ideology. Then a shocking loss at the hands of racial violence changed his life forever, and Picciolini realized the full extent of the harm he’d caused.

Raw, inspiring, and heartbreakingly candid, White American Youth–winner of the 2017 Raven Award–tells the fascinating story of how so many young people lose themselves in a culture of hatred and violence and how the criminal networks they forge terrorize and divide our nation.

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