Former American skinhead Christian Picciolini visited Slovakia from May 17 to 19 to speak about extremism and to share his personal story. He described how he joined a far-right group when he was only 14 years old, became the group’s leader at 16, and also led two white supremacist bands. He also explained how after he had his first son, he began to question the group’s ideology and why he was inflicting violence on people just because they were different from him. Finally after 8 years, he found the courage to leave the group, and eventually started an organization, Life After Hate, that helps others disengage from extremist groups.
While he was in Slovakia, Mr. Picciolini spoke to students, law enforcement, teachers, and NGO representatives about far-right extremism. On the second day, he traveled to Banska Bystrica, where he spoke at the Museum of the Slovak National Uprising to 140 students from regional high schools, who asked him how young people can become radicalized. In the evening, Mr. Picciolini participated with Slovak security expert Radovan Branik in a Face2Face discussion about far-right extremist groups in Slovakia and the U.S. Both agreed that extremist groups are changing their communication strategy and tactics, and they now deliberately avoid controversial, radical statements and actions in an effort to become more “mainstream,” and more acceptable to the broad public in order to recruit new members.
Picciolini suggested that families, teachers and civil society should aim to listen more to the concerns and needs of young people and to support them in finding constructive ways to build their own identifies, so they won’t fall victim to extremist groups as they search for a sense of belonging and identity. He also warned Slovaks that they should cautiously approach politicians and others who promise easy solutions, warning “Some politicians who say they’re trying to help you are lying. What they’re trying to do is destroy.”
You can also learn more about Mr. Picciolini on his website http://www.christianpicciolini.com.