Charlottesville: Former white supremacists not surprised by deadly violence
Former white supremacists say the violence that broke out in Charlottesville, Va., may be shocking but it’s not surprising given the rise of far-right white nationalist groups across North America.
“To be honest I was not surprised given the clashes that have gone on with the alt-right that someone died, that someone was murdered,” said Tony McAleer, a former neo-Nazi who grew up in British Columbia.
McAleer was involved with white supremacy groups including the Aryan Nations and White Aryan Resistance during the 80s and 90s. He also worked as a skinhead recruiter, running a white supremacist phone line, and was involved in anti-immigrant activism and street violence.
He says there has been a steady escalation of violence that began with protests at UC Berkeley in California and later showed up in Portland with more extreme alt-right groups before the violent clashes in Virginia that involved the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with Charlottesville or that statue other than it was chosen as a battle line by people outside of Virginia who descended there to make their point,” McAleer said. “What they are trying to do is get to a place where they can have mass public rallies of a size where they won’t get pushed around and try to build a coalition.”
“I think Charlottesville takes things to a whole other level.”
McAleer is now the board chair of Life After Hate, a Chicago-based organization working to help reform white separatists that has helped hundreds of people.
“Since about a year ago, we’ve experienced about a 10 fold increase in people reaching out,” he said. “As people become aware of who we are and what do we have people asking ‘my uncle, my son, my brother my friend, my coworker’ how do I help them?”
On Aug. 12, a rally of white nationalists protesting the removal of a confederate statue quickly spun into fierce melees in the streets of Charlottesville and 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed after a car rammed a group of anti-racism protesters. A 20-year-old Ohio man described as a Nazi sympathizer was arrested by police and charged with murder.
Two days after the violence, U.S. President Donald Trump eventually gave into public pressure and directly condemned the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists, and other extremist groups after he was sharply criticized for his initial response to the deadly attack.
Some white nationalists and supremacy groups who have said they felt inspired and emboldened by Trump’s presidential campaign were angered by the president’s response Monday.
Daniel Gallant became involved with skinhead groups and neo-Nazis while living on the streets in B.C. after running away from home where he was sexually and physically abused. He was associated with white supremacist organizations like the Heritage Front, and World Church of the Creator.
Gallant said at the age of 18 he was living on the streets of east Vancouver, and was severely addicted to drugs and alcohol when he met guys involved with neo-Nazism.
He says he was immediately drawn to the violence, adding that he regularly assaulted people in the name of white supremacy using his fists, beer bottles, a steel pipe or whatever he could get his hands on.
“When I met them, I was already violent,” Gallant said. “We just started getting along and I got fed some information and [indoctrinated].”
Gallant, now a 41-year social worker, said he wasn’t surprised by the violence in the U.S and said there has also been a growth in far right groups in Canada.
“We have an increasing amount of radicalization [on the far-right], if you will, happening in the States and Canada at this point and for the last few years,” Gallant told Global News. “For years the right-wing [extremism] has been getting more and more of a foothold in Canada, and especially western Canada.”
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Barbara Perry, a University of Ontario Institute of Technology professor who studies hate crimes, told Global News there are now more than 100 white nationalists groups in Canada and that number is increasing.
Gallant says police and security officials in Canada and the U.S. aren’t doing enough to counter the spread of right-wing extremism.
“We’re not taking things seriously until it meets the political will or until tragedy happens,” he said. “My own criminal past is testament to that. And we don’t take it seriously.”
Gallant now works to keep others from falling down a path of far-right extremism.
“I’ve worked with guys to help them reconcile with themselves about what’s happened and who they are and where they want to go, which is very similar to my own experience,” he said.
McAleer says what attracts people – mostly young, white males – to these alt-right groups is a sense of belonging and meaning. But some are also there just “for the excitement of the brawl.”
“The person always feeling like they are on the outside of things, looking for a sense of identity and a sense of purpose and all of a sudden they get embraced by a whole community,” he said.
In June, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced it was stopping a $400,000 grant that the former Obama administration had allocated to Life after Hate and other groups in January.
McAleer says one of the main factors for people who join a violent extremist group of any kind is childhood trauma, like physical and sexual abuse or emotional abuse.
“What those do to a young person is give them a very unhealthy sense of identity that they are not good enough, they are not loveable, they are significant, they are weak, powerless,” he said. “If we feel less than at a core subconscious level and we feel weak and we feel powerless these groups can become very attractive.”
“What we do is help people reconnect to their humanity and it becomes an issue of healing,” he said. “The number one weapon we use in this regard is compassion. Compassion and empathy are the antidote to shame.”
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