Jesse Morton used to produce literature designed to lure youths into terrorism.
But since his release from prison, he’s turned his persuasive skills against extremist groups.
His latest project is an experimental work of counter-propaganda that takes direct aim at the far right.
A magazine titled “Ctrl+Alt+Del-Hate,” it uses the first-person testimonies of reformed extremists to coax foot soldiers out of radical violence.
On Monday, it will be strategically posted onto far-right internet and social media platforms in the hope of challenging extremist narratives and offering a way out.
“It will be a conversation starter,” said Morton, a convicted former Al Qaeda supporter who teamed up with a Canadian ex-hate group leader on the project.
The magazine is part of a growing effort by reformed extremists who are working together to undermine the violent movements they once belonged to.
While governments continue to struggle with extremist violence, former far-right and Islamist extremists who have seen the error of their ways are increasingly coming forward to play a more prominent role.
“It’s great to see people are emerging and talking about this stuff rather than trying to deal with it alone and in silence,” said Tony McAleer, who was once part of the group White Aryan Resistance.
The release last month of McAleer’s book, The Cure for Hate, is part of an ongoing campaign by Canadian and U.S. former extremists who are atoning for the damage they did and working to undo it.
In addition to McAleer, there is Elizabeth Moore, once a member of the white nationalist Heritage Front, and now a public speaker and member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network’s advisory board.
And Brad Galloway, the former Canadian leader of the violent far-right Volksfront, now studies extremist groups and works with the Organization for the Prevention of Violence.
“Their value is actually incalculable,” according to Canadian Anti-Hate Network chair Bernie Farber, who said McAleer, Moore and Galloway had proven “very successful” in the fight against extremism.
Those who were once part of violent extremist groups will sometimes change their names or move, hoping for a fresh start.
But others are making amends.
“First of all, it’s healing to do that,” said McAleer, who works with Life After Hate, a U.S.-based group founded by former extremists that helps guide recruits out of the far right.
Not only does it help communities who have been targeted by hate, it’s also good for those coming out of extremism. “The more of this work I do, the better life becomes,” he said.
The value of “formers” stems partly from their ability to speak credibly about the reality of extremism. They are also living proof that it’s possible to get out and move on.
“It can show people the way,” Moore said.
Ctrl+Alt+Del-Hate features the accounts of Galloway and Morton as well as those of Frank Meeink, whose story was told in the film American History X, and former American neo-Nazi leader Jeff Schoep, among others.
“A white supremacist killed my father,” reads one headline. The final page offers an exit for extremist group members: a helpline for “individuals and families transitioning from hate.”
The magazine is an attempt to repurpose the techniques that former extremists once used to attract recruits, Galloway wrote in his testimony.
“We’re reverse-engineering the extremist method we ‘formers’ had mastered before.”
He called it a “counter-narrative tool” that targets extremists in key positions by attacking their core beliefs inside the echo chambers of online platforms.
This is the second magazine Morton has produced. In June, he released “Ahul Taqwa,” which resembled ISIS literature in appearance but was an assault on the terror group’s ideals.
For Morton, who believes that right-wing and Islamist extremism feed off each other, Ctrl+Alt+Del-Hate was a logical next foray into weakening the mindset fueling terrorism.
“The alt- and far-right have borrowed heavily from the jihadists they seek to annihilate,” he wrote in the magazine. “Perhaps the saddest reality of all is that at the end of the day jihadists and the far-right have nearly identical ideologies.”
Among those Morton is currently trying to help is a Canadian who goes by Abu Huzaifa and claims he executed prisoners while serving as a member of the ISIS religious police in Syria.
Since returning to the Toronto area, the Pakistani-Canadian extremist has not faced any terrorism charges, prompting outrage in the House of Commons.
“He reached out. He threatened to behead me on Twitter,” Morton said in an interview.
But they then moved their conversation to direct messages, and Morton said he is working on him, providing what he called “empathetic support.”
Morton hopes more come forward after seeing the magazine.
“We hope that it can be sort of a moderating voice, a reasoned voice at the level of prevention,” Morton said. “It’s really a tool to expand what we’re doing.”