The founders of Life After Hate have braved threats from former “associates,” those associates being members of racist organizations. LAH's founders have turned their lives around and are helping others make their own escapes from hate groups.
…Angela King, a swastika-tattooed, active member of a gang of Aryan supremacists, took part in the armed robbery of a store owned by Jews and was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to six years in prison where she was “adopted” by a group of Jamaican women. “When I was treated with kindness and compassion,” she says, “it was like being disarmed. I wasn’t prepared for that.”
…Anthony McAleer was a member of Aryan Nations, recruited prospective members, and managed a racist rock band. He owned numerous rapid-fire rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition, ready for what he said would be an inevitable race war. McAleer became a parent and then a single parent. Loving his children transformed his way of thinking about the world and about himself. “I felt safe to open my heart and learn to love again,” he says. “I learned that to hold the ideology of separation or racism, you have to have a closed heart.”
…Frankie Meeink was a skinhead leader, neo-Nazi recruiter, and member of a gang that regularly assaulted people. He ran his own cable-access TV show, “The Reich.” Arrested and convicted of kidnapping and assault, he spent several years in prison. Meeink formed relationships in prison that up to that time had been unthinkable; he was befriended by men of color.
…Christian Picciolini joined the white supremacist movement when he was 14; he became the leader of the first U.S. neo-Nazi skinhead group. When Picciolini became a father he said that challenged his “notions of identity, community, and purpose.” He left the neo-Nazi group he’d been leading.
…Sammy Rangel joined several gangs and was arrested and sent to prison for stealing a car. He came out of prison radicalized by racists he met there, and soon was back inside after an armed robbery conviction. This time, he took part in an in-prison drug rehabilitation program in which he had to talk about his life, a life that included being sexually abused by his mother and uncle when he was three and trying to hang himself when he was eight. He moved from self-pity and rage to remorse, when a fellow inmate challenged him on his own failure to find a lost daughter.
The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that the number of hate groups in the United States has doubled in the last decade; about 80 percent of these groups are white supremacists. These groups are known to pursue and harass anyone who leaves and opposes them, following a change of heart.
Nevertheless, King, McAleer, Meeink, Picciolini and Rangel got together on a blog and then created a literary magazine to tell their stories. Picciolini says, “We quickly started to realize that people from all around the country and all around the world had similar stories they wanted to share.”
That got them thinking about a huge further step, and in 2011 they formed Life After Hate
, Inc., a nonprofit organization to “inspire, educate, guide, and counsel” radicalized individuals. As they've moved into helping people escape the hate groups, the number of requests they're geting has increased from several a week to several a day.
“Everybody at Life After Hate is a former extremist,” says Picciolini. "... we understand what it takes to get out of these groups."
The founding five travel around the country, they refer individuals for therapy and job training, they set up dialogs between former racists and members of groups who have been victimized by racists, they even provide—when possible—tattoo removal.
The Obama administration awarded Life After Hate a grant for operating costs. The Trump administration stopped the grant last year. The founders are determined to keep this crucial work going.