The Current

'This ideology on violent far right is just as toxic as ISIS,' says former white supremacist

A look into the white supremacist mindset from someone who was once himself a true believer — but now urges others to give up on hate.
White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the 'alt-right' at the 'Unite the Right' rally, Aug. 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, Va. Former white supremacist Tony McAleer says this violent protest should be a wake up call to the U.S. and Canada. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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So-called white supremacists have been increasingly in the news in recent months, even before the physical violence broke out in the white nationalist rally that took place in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12.

But their abhorrent and confounding ideologies have not come out of nowhere.

"This isn't about Charlottesville, and it's about something much larger than that statue. This is something that has been brewing for quite some time," says former white supremacist Tony McAleer, referring to a statue memorializing Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Protestors in Charlottesville said they were rallying against the city's plans to remove the statue. 

"The battles between the violent far-right white nationalists and the violent elements of the protesters have been going on since UC Berkeley in California earlier this year. They showed up again in Portland, and you see a lot of the same characters there to do battle with each other."

As much as people may want to punch a Nazi in the face, violence is not the answer.-  Former white supremacist Tony McAleer
In the 80s and 90s, McAleer was involved in some of the most radical far-right groups in the U.S. and Canada — where he grew up — including the Aryan Nations and White Aryan Resistance. 
'Deep down inside these are fearful people,' says former white supremacist Tony McAleer on 'alt-right' group. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

He tells The Current's host Megan Williams that what feeds white supremacy is irrational fear "based on the narrative where they believe that white genocide is impending, and their ability to control their own destiny is disappearing." 

"I know from having dissected my own personal history, deep down inside these are fearful people."

McAleer explains that what attracts people to these alt-right groups is a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose and meaning, and are "coming from a place where they don't have that within themselves."

Make no mistake, this ideology on the violent far right is just as toxic as ISIS.- Tony McAleer

"The fuel driving it all is toxic shame, and it's really less about the ideology of why people join these groups," he explains, but adds, "the ideology gives them a framework with which they can try and make sense of it and blame others."

To understand the meaning behind toxic shame, McAleer points to a University of Maryland study that found the number one correlated factor for people joining a violent extremist group is childhood trauma. He suggests that this should go beyond physical and sexual abuse and include emotional abuse, such as abandonment and neglect, which creates "a very unhealthy sense of self."

A man makes a slashing motion across his throat toward counter-protesters during the 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

"If you look at the histories of the young men in Brussels, in Paris, who were arrested for the ISIS attacks — and make no mistake, this ideology on the violent far right is just as toxic as ISIS — you found they were not scholars of the Koran or Islam, they were troubled youth. They were street kids. They were juvenile delinquents. And that I think is the driver searching for that sense of meaning, belonging and purpose in their life."

'Violence is not the answer'

McAleer warns not to be complacent in the face of Charlottesville emphasizing this kind of violence can happen anywhere … even in Canada. 

But he suggests not to counter hate with violent confrontation because he says these groups thrive on it.

"As much as people may want to punch a Nazi in the face, violence is not the answer."

White nationalist Richard Spencer (C) and his supporters clash with Virginia State Police after the 'Unite the Right' rally was declared an unlawful gathering, Aug. 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Va. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Today, McAleer is the board chair of Life After Hate, an organization working to turn white separatists around "to help transition back to their humanity."

"What I believe is that the level to which we are willing to dehumanize another human being for any reason is a reflection of how disconnected from our own humanity that we are," he tells Williams.

"When they can connect to their own humanity, they can start to recognize it in others, and that's when the ideology starts to shift — so we look at it really as healing the person."

Listen to the full segment near the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson, Rachel Matlow and Ramraajh Sharvendiran.