I am writing this piece with great honor; I have been blessed with the opportunity to live free from my violent extremist shackles. As an abused homeless child I was prone to anger, violence and extremist thinking. The rigidity of my mind resulted in black and white thinking that pitted me in an ‘us vs. them’ war-like-mind that I expressed through kicks, punches, weapons and involvement with Canadian terrorists. I’d even recruited a white supremacist bomber in a northern British Columbia town, which is the last place you would ever suspect a white supremacist: but the internet made that possible. My entire life and identity was rooted within the white power movement. I believed that I was cultureless due to a ‘Zionist’ system that conspired to obliterate the white race.
After all of the abuse I had suffered as a child it was easy for me to buy into the narrative that Jews were the root of all evil. I bought into the coercive narrative that suggested that the only process to resolve this was a final solution through a Racial Holy War. I was not the victim of a particular person coercing me into indoctrination, nor into the white supremacist movement. The people I met in the movement were very ‘normal’ in many senses of the word. The white supremacist movement was not filled with monsters, it was made up of people who believed they understood the ‘truth’ and were adamant that we had found a path that would resolve all of the social sicknesses that plague our society, e.g. child molestation, government/police corruption and socio-economic issues. I became a willing soldier in a fight for morality and what I believed to be a righteous and necessary battle to create a secure ‘future for my children.’
I was blinded by my own anger and hatred, which then transcended the narrative of the Celtic Warrior, which offered me a meaning and purpose within my messed up life situation, and my reactive emotions and mind. I was perversely hell bent on becoming the change I wanted to see in the world; I wanted to see abuse ended at all costs, even if that meant murder or genocide. I believed the answer was contained within the elimination of the enemy I held accountable for my problems, my families’ problems, my communities’ problems and societies’ problems.
Photo by Peter Rudge, Duckrabbit.
Over the course of a decade within the white power movement, I was a violent offender who left people damaged for the rest of their lives. I had recruited many youth who went on to join gangs in federal prison, terrorist organizations and others who bought into my hateful narratives learned from many influential North Americans, e.g. Henry Ford, Benjamin Franklin, George Lincoln Rockwell, Ben Klassen, Wolfgang Droege and David Duke.
But I had luckily experienced a moment of clarity, then another and another. I was granted epiphanic moments. Gifts of clarity that I later learned were only made possible through the compassion and kindness from others that offered me a sense of belonging within humanity.
September 11, 2001, New York’s World Trade Center fell victim to a terrorist attack, and thousands of innocent people died. I was prepared for the Racial Holy War to erupt while I drove around with a huge cache of firearms. I knew that extremist Muslim Jihadists had the same enemy as the white supremacist movement. In fact, I used to obtain white supremacist literature from a Muslim extremist website. Two of the oldest websites online offer both white supremacist and Jihadist resources that identify a common Jewish ‘Zionist’ enemy. The hateful and abusive narratives of the Jihadist and white supremacist movement are built upon similar fundamentals, including black and white thinking, and us vs. them promotion of war. I had to decide in many moments whether or not I was going to become a lone murderous warrior that would be labeled psychotic, or if I was going to stay feeling stuck in this world. There did not seem to be any other option and at that time there were no other resources or anyone to talk to about my obsessive focus.
Photo by Daniel Gallant
I truly did not want to live as I was. I did not want to live in a world that was so abusive and hateful. I wanted to contribute to peace, but did not think that was possible. I became more like my own abusers as I bought into hateful extremist messages that promoted murder, terrorism and genocide. Finally, I could not take it any more. The pressure in my mind and body was unbearable and I could’ve sworn with all of the energy inside of my body was going to result in a physical implosion or spontaneous combustion. I felt and thought I could not continue living in the world, it was too awful a place. I faced three choices:
- die in a personal Racial Holy War
- commit suicide
- ask for help
I reached out and asked for help even though I didn’t believe there was help for me. Luckily someone was willing to help; in fact everywhere that I went, people did what they could to help and support me in spite of their fears. I talked in a way that scared everyone. I lived and acted in a way that was extremely violent, and people expressed honestly that they were scared of me but yet wanted to help me. I understood why they feared me, but I didn’t like it. It hurt me that the people who offered support to me were deathly afraid of what I would do, or at minimum what I was capable of doing. In spite of their fear, and my own, I asked for help and I received it.
Fortunately today, in 2014, there is an emerging network of people who offer help to those who face similar circumstances to those I once faced. People like myself know what it’s like to be isolated in a world that we wanted to kill, in order to do what we believed was ‘right.’ Now there is an entire network of us all around the world. We are now actually able to fulfill our old desire to change the world through a revolution. We are a social movement of people with experience and wisdom that we offer to others. We are actually stopping abuse and atrocity against humanity. We not only act different, but can teach others how their thinking has been corrupted. Through spending time with those shackled to extremist and terrorist narratives we are able to depressurize the immense stress that people like us feel. Violence, hatred and death do not need to be the outcomes in order to change the world. We understand that the grievances extremists and terrorists have are often logical and rational, but we have learned to unravel the corrupt and abusive obsession with hatred and violence.
For me the pathway out of violence took years of explosive trials and tribulations. Before change was possible I had to take the first step. I had to ask for help. After several months, I saw one particular counselor who helped me all he could. When he realized I needed services and skillsets from a professional trained with those who dealt with violent offenders, he referred me to a center 1000 kilometers away that often worked with violent men. But even that center did not have anyone who was able to effectively work with me. I was different, and counselors did not know how to handle my case. But not all hope was lost. I did meet a counselor who said:
“Daniel. There is no counselor, therapist, medication or self help program that is going to offer you what you need. You are intelligent, but you have very scary beliefs and views with a very real propensity for extremist violence. Since there are no programs to help you, I recommend that you seek an education in social work or women’s studies in order to challenge your belief structure. If I am wrong, your right-wing perspective will be solidified and then you can share that with the world, but if you are wrong and you find yourself learning a new way… you might just help others.”
When I returned home my twelve step sponsor said a similar thing:
“If you stick on this path you will save many people. You’ve got a strong energy that will change people’s lives.”
I wanted to believe these men and that life could get better. I had no idea of what would transpire over the following thirteen years of my life.
Today I was asked to write this article as a contribution for The FREE Initiative in partnership with openDemocracy, for the purpose of contributing to countering violent extremism in Europe. The roots of the specific organization I belonged to for years originated from the European racist skinhead movement, which stemmed from Nazi doctrine. Of course these are not the only roots of racist violence, nor are the belief structures of violent extremist racist skinheads an isolated phenomenon. In fact, in North America ‘normal’ people, primarily ‘white’ males, commit most hate crimes. Moreover, as issued in a report in recent years by Homeland Security, the greatest domestic terrorist threat in the USA is the extreme far right wing. In addition, we see that both the USA and Canada alike share a very real and scary relationship between, what we now refer to as, the far right-wing and government policies. Canada, specifically, still harbors true Apartheid policy; namely the Indian Act.
It has been through my education that I have been granted the opportunity to be an educator about the realities of the extreme far right in Canada, and abroad. I teach children and others how structural and systemic racism is carried out in contemporary Canadian society and how we can stop this mess we are in together. In Canada, it is very ‘normal’ to be racist. We, as a democratic nation, still accept and rationalize race as a deterministic aspect of our legislation that especially affects immigrants and indigenous peoples.
Photo by Duckrabbit.
Violent extremist ideologies are complex. People are not radicalized overnight. Thus, helping people disengage and or de-radicalize does and will take time, but if we do not take this time, more people are going to die; that is an absolute truth. It will take the dedication of those with knowledge and experience to build a sustainable network and process to help others exit extremist and terrorist networks.
For those who do not believe this is possible, I plead you to meet some of us. We have moved on to a life beyond hate and violence and have become researchers, scholars, counselors, educators and professionals. We can help others do the same, but we need the help and support of society, government and law enforcement. We need humanity to come together and help us help one another.
Violent extremism and terrorism is a very real threat. We know there is no single type of person that falls into extremism and terrorism. To move in a solution-focused direction, former extremists and survivors of extremist violence have been brought together with professionals, experts, researchers and scholars to build a sustainable long lasting network of people who have found effective ways to combat terrorism and extremism in our communities. Now that we have established a strong working relationship and community with government, law enforcement, security agencies, think tanks, policy makers, corporations and practitioners, we need support and resources to effectively implement these emerging therapeutic processes of change.
It can seem daunting, and sometimes even impossible, but professionals, scholars and practitioners such as myself have already proven change is possible. We can assist and support others to transition and move individuals from extreme violence towards creative and innovative humanistic processes of healing, formulated from a common thread that exists within all of us: dialogue.
We all share a need for meaningful purpose, and that need can overcome even the most atrocious forms of genocide humanity has ever seen. We need to start by being there for those who reach out for help, in order to decrease extreme violence and increase public safety, through forms of responsible compassion.
If you would like more information about this work, please contact: www.againstviolentextremism.org