Former skinhead to share story at Whitefish event

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A former white supremacist who left the movement he helped build will be in Whitefish on Monday, April 24, to share his story and offer ways to counter the movement he once was part of promoting.

Christian Picciolini will speak at 7 p.m. at the O’Shaughnessy Center, 1 Central Ave. The Montana Human Rights Network is sponsoring the presentation.

Montana was in the national media spotlight recently because of Richard Spencer, who lives part-time in Whitefish and heads the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think-tank and publishing firm. He was noticed on a national level when he shouted “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory” during an alt-right conference after Donald Trump was elected president.

Recently, The Daily Stormer neo-Nazi website encouraged an online troll storm against local Jewish residents and businesses in Whitefish to defend Spencer’s mother, Sherry Spencer, whom the website operator perceived had been wronged by members of the Flathead Jewish community.

“Montana has long been a target of the white supremacist and violent anti-government ‘Patriot’ movements,” Montana Human Rights Network Executive Director Rachel Carroll Rivas said in a press release. “Similarly, Montana made national headlines in 2016 as the state exported a number of extremist activists central to the standoff at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada and at the occupation of the Malheur Refuge in Oregon.

Rivas also pointed to the Montana-based Oath Keepers group, which she called “extremist” and whose “predecessors in the movement included the Militia of Montana and Freeman.”

After Picciolini left the movement he helped build, he began the dramatic shift to work to disengage youth from white-supremacist groups and violent extremism. He is an author and Emmy Award-winning director and producer. In 2010 he co-founded Life After Hate, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping communities implement long-term solutions that counter racism and violent extremism.

His memoir, “Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead,” details his involvement in the early American white power skinhead movement in the 1980s and ’90s.

Last year Life After Hate launched ExitUSA, which the Human Rights Network called North America’s only program run by former extremists that is focused on helping people disengage from white-supremacist ideologies. Picciolini won an Emmy Award for producing ExitUSA’s anti-hate public service announcement, “There is life after hate.”

More information can be found at www.mhrn.org or www.facebook.com/MTHumanRights

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