Christian Picciolini (@cpicciolini) is an Emmy Award-winning television producer, reformed extremist, founder of the Free Radicals Project, and author of Breaking Hate: Confronting the New Culture of Extremism and White American Youth: My Descent into America’s Most Violent Hate Movement — and How I Got Out. This is part two of a two-part episode. Make sure to catch part one here!

What We Discuss with Christian Picciolini:

  • Why extremist ideology is on the rise all over the world — and what we can do to stem its spread.
  • What to do when we see other people in our sphere potentially falling victim to extremist recruiting tactics.
  • How personal journeys of identity, community, and purpose are hijacked by extremist recruiters to fill their ranks.
  • How the Internet has made it easier than ever for recruiters to draw young people away from families and communities that have zero ties to extremism.
  • What extremist groups are doing to rebrand and sanitize their image in ways that appeal to the vulnerable among the mainstream.
  • And much more…

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Breaking Hate: Confronting the New Culture of Extremism by Christian PiccioliniAt a time when our States seem so thinly United, extremist groups seeking to divide us even further are enjoying a modern heyday of recruitment, media attention, and political encouragement. But why are such groups havens for the disenfranchised, and is there ever a way out for someone seduced by their poisonous ideologies?

Joining us in this episode is Christian Picciolini, a reformed white supremacist who can answer all of these questions. Christian is the founder of the Free Radicals Project, a global disengagement platform helping people exit from hate and violent extremism, and the author of Breaking Hate: Confronting the New Culture of Extremism and White American Youth: My Descent into America’s Most Violent Hate Movement — and How I Got Out. This is part two of a two-part episode. Make sure to catch part one here! Listen, learn, and enjoy!

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THANKS, CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI!

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Transcript for Christian Picciolini | Breaking Hate Part Two (Episode 318)

Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:03] Welcome to the show. I’m Jordan Harbinger. As always, I’m here with producer Jason DeFillippo. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world’s most brilliant and interesting people, and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. We want to help you see the Matrix when it comes to how these amazing people think and behave. I want you to become a better thinker. If you’re new to the show, we’ve got episodes with spies and CEOs, athletes and authors, thinkers and performers, as well as toolboxes for skills like negotiation, public speaking, body language, persuasion, and more. So if you’re smart and you’d like to learn and improve, then you’ll be right at home here with us. 

[00:00:40] In today’s conversation, Part Two with Christian Picciolini. This guy’s amazing. He’s an Emmy award-winning producer, a prolific public speaker, and a reformed white nationalist skinhead gang leader. If you need to jog your memory here, if you haven’t listened to Part One yet, go back and check out the previous episode where we deep dive into Christian’s background as a skinhead, his motivations and mindset during his time in the gang, what finally prompted him to leave the life, and take on new purpose as someone who actively rescues others from falling victim to this same hate ideology and recruitment tactics. In today’s episode, we take the story a few steps further and explain why extremist ideology is actually on the rise all over the world, not just in the United States and what we can do to help stem the tide as well as what to do when we see other people in our sphere potentially falling victim to extremist recruiting tactics or other undue influence.

[00:01:31] If you want to know how I managed to book all these amazing guests, it’s all about relationships. It’s about the network. Check out our course Six-Minute Networking. It’s 100 percent free. It’s over at jordanharbinger.com/course and most of the guests on the show, they subscribe to the course and the newsletter. So come join us, you’ll be in some smart company. All right. Here’s Part Two with Christian Picciolini.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:01:54] Thanks for coming back, man. It’s been two, three years, three or four years actually.

Christian Picciolini: [00:01:58] Yeah, it’s a pleasure, man. And I’m sorry we, we’ve had the play kind of tag to make it work, but I’m glad to be back. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:03] Yeah, we have had to — actually I was — I can’t remember if I had lost your phone number or something like that, but I was looking, “Oh, maybe he answers his Twitter,” and your Twitter right now — or at least at that time was — you’re under fire from some folks, and I don’t really understand what’s controversial about somebody trying to get people away from extremist ideology. You think that would be something that pretty much everybody accepted. 

Christian Picciolini: [00:02:26] You know, I think there are people in a couple of camps — just to be clear — overwhelmingly people are very, very supportive of the work that I do, but you know, there are some people who will claim once a Nazi, always a Nazi. People can’t change even though it’s been 24 years since I’ve left and have been pulling people out. And then there are some people who are trolls who just don’t really believe that anybody’s entitled to live any sort of a successful life or to have any sort of redemption at all. So, you know, it’s tough sometimes, but overwhelmingly, Jordan, I think the support is great. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:56] Yeah, I noticed that, and I think Twitter’s probably not a good sample for anybody looking for who supports and who doesn’t support. The voices on Twitter tend to be overwhelmingly — at least when it comes to controversial subjects — overwhelmingly kind of anonymous folks, and we’ll talk about this later in the show, but there seems to be something even more nefarious going on with Russian intelligence and other sorts of more organized efforts to undermine what you’re doing.

[00:03:19] But looking at Part One of the show. You had mentioned that you viewed white supremacist groups as domestic terrorism, and I think that was for some reason back when we did our first show, almost a controversial claim. It was kind of like, “Oh, that’s, you’re being a hype man now.” I think, maybe everyone’s kind of coming around to realize you are onto something.

Christian Picciolini: [00:03:40] Yeah, you know, I think people, anytime you want to do something like that or say something, people will say you’re an alarmist. But I think the last several years have shown us that these people are dangerous. That there are organized groups, and that even beyond that, that there are individuals who subscribe to these ideologies who are willing to go out and hurt people. We’ve seen attacks in Pittsburgh, we’ve seen Poway, El Paso. You name it, and then around this Richmond gun rally, we’ve seen several very significant arrests of people who were going to this gun rally intent on causing violence and law enforcement was able to reel them in before that. And as far as domestic terrorism goes, it’s just terrorism. They just happen to live here. These groups are all connected internationally and transnationally, so this is really just a terrorist movement versus something that is very much American. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:28] Last time we spoke, you said you’d got emails all the time from relatives that fear their relatives, their son, daughter, cousin, nephew could be the next shooter or homegrown white supremacist killer. And I was going to originally ask if this is still happening, but as evidenced by your new book, this is not only still happening but basically, it’s almost like your full-time job now to sort of help people with this.

Christian Picciolini: [00:04:50] Yeah. It’s really become more than a full-time job, and I’ve gotten emails and phone calls and text messages from over a thousand people just in the last several years — you know, concerned about somebody that they love who might be going down a very dark path. And certainly, not everybody is a potential shooter or has the potential for violence, but still, people are concerned that they’re into conspiracy theories. They’re starting to deny the Holocaust. They’re having these very anti-Semitic or anti-Islam ideas that are being shaped by propaganda and conspiracy theories mostly online. So much of this is being spread online, and I have to say, Jordan, I’ve never, and I don’t think this was the case last time we spoke, but there are kids as young as nine, 10 years old now who I’m helping their parents and things like that.

[00:05:39] So it is spreading. You know, the tactics are different. They’re not just posting things online. They’re going to video games and using the multiplayer options to talk to people, to recruit people. They’re going to depression forums online. So they really are looking for our most vulnerable people right now.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:55] Yeah, I thought about that. I recently started blowing off a little steam with my producer, and occasionally we’ll play Xbox or something and you have this little talk feature. I don’t know if most adults know about this, but you can buy a headset so that you don’t wake up your family blowing up Nazi — well, maybe they’re not blown up Nazis and playing Wolfenstein, maybe they’re playing different games if they were extremists, but we’re blown up Nazis in Wolfenstein and you can talk. And if you join a public game, which I only did once by accident, it’s just a cesspool of young kids but it’s a perfect place for somebody who wants to poison the minds of a bunch of nine to 15-year-olds who are home alone with no parental supervision. They’re basically babysitting themselves, or their parents are in the same room and they can’t hear what’s going on because they’re reading or watching TV while the kid plays. You can really get in someone’s ear directly.

[00:06:46] As a parent of a young baby, I know now, I would never bother listening to what somebody was playing on Xbox. Like if I were a parent, I would just sit there. I would never think like, “Hey, what’s going on in your chats? I would think you’re talking about the game you’re playing or some other name BS. I would never think that you’re in there trying to convince my kid to join a gang or whatever.”

Christian Picciolini: [00:07:05] Yeah. And they’re using games that, you know, young kids are playing things like Roblox and Minecraft and all of these other games. They’re also doing it in Call of Duty. And the way it works typically is if you’re playing with 10 or 15 or 20 people at one time. The recruiter’s job is to say certain things to kind of parse out who might be willing to learn more. So they’ll say something like the N-word in a group of 15 or 20 people and they’ll gauge how people respond. If somebody pushes back or doesn’t say anything, they kind of leave those people alone. And then, the ones who maybe respond in a positive way to what they’re saying or laugh, and it could be a nervous giggle from a 10-year-old who doesn’t know what else to do, those are the people they key in on and invite them to separate rooms and kind of go through that process over and over until they whittle it down to a room that’s full of people who are very intent in absorbing this ideology. And they’ll throw a propaganda, they’ll throw out memes though, say certain words, to gauge how people are receptive to it. And what it comes down to is they are essentially looking for these millions of young people who spend their lives online who don’t have those connections in real life, who maybe don’t have friendships, don’t have intimate relationships, who are drawn to a sense of identity, community, and purpose, but maybe only can find it in a virtual space.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:22] There was somebody on Reddit recently — which I am horribly addicted to before I go to bed. I’ll read Reddit because it’s amazing, but in many ways, it’s a little terrifying. There was somebody on there that said, “Hey, I need help. I own a discord server,” which I guess is like an offshoot of a game chat type situation but is now what sort of an encrypted way for people to talk about any topic sort of replaces Internet relay chat and a lot of ways, right?

Christian Picciolini: [00:08:45] Yeah. They’re using these encrypted gaming platform chats to talk about things without prying eyes. So things like discord, even other encrypted chat and communication apps like telegram or steam or any of these places where non-traditional conversations will happen, but because they’re encrypted, they’re able to have them there.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:04] This guy really opened up a window into what you were talking about, which was he said, “I’m horribly depressed. I’ve been down for a long time. I have some health issues, I have these other things. I started this discord server. It’s made me a lot worse,” and people were asking questions like, “Well, what’s going on?” And he said, “Well, it’s mostly racist ideology, anti-Islam. There’s a lot of neo-Nazi sympathizers in there.” It’s exactly what you were talking about in your original book and all of your work and in the new book especially, and that’s really scary because this is the person who started the server, right? He started it as a place to chat about, I don’t know, video games, and it devolved into that. In some way that he thought was unintentional, but now as a result of reading and looking at your work in this conversation, maybe somebody actually did that deliberately. Like, is this a deliberate process by these people too, take over these chats, or is this something that quote-unquote just happens when people are feeling down and out?

Christian Picciolini: [00:09:56] You know, I think it’s both. I think that there is a very strategic effort to kind of infiltrate these groups where they know vulnerable people are. And I think it also happens by accident. For that person, if he put out that he was depressed, if you are struggling and all those things, that is fodder for a recruiter to come in and promise paradise, to empower that person a little bit so that they can get a taste of the drug, so to speak, and then they go deeper.

[00:10:20] So they look for vulnerable people, people who are struggling, people who might have depression. I’ve seen him focus on autism communities and depression communities because they know that there are people in those communities that are struggling in real life to have those relationships and they promise them inclusion and acceptance. And they do deliver at least for a little while because people do feel empowered until they recognize how toxic it is. But they’re going to the Internet specifically into places where they know that there’s low hanging fruit — people that they can more easily convince to come along with a very illogical ideology. Because if you’re thinking straight if you’re logical, and if you’re rational, you’re not going to fall for it. But if there’s something missing in your life, if there are voids, even bullying, if there are all these things that maybe you’ve struggled with your whole life and suddenly somebody wants to empower you, it’s pretty attractive and seductive for a young person. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:15] You mentioned in the book that autism and other social — I hate using the word disorder because I know so many awesome autistic people that are freaking geniuses and just amazing folks. I really hate to say this, but autism is rampant and extremists. They’re kind of like the perfect target for this. Why is that the case? 

Christian Picciolini: [00:11:34] Well, I want to be careful. I mean, there’s certainly nothing about autism or any other sort of emotional or psychological disorder that makes anybody be racist or makes them extremist. It’s all the conditions around that. Oftentimes, people who are autistic or bullied growing up, they may not have the ability to or have those established friendships to fall back on. They may feel isolated and marginalized and then, in a magic age of 14, 15, 16 years old when they’re struggling still with what I call potholes. potholes can be anything that we encounter in life. It could be a disorder, it could be abuse, it could be abandonment like it was for me, it could be poverty, or it can even be privileged. Privilege can keep us separate from humanity if we’re not careful. And those things are potholes that detour us. Something like autism would be one of those things that occur in life that for some people kind of pushes them to the fringes. On the fringes, as they’re searching for three very important things that we all look for — a sense of identity, a sense of community, and a sense of purpose — there are groups on those fringes that are putting those narratives out there. To somebody who maybe has never felt empowered or who felt powerless, suddenly that promise of paradise and that promise of empowerment and agency is very seductive.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:51] You mentioned that people are looking for a sense of purpose and a sense of identity, and those who are radicalized as, “Who am I? Where do I belong? What does my life mean?” That’s a quote from your book, but are you then saying that they’re not finding satisfactory answers to these questions in their lives because there’s got to be more to the recipe because otherwise, every teenager on earth would be falling into this. I remember asking these same things when I was younger, but I never joined a skinhead gang. I mean, I did other stupid stuff and a lot of teenagers just go to church camp and become a counselor and other people — you know what I mean? Like we find it elsewhere or we just go, “Screw it. I’m just going to smoke pot with my friends.” And then they go to college and they outgrow it or they find something else. But those who are radicalized, they have these, you had mentioned potholes. Is that the missing ingredient that a lot of folks have that makes them more vulnerable to this? 

Christian Picciolini: [00:13:41] You know, we all experience potholes in our lives and some of us are lucky enough to be able to navigate around them or to step over them or to fill them in. And we’re all searching for a sense of identity, community, and purpose. Those are the three pillars that essentially make us who we are. They drive our decisions and establish our values even. You’re right. Every single one of us experiences these potholes, and we also are all on a journey to find our identity, community, and purpose. So what’s the difference? The difference is that for some people, those potholes are severe. Some of them are deep, some of them have multiple potholes. And I would also argue that extremism or extremist behavior can be anything from being a neo-Nazi, flying to Syria to join ISIS, walking into a school to murder your classmates, but it can also be suicide. It can also be drug abuse or prostitution. Anything else that is, you know, a behavior and extremist behavior being manifested. Those are all types of extremist behaviors. So. It really depends on which narrative kind of crosses your path.

[00:14:46] And sometimes, and what I call cult hopping, for some people who are desperately searching for that sense of identity, community, and purpose, and have potholes, they may jump from one extreme to another, to another, to another. They can go from the far right to the far left to a drug culture to a biker gang to something else, and that’s because they’ve still not established that positive sense of identity, community, and purpose and they also have not filled in their potholes. So I would argue that we all have some form of an extremist manifestation, or most of us, if we don’t mine, our potholes in that search for identity, community, and purpose but it really depends on what kind of intercepts you.

Christian Picciolini: [00:15:25] At 14 years old, when I was struggling, the first thing that intercepted me was this narrative of a neo-Nazi skinhead, when a man walked up to me in an alley at 14 years old and I was smoking a joint and he recruited me basically. For other people, it might be religion, it might be a career, it might be any other kind of dedication or something like that. So some of us are lucky. Some of us have access to more resources, but some of us joined gangs and some of us end up doing things that are other types of extremism that we wouldn’t classify as traditional extremism. So I think we’re all susceptible to this. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:02] Like what things might we not consider a traditional extremism? Obviously radical Islam, skinhead gangs — I don’t know. There’s obviously plenty. I’m just drawing a blank here. What are you seeing now?

Christian Picciolini: [00:16:12] Suicide would be a form of extremism. Killing yourself versus somebody walking into a school and murdering somebody else. Drug abuse could be a way to numb the pain of potholes and an unsuccessful search for identity, community, and purpose. Getting involved in prostitution or even a street gang. Those are all, to me, different forms of — and I’m putting up air quotes here — but a different form of extremism. Because those are all extreme behaviors. So whether it’s me going out and hurting somebody because of the color of their skin, or me going out and bullying somebody, or me going out and beating my wife — those are all ways to kind of project self-hatred.

[00:16:52] If I’m feeling miserable about myself and I don’t want to deal with it and I can’t deal with it, sometimes it’s much easier to make somebody else feel that pain and in many cases, for the people causing that pain to other people, the only way that they know how to feel any sort of emotion, sometimes it’s hurting somebody else.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:08] Do we have an ICP crisis that’s especially prevalent now versus in the past, or is it more of the same except now we have the Internet? 

Christian Picciolini: [00:17:17] Yeah. Well, I think the Internet definitely added a lot of confusion. It’s an amazing tool that allows us to learn things and connect with each other, but it’s also access to disinformation and the narratives that are toxic which were always out there. They just weren’t maybe in a digital format. I was recruited in a physical alley. The Internet is very much like a digital alley. It’s open 24 hours a day. And I think that we are facing a crisis of identity, community, and purpose, not only as people, because we’re living in very, very uncertain times right now, but also maybe as a society or as a country.

[00:17:48] Our nation has potholes that we’ve never filled, and we’ve never properly addressed slavery and the racism that’s occurred in our country. We’ve talked about it. We’ve glazed over it, but we’ve never really addressed it to fix it. And I think at this moment in our history, we are also in a crisis as a country for our identity. Who is our community and what is our purpose as a nation? So I think we have to — like I help other people kind of deradicalize and disengage. I think we’re at a moment right now where it’s time for America to go through that same process. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:19] Speaking of these extreme communities that might not be gangs or might not be hate based. This concept, this ICP crisis — I know so many people are probably thinking Insane Clown Posse. I love that you put in the book — by the way, ICP is identity, community, and purpose, not Insane Clown Posse for those of you who think about that. You must have gotten that question a thousand times and you’re just like, all right, I’m putting in a freaking footnote already.

Christian Picciolini: [00:18:41] Well, I put it in a footnote because Insane Clown Posse has a following called the Juggalos and Juggalettes, which is this kind of massive subculture of super fans who are in themselves, sometimes violent, who are in themselves, exhibiting extremist behaviors in terms of drug culture in many ways. I think the FBI may have even classified them as kind of like this hybrid gang at one point. So without too many alterations. I think my process of in theory of identity, community, and purpose actually applies to that Detroit-based hip hop duo ICP.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:14] yeah. They’re from my suburb and my hometown and they would drive around in their van and everyone’s like Insane Clown Posse. And they actually were totally normal — well, I shouldn’t say that — they were more or less normal kind of guys from our neighborhood. And then, they just exploded in popularity. What’s funny is they’ve been underground since I was, I don’t know, 12 and they’d kind of never really like got mainstream, which is working for them. For those of you who don’t know what we’re talking about, Google Insane Clown Posse. 

Christian Picciolini: [00:19:42] Even the Juggalos need hugs from us.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:44] Nice. I bet that’s a nobody’s slogan at their shows. I see these extremist communities also online — again, Reddit, shout out to my Redditors — there are whole subreddits of people that are really into like meth, right? And so there’ll be posting photos in there, talking constantly on there. And what’s funny is you think, “Oh, that’s so dangerous. I don’t want my kids smoking meth. I’m going to keep him away from there.” The second anyone goes into that subreddit and says, “Hey, I’m thinking of trying this, dah, dah, dah.” Everyone says, “Don’t do it. It’ll ruin your whole life.” And it’s such a confusing place on the Internet because you look at this group of people that are supportive of each other and they’re talking about their issues in their life. And the second someone’s like, “Hey, I want to join your little subculture.” They’re like, “Do not do it. It’s the worst thing any of us have ever done.” And there’s like a thousand upvotes for that. It’s bizarre.

Christian Picciolini: [00:20:34] It’s really no different than the former extremist community too. We have these communities of support where we talk about the things that we did. We try to analyze self-reflect. But the minute that anybody would come across that says, “Hey, I’m kind of interested in that.” You’d see a thousand people do the same thing and say, “No, don’t do that. There are other ways.” I think it’s no different and actually, racism and the type of racism that I was involved in was a lot like drug use. We all knew that it was hurting us. We knew that it hurt the people around us, but it made us feel good for a very short time, and we knew it was killing us, but we still did it. Even though we knew it was wrong because once you’re in, it’s very hard to not identify that what you’re doing is wrong after a certain time goes by. Because one, you don’t feel good, you feel guilty. You’re hurting people. Your life’s a mess. You’re saying something that’s very unpopular very quickly. That sense of identity, community, and purpose while it fulfills you, the ideology never really can take place or take hold because it’s so illogical. It’s so broken and it’s so built on hatred.

[00:21:38] So I think that it’s inevitable that at some point, anybody who’s in it recognizes that it’s wrong. But it’s also very difficult to leave because it means starting over. It means a new sense of identity, community, and purpose. And if that’s alluded to you your whole life, except for in this movement, sometimes it’s really, really scary to go back out into the real world. So that’s what I’m trying to do is kind of be that bridge builder, be that pothole filler to really kind of help people navigate back to that road and have a stable one to travel on.  

Jason DeFillippo: [00:22:07] You’re listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Christian Picciolini. We’ll be right back. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:12] This episode is sponsored in part by Oura Ring. I’ve been using this for a while now. This is a sleep ring. It’s a tracking ring. It’s a tracker ring. It’s not a giant thing either. It looks like a real ring. What separates Oura from other wearable sleep trackers is the accuracy. It’s got a lot of data backed by independent research — very nice, prestigious universities — that are doing sleep research with subjects wearing the Oura Ring. And my buddy Harpreet founded this company. He’s kind of obsessed, I think it’s fair to say, with sleep, with tracking, with quantifying all this stuff. So I’ve actually diagnosed a few sleep problems. And Jason, our mutual friend, Nitro from American Gladiators, Dan Clark — the dude gets like two minutes of deep sleep, which is kind of scary. It makes me —

Jason DeFillippo: [00:22:58] That’s nuts.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:58] Yeah. And I was like, “Oh, that’s got to be an error.” But it’s not, I mean, mine has tracked across my devices, normally I get like two hours of that.

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Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:07] I feel like I sleep fine, but I’ve got this problem. So he’s working with the sleep scientists at Oura to diagnose what’s going on. So let’s say you slept like a rock before, but now you’ve had a baby hypothetically, and you want to make sure that you’re tweaking what you need to tweak in order to sleep better. They’ve also got meditation mode, which does a hyper tracking mode like it does at night. So they’ll show you premeditation, post-meditation, heart rate variability. So you can actually know if your meditation app is working, if you’re getting better at meditation, you could wear it to your Wim Hof Retreat or whatever the hell you want to do and find out if it works and the ring knows if you had blue light exposure, if you drank caffeine. I’ve sent this thing through the wash. I’ve gone to the gym with it. It’s a beast. I really love this thing. I think it’s a kind of a game-changer. Jason. 

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Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:20] This episode is also sponsored in part by HostGator. In the fast-paced and futuristic sounding world of 2020 owning your own website is as crucial as indoor plumbing — maybe a bit of an exaggeration — but a global market research firm recently concluded that only 25 percent of the people searching for you online are going to do that through social media, 52 percent will look for your website first. I am definitely one of those people. So unless you’re purposely trying to live off the grid while scratching 35,000-word manifestos on birchbark in some remote Woodland shack, you’re going to want HostGator’s help to ensure that your personal or professional presence is known to the outside world. Founded in 2002, HostGator has been around the block a few times. It’s old enough to legally drive around that block right now. This is why we trust HostGator to get you where you want to go with seasoned expertise and service that’s unsurpassed — see what I did there. Get you where you want to go — you don’t have to know the first thing about programming or design in order to get custom-crafted websites, mobile-friendly. Thanks to HostGator’s drag and drop builder. Choose from hundreds of themes to effortlessly switch up your presentation as you see fit. You can take payments, run it all on WordPress with a one-easy click. If you’ve got a tight budge, that’s budget. Don’t worry. As long as you’re a new user, you can try any HostGator package for 62 percent off, just for hearing the sound of my voice. That’s not all you technically have to do, but that’s kind of how this works. If you’re not completely satisfied with everything HostGator has to offer, you’ve got 45 days to cancel for a refund of every last penny. Go check out hostgator.com/jordan right now to sign up. That’s hostgator.com/jordan.

Jason DeFillippo: [00:25:54] Thanks for listening and supporting the show and to learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard from our amazing sponsors, visit Jordan harbinger.com/deals. Don’t forget we have a worksheet for today’s episode so you can make sure you solidify your understanding of the key takeaways from Christian Picciolini. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. If you’d like some tips on how to subscribe to the show, just go to jordanharbinger.com/subscribe. Subscribing to the show is absolutely free. It just means that you get all of the latest episodes downloaded automatically to your podcast player so you don’t miss a single thing. And now back to our show with Christian Picciolini.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:32] He didn’t sugarcoat any of the tales in your last book or in this book, and you clearly remember a lot of the horrible things you said and did back then. Why did you think it was important to include all that? I have to say it’s pretty brave. I think I might’ve left out some of this stuff about pulling mixed-race couples out of their car and beating them up, which like to a guy like me who’s married to a tiny Asian woman and has a baby. You know, that’s terrifying. And you could have like smooth down the edges, but you really did not do that. Why’d you think it was important to include everything like that? 

Christian Picciolini: [00:27:02] It was very important for me to be as honest as possible, and I really wanted to give people a view into the reality of what it was like. With my first book, I really tried to speak in the language of who I was at that moment, about the time I’m writing about. So when I’m 14, I speak like a 14-year-old. When I’m 18, I speak like an 18-year-old. When I’m 23 and I’m considering leaving this movement and disengaging, I’m speaking in a very confused 23-year-old voice. So I didn’t want to sugar coat anything. I didn’t think it was fair, to be honest. This was something I did and I didn’t want to make myself seem better about what I did. So I want it to be as honest as possible and I do the same thing in the new book, except the new book is really not about me very much. It’s about the people I’ve worked with and it’s about seven people. And to keep them anonymous, it was difficult because I had to kind of change their names and appearances and where they live and things like that. But I also want it to be very genuine about my interactions with them and the struggles that they were facing, both going into these movements, but also the struggles of coming out.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:05] He had said that racism is now learned very much online, not from people’s parents or their sort of local real-life community. And I found that to be really interesting because I think a lot of us, when we’re not fully educated on this subject, we think, “Well, my kid’s going to be fine, or our neighborhood is fine because we don’t have racist people. I would know if Tom’s parents didn’t like black people, he’s not joining it. That’s ridiculous. His parents aren’t racist. Why would he be racist?” But you clarify by saying hardly anyone rebels against their parents by increasing their expression of their parents’ values. Can you explain what you mean by that?

Christian Picciolini: [00:28:40] Yeah. I mean, I think throughout history, when young people rebel against their parents, they’re not amplifying their parents’ values. They’re kind of going out against them. And I think that what most people would be surprised to learn is that most of the people I work with or not coming from racist parents, they’re not learning this at home. The parents contact me and they’re horrified. They say, “You know, we live in a kind of a liberal, progressive household. We never raised our children to be like this. And suddenly my son is spouting racism and antisemitism.” Then I think we should just look back at how we rebelled as young people. We didn’t amplify what our parents wanted to get their attention. We did something that was the opposite. And I think what most of these people are doing in these movements, whether young or old, is to really get people’s attention. Because they feel like something’s been taken away from them, usually it hasn’t, but they feel that way and they’re really screaming at the top of their lungs for people to pay attention. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:36] A lot of people think, “Well, my kid is too smart for that,” or, “Our community is too smart for that,” or, “We’re too affluent for that.” Tell me about why this is a myth. Actually, I remember when I was a kid, and I think I talked about this in our previous show, there was a kid who was saying he was going to get his skinhead tattoos, and he went to a school called Cranbrook, which is like one of the top private schools, probably in the country, certainly in Michigan in my area. And those are the parents of the auto executives and all the wealthy well-to-do’s in our community, and that’s where this was taking root the most. It actually was quite counterintuitive. 

Christian Picciolini: [00:30:09] You know, potholes don’t discriminate. And that’s the myth. I mean, it actually comes from everywhere. It comes from people who are affluent and people who are poor, people who have families that are intact and people from broken homes. I think every individual is different and their needs are different. And I think that if they’re searching for identity, community, and purpose, but they’re struggling with those potholes that don’t discriminate, it can really happen to anybody. And in fact, the privilege could be one of the biggest potholes if it keeps us isolated in a bubble. Away from the rest of humanity in order to really understand them to participate. That can also be a really big factor into why people become radicalized. They just don’t have the realistic view of humanity. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:53] When you were recruiting for the Northern Hammerskins — did you say skinheads or do you say neo-Nazi. I don’t even know. How do you classify yourself back then? 

Christian Picciolini: [00:31:01] We would have called ourselves anything from white power skinheads to neo-Nazi skinheads to just skinheads, but there were all different types of skinheads. There were even anti-racist skinheads and anti-fascist skinheads. So, you know, just using the term skinhead is kind of a misnomer, but we tried to co-opt it. Yeah, you know, this whole term of white nationalism or alt-right, those are very, very new kind of terms that essentially are buzz words for them. Marketing terms that they’ve used to not have to say white supremacist or white power.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:31] What do you look for then? When you are recruiting actively, were you consciously looking for certain things, certain potholes in the people you were looking to recruit? 

Christian Picciolini: [00:31:40] Yeah, I mean, we weren’t looking for really well-adjusted people. We were looking for people who were already on the fringes. People who had a tough family life, who maybe you were struggling with anger issues who maybe felt isolated from their families. People that we could essentially promise paradise to and we’re pretty sure that they would grab it because they hadn’t seen it before. We also had people who were well off, not always young people. We had older people. So these things can happen at any age to anybody from any sort of background where they’re really struggling to find out where they fit in and what they’re supposed to do with their life. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:13] I do wonder what sort of the max-age you would see in a gang like this? Because I’m thinking are there fewer maladjusted 45, 50-year-olds or are they interested in this as much as somebody who’s a teenager? Because, of course, when you’re a teenager, everyone is kind of a malcontent in a way almost. But when you’re a little older, either you’ve given up on that or you’ve kind of outgrown it or you’ve gotten yourself together. It seems strange that there’d be a group with 45-year-olds and 15-year-olds. 

Christian Picciolini: [00:32:41] Yeah. I mean, again, potholes don’t discriminate. People can lose their jobs. Their wives can leave them. They could be diagnosed with a terminal illness. Any of those things are potholes that can happen to us at any time. It more often happens to young people because that’s typically when people are searching for a sense of identity, community, and purpose — when they’re breaking away from their family for the first time. 14 is a really magical age for the radicalization of any kind, whether it’s gang recruitment or terrorist recruitment. That’s the first time that young people are breaking away from the influence of their parents. They’re starting to kind of experiment with social circles and understand who they are as a person. And they’re searching, right? They don’t know. And they’re confused. So they’re searching for all sorts of things, and sometimes we tend to gravitate towards the ones that accept us the most, that we see the most reward from in the short term. And that’s dangerous, especially if we’re immature and don’t really have the guidance on what a positive sense of ICP is. I’ve seen it happen to 60-year-olds and 70-year-olds who, you know, maybe were recruited younger by these narratives, and then over time, over the years it kind of solidified in them but it really can happen to anybody at any age from any background.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:52] I assume you see plenty of parallels between what neo-Nazi skinhead groups are doing online and the recruiting efforts of radical Islamist groups or other hate groups. Is the only difference, just the ideology? Is it just kind of like the same shit, different box? 

Christian Picciolini: [00:34:06] There are some differences. I mean, there are certain people from middle Eastern countries who might go fight for ISIS because it’s a paycheck. But in terms of the white nationalist movement or the white supremacist movement, that isn’t typically the case. But I would say 90 percent of the reasons why somebody might become a radical jihadist versus a radical white supremacist are typically the same. Again, it’s that search for identity, community, and purpose with potholes and that sense of “I’m fighting, I’m doing something bigger than me,” which is something I think we all look for. We all want to be part of something, that’s bigger than us, that we can kind of help shape that we can have some agency in. And sometimes it is reactionary. Sometimes if people lose their jobs, if people you know, lose their home or something happens in their life, then all of a sudden they’ve kind of hit rock bottom and they’re looking for answers. And sometimes the only people providing at least what they see as answers that are never the real answer, but what they’re offering up answers are very attractive to somebody who maybe has lost everything or doesn’t see a path forward. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:10] Can you speak to how racist or extremist groups are now sanitizing and covering up a little bit? They’re sort of rebranding, right? They say things differently now. Instead of Zionist conspiracy, they’re talking about different foreign policies.  Instead of white power misogyny, they’re talking about men’s rights, and it’s not always the same thing. I hate to paint everybody who is interested at all in men’s rights as some sort of like woman-hating misogynist but there’s a significant overlap, especially again, once you dive into these online communities, you don’t have to dig too far to see somebody who’s saying, “Yeah, I know it’s about men’s rights and dah, dah, dah, dah.” Then like two tweets later, there’s no such thing as a happy unmarried woman or a feminist, you know? It’s like, oh, okay buddy, you literally are dancing on the line and then jumped over it just to see my reaction. How are they cleaning this up and sanitizing this? It seems like they’re doing that for marketing purposes, but I’d love to hear your take on it. 

Christian Picciolini: [00:36:03] Well, you know, I think back as far back as the ‘80s and early ‘90s people in the white supremacy movement figured out that it was starting to be something that was bigger. People were starting to recognize, but we’re turning away from because it was too edgy. So as a skinhead with swastika tattoos or Klansmen wearing a hood or somebody were waving a Nazi battle flag that turned away the average American white racist because it was something that was kind of foreign and too extreme. But also law enforcement was very active in the eighties and nineties trying to take these groups down. So leaders got a little bit smarter and they started to recognize that it shouldn’t be about the group structure. It shouldn’t be about the outward appearance. We had to be scary back in those days because there weren’t a lot of us. We needed to project that kind of terror.

[00:36:50] But these days, numbers have grown significantly and they don’t need that. It’s become really part of the American fabric and in some cases, the American mainstream. So there was this concerted strategy to kind of go from these boots to suits look where people stopped shaving their heads. They stopped getting the swastika tattoos and stop joining these organizations that were very known white supremacist groups, and they were encouraged by the leaders to blend into the mainstream, to go to the places where people were that they wanted to recruit. And they were told to get jobs as doctors and mechanics and go to the military and get into law enforcement. Go into all of the very important pieces of our American ecosystem that makes it work so that they could recruit from those pools as well.

[00:37:36] And that wasn’t a strategy that was really working all that well. I mean, I think that it worked to get law enforcement off of people’s backs for a while. But I think what really propelled this notion of boots to suits was the election that we saw in 2016 that really brought so many of these ideas that I was saying 30 years ago back to the four, but they were using words that were more sanitized. So instead of, like you said, you know, going and talking about the Zionist occupied government in terms of Jews running the world and all the things that we claimed back then, now they’re talking about global elites and globalism and things like that. So they’ve really learned to kind of sterilize their words to not come across as overly racist but if you look kind of underneath that and the intentions and the motivations of those, they’re saying the exact same things that I was saying 30 years ago. And in many cases, we’re hearing them come out of the mouths of very influential, very important, very powerful people today where that wasn’t the case 30 years ago.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:35] So in a way, the movement now kind of hides in plain sight. The suits not boots, as we’d said earlier on in Part One. And that’s a little bit more insidious because now, you can’t necessarily identify these guys by looking at them. There used to be a guy, he used to beg for change outside of a drug store near my house, and he had SS tattoos on his neck and it was like, “Got it.” You know, we understand where this guy’s world is, but now it could be somebody who’s just active primarily online and works at a law firm. I mean, we just don’t really see the same type of outward expression. 

Christian Picciolini: [00:39:09] I mean, I think 20 years ago, you could have asked just about any American, and as long as they weren’t in the Klan or skinhead, they would probably say the Klan and skinheads were bad. That was kind of known. If you were part of that, you were not a good person or not anybody that you wanted near your family or near you, or certainly near like your job or anything like that. Nowadays, it’s different because those same people are just dressed differently and they’re using different words, but their intentions are the same. It’s still hatred. It’s still anti-Semitism, it’s still racism, but now it is part of our national infrastructure and it’s a part of our government and as part of our media in some cases.

[00:39:47] I had to stand in an alley, Jordan, at 14 years old, I had somebody who handed me a pamphlet or a book or invited me to a meeting. That’s not the case anymore. Now you turn on the news and Fox News will have the same propaganda that I was spewing 30 years ago. They’re even going as far as saying white nationalism is a hoax. It’s not a problem. Talking about the left is cultural Marxists and communists and all the things that we were saying 30 years ago, except now they’ve got these platforms. So it’s much different today than it was then. And it’s much more insidious because it is reaching not just everybody in our country, young and old, but it’s spreading all over the world. We’re starting to see the growth of far-right groups and politicians in other countries all over the world, which is something that I’ve never seen before. We didn’t see it in World War II and we are seeing it now. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:35] Wow. That’s interesting. I didn’t know that. We hadn’t seen it in World War II. I figured that was kind of the whole rationale behind why that escalated. Well, I suppose it’s a complicated conflict of course. But are you saying now that there are more far-right politicians than there were back then? 

Christian Picciolini: [00:40:49] Yeah, I mean, Hitler had very little support for what he was doing globally, and now we’re seeing very open politicians who are in this white nationalist camp being elected in places like Hungary, governors in Slovakia. In Brazil, the new president there is spewing some of the same things that I used to say. In countries, really all over the world, all over Europe, we’re seeing politicians become elected and gained power, which wasn’t something that Hitler had during World War II. And I think it’s something that we’re going to struggle with. I think even over time it’s going to get worse because there are so many other outside things that are tied to this racism that we don’t really think about like climate change.

[00:41:28] Climate change is very tied to this. By the year 2050, the water will dry up in most parts of Africa and we’ll see a refugee, an immigration crisis like we’ve never seen before. They’re estimating closer to 150 160 million people will be migrating at that point. If we’re not prepared for that, if we don’t treat this like a crisis now to make sure that humanity is safe in the future, we’re not going to be able to deal with it when we see people being relocated because of that climate change. And I think at that point if we haven’t talked about that, if we haven’t put the processes in place to understand this, there are going to be a lot of good people who are not going to be able to make sense of what’s happening, and that to me is very scary.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:08] That is extremely scary. I had no idea about the way the inevitable water crisis in Africa. That’s really, really crazy. I don’t know how Europe or other countries could possibly absorb that many people. I mean, look at what 800 — is it 800,000 has done — so far. I mean, that was maybe a stat from a few years ago, but 160, 200 times that is going to be impossible. I don’t know how it can happen.

Christian Picciolini: [00:42:32] Right. And I think at that point, we will be underprepared to deal with it and it will be a crisis that will be out of control. I think a lot of people are going to suffer for that, but I think a lot of people are going to look for the easy way out, and that is to blame the other.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:44] Of course.

Christian Picciolini: [00:42:45] You know, extremism always flourishes when there is uncertainty — when societies are very uncertain. Like right now, we’re losing the middle class. When people fear losing something of great value, sometimes that feels like oppression to them. As you know, maybe other voices are getting equalization — LGBTQ rights and women’s rights — to some people who might be losing something that feels like oppression, even though nothing is being taken away from them. And that’s a really scary place to be to not know why you’re in this position. But there are plenty of people who will swoop in and give you somebody to blame for it. These days, they’re politicians and they have the loudest voices in our country. In the old days, it was some kook in an alley or at a meeting, or a neighbor saying these things, but now you know, they’re coming from the voices we’ve been conditioned to trust. 

Jason DeFillippo: [00:43:34] You’re listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Christian Picciolini. We’ll be right back this.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:39] This episode is sponsored in part by Better Help. Moving in with your girlfriend, you’ve only known for three months and you’re not sure if it’s the right thing to do, maybe that happened. Are you struggling of letting go of a minor event in your past that keeps replaying in your mind? Do you have a behavior that you’re embarrassed to talk to somebody about? Try Better Help. Trust me. I am all of those things and I did. Better Help online counseling is there for you. They offer licensed professional counselors who are specialized in issues like depression, stress, anxiety, relationships, sleeping, trauma, anger. If you have been replaying some stuff, beating yourself up, worried about a big decision in your life, this is the kind of thing therapy is for. Better Help offers a safe and private online environment. So everything you share is convenient, of course. No driving across town, no sitting in a waiting room. Confidential, I mean, it’s just you and your counselor on the phone. Get help at your own time, at your own pace. You can schedule a secure video or phone sessions. You can chat and text with your therapist, and if you don’t click with them, you can just get a new therapist. There is no charge for that. Jason, tell them where they can get a deal on Better Help. 

Jason DeFillippo: [00:44:39] It is an amazingly affordable option, and our listeners get 10 percent off your first month with discount code JORDAN. Get started today. Go to betterhelp.com/jordan. When I first did this, I got matched with a counselor within 24 hours. And when I changed my area of expertise, I had problems in one area and my Better Help counselors fix those, I went to another counselor to fix some other problems. So all you have to do is simply fill out a questionnaire to help them assess your needs and get matched with a counselor you’ll love. That’s betterhelp.com/jordan. Definitely get on it today. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:12] This episode is also sponsored by Manscaped. And if you’re listening to this podcast right now, take a second look down. When’s the last time you took care of that? It’s been a while. Don’t lie. Let’s take a second to thank our sponsor Manscaped for holding you accountable to get rid of the funk, and shave your junk. Manscaped is the only men’s brand dedicated to below-the-waist grooming and hygiene. There’s a lot of things that they want us to say about — talk about a funny manscaping story, but I’ll just tell you, there’s nothing funny about manscaping accidents and you’re going to want to avoid those, let’s just say. Manscaped has the Perfect Package 3.0 essential kit. This isn’t really probably what they want me to focus on, but it’s really well manufactured. When it came, I thought, this is going to be kind of a junky thing. It’s actually super nice. I ended up buying them for the whole team. The Lawn Mower 3.0 is their new addition. It’s waterproof, cordless body trimmer, lots of other liquid formulations to round out your manscaping routine. It’s got a cutting edge ceramic blade to prevent manscaping accidents. See earlier when I mentioned that you want to for sure avoid those. They’ve got advanced SkinSafe technology. You just don’t want any kind of — there’s no margin for error down there, right? There’s just not. 

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Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:48] This episode is also sponsored in part by CBS Interactive. CBS interactive launched the Smithsonian Channel Plus, which is a new streaming service that presents history, mysteries, science, pop culture, and the stuff is fact-checked. So it’s from the fall of the Roman empire to the demise of the Titanic, epic air disasters, King Tut’s tomb. It’s authentic and original programming that is fact checked and reviewed for accuracy by experts at the Smithsonian Institutions. So that’s good. And at an age where everything is like, “Aliens built the pyramids, man.” You know, it’s nice to have stuff that’s not just fake as hell and this stuff is all legit. All fact-checked. There’s one about putting the first black astronaut into orbit, so it’s like the civil rights movement plus the space race, plus the cold war kind of all meshed into a nice little ball there. New programs are added to every week to watch anytime you can watch them on your device, on your computer, your TV. And I love the fact that it’s verified. I’m not going to watch something and then talk about it later and hear about how everything I learned is just completely made up. I hate it when that happens. Jason, you’re watching something like, “Did you hear about this?” And it’s like, “Oh, did you watch that thing on the other service?” Like, “Yeah. It turns out it’s just made up.”

Jason DeFillippo: [00:47:54] Yeah. Like that vegan show that we watched. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:56] Yeah. That whole thing like, “Oh no, that’s made by a guy who sells vegan protein,” and you’re like, “FML, I can’t believe anything.” So Smithsonian. Channel Plus avoids all of that garbage. So Jason, tell them where they can find that.

Jason DeFillippo: [00:48:07] Visit getscplus.com/jordan to redeem this special offer, 50 percent off your first three months of Smithsonian Channel Plus. That’s getscplus.com/jordan to get 50 percent off your first three months. Check out Smithsonian Channel Plus today. It is fact-checked and you can believe what you actually watch for once in your day.

[00:48:30] Thank you for listening and supporting the show. Your support of our advertisers keeps us on the air. To learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard, so you can check out those amazing sponsors, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. And don’t forget the worksheet for today’s episode. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. If you’re listening to us in the Overcast player, please click that little star next to the episode. We really appreciate it. And now for the conclusion of our episode with Christian Picciolini.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:59] You mentioned before how white supremacists are seeking to infiltrate the first responder communities in the military. Can you speak to that a little bit? This might be a little obvious. But why should we be especially concerned about this and also is that really happening, and it seems almost too coordinated to be realistic? 

Christian Picciolini: [00:49:16] Well, I mean, if you think about it, the skills that people in those jobs have are very attractive to people and movement and things like being able to handle weapons or to understand how law enforcement works or to understand how to fight in a war. What better way to fight a racial Holy war than to recruit from people who’ve essentially been at war already. But also because they know that war causes potholes, and also it stunts the idea of identity, community, and purpose. Because if you go into the military for four years, six years, you come out really kind of a different person understanding that maybe you don’t quite fit in into the real world again, and they play off of those insecurities, off of those potholes, and they promise and empower these people.

[00:49:57] Oftentimes even like waiting at the airport when veterans are coming home, offering them jobs, inviting them to meetings, giving them kind of a sense of a club surrounding them. They’re very good at identifying people who have these vulnerabilities and then overpromising paradise and then delivering a little bit of acceptance, a little bit of agency but certainly nothing after that. But once you’re in, you’re in. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:20] I just want to clarify that we know cops and firefighters and military are not Nazi. We’re just saying that want to be Nazis are attracted to these professions and these people because of their place in society. 

Christian Picciolini: [00:50:30] Yeah, correct. That’s certainly not a statement about law enforcement or the military, but white supremacists and extremists know to target those pools of people for some of their recruits, because they know that some cops are jaded, some cops have been doing these jobs for 20 or 30 years, and I’ve seen some pretty awful things and they don’t really have outlets for that, which is also why suicide and drug abuse and alcoholism and things like that are really high in some of these communities. They know people have PTSD and they’re trying to really shift their priorities then and blame towards a different community to help them make sense of that. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:06] It does make sense to me that somebody who is coming back from serving their country, for example, or has potholes as a result of that would also then fall into a storyline that they’re also now helping save another group of people from destruction. Because if you’re fighting for your country and you’ve been doing that, and then you come back maybe you suffer that loss of purpose and it’s like, “Hey, the battle continues at home. Look at what we’re dealing with on the domestic front. Use your skills to help save, in this case, the white race or whatever.” It’s not the same thing, but it’s also not a complete polar opposite. It’s not, “Hey, now you have a desk job as a CPA. Have fun.”

Christian Picciolini: [00:51:39] It’s tough. To use an example, if you run your own company. And then you know, you retire and you end up pouring coffee at a coffee shop. Sometimes that’s not fulfilling. So they know that these people have been at war, they’ve seen these things, they’ve been taught to act a certain way, and to develop this mindset and have essentially been conditioned for warfare. And when they come back, it’s a little bit of a struggle to settle back into normal life. So they replace that by giving them another war to fight for, essentially. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:08] Tell me about Cassandra in the book. I realize this is not her real name. This is kind of a heavy-duty story, but this story was wild. I mean, it seemed to be a standard recruitment effort, and then it sort of dovetails and slides into Russian intelligence connections. What the heck is happening in this story? 

Christian Picciolini: [00:52:27] That was probably the toughest case I think I’ve ever been on, and I’ve been on hundreds, maybe even a thousand. Cassandra was a 17-year-old girl when she was recruited online by a Nazi recruiter who ended up being her boyfriend, and Cassandra was living on the East Coast, and this boy who said he was this 21-year-old blonde haired blue eyed guy from Idaho. Well, it turned out that he wasn’t a 21-year-old blonde hair, blue-eyed guy from Idaho. He was actually two people who were catfishing Cassandra. One was in Moscow, Russia. He was a 35-year-old man and another one was a 30-something-year-old guy from Northern California. And they have both for seven months had pretended to be this guy, and she believed it was her boyfriend. She’d never seen him. She spoke to him on the phone every night. They traded emails. He would send her photographs and videos of himself with these kinds of romantic messages. But he was a full-blown Nazi recruiter who had recruited her to make these propaganda videos on YouTube. And she had started to become very, very popular when her parents found out. Her parents contacted me because, of course, they were horrified when they discovered it. And I started to do some work. And this was back in September of 2016 and it was October 2016 about a month later, after spending pretty much 24 hours a day down this rabbit hole, when I discovered that this guy who she thought was her boyfriend was actually two different people — one of which was a Russian guy and one was a Peruvian man living in Northern California.

[00:54:01] And I was able to find original photos that they had stolen from the Internet, that they had manipulated videos, that they had stripped the audio from and recorded their own audio and I presented this information to her family and to her. And, of course, she didn’t believe me. So she kind of leaked all the information that I had discovered about these two people back to them and, eventually, I was able to pull her away. The family did some great work. I was able to connect her with some therapists and counselors that she really needed to talk to cause she was struggling with some emotional issues. She was doing much, much better. I even introduced her to a Holocaust survivor who really became her mentor and we thought she was doing great and had been out for several months. It stopped, at least as far as we know, communicating with this person she thought was her boyfriend and then she went away. She turned 18 and went to college and we were all very happy with where she was. We thought she was doing great. 

[00:54:57] She was abducted the first week of school when she was at college, and in the meantime, what I had discovered also tied to these people were thousands of these social media profiles that I couldn’t make any sense of at the time. This was back in October of 2016 before we heard the words Russia and interference and collusion, and what I had discovered were these thousands of social media profiles that were very pro-Trump, very anti-Hillary and most cases we’re very neo-Nazi accounts. But when I dug deeper, I found out that they were all kind of emanating from Russia. And I turned over that information to the FBI in the first week of November. It was actually before the election, and I turned it over to them not really knowing what I had found. But also not very confident leaving there thinking that they were going to do anything with it. And in fact, they didn’t do anything with it because the girl ended up getting abducted a few months later, and certainly several months later, I think it was like four months later, the FBI and CIA finally came out and said that there was an issue with Russian interference in our election and all these troll accounts happened and then she was abducted.

[00:56:01] And because of the information that I had turned over to the FBI, I had actually discovered where this person in Northern California had lived. So she had turned 18 by that point. So the police, local police weren’t all that interested in helping. They thought it was just kind of a lovers thing, but we knew better because she had been down this rabbit hole for over a year by that point. So I went to Northern California and I ended up finding her and bringing her back home and reconnecting her with her parents. And you know, some really awful things had happened to her while she was on the road with this person. It was just really good to finally get her home and safe.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:37] It’s just an incredible story and it’s also really terrifying because why would Russian intelligence have anything to do with this. Who cares? Why bother? It’s a 17 or 18-year-old girl in the middle of the East Coast. I mean, what’s the point? 

Christian Picciolini: [00:56:51] Yeah. I don’t think that they had anything to do with her abduction, but I think that the guy in Northern California kind of went rogue and he was a predator who happened to be working with Russian intelligence, or at least what the guy in Moscow, and I think you went rogue. I think he was probably what we would call an incel or an involuntary celibate — a male who hates women, who wants to do violence against women, and I think he was in that boat. And we’re just lucky that despite not having a whole lot of law enforcement support, we were able to kind of on our own her down and bring her home safe within just a few days.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:25] Yeah. The full story is in the book and it’s absolutely incredible. It reads like something almost out of a spy novel except you’re trying to pull it off without a whole lot of resources behind you, which is a little bit scary. 

Christian Picciolini: [00:57:35] Just me and pizza, you know. The way that I actually discovered that he lived at that house as he had somehow forgotten to cover his tracks on an IP address. So I was able to track it down to three or four homes in this neighborhood, but I wasn’t sure which home it was. I had gone to California before I knew that they could get there cause I knew that they were driving. So I’d gotten there and in order to figure out who lived at what house of these four houses to try and nail down which one he lived in, I actually faked delivered a pizza to each of the doors until I was able to establish which house he lived in.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:07] Incredible. A lot of work on your part. I mean, I’m imagining a stakeout type situation for you 

Christian Picciolini: [00:58:12] More of a pizza out, but yeah, 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:13] Yeah, pizza out, yeah, exactly. Exactly. Well, what can we do if we think one of our kids or somebody on our watch, one of our friends might be attracted to this stuff or as being approached by these folks online, or even in person, what can we even do?

Christian Picciolini: [00:58:26] Well, my book outlines a whole seven-step process that I’ve developed, but in a nutshell, it really is just about developing a rapport with that person. And if you have that already, that’s a headstart. But the next step is very important, and that’s just to listen and that’s to listen for their potholes so that you can try and help fill them in. Understanding the motivations of why somebody goes there is important because nobody joins because of the ideology. Nobody wakes up one morning and says, “I’m going to be a Nazi today.” Nobody’s born to hate. Those are all things that we learned to do for whatever reason, and they can also be unlearned. So understanding and listening for those potholes and filling them in and really is the most important thing that helps bring people back to humanity.

[00:59:06] Over time, what I do once people are more open to it, it’s really about what I call an immersion, and that’s introducing them to the people that they think that they hate because what that does is it destroys the demonization in their head and eventually replaces it with humanization. And, of course, it’s never the responsibility of that potential victim or the person of color or the Jewish person to be that nice person to the Nazi or to the extremist but I have to tell you, that is the one thing that I’ve seen break hate. In fact, it’s the only thing I’ve ever seen break hate. And I have an endless line of people who volunteer who’s say, “I want to be that Jewish person who sits across from the Holocaust denier. I want to be the Muslim family who invites the Islamophobe over for dinner.” And I can tell you that every time I’ve done it, it’s just been this amazing process of kind of watching prejudice melt away and reconnecting with humanity. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:56] I know a personal note, how does this new line of work, if I can even call it that, affect your mental health. I mean, this is, you’re taking on these families burden, our daughters being abducted by white supremacist gangs with potential Russian intelligence connections. I mean, how do you even go to bed at night and compartmentalize this and kind of wake up refreshed and able to function in your own life? I don’t know if I could do that. 

Christian Picciolini: [01:00:20] You know, I’ve had to learn a lot about secondary trauma or compassion fatigue, which is something that I experience. I noticed myself after doing this for many, many years, feeling depressed, starting to have a short temper, or getting angry or not really taking care of myself because I was so immersed in other people’s issues and struggles.

[01:00:40] And what I’ve learned to do is really to take better care of myself and recognize when that happens and when to kind of take breaks, when to step back, when to talk to somebody myself but it’s real. I mean, I’m kind of immersed in the trauma of other people’s lives and in many cases, you know, trauma, they won’t even recognize because they’re still working through it and still doing awful things.

[01:00:58] And so I’ve had to really learn how to have a pressure release for myself. And a lot of times, whether it’s talking to a therapist or just being more vulnerable in the way that I communicate things, or even just understanding when it’s time to step back from a situation. I’ve had to learn to do that because it really is a form of PTSD having not only been involved in what I was involved in, finding my way out but then also dealing with a thousand people who are going through that same situation and not having a whole lot of resources to help me. I’ve really had to train myself to spot that kind of fatigue and then pull away and do the right things to get to a better place. 

Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:38] Compassion for others is one thing. What about compassion for yourself? I mean, I know that in this latest writing you’d written that you’re old, you’re old white power music that you’d created actually influenced Dylann Roof. This white nationalists wanker who shot a bunch of innocent worshipers in a church. How are you dealing with your own compassion towards yourself? I mean, you have all this negativity that somehow lives on in your past. You have to deal with that as well. 

Christian Picciolini: [01:02:01] Yeah. I mean, that was really one of the more devastating things that I discovered recently about a year ago was that Dylann Roof had kind of found one of my songs and posted the lyrics to it to a white supremacist message board four months before he committed — he murdered nine people. And that was a really tough thing for me to know that despite my efforts, that my ideas are still out in the world, my music is still out there, despite the fact that I’ve tried to get it, taken down but it’s still there. I don’t know that I’ll ever stop forgiving or trying to ask for forgiveness. Forgiving myself is something I’ve learned to do overtime. But I also know that I’m accountable for what I did. Even 30 years ago, even as a misguided teenager, I made the choice to do what I did, and I continued down that path for eight years which is why I still do what I do today because I know that there is a lot of harm to repair, a lot of damage that I need to fix.

[01:02:59] And oftentimes, it’s not anything specifically that I’ve done, but just knowing that I’m helping other people disengage, that I’m bringing truth to this discussion, which, you know, frankly, very, very few people know about. You know, what really is going on with white nationalism. And having been there and having even been instrumental and putting together what we’re seeing even 30 years later in places like Charlottesville. I have a responsibility. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to fully forgive myself and I don’t know that I would ever want anybody to fully forgive me, I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to earn that. But I will continue to try and I will continue to do the right thing to make sure that what happened to me doesn’t happen to anybody else.

Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:39] In much of your writing, it sounds like you blame yourself maybe in some ways for your brother’s death. Would you agree with that? 

Christian Picciolini: [01:03:46] Yeah. I mean, this is something that I’ve struggled with over the last 10 years because when my brother was killed, I felt like I wasn’t there for him. Almost like my parents, you know, weren’t there for me growing up. It wasn’t that they didn’t love me, it wasn’t that they didn’t care. They were Italian immigrants who had to work seven days a week, 16 hours a day, and my brother and I were 10 years apart in age. So by the time I was 17, I was married and had my own children, so I wasn’t able to be there for him during his really important years. So I do feel responsible for that. I do feel like I wasn’t a brother, that I had set a legacy that he felt he needed to follow into my footsteps. And while he didn’t do exactly what I did, you know, he was attracted to a gang because those were his friends growing up from the time he went to elementary school, And that’s where he ended up.

[01:04:40] And had I been there for him and talked about this maybe earlier because I wasn’t talking about this 15 years ago, 18 years ago. I was talking about doing regular things in the world and it wasn’t an issue in the world. So it wasn’t anything that I was all that intent on talking about. And it wasn’t until my brother died and he was killed that I really saw this as something that I needed to do because I didn’t want it to happen, not just to me, but to other younger brothers. And I also want it to be the person that I wish would have walked up to me in that alley and been there for me instead of the 26-year-old skinhead who recruited me.

Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:14] You clearly can’t handle a problem this big on your own. So what do you, what would you like to see sort of across North America or across the world? I know that’s a grand vision, but what would you like to see? Because again, this isn’t something that even if everyone listening to this right now decided, “I’m going to make sure I keep my eye out for this.” We all can’t collectively solve this. So what do we do? 

Christian Picciolini: [01:05:35] Yeah, well, what I’m doing is not rocket science. I may have a little bit of an edge because I am a former extremist, and when I talked to extremists, there’s a bit of credibility therefore having gone through it, but the solutions that I’m offering are something that anybody can do. And in fact, my goal this year really with this book and with the work that I’m doing, is to train the trainers. And that is to let school counselors know, psychologists know, teachers know, parents know that this is really all of our work. That we all need to be identifying and filling in potholes, and we all need to focus on our youngest, most vulnerable people at the earliest age possible to amplify their passions, to make sure that they have a sturdy road to kind of move forward on and have access to positive identity, community, and purpose. This is something we should all be doing anyway. That’s just the work of humanity.

[01:06:26] Here’s the trick, the trick is ideology is not causing people to become extremists. That’s just the final component. Our pre-radicalization begins the day we’re born. We hit potholes from day one and we continue to hit them until we find an outlet for that. Understanding that ideology is not driving people there and instead it’s potholes in a search for identity, community, and purpose, we can now be better equipped to identify the people who might feel marginalized, identify the at-risk people in communities that potentially someday could go down that route. Or maybe it’s a different type of extremism maybe it is suicide or drug abuse or something like that. So I really want to enable the people on the street doing this work because we should all be doing it. And I also want to bring a little bit of light to the fact that our nation needs a little bit of help repairing our potholes and finding a positive sense of identity, community, and purpose.

Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:19] Christian Picciolini, thank you so much for spending time with us here today once again.

Christian Picciolini: [01:07:23] Jordan, it’s always my pleasure. You’re a good friend and I really appreciate it. 

Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:29] Big thanks to Christian here again. The book title, Breaking Hate: Confronting the New Culture of Extremism. I really enjoyed reading this. It’s just story-based. It’s not heavy-duty stuff. The stories are heavy, but they’re an easy read and I really enjoyed it. Links to Christian’s book and website will be in the show notes. Also in the show notes, our worksheets for every episode, including this one, so you can review everything you’ve learned here from Christian. We also now have transcripts for each episode and those can be found in the show notes as well.

[01:07:56] A few folks have said they don’t know how to access the show notes. They are of course on the website, but you can get an abbreviated version on your phone by tapping the album art, the show art, the little picture of me and Momo there. You can tap that art and you should see a small abbreviated version of the show notes. It’s not the full links and everything. In fact, I think some apps don’t allow links, but you can get our Twitter handles and things like that from there, and you might even remember to go to the website and grab the notes.

[01:08:20] I’m also teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using systems, using tiny habits over at our Six-Minute Networking course. Always free over at Jordan harbinger.com/course don’t wait until later. Don’t kick the can down the road. You got to dig the well before you get thirsty. The drills take a few minutes a day. I wish I knew this stuff 20 years ago. The fact that I know it now has been — look, I’ll be blunt — millions of dollars in business opportunity as a result of these skills primarily. I’m giving it away because I think it’ll make the world a better place and it’ll certainly help us achieve the goal of making you a better thinker. That’s over at jordanharbinger.com/course.

[01:08:55] And by the way, most of the guests on the show, they subscribe to the course and the newsletter. So come join us, you’ll be in smart company. In fact, why not reach out to Christian? Tell him you like this episode of the show. Show guests love hearing from you. You never know what might shake out of that. Speaking of building relationships, I’m on social at @JordanHarbinger on Twitter and Instagram.

[01:09:13] The show is created in association with PodcastOne. This episode was produced by Jen harbinger and Jason DeFillippo, our engineer is Jase Sanderson, show notes and worksheets are by Robert Fogarty, music by Evan Viola. I’m your host Jordan Harbinger. Our advice and opinions, and those of our guests are their own, and I’m a lawyer, but I am not your lawyer. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a therapist. Do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. And remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting, which should be in every episode. So please share the show with those you love and even those you don’t. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we’ll see you next time.


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