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‘Dismantling hate with compassion and empathy:’ Loudoun gathers in latest show of unity

Life After Hate co-founders Tony McAleer, left, and Sammy Rangel address the crowd at the Hope Not Hate event March 5 at Sha’are Shalom in Leesburg. Times-Mirror/Veronike Collazo
Hundreds of Loudouners of all backgrounds gathered at Congregation Sha’are Shalom this week in the name of hope and overcoming hate in the community.

Part of the Love Your Neighbor series, the Hope Not Hate event Monday was the latest effort by a coalition of interfaith organizations to unite the community after multiple instances of white supremacist recruitment fliers being distributed throughout western Loudoun.

“I know this community. I know this community has what it takes, and I know we are a community that chooses to love all its neighbors. I know we are a community that chooses hope over hate, and I am proud to be a part of this community,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) said. “And I know that together, we will continue a forward trajectory toward the promise of inclusion and equality in our community, in our commonwealth and in our nation.”

In addition to messages of love and unity, the crowd also learned how forgiveness, bravery and compassion can help de-radicalize extremists from representatives of Life After Hate Inc (https://www.lifeafterhate.org/), an organization that helps violent extremists leave these organizations and reconnect with the world.

All Dulles Area Muslim Society Chair Rizwan Jaka was instrumental in involving Life After Hate in Monday’s program and said its work is important so community members can learn how to open up minds and hearts and learn what we can do differently.

Co-founder and Board Chairman Tony McAleer spoke to the issue of recruitment fliers specifically. As a former white supremacist and recruiter of skinheads to the White Aryan Resistance, he used to make and distribute similar fliers.

“I had a very specific thing in mind when I created those leaflets. The first one was as a recruitment tool. The second one was to inject fear into the community, and attack their sense of safety and sense of well-being,” McAleer said.

McAleer said the way to counter the fear is to let the people targeted know they are not alone and as bystanders, the community will not do nothing.

As a leader in white supremacist movements, McAleer said he knows the type of conversations held behind the scenes. After members publicly fought to disseminate hate through free speech, they would make jokes that “next time” when there are death camps like Auschwitz, instead of the gates reading “Work will set you free,” it will read “Nothing will set you free."

McAleer said, looking back, he finds these jokes chilling now. He also said that white supremacists and other extremists are possible of change, but in the meantime, need to be taken seriously and not written off as a prank.

“Whether we’re talking about Charlottesville, whether we’re talking about the lynchings in the south, whether we’re talking about Nazi Germany, this ideology if left to run its course inevitably ends up in murder,” McAleer said. “Radical change is possible. These people are not irredeemable, but in their current state, they’re very dangerous.”

White supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan thrive on conflict and attention. Members want media attention because it makes them feel seen where they otherwise feel invisible, disenfranchised and disconnected.

McAleer said he felt all those emotions and anger. As a child, he walked in on his father having an affair, and when his grades plummeted as a result, he was abused in school by teachers who decided to “beat the grades” into him.

In explaining his background, McAleer said it is important to know he is not a victim. He made the choices that led to his 15 years in the white supremacist movement, and those choices were rooted in an emotional hunger that white supremacists seemed to meet.

But these feelings of isolation and wanting to belong can be filled by the greater community.

Since the violence in Charlottesville, Life After Hate has received a lot of support, co-founder and executive director Sammy Rangel said. He said that it falls on community members to counter hate and find the courage to show compassion to those who do not show any.

“This community recognizes it has a major responsibility and a major role to play in how we respond and where you’re going to respond from when you face these issues here,” Rangel said. “If we can remember that on the other side of those behaviors is a human being, then that’s when you will become and remain interested in connecting with that person’s humanity with your own humanity.

“You can only dismantle hate with compassion and empathy. You can love your way out of the situation, but you cannot hate your way out of the situation,” Rangel continued.

Rangel spent years as a violent gang member and spent 15 and a half years in prison, where he was known as one of the most violent offenders to ever go through the system. Now, he goes back to the same prison with a state-employee ID to help work with inmates and staff, as prison is one of the most active recruitment grounds for gangs and other extremist organizations.

He said that formers showing that these members are redeemable and that change is possible is important. As we see ourselves as resilient, we should too see others as resilient and able to heal, Rangel said.

McAleer said since Charlottesville, Life After Hate has received calls from people worried their loved ones may be involved in a white supremacist groups, as well as from members themselves who want out, and the organization then helps them connect with their own humanity and others.

Rangel said an important part in engaging with extremists is listening and trying to listen without judgement. People who are listened to tend to lower their defenses and be more receptive to feedback and observations, he said.

Life After Hate also works to deter and redirect people going down the path of hate while on the internet. The internet and social media has expedited the road to extremism, and Life After Hate has initiatives that use social media algorithms to counter hate speech.

When a tweet from accounts with a high following is flagged as hate speech, their WeCounterHate program attaches a banner that says “If you share this message, you’ll be raising funds for organizations that combat hate speech,” which has resulted in 70 percent less shares on these posts. Even if the original post is deleted, the replies are not, Rangel said.

Life After Hate, through research partners, also found that people looking for hate content are 300 times more likely to click on banners or links about mental health and stay engaged. So they look to redirect people to mental health interventions by having posts and links related to mental health that may show up when they search for hate content.

“Even when we’re addressing these issues in real time, I think the answer to the radicalization is that those kids are vulnerable, but they’re also vulnerable to your message. You gotta understand that these youth are vulnerable to what you have to offer as well, and so you have to sit back and think about the strongest business case you could make that would help these children want to come to you,” Rangel said.

The FBI continues to investigate the recruitment propaganda distributed in Loudoun. In the meantime, Rep. Barbara Comstock (R) said Loudoun should continue to respond with love and unity, as it has every time.

Suzanne Buchanan of the Department of Justice Community Relations Service said the community needs to find a way to amplify this message.

“Hate is indeed a spiritual disease that threatens the community and our very existence as humans. One of the ways that we can heal hate is to stand up. That just requires strength,” said Pastor Michelle C. Thomas, founder of the Loudoun Freedom Center, one of the sponsoring organizations of the event. “Coming together is a good start. Working together is where we must go.”

The next Love Your Neighbor event will be April 22 at 4 p.m at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church. Daryl Davis will perform in the event titled Music with a Cause.


Great comment.  Seems the FBI has better things to do with their time chasing fake collusion stories.  Social media and the avenue it allows for hate and bullying is really the enemy here.  Media sites such as Fakebook, (Facebook), Twitter and so forth allow the hate to be publicized, which should have resulted in Cruz and those alike being arrested, investigated and prosecuted before…the action.  Free speech that insights hate and riots and suppresses other’s free speech has no place in society.  Social media is the true violent arm that empowers those cowards who back in the day had to do it to your face.  Of course today they hide behind the first amendment and liberal policy.  Fair is fair.  Make a threat, pay the price!  For many to be safe and secure, few must give up their rights temporarily”.

I hope the FBI takes this a lot more seriously than they did the repeated calls about Nikolas Cruz.

The FBI continues to investigate the recruitment propaganda distributed in Loudoun.

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