The National Public Radio staffers have asked a question we all should have pondered years ago.
The broadcast was heard on Election Day, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
It began with these words:
“For months prior to the recent shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, suspected gunman Robert Bowers spewed venomous bigotry, hatred and conspiracies online, especially against Jews and immigrants. During the Oct. 27 attack, according to a federal indictment, he said he wanted ‘to kill Jews.’ In all, he’s charged with 44 counts — including hate crimes — for the murder of 11 people and wounding of six others at the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue. The attack follows a spike in anti-Semitic incidents, concerns about the rise in domestic extremism, and calls for politicians to rethink their anti-immigrant rhetoric. We wanted to know what programs, if any, are effective in getting violent and violence-prone far right extremists in America to cast aside their racist beliefs and abandon their hate-filled ways.”
The staff presented five key takeaways:
• One: Neglected, minimized and underfunded.
Creating and expanding effective programs to get homegrown far right racists to find the off ramp to hate is, overall, an under-studied, under-funded and neglected area.
Sociologist Pete Simi of Chapman University said “White supremacy is really a problem throughout the United States. It doesn’t know any geographic boundaries. It’s not isolated to either urban or rural or suburban — it cuts across all.”
“There really haven’t been much resources, attention, time, energy devoted to developing efforts to counter that form of violent extremism,” Simi said.
In fact, he pointed out, the Trump administration, in 2017, rescinded funding that targeted domestic extremism.
• Two: There’s no consensus on what really works.
The research done, so far, shows that adherence to white supremacist beliefs can be addictive. Some who try to leave can “relapse” and return to the hate fold.
But Simi says, “we’re really very much in the early days.”
Academically, there’s been more attention and research on interventions with American gang members or would-be Jihadis.
• Three: Best practices are costly and labor-intensive.
Can racist radicals and homegrown violent extremists successfully be rehabilitated and re-enter civil society?
“The answer to that question is absolutely ‘yes’,” Simi said.
The groups with the best approach, he said, seem to be those who partner with a broad section of civil society — educators, social workers, health care and police — to tackle the full range of problems someone swept up into an extremist world might face.
They may need additional schooling or employment training, he said, or “maybe they have some housing needs, maybe they have some unmet mental health needs,” such as past trauma or substance use problems.
• Four: Life after hate
Tony McAleer knows the mindset of the suspected synagogue gunman. A former member of the White Aryan Resistance (WAR) and other hate groups, he once echoed the type of racist invective Bowers spewed online — the kind that sees a cabal of malevolent Jews running the world by proxy through banks, Hollywood, corporations and the media. He co-founded the nonprofit Life After Hate.
“And there’s nothing more powerful — I know because it happened to me in my own life — than receiving compassion from someone who you don’t feel you deserve it from, someone from a community that you had dehumanized,” McAleer said.
• Five: How do you scale compassion?
There are only a few programs like Life After Hate and they’re often small. Since the summer of 2017, for example, the Chicago-based group has taken on only 41 new people who want to leave their racists hate behind.
How can researchers and others scale it to reach as large a number of people as possible?
“That’s the answer I can’t provide because at this point, we really don’t know,” Simi said.
Obviously, our society needs to pursue these five takeaways. It’s necessary for governments and people who have gone astray to work with community groups to eliminate these deadly, horrible attacks that are occurring far too frequently.