JOSH: So today, we're honored to welcome Christian Picciolini.
He has quite a story.
He's an Emmy award-winning television producer,
a prolific public speaker, and reformed extremist.
He's here today to talk about his work as the co-founder
of Life After Hate--
a nonprofit helping people disengaged from hate
and violent extremism.
He's also the author of "Romantic Violence--
Memoirs of an American Skinhead."
Christian's life purpose is really born
from an ongoing and a profound need
to atone for his grisly past and to contribute to the greater
He began the process of rebuilding his life
after leaving violent far right extremist groups
he was part of during his youth, and he went on
to earn a degree in international relations
from DePaul University and start his own global entertainment
He was appointed a member of the Chicago Grammy Rock Music
Committee and a board member of CIMMfest.
I always try to say that, but I don't get it right--
Chicago International Movies and Music Festival.
It's pretty awesome.
So Christian's an appointed United Nations
affiliated ambassador IChange Nations
and was honored with a National Statesman Award.
He's also an associate for the USC Pride Homegrown Violent
Extremism Program that I think you might
be going into in your talk.
And most recently, Christian won an Emmy award for directing
and producing ExitUSA's "There Is Life After Hate" PSA,
and he's been nominated for multiple regional awards.
And Christian's going to be sticking around today
for the talk and after the talk, and we'll
have copies of his book "Romantic Violence"
available for $10 out in the lobby.
So for Googlers in the audience, be
sure to think of any questions you might have for Christian
during the Q&A. So now, please give a warm Google welcome
to Christian Picciolini.
CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI: Hi, everybody.
I remember-- my wife was sitting over there,
in case you didn't know, but I remember
when I used to see-- every person who
worked at the Chicago office could fit in this front row
It's not quite like that anymore.
Josh, thank you very much for inviting me.
It's good to be back.
I want to tell you a little bit about my story.
My journey here started 22 years ago in 1995
when I left the American neo-Nazi skinhead movement
that I helped build.
I was 22 at the time, but I had already
spent eight years, every one of my formative teen years
from the time I was 14 years old, in America's
first neo-Nazi skinhead gang.
But before that, I was a pretty normal kid--
Chachi, I guess, is right.
I came from an Italian immigrant family
who came to the United States in the mid '60s.
I had low self-esteem, low self-confidence.
I liked to play sports.
I was just a normal teenage kid.
But because my parents were immigrants,
they had to work very long hours,
and they were gone at their small business
that they started seven days a week, 14 hours a day.
And I spent a lot of time on my own.
In fact, I felt very lonely and felt very abandoned
at a young age.
I didn't quite fit in into the Italian community
where I was growing up.
And I didn't quite fit in into the American community
because my family really held onto kind
of the old-world ways, so it never really crossed over.
So because of that, I didn't have
a lot of friends growing up, and I felt very marginalized.
And just like any other teenager,
just like any other human being really,
there were three fundamental needs
that I was searching for--
identity, community, and a sense of purpose.
And that's something that we all search for at a young age,
One day, when I was 14 years old,
and I was angry at my parents and angry at the world,
I was standing in an alley smoking a joint, and a car--
1968 Firebird-- came roaring down the alley,
spitting up gravel and rocks, and it stopped six inches
And a man with a shaved head got out of the car and boots,
and nobody really in America knew
what a skinhead was in 1987.
This was before Raldo got his nose broken with a chair
and before they were on Oprah Winfrey.
But this man came up to me, and he grabbed the joint
from my mouth.
And he was 26 years old at the time, and I was 14.
And he looked me in the eyes and he said,
don't you know that that's what the communists and the Jews
want you to do to keep you docile?
I was 14.
I didn't really know what a communist
was except for Ivan Drago in my favorite "Rocky" movie.
I didn't know if I'd met a Jewish person.
I wouldn't have known by that point,
and I hardly knew what the word docile meant.
But I was struck with this man's charisma.
It seemed like he was the only adult, at that time in my life,
that had given me a real reason not to do something that would
harm me, whereas my parents might say,
don't do that because it's stupid,
or don't do that because what will other people think
if they see you doing that?
Though I didn't understand his logic because I didn't
understand politics at 14 years old,
it seemed like he had an insight that should be important to me,
and he drew me in into this community, which
happened to be America's first neo-Nazi skinhead
group, started on the south side of Chicago.
Most people don't know that.
About two years after I was recruited,
that man went to prison for a series of very violent hate
crimes, with the last one being against the female skinhead
that was part of our crew.
They saw her standing at a bus stop with a black man,
and they went to her apartment, and they kicked in her door,
and they pistol whipped her until they
thought she was dead.
And then before they left, they painted a swastika on her wall
with her own blood.
Luckily, for that, they were arrested,
and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Unlucky for me, that left a void in this organization.
By this time, I was 16 years old.
I had learned how to recruit.
I had bought into the ideology, which was very much
an "us against them" narrative.
It was always about blaming somebody else for the problems
that existed in your life versus taking accountability
for those problems and blaming somebody else because it
was very easy to blame the other--
the invisible other person.
And I started to teach that to other people.
And when he went to prison, there
was an opportunity for me that changed my life.
I essentially stepped into the role of leadership
of this group at 16 years old.
And I went from Chachi to this guy pretty much overnight.
As part of my job to recruit more young people,
I had to use fear tactics.
Our way of recruiting people was to scare them,
to essentially tell them that people were coming
into our neighborhoods to steal, who were black,
who were Latino.
We would say things like the Jews control the media
and finance systems and entertainment.
We would say that immigrants were coming to our country
and stealing jobs--
Not much has changed over the last 30 years,
and I'll get into that.
But I started to recruit these people,
and I started to affect their lives.
And for the first time in my life,
I felt powerful in the false sense of the word.
But I'd felt powerless my whole life before that.
So for a 16-year-old kid or even a 14-year-old kid,
to now be a part of this very powerful--
perceived power-- community, it really kind of changed my life.
And I started to come out of my shell,
and I started to encourage young people to go out and commit
acts of violence.
And what I realize now that I didn't realize then
is that I really hated myself, and what I was doing
was projecting my own self-loathing onto other people
to relieve myself of that pain.
Unfortunately, it took me many years to figure that out.
I had started to become a regional leader
around that time.
I merged our small group, which was the first into a larger
group called The Hammerskin Nation, which today is still
the most violent and deadliest skinhead organization on earth.
It is now all over the world.
And I also started a band that was a white power band.
My goal with that was to encourage people
through my lyrics and my music to join our fight,
and it was propaganda in the truest sense of the word.
And it was also our version of fake news back then.
This was before the internet, so I started to tell people,
through my lyrics, to go out and commit acts
of violence, which they did.
I gave them propaganda as education, which they learned.
And that kept them in because what would happen
is they would give up everything else
in their life that was important to them to join this group.
And that was important for us because we knew,
then, it was harder to leave and harder
to go back because they had abandoned
their original identity and their original community,
and we gave that to them in a new form.
But we also gave them that purpose
that they were looking for.
But we would always try to look for young people
who were marginalized or vulnerable
or who had some sort of a grievance or trauma
because they were looking for answers, and they were angry.
And it was easy for us to manufacture answers for them,
to spin something into an answer that
was more palatable for them so that they
would blame other people.
In 1991, the band that I started to make this music
was the first band to travel outside of the United States
within this genre to play in a foreign country.
And this was in 1991 in Weimar, Germany.
And Weimar is this beautiful city
that is in former East Germany.
It's produced composers and artists and great thinkers,
and this was the first time that I really
recognized the consequences of my words
that I was saying onstage because, after this concert,
the 4,000 skinheads that came to the show from all over Europe
went out into this town, and they essentially destroyed it.
They broke into shops, and they broke windows.
They stole beer from pubs, and they
went around the town essentially beating up the townspeople, who
were white and German.
And I didn't quite understand why we were doing that.
And I didn't quite understand how
it made me feel that they were doing that based on my words,
and it really allowed me to have this internal discussion
with myself to really try and understand
what I was accomplishing and how I was influencing the world.
And I had a really hard time with that.
And I started to question the ideology that I was a part of.
I started to see that they were broken people who were hurting
other people because they were broken,
and that's when I made the connection
about me feeling broken and hating myself
and then projecting that onto other people.
And then something happened--
changed my life again.
When I came home from Germany, I met a girl,
and we fell in love--
not her, somebody else.
And we had our child, and I was 19 years old when we first got
married and had our first child and then 21
when we had our second son.
And it challenged that idea of identity and community
I had gone from a skinhead leader to a father.
My community priorities shifted from the one
I had built around me to the family I was now creating.
And my purpose began to shift.
It was about supporting my family and keeping them safe
and providing for them and not bringing
in the ideology that I was a part of,
and that was an important key for me
because I started to ask myself, if I'm
passionate about this, why is it that I'm not
bringing my family into it?
And I realized, at that point, that it was not
something I wanted them involved in because it was dangerous.
I had started to question my ideology,
and I'd started to meet people that challenged my narrative.
So to support my family, I opened a record store.
I still wasn't ready or brave enough
to leave behind that community and that identity
because I had really abandoned everything else,
and my family was very new.
So I decided the best way to find
a middle ground was to get off the streets
and open a record store.
That way, I could support my family.
That way, I could come home in normal hours,
and I wouldn't be putting myself in danger.
But the point of opening the record store
was not just to sell music, it was to sell white power music.
So I began importing CDs--
this was before the internet-- from Europe.
And very, very quickly, it became 75% of my gross revenue
at the store.
People were driving in from California and New York
to buy this white power music because I was the only store
in the US selling it.
Something else happened at that time.
I became a little bit greedy as an entrepreneur,
and I thought to myself, why should I just take money
from my brothers and sisters when I could be taking money
from the enemy as well?
So I started to sell punk rock, and hip hop, and heavy metal.
And when the customers came in to buy
that who were African-American or Jewish or gay or Muslim,
at first, I was a little standoffish.
I was happy to take their money, but I didn't really
want to talk to them or engage with them.
But they kept coming back, and they knew who I was.
And I was confused why they were supporting me.
And every time they came back, the conversation
got to be a little bit more personal.
And then they would come back, and then I
started asking them questions.
And one day, a black teenager came in,
and he had told me that his mother had passed from cancer.
And suddenly, I was able to relate with this person
because my mother had been diagnosed with cancer.
And we connected on a human level.
And then one day, a gay couple came in with their son,
and it was obvious how much they loved him,
and it was the same love that I felt for my child.
And I began to realize that we had more similarities
than differences, that I had never in my life-- not
just the eight years that I was involved-- but never
in my life had a meaningful conversation
or interaction with anybody who wasn't like me.
And because of my store, I was now
having these meaningful interactions with the people,
who, in my head, I had a different vision of who
I believed the propaganda.
I believed the hate and the lies and the scapegoating.
And now, suddenly, I was meeting these people
for the first time, and they showed me compassion.
They could have easily gone and broken my windows at the store.
They could have easily gone and threatened my family or harmed
me, but they didn't.
Even know they knew who I was, they kept coming back.
And I received compassion from the people
that I least deserved it from when I least deserved it.
And that really allowed me to humanize them and realize
that we needed each other, that we
had the same fundamental needs of joy and love,
that we had the same emotions of anger and sadness,
and that we really were all pieces of a puzzle that
couldn't be built without each other.
So I became embarrassed to sell the white power music,
and I closed the store, obviously,
because I couldn't sustain it anymore
with it being 75% of my revenue.
And at that same moment, when I closed my store,
my life fell apart.
I didn't have a job anymore, so my livelihood was gone.
My wife and my children left me because I
hadn't left the movement quickly enough
and paid attention to them.
I didn't have a great relationship with my parents,
and I had lost my whole community that I had built.
So suddenly, I was without that identity and that community
and a purpose.
And for the next five years, I woke up every morning
and I considered taking my life because I wasn't sure
how to proceed.
I was treating other people with respect.
I started to understand our similarities,
but I was still miserable inside because, for those five years,
I tried to outrun who I was.
I tried to make new friends, wasn't very successful at that.
I moved, wore long sleeves to cover my tattoos.
I was doing everything I could to not face who
I was because I was afraid of being judged just like I
judged other people until, one day, at the end of that five
years, a friend of mine came up to me, and she said,
you have to do something because I don't want to lose you.
And I said, OK, well, what do you suggest?
And she said, well, I just started working
at this company called IBM.
You may have heard of them.
Why don't you apply for a job there?
And I said, you're crazy.
I said, I'm like an ex-Nazi.
I'm covered in tattoos.
I went to six high schools.
I get kicked out of all of them-- one of them twice.
I didn't go to university, oh, and by the way,
I don't own a computer or know how to use a computer.
Why would they hire me?
And she said, just go in there for an interview.
See what happens, and just tell them you're good with people.
I was like, yeah, OK, that's what I'm going to tell them.
But I wrote my resume.
I lied on my resume.
And I went in, and I got the job.
And that essentially changed my life again
because now I had found purpose again.
That gave me the ability to find the confidence
to approach other people, to seek forgiveness,
but also to find a way to forgive myself because I
had been unable to do that.
And things started to get better.
And the first day at IBM--
of course, they have millions of customers--
where did they put me?
Back at my old high school for a computer rollout--
the same high school I'd been kicked out of twice.
That was my first day at my first job at IBM.
I was terrified, absolutely terrified.
I was a grown man who was sweating and shaking,
and I couldn't find the words.
I was scared to walk into the building
because I was afraid that somebody
was going to say we know him.
He's got to go, and I would lose that opportunity
for that first meaningful thing.
And of course, on that first day, who walks by me
but the old black security guard that I got in a fist fight
with that got me kicked out for the second time?
I really didn't know what to do then,
but I decided I had to do something.
I knew I couldn't live in that fear of being found
out or recognized and fired.
So I decided I was going to chase him to the parking lot--
probably not the smartest thing for a guy
that I got in a fist fight with.
But when I saw him getting into his car,
I tapped him on the shoulder.
And this man, who normally had this beautiful jolly
smile, when he turned around and recognized me,
he took a step back because he was afraid.
I couldn't think of what to say except I'm sorry.
And I stuck out my hand, and he shook it.
And we talked.
We embraced, may have cried just a little bit.
It was a long time ago.
I'm not really sure.
I'm pretty sure we cried.
But after talking, he made me make a promise,
and that promise was that I would tell the world my story,
not because he thought, oh, kids are going to become neo-Nazis.
You should tell them.
But because he recognized, in my story, the story
of every young person, who is vulnerable,
who is marginalized, who can very easily find
a destructive path.
And I didn't really know what he meant until a couple years
later, and I got a phone call in 2004 in the middle of the night
that my younger brother had been shot and killed.
And then I knew that I had to tell my story because he
was driving in a car with some friends
in a neighborhood he wasn't used to,
and some kids who are scared of his skin color
decided that they were going to shoot into the car.
And I knew that this wasn't just something that affected me.
I knew then, at this time, that I
wasn't the only one with this problem,
that there were a lot of lost young people
who needed to understand that there was a more positive path.
So it took me 10 years to do it, but eventually, I
wrote and published my book.
And in my book, I speak to every young person.
While I use my own story, and I tell my story,
I use the language that I used at that age
because I want other young people to be
able to relate to what I went through,
and I think that I was successful with that.
I also co-founded an organization called
Life After Hate, and everybody you see in this picture
here is a former extremist, who has been out
for at least the last 20 years and has
dedicated their lives to helping dismantle
what they helped build.
For the last 22 years of my life, mostly for the last 15,
I've been very actively engaged in helping
people understand the movement that I helped build.
I've consulted with law enforcement
and done public speaking.
But most of all, what I'm the most proud of
is helping people disengage from hate and hate groups.
And we're able to be successful doing
that because we really relate to the people we're working with.
We were those people at one point in our lives.
And what we do, when we work with people, is we listen.
And we listen for what I call potholes.
Potholes are the things that appeared
in your path that happened to you that eventually deviated
you onto a different path.
And when I listen for potholes, I
hear about trauma and abuse, poverty, lack of education,
And my job, then, becomes to fill those potholes.
I work with partners all over the country
to bring mental health support, or job training,
or career guidance, or education, even
tattoo removal for people, who are in these movements, who
want to get out.
And I tell you that there are so many people who
are stuck in these movements, and even though they
may be questioning their ideology,
they don't leave because they've already abandoned everything
to go back to.
And they've spent time and energy building this community
and this identity that starting over is very, very difficult.
And I know because I was there.
So we try to be this new community for them.
We've actually built a network of over 200 people
that we've helped leave, that have found us
after they've left.
And we provide a virtual support system for them.
They can talk to each other and understand each other.
And some days, in our virtual community--
it's cat memes and joking around--
and some days, it gets really heavy,
where somebody will admit for the first time to anybody
that they were sexually abused at three years old,
or they'll come online and tell us
that their son committed suicide that morning.
And we rally.
We surround that person with love and with compassion
and empathy, and they make it because sometimes the things
that they're going through because of their past--
it's not something that they feel
comfortable talking about with other people that
haven't experienced it.
I just want to talk a little bit about the movement
now because it's changed over the last 30 years.
What we used to think of when we thought of the far
right extremist movement--
we think of skinheads and Klan and militia.
And there are still people out there like that.
We see them on the news from time to time,
but it's different now.
The internet has changed things.
And this is an important topic for me,
and I'm glad I'm speaking to you about this
because, obviously, you are at the fore of this thing called
the internet and connecting people and information.
But what I've seen lately, because of the internet,
is that so many vulnerable young people, who
may be socially awkward in real life,
are finding their identity in their community
online in not the greatest of places.
I'm seeing so much propaganda and fake
news that is directing these young people to a new narrative
because, let's face it, young people, maybe even some of us,
were pretty disgruntled with the way society is these days.
We question government.
We question law enforcement on some of their tactics.
For young people, they have a hard time
getting a job after college.
If they go to college, they are saddled with debt.
They're really looking for answers.
And unfortunately, because of some
of the algorithms that exist online,
it traps people in these bubbles and puts them
down a rabbit hole.
Let's say, for instance, you click on a story
or you Google a black-on-white crime statistics.
Well, that may take you to a fake news site,
and I know that y'all are working on that,
and I'm glad that you guys are.
But this is important because what happens
is, when they hit that news story,
just like when you go to Amazon, and you buy a product,
and it recommends Pampers if you bought Huggies,
well, unfortunately, social media also recommends
the same type of stories.
So you start going down this rabbit hole of misinformation.
So what used to look like this now looks like this.
And we might laugh and say, oh, you know,
they're just teenage girls being stupid.
They also look like this.
30 years ago, we started this concept
of what's called the alt-right today.
We recognized 30 years ago that we were turning people away--
the average American racist--
because we had shaved heads and waved swastika flags
and got tattoos.
So we thought, well, we need to trade in our boots for suits.
We need to start wearing a tie and going to college so we can
recruit on college campuses.
We need to get jobs and law enforcement and run for office.
And it's getting younger and younger,
and it manifests like this.
This is Dylann Roof, who walked into a church in South Carolina
and murdered nine innocent people because
of the color of their skin.
One day, he went and he looked up black-on-white crime
statistics, and he was led to a website that
is a white nationalist or neo-Nazi website that
gave false information.
And he continued to go down that rabbit hole,
and we all, unfortunately, know what happened in that tragedy.
Alexandre Bissonnette-- Quebec City--
same situation-- murdered six people,
who were praying in a mosque because of propaganda
and online misinformation.
James Jackson, just a couple of weeks ago, in New York City,
went and murdered a black man and tried
to stop interracial relationships
because of the things he was reading online.
Really happy that this one was classified as terrorism,
and it's only the second time that white extremism
has been classified as terrorism in the United States.
The first one was the Oklahoma City bombing
with Timothy McVeigh, who was an avid attendee at Aryan Nations.
Without the resources of calling it terrorism, I'm afraid
and I'm alarmed that we will not be able to combat it
the way it needs to.
Since 9/11-- most of you may not know this--
but more Americans have been killed on US soil
by white extremists than by any other foreign or domestic
terrorist group combined by a factor of two,
yet we still don't call it terrorism.
We hardly hear about it on the news
unless it's a very high-profile attack.
So what I decided to do, because of all the influence
online for young people, was that we
were going to start doing interventions online.
So we launched an initiative called ExitUSA.org,
and it's just a simple website.
It's just a contact form, where people
can contact us confidentially and without judgment
if they want help leaving these groups.
As you can imagine, sometimes it's
a dangerous thing to do to leave.
They're also kind of testing the waters to make sure
that they can trust us because they're
afraid that we may be law enforcement or turning them in.
And when we establish that rapport with people,
we've had almost a 100% success rate
of helping people disengage.
I just want to tell you a little bit--
actually, I what I want to do is one
of the initiatives that we launched online,
with the help of YouTube, that I'm very, very proud of was--
and thanks, Josh, who just left for a call.
That's what I want an Emmy for, so I'm very proud of it.
This is a one-minute PSA that I'd
love to show you that we actually
ran on YouTube in front of hate videos as a non-clickable ad,
so you couldn't remove the ad.
You had to watch it.
So we're essentially making these people, who
were in this movement, watch our video ad before they
watched the propaganda video.
Can we play that?
- I was out there that night--
drunk, stupid, and looking for a fight.
- When my mom found out I was gay, I was 13 years old.
She threw me out the front door, locking it behind her,
and that's the last time I ever saw my mom.
- Someone yelled, get the faggot.
I kicked him in the head and watched it snap back.
- I remember looking into those eyes.
The moment I saw him again, I had to think,
can I forgive him?
- I spent half my life thinking that I killed him.
I feared what I didn't understand,
and that fear turned to hate and violence.
Hate is like a cancer that will eat you alive.
- Until there's nothing left to forgive.
- If you or someone you know is in a dark world
that hate takes you to, we can help--
no judgment, just help.
CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI: We were very successful with that ad.
We ran it for only three weeks, and the Wall Street Journal
actually ended up writing an article about it
because, just in those three weeks,
eight people reached out to us that we've helped
disengage from these movements.
I just want to talk to you a little bit about some
of the cases that I'm seeing, and I
think this is also important.
This is Grace.
Grace is a 17-year-old girl from Florida.
Her parents contacted me through ExitUSA, and they said,
we're concerned about our daughter.
She's making these neo-Nazi propaganda videos.
They're horrifying, and she has this 23-year-old boyfriend,
who lives in Idaho, who essentially recruited
her and is writing the scripts for these videos.
So I started to dig in.
I got a little information on both the girl and her boyfriend
just so I could do some research about what
I was getting myself into.
And I had an email and a name and an address,
and I started to, for about three weeks,
go really deep into a rabbit hole, a really fascinating
What I discovered was that this man was not only doing
this to her, but he was doing it to 12 other girls
at the same time, some as young as 14 years old.
He would become their boyfriends.
He would only communicate with them over the phone
or through email or text message.
He would do Skype sessions without the video,
and if he would send a video, it was
obvious to me, when I looked at it, that it was somebody else's
video that he had stripped the audio
and recorded his own audio on.
I was able to do reverse image searches on Google--
thank you very much--
to actually find out which original pictures
he had used and altered as his own.
So when I presented it to this girl and her family,
what I discovered was that this man was not a 23-year-old boy
He was actually a 37-year-old man from Moscow, Russia.
And the rest of his group around him
that was also working to spread propaganda
and a white nationalist movement had
created over 100,000 social media profiles that
were using chatbots and artificial intelligence
to put out misinformation, but also to engage
in conversation with people.
Those accounts were pro-Trump and also
very neo-Nazi at the same time.
They were fake accounts that were just being--
technology was kind of propagating these messages.
But they were also creating fake Black Lives Matters accounts
and fake jihadist accounts all with the purpose
of trying to put out misinformation
against each other to rile up everybody else.
I eventually turned over that information to the FBI,
and when I met with the girl and her parents, of course,
she didn't believe me because this was her boyfriend,
so she leaked the information to him.
And within an hour of me leaving her house, 75 domain
names that I own for my nonprofit,
my business, my mother's business friends
were all hacked by Russian malware
and pointed to porn sites in Russia.
So our sites were shut down for a couple of weeks.
I'm happy to say that I've been working with Grace
for about seven months.
What I've done with her is I've immersed her
into situations where she is connecting with people that she
thought she hated.
I introduced her to a 96-year-old female Auschwitz
survivor, who is now her mentor.
And they're really good friends, and they talk all the time.
They bonded over playing the violin.
And it's those situations of meeting the people that you
keep outside of your social circle
and understanding them and having a meaningful interaction
that really changes people's perspective
because the ideology is not a driver.
It's that sense of purpose.
The ideology is just a tie that binds them together
and gives them license to be angry.
And I can tell you that there are striking parallels
between why people join ISIS, why
they join a white nationalist movement,
or even why they join a gang.
And we're starting to understand those connections,
that it really is not necessarily driven
by ideology, that it's actually the need
to belong to something that makes them
vulnerable to the ideology.
I also want to tell you about Darrell.
Darrell is a 31-year-old man from Buffalo, New York.
He called me after reading my book,
and he said I have some questions.
And I said, OK, so I talked to him for several weeks.
And then one day, he told me that he
saw a Muslim man praying in the park
when he was walking with his daughter,
and all he wanted to do was go up to that man
and kick him in the face when he was on the ground praying.
And I said, OK, Darrell, well, I'm flying to Buffalo tomorrow.
I don't know what you're doing, but you're taking the day off
because we really need to talk.
And when I got there, I asked him-- first
question I asked him was, have you ever
met a Muslim person before?
He said, no, why would I want to do that?
They're the enemy, and I don't want to be anywhere near them.
I said, OK.
I excused myself.
I went to the bathroom.
I got out my phone, and I googled the local mosque
And I was very quiet in the bathroom,
and I got on my phone, and I called.
And I said, imam, I have a man here who is a Christian.
He would really love to learn more about your religion.
Can I bring him over?
And he said, yes, absolutely, bring him over.
I'd be happy to talk.
But I've only got 15 minutes.
I'm preparing for a prayer service.
I said, OK, we'll be right over.
When we got there, we had 10 minutes left.
And I knocked on the door, and the imam answered.
He said, I've only got 10 minutes,
but please come in and talk.
Well, three hours later, we left the mosque after sitting down
and discussing religion and talking about all the things
that were in this man's head that he didn't--
it wasn't really connected to any reality or logic
It wasn't long before they were hugging and crying.
And I'm happy to say that now Darrell goes to the mosque.
He's still a Christian, but he volunteers there.
He helps set up chairs.
He cooks food for them.
And every Friday, he and the imam go out for falafel.
They're now very, very good friends,
and Darrell is doing great as well.
Anybody can change.
What I'm trying to say is that it's
the compassion and the empathy that we give to those people
that we despise, that we hate what they say,
that changes them.
Here's another example.
I don't know if you know who Richard Spencer.
Is I'm sure you've heard his name recently.
But I was giving a talk last week in Whitefish, Montana,
in his hometown, and I sent him a direct message on Twitter.
And I said, hey, I'm in your town.
Let's grab a coffee.
And he happened to come to my talk that night.
We spoke for two hours afterwards, and we just talked.
We didn't battle ideologically.
I listened, and I listened for those potholes.
And of course, I didn't change Richard Spencer.
He still hates people.
He's still pushing this alt-right agenda.
But I heard things that will develop
into something else over time.
I heard things about those voids, those potholes
in his life, and we've agreed to meet again.
And I think a seed has been planted.
At least, it's a good sign that he gave the peace sign.
But I'm going to continue talking to him.
While other people want to punch him,
I can tell you that, when I was 18 years old, if somebody would
have punched me because of my beliefs,
I probably would have come back with something a little bit
more than a punch.
That doesn't change anybody.
I know our initial reaction is to want
to eliminate and get rid of the people who are dissenting
or say things that we don't like,
and I'm here to tell you that we need
to listen to them despite how it makes
us feel because we need to establish
that human connection again.
That's what helped me change, and that's
what I believe will help change people who are still
stuck in this movement.
I have a challenge for you before we open it up
I want you to leave today, and when you leave,
I want you to do something.
And that's find somebody who you think
doesn't deserve a kind word, and I want you to give it to them--
or a kind action.
Show them compassion, and see what happens.
See how you change, and see how it changes them.
So I want you to go out there, and my motto is kind of similar
to Google's-- the do no evil.
Mine is make good happen.
So I want you to go out there, and I would love
for you to make good happen.
Thank you very much.
CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI: And I think
there is a microphone there.
I don't know if we can see the Dory questions on
here too if there's any to come up.
But please, if you have a question,
step up to the microphone.
And I'm happy to answer it.
And you can ask anything as personal as you'd like,
and I promise to answer it as honestly as possible.
AUDIENCE: Hi, Christian.
CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI: Hi.
AUDIENCE: What is your take on this casual kind of racism
we're seeing that--
it's not exactly punching in the face,
and it's not exactly dressing up and going to college
as a racist or running for office,
but it's like this kind of lame, casual commenting
that I see even teens--
people we wouldn't assume to be like this anymore-- doing?
What do you think about that, or how do we change something
CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI: First of all, I
think it was likely always there, right?
It was probably dormant, lived in the shadows,
and because of our political climate, a lot of people
feel emboldened saying those things
because, frankly, a lot of people at the top
are saying very, very similar things, right?
It's shaped to be a little bit more palatable.
The messaging is a little bit different,
but the mission is the same.
And I know because this is the ball that we
started to roll 30 years ago.
And as far as the casual comments,
I don't engage in them.
If I do engage, I engage in a very compassionate way.
And it's hard for people to shut down compassion.
However, if you attack back, you're
going to see it just go on and on and on,
and you'll see the polarization go even wider.
Have honest conversations with people.
Don't necessarily seriously challenge their narrative.
Just be the message.
Be the message that you want them to be.
So if you want them to be understanding,
you have to show understanding.
If you want them to be compassionate or empathetic,
that's something you have to do first.
So that applies to strangers, and I
think it applies to people that they
might be family members that we block on social media
But I think that we have to establish that connection.
We have to start by finding a middle ground
and then go out and talk about all the difficult things.
But we have to have these difficult and very
That's what's going to connect us again.
Thank you, Sunni.
CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI: Hi.
AUDIENCE: Wow, cray.
CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI: Thank you, I think.
AUDIENCE: Two questions-- one is about the five years,
right, that there weren't a lot of details around.
I'm interested in-- I would imagine there's relapses that
happen with this sort of thing.
I mean, so much of this is like an addiction to substance abuse
and things of that nature.
So you talked about success rates with your own people,
so I'm just curious what happened to you personally
as well as what you see with some of the people
that you're counseling.
CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI: I've never been asked that question.
That's really a good question.
AUDIENCE: The second question I have is, within that time frame
too, and then as you were coming out of this--
clearly, you deserve all the credit
for getting yourself out of where you were.
But I would imagine there was someone that helped you.
CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI: A lot of people.
AUDIENCE: And you didn't really talk about that,
so if there's like one person in particular-- just
to kind of understand the support.
CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI: Sure.
First of all, those five years were really dark.
I didn't have a steady job.
I didn't date.
I was still very adamant about being there for my children
that I saw every weekend, but other than that,
the rest of those five days, I was deteriorating.
I got into drugs and alcohol, and I was just
really not treating myself with a whole lot of respect.
I was really ashamed of what I had been through,
and I didn't think that I deserved happiness.
So I was really going out of my way
to be extra kind and extra compassionate to other people,
but I was completely ignoring myself.
The second question-- there were a lot of people.
It wasn't just one instance.
There were so many-- it was like I was
a pinball in a pinball machine.
It was like everybody that I touched somehow
would impart on me some sort of wisdom.
And I would take just like a nugget from everybody,
and eventually I was able to put them all together.
When I stopped the ego, when I stopped thinking and started
feeling, that's really when I connected with who I was
and with the innocence that I lost at 14 years old
because I went from this 13 and 1/2 year old kid
to this 14-year-old monster, essentially.
I was doing things that, not only most adults don't do,
but most people wouldn't do.
So it was a very difficult time.
And leaving that, I didn't have any relapses because one--
I couldn't go back.
Once I left, there's no going back.
And two-- I knew how it made me feel when I was there.
And even though I was going through a miserable period,
and it was a very dark time, I still felt some peace
that I wasn't involved in that.
And I knew I didn't want to stir up those feelings
or go back into that confusion.
I knew, at that time, it was not something I wanted to do.
And pretty quickly after those five years,
I started the ball rolling and doing some of the work
that I do now and writing my book.
And writing my book, I tell you, for 10 years--
really, it was pretty cathartic.
It was pretty therapeutic for me to even think about some
of the things that I'd forgotten about myself.
So it's almost like self-therapy for me to write the book.
It was a tough time.
I'm glad I made it past that.
AUDIENCE: Hi, thank you for your talk.
CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: I wanted to ask two questions.
One is, when you saw really bad things happen
within your group--
for example, that girl that got attacked and was a member--
how did you explain that to yourself, like, OK, this
is right, and I want to be the leader of this group,
or how do other people as well?
And then two-- I know you're saying you first
got into contact with different types of people in your record
store, but I come from a very white Catholic country,
and I still feel like I was always exposed
to so many different people.
And I'm just always on the edge of--
some people, who are kind of promoting these hate speeches,
at the same time, are hiring people of different races
and stuff like this.
So I'm kind of confused as to how that comes about.
CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI: Well, it's a self-exclusion.
So even though you may--
I mean, I went to high school with people
of all different colors.
And even though I had access to these people,
I isolated myself from them.
I didn't want to engage with them because I was afraid.
I never admitted it at that time, but I was afraid.
And because I was 14 years old when I got in,
when I was younger, I never really had
access to that kind of diversity.
And certainly, when I was 14 to the time I was 22,
I kept myself out of that.
It was a choice that I made not to engage with people until,
because I wanted to be a good businessman
or because I was greedy or whatever,
I was forced to engage with these people.
And then I was like, ah, they don't fit what's in my head.
They don't fit what's in my heart.
My reality is not real.
And that's what helped me build that bridge.
I forgot your other question.
What was your other question?
AUDIENCE: Sorry, I was talking a lot.
But my first question was around,
when there was acts of violence, how
did you describe that to yourself that that's OK,
or like anybody in these types of groups, really?
CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI: Yeah, well, we detached ourselves
from that too.
When we hurt somebody, we weren't hurting a human
because we had been so conditioned
and we conditioned each other to think and feel
that the people we were hurting were almost
like an inanimate object, like a parasite or a cockroach
or a piece of paper that you could crumple up and throw
So that's how we were able to deal
with what we were doing is we completely detached ourselves.
It became us against the other, and the other didn't matter.
All that mattered to us was us because we
weren't able to humanize them because we never
interacted with them.
It was almost like a psychological cut-off,
like a wall that we had built. And it wasn't until I had those
connections with people that I realized I didn't want to hurt
them anymore, that I considered them equal or, in many cases,
many cases, better than me.
AUDIENCE: I read Christian's book.
I highly recommend reading it because he does really detail
out where he was at that moment in his life.
And it was one of the most transformative books
I've ever read.
So I just really encourage everyone to do so.
I had the opportunity to interview Christian afterwards,
actually, for a book that I'm writing.
And one thing that--
well, many, many things stuck with me
after that conversation, but one thing really
did in which he talked about a lot of these people
within these organizations and hate groups live
in a reality that's entirely separate from our own,
especially in this world that we live in here at Google,
where we're extremely blessed.
Can you speak a little bit more about that,
especially because it's likely that all of us
have an unconscious bias towards some different even individual.
CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI: Sure.
Yeah, thank you for that.
It's good to see you again.
There are two different realities,
and I think maybe November after November,
we started to realize that, that there
are these two sometimes very separate tracks with not
a whole lot of bridges that cross over,
and we tend to stay in our comfort zones,
in our bubbles or our silos and not
really cross over because it makes us uncomfortable.
Know that, when we hear them and think, it's ridiculous.
How can somebody think that?
They also think that about us.
Those are the two realities.
They think, how can somebody want diversity?
That's white genocide.
The more people you allow in that are not white,
the white people go away.
I mean, it's ridiculous, right?
But there are two very distinct realities,
and we really need to--
if we ever hope to eliminate some of this
or to change peoples perspective,
we have to be willing to build that bridge
and have very, very uncomfortable discussions
And sometimes there people that we love
and we think we understand, but when
we hear something like that, we think, who is that person?
I don't know that person.
Well, that person's the same person.
They've just had something appear in their path
that changed their direction at some point-- that pothole.
Just listen, I think, more than you speak.
People don't necessarily like to be talked to.
They like to be heard.
So listen, but also hold people accountable.
It's important to do that, right?
If you hear something that you know is not right or an action
that you clearly know is hurting somebody else, including
that person, hold that person accountable,
but also listen because that will give you the clues on how
to build that bridge.
AUDIENCE: Hi, thank you for what you're doing.
It's very powerful and important.
What can we, as a society and as individuals,
do to help those marginalized teens or even younger?
Is there a way we can engage with the youth
from an early age, even elementary school,
to help teach them empathy and tolerance to help prevent this?
CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI: Yeah, well, that's a great question.
And I think that you answered, partly,
your question is we really need to be there for young people
as early as possible from the day they're
born to not only teach them empathy,
but to provide them with opportunity
and to amplify their passions, right?
I just said young people don't like to be talked to.
They like to be heard.
We need to listen to young people.
They have something important to say.
Their ideas may not be completely formed.
They may not have the experience that maybe some of us have,
but we need to be there to amplify their passions,
to really listen to them because I could to tell you,
if I was 14 years old, and somebody
would have came up to me and said,
hey, you're a really good artist or you're
pretty good baseball player.
Let's find a way for you to do those things
that you love to do.
I would have gone that way.
I mean, I wasn't aspiring to be a hater.
I came from a family that was the victim of racism when
they came to this country.
They were the victims of prejudice.
It wasn't a part of my upbringing.
I didn't even know what racism was.
Let me just use kind of a theory that I have.
I think that we should feed young people, from the day
they're born, ethnic food--
different food instead of chicken nuggets
and grilled cheese sandwiches because maybe,
if they're not afraid of diverse foods,
they won't grow up to be afraid of diverse people.
I think fathers are so, so important to young men
because what I'm seeing is that so many of these young men that
are joining these movements are doing that because they don't
have a connection to their father,
because they're trying to be something for their father.
There are a lot of studies about masculinity
and the extremist movements that make a lot, a lot of sense.
So there are lots of things we can do.
We can do something kind in a small way
that, if everybody just does that extra kind
thing in their life, well, that's billions of kind things
that happen every day that are extra, right?
Hold the door.
Say hi to somebody.
Instead of looking at your pixels,
look at eyes when you're walking down the street.
There's so many things that we can
do that really don't take a lot of effort that I think
would really go a long way.
But opportunity for young people is so important.
Instead of after school day care,
maybe we should set up after school incubators
for young people as young as six years old
to start playing around with things that may take them
down a better path.
SPEAKER 1: Let's have this as the last question.
CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI: OK.
AUDIENCE: So thank you, Christian, always a pleasure
to listen to your talk.
CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: In speaking with people
that have very different beliefs as you,
you said hold them accountable, but you
don't want to be combative.
You know that they are filled with fake facts,
but I know, personally, I probably
don't know all of the exact facts
unless I Google and try to find three
other resources immediately.
So do you have any techniques in how to listen
but also hold them accountable without being confrontational
with your own gut and moral compass?
CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI: Sure.
Well, I'll tell you about my two-hour conversation
with Richard Spencer.
We hardly talked about ideology.
I asked him about his father.
I asked him about the kinds of things that he likes to do,
and I listened.
And when he would drift into that ideological space
and say something that was a no-no,
I would tell them that was a no-no,
and I would hold him accountable for that by saying,
that's not something that I believe in,
and I would appreciate it if you didn't say that.
And you'd see kind of the way he would talk shift,
and he would move on to something else.
And he'd started to go talk about how
he wanted to be a theater major, and when we were walking out,
somebody had come up to us and said, hey,
can I tell you how weird it is that you guys are
both standing here, and right next door, we're
doing a rehearsal for a performance of Cabaret?
And his face lit up, and we started
to talk about theater and all these things.
And it's just hold them accountable
in a non-confrontational way, but still
keep that dialogue open.
It would be kind of like talking to your child, right?
You wouldn't-- well, but you're not going to go off and scream
at your kids and be angry at them and tell them that
they're stupid and wrong or whatever because that's not
the way you would handle your kids.
It's almost like we have to have those kid gloves,
but at the same time, like, no, that's not right,
and then show them what is right and have that conversation.
And they may not agree, and it may take a long time,
but that's the way we're going to get through to people.
I guarantee you, but arguing is not the way to do it.
I don't know that any--
aside from a structured debate, I
don't know that arguing with anybody or going to war
or having a fight has ever changed anybody's mind.
I just want to say thank you so much.
Thank you to Josh for having me.
It was a real pleasure.
I'm happy to stick around and talk to anybody afterwards.
It's really good to be here again, and thank you so much.
Thank you, Google.
I appreciate it.
CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI: Thank you.