In January of this year Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced a $10 million grant program called “Countering Violent Extremism.” Some of that money would have been used to rehabilitate former white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
“I know from visiting numerous communities across this country that very often the best efforts to counter violent extremism are local, tailored to a particular community,” Johnson wrote in a press release. “In this age of self-radicalization and terrorist-inspired acts of violence, domestic based efforts to counter violent extremism have become a homeland security imperative.”
After coming into power the Trump administration put the grant on hold. In June the Dept. of Homeland Security announced it was restarting the program but would direct the grants to organizations combating Al Qaeda and ISIS while leaving out organizations focused on countering white supremacists and other far-right hate groups such as Life After Hate, a group focused de-radicalizing neo-Nazis. Life After Hate was slated to receive a $400,000 grant.
The wisdom of that decision is now being called in question after the displays of extremist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“It's gone from what we would have considered very open neo-Nazis and skinheads and KKK marching, to now people that look like our neighbors, our doctors, our teachers, our mechanics,” Christian Piccolini, a renounced neo-Nazi and the co-founder of Life After Hate, said in an interview with NPR on August 16.
Piccolini, who considers himself a testimony to the fact that rehabilitation is possible, believes in the power of change; and that the interim stages between radical violence and complete enlightenment are motivated not so much by hate as a deeper kind of human despair.
“I think ultimately people become extremists not necessarily because of the ideology,” he offered, explaining the necessity of rehabilitation programs. “I think that the ideology is simply a vehicle to be violent. I believe that people become radicalized, or extremist, because they're searching for three very fundamental human needs: identity, community and a sense of purpose.”