A former neo-Nazi says President Donald Trump’s statements after the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month have sent clear messages to white supremacists and other far-right groups.
Christian Picciolini, a former white supremacist, helped lead neo-Nazi group the Chicago Area Skin Heads 30 years ago, at the age of 16. He left the movement at the age of 22.
Trump has received widespread, bipartisan condemnation for his statements after the violence at the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally, where far right groups clashed with counter-protesters, leaving one dead after a white supremacist plowed a car into a 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer.
Trump initially blamed “many sides” for the violence and failed to specifically condemn white nationalists and neo-Nazis. A later statement did condemn those groups explicitly, before Trump doubled down on his equivocation at a press conference the next day.
“You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” Trump said in a press conference last week. “Nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it.”
Picciolini says that with statements like that, Trump has moved from what political commentators call “dog whistles” – subtle political messages intended to be understood only by a particular, often racist, group – to a “bullhorn.”
“The way he defied the country after Charlottesville, where he put both sides on the same moral plane, this is what people call dog whistles. But to people like me and in our network, it’s a bullhorn,” Picciolini told Business Insider.
“It’s not lost on us. We recognize immediately the things that are said as ‘dog whistles’ speak clearly to the people in the [white supremacist] movement.”
These days, Picciolini leads Life After Hate, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping neo-Nazis, white supremacists, KKK members, and other far right activists leave their organizations and their hateful ideologies. The organization has seen a flood of donations since the events in Charlottesville, Picciolini said.
- Courtesy of Christian Picciolini/Photo by Britton Picciolini
Picciolini further said that Trump’s statements and stances throughout the 2016 campaign, and now as president, have “absolutely emboldened” white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups because, in many cases, they have mirrored what those groups outwardly advocate.
“If we had a president 30 years ago who said what Donald Trump has said, we would have rejoiced,” said Picciolini, specifically pointing to Trump’s harsh anti-immigration rhetoric and policies and his infamous “Muslim ban.”
Picciolini likened Trump’s statements and actions to a “bucket of gasoline” dumped on the sparks and fire of racism that have long existed in the US.
“It’s pretty clear that the perfect storm in this recipe for disaster is happening right now,” he said.