MILWAUKEE — When Chrisitian Picciolini was just 14-years-old, he was drawn into the violent hate-filled world of the Chicago Area Skinheads.
It was 1987 and as an insecure teen with absent parents, Picciolini quickly became emboldened by the neo-Nazi movement’s message. He spent the next eight years of his youth spreading its dogma through underground punk music and other propaganda and becoming a recruiter himself.
Since leaving the white-supremacist movement at age 22, Picciolini has dedicated his life to helping others overcome hate through such organizations as Life After Hate and ExitUSA. He now leads the Free Radicals Project, a global extremism prevention and disengagement platform, helping people exit hate movements and other violent ideologies.
At 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 29, at Congregation Shalom, 7630 N. Santa Monica Blvd., he’ll share his story, and some of the lessons found in his new book, “Breaking Hate: Confronting the New Culture of Extremism.”
The event is free and is being presented through a partnership with Boswell Book Company, Congregation Shalom and Nathan & Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center, a program of Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
The event will also feature a dessert reception and book signing.
Talking to the Chronicle, the author said he was honored to be asked to speak at an event sponsored by HERC.
“Talking about things like the atrocities of the Holocaust is so important for several reasons. I think our young kids today maybe aren’t learning about it like they should be. It’s almost like ancient history and it can’t be,” he said. “Also, survivors are getting older, and they are passing away, so it’s important to hear these stories now while they are alive. I am glad that so many museums and organizations across the country are capturing these stories, so they can continue to be told.”
In sharing his journey, Picciolini said he hopes he can offer insight into how hate movements work, so he can both alleviate fears, but also show why we all must pay attention.
“I think the important thing would be to try and understand it as best as possible to combat it. Part of what I do is share my experience in a very honest, genuine way,” Picciolini said. “It’s not so mysterious that we can’t counter it. It’s tangible. It’s real. And I can put a real face to it.”
It’s also important, he said, to show that there are ways to battle hate in America, and that it is not only the responsibility of Jewish people or people of color to combat it.
“Change is possible, and there are people like me out there trying to reach out to people (in these groups) and show them that there is a different life out there, and to educate professionally so we can prevent people from going down that path altogether.”
How to go
What: “Breaking Hate: Confronting the New Culture of Extremism” with Christian Picciolini
When: 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 29, 2020
Where: Congregation Shalom, 7630 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Fox Point
Getting in: The program is free, open to the public, and is being presented through a partnership with Boswell Book Company, Congregation Shalom and Nathan & Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center.
For more information: Contact Abby Habush Schroeder at Abby@Cong-Shalom.org or 414-352-9288