The Atlantic - August 6, 2019

It’s going to get worse.

That’s the warning of a former violent extremist, Christian Picciolini, who joined a neo-Nazi movement 30 years ago and now tries to get people out of them. White-supremacist terrorists—the ones who have left dozens dead in attacks in Pittsburgh, New Zealand, and El Paso, Texas, in recent months—aren’t just trying to outdo one another, he told us. They’re trying to outdo Timothy McVeigh, the anti-government terrorist who blew up an Oklahoma City federal building and killed more than 100 people in 1995—the worst terrorist attack in the United States before September 11, 2001.

Read: How white-supremacist violence echoes other forms of terrorism

On Saturday morning in El Paso, a gunman shot and killed 22 people, including children, at a Walmart. The store was crowded for back-to-school-shopping season. The victims included a high-school student, an elementary-school teacher, and a couple carrying their infant son, who survived. And the shooter, according to an online manifesto authorities attributed to the suspect, saw himself fighting a “Hispanic invasion” as he gunned them down.

That shooting, along with another one hours later, in which an attacker killed nine people over 30 seconds in Dayton, Ohio, renewed the clamor for gun-control laws that has become a grim ritual after such events. But Picciolini said that even if the U.S. could get a handle on its gun problem, terrorists can always find other ways. McVeigh had his car bomb, the September 11th hijackers had their airplanes, Islamic State attackers have suicide bombings, trucks, and knives. “I have to ask myself, Do we have white-nationalist airline pilots?” Picciolini said. “There have to be. I knew people in powerful positions, in politics, in law enforcement, who were secretly white nationalists. I think we’d be stupid and selfish to think that we don’t have those in the truck-driving industry.”

... Yara Bayoumy: What are your thoughts in the aftermath of El Paso?

Christian Picciolini: I’m as horrified as everyone else is. And frustrated, because this is something I’ve been banging the drum about for 20 years—that the escalation of violence would get worse. The [white-supremacist] ideology is spreading more into the mainstream than it ever has before. There aren’t checks and balances to counter it. There aren’t programs being funded to help people disengage from extremism. Some of the rhetoric coming from the very top is emboldening extremists.

Bayoumy: Talk to us about the evolution you’ve seen since you were in the movement 30 years ago—these views used to be on the fringe, and now are much more mainstream.

Picciolini: Unfortunately, I think that the underpinnings of the ideology have always been there. The extremists were on the fringe, and very visible, but other people weren’t willing to voice those beliefs. Thirty years ago, when I was in the movement, we were turning off the average American white racists who didn’t want to be so open and visible about those beliefs. So there was this effort to make it more mainstream, to grow the hair out, turn in the “boots for suits.” I never thought we would have a social and political climate that really kind of brought it to the foreground. Because it’s starting to seem less like a fringe ideology and more like a mainstream ideology. ...
Read full interview at The Atlantic