“I wish I could be more hopeful. Instead, I’m watching a new generation of white nationalist and supremacist organizations flourish right in front of our eyes. And I’ve never been more frightened for the future of our country.”
This is the statement with which Timothy Zaal concludes a piece he wrote for Politico.
It could have come from you or me.
But what makes Zaal’s declaration particularly chilling is that he used to be a Neo-Nazi. Now he is a consultant and regular speaker at Los Angeles’ Museum of Tolerance, working to de-program racists.
In the piece, Zaal delineates his road to radicalization, beginning with his childhood in Los Angeles in the 1980s watching with fellow extremists footage of the 1979 Greensboro, North Carolina massacre at which KKK members shot and killed five communists at a workers’ demonstration, and drove away.
He went onto, at age 17, to participate in the beating of a young LGBT man; only exposed himself to white nationalist-approved media; disseminated literature on high school and college campuses; and operated a telephone hotline for the White Aryan Resistance.
Zaal began reforming his ways in the 1990s, attributing the “long, slow process” of leaving his old life to his son calling a Black man a “n—–” in a supermarket.
“To see him repeat my mistakes made me ashamed in a way that went deeper than my shame over my own choices.”
News of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia this month brought Zaal back to those days.
However, he warns there are several more insidious differences between then and now concerning him to which we should all be paying attention, most notably how much more sophisticated supremacist groups have gotten.
“These newer offshoots have been far more successful than we could ever have dreamed…They’re savvier than we were. Better connected…Their innocuous-looking khaki pants, white polo shirts and blue blazers are sharper than the intimidating combat boots and red suspenders we wore.”
Despite the flashier look, Zaal says supremacist groups still battle the same enemies.
“They hate the same minorities we did. They spew the same conspiracy theories. They consume the same kinds of propaganda.”
He also warns the means of radicalization are more available now than ever before.
“Today, I look at the factors that kept me in the white supremacist movement, and I think they must be stronger than ever. My closed-off media sources and mail-order propaganda videos, music and literature were one thing in the early ’90s; today, anyone with a smartphone can go down rabbit holes watching hours and hours of YouTube videos with far-right personalities, from actual Hitler supporters to more lightweight figures like alt-right YouTuber Paul Joseph Watson, who peddle the same racial paranoia without the overt Nazi ideology, feeding viewers their sick spin on the news. On social media, it’s easy to find like minds halfway across the country who can affirm your worldview with likes and retweets. We had only our pamphlets and shoe leather, which made it harder to build a national following.”
This is why it is so important we use the same resources to serve as the resistance to such nefarious propaganda. You’re reading this now because you are on the right (not “Right’) side of history. You understand that hate and intolerance have no place in our society.
We all have an integral role in using the means at our disposal to educate the impressionable.
It’s times like these I frequently recall the famous words of Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel:
“We must take side. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”
No rational human being wants Zaal’s fears to come to fruition.
Image credit: YouTube Video.