BOB GARFIELD From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media, I'm Bob Garfield. On this week's show, as extremism goes mainstream, how to go about de-radicalization.
NEWS REPORT A lot of people have become really radicalized by this idea that everything is unfair, everything is rigged, and that someone is out to get you. [END CLIP]
ROSS FREENET Someone who's getting themselves armed to the teeth isn't going to buy into an ad that says everything's hunky-dory, go home. That's not going to work.
BRAD GALLOWAY My wife came down with the ultimatum of this is not conducive to family or relationships and is not positive, so it was either my family or this movement.
STIG JARLE HANSEN A lot of the Islamic State leaders, they went to Abu Ghraib and they were radicalized rather than deradicalized. So they failed utterly.
KURT BRADDOCK If you introduce an idea to somebody in the same way that a body is introduced to a weakened version of a virus, people will build their own counter arguments against that idea.
BOB GARFIELD It's all coming up, after this.
BOB GARFIELD From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. Brooke Gladstone is out this week, I'm Bob Garfield.
A new administration, a new take on the far right.
BIDEN It's just been weeks since all of America witnessed a group of thugs, insurrectionists, a political extremist and white supremacist violently attack the capital of our democracy. So now, now's the time to act. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT An NPR team has been analyzing the more than 200 cases the Justice Department has brought so far. The defendants include military men, extremists and hardcore Trump supporters. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT The greatest terror threat to the United States right now is white supremacists. That is according to a report drafted by the Department of Homeland Security. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT This is the first time that DHS has warned about a threat of domestic extremism since it began issuing these bulletins a decade ago. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT Congress voted on its large defense spending bill and part of it tries to address white supremacist ideology within the military. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD FBI and other police agencies claim they'll now redirect their attention from social activists and Antifa, to Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, QAnon and the like. But beyond law enforcement, there is the much thornier challenge of dismantling systems of belief; how to deal with the spread of violent, hateful ideologies and the conditions that breed and feed them.
NEWS REPORT The siege of the Capitol was a line in the sand for a lot of people. I think there are a number of people who are going deeper into radicalization. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT : A lot of people have become really radicalized by different conspiracies that all, at their heart, have this idea that everything is unfair, everything is rigged, and that someone is out to get you. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT Bought into this big lie, and the question is, how are we going to really almost deprogram these people who have signed up for the cult of Trump. [END CLIP]
HANNITY Reeducation camps, deprogramming, OK, according to the press wing of the Democratic Establishment Party and the Socialist Party, you, we, the people, we need to be deprogrammed or canceled or put in reeducation camps because of our political opinion, and it differs from theirs. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD On the one hand, the now all too obvious toll of conspiratorial white nationalists thinking. On the other, legitimate fear exploitable by the likes of Sean Hannity, but legitimate, nevertheless, of state overreach. And so we devote this hour to the notion of deradicalization. We'll look at the various techniques being deployed right now to untwist the minds of those who embrace, embraced or may soon embrace extremism. We'll look at targeted messaging and individual intervention, and ultimately, we'll put a lens to the source of the hatefulness. Buried like the Varicella-Zoster virus deep within the nerve roots of the society. But we begin with one man's descent into the perverse depths of white nationalist hatred.
BRAD GALLOWAY I think the goal was to achieve some sort of white ethno-state within America and Canada.
BOB GARFIELD Brad Galloway became a neo-Nazi about 20 years ago at the age of 19, joining a white supremacist gang with the goal of forming an independent haven of whiteness, unpolluted by people of color or Jews.
BRAD GALLOWAY An old friend of mine recruited me into this movement. You know, it so happened that he was a neo-Nazi skinhead, but if he had been a member of the IRA or some other gang or group, I probably would have joined. I was just at a point in my life where I was looking for something to belong to.
BOB GARFIELD Well, I'm sorry, he just wasn't running a bowling league.
BRAD GALLOWAY I guess the way that the recruitment begins, it's never really revealed what this is really about. I mean, it started out being like, hey, yeah, you can come hang out with the guys and drink some beers and meet some people. After a while of hanging out, it turned into something much more serious. But by that time, I had been sold and bought into these different ideologies, which I had never thought I'd ever be at that place, but it shows how people can become accustomed to and radicalized towards these movements.
BOB GARFIELD You've just described being groomed.
BRAD GALLOWAY That is how it's described for sure.
BOB GARFIELD So you get into this group, you get deeper and deeper eventually to the point that you are running its Canadian chapter. In those days, how did you go about recruiting new members? Did you groom yourself real people in slowly?
BRAD GALLOWAY I did sort of become a recruiter, but my stuff was done more in the online environment than the offline face-to-face stuff. By the time I hit leadership, I became knowledgeable about what the Internet could do and how that could be utilized to sort of advertise for the group and to reel people in towards the group.
BOB GARFIELD What did you look for most?
BRAD GALLOWAY Vulnerability. Definitely was a thing. I mean, there were guys in certain chapters across the US that were, you know, going and specifically trying to recruit guys when they got out of prison. I mean, that's definitely a vulnerable population of people. Also, you know, folks that were, as I said, lost. When I joined, people who were at a point in their life where they may not have had too much and sort of the group was offered up as hope for these people.
BOB GARFIELD And after 13 years of being steeped in hatred and white supremacy and a subculture of violence, what prompted you to get out?
BRAD GALLOWAY There's not one specific thing that sort of sent me on the way out, but a lot of it was the breakdown of the ideology. It was exhausting trying to think like that, trying to hate things. When, realistically, in my life I was working out in the public and working around all sorts of different cultures and communities and things like that. And I actually had, in my work, I had friends who were from various minority groups. I had family members that were as such. There are so many people around that were treating me well from different communities, and also while I was in the movement an Orthodox Jewish doctor saved my life after I got into a fight. So I was reflecting on all these different things, and then I had my first child and then started to consider like, how could I ever teach my child about any of this stuff?
BOB GARFIELD At this point, I should say that Galloway isn't on with us because he's an ex neo-Nazi. He is here because for the past five years, he's been working to deradicalize other extremists as a case manager with Life After Hate and Exit USA and as coordinator at the Center on Hate Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University. I asked him how many of the people he deals with are ashamed of what they've been.
BRAD GALLOWAY Shame is a central theme in extremism. It often has to do with, you know, they have shame perhaps in their past lives. That's why they join. And then now it's the shame of all of that when they're leaving. That's a big challenge for a lot of the people to get by. But it's how we deal with that.
BOB GARFIELD In the sense of remorse...
BRAD GALLOWAY Yeah, and accountability, I think accountability is really worth looking at, too.
BOB GARFIELD Now, I know that there's no magical incantation to break the spell of extremism, but in your experience, what are some common reasons people can be persuaded of their own volition to leave a hate group, or to rethink far right ideology?
BRAD GALLOWAY I often ask folks to reflect on what it is that this group is actually doing for you, for members of the community that is positive, and how those things are making you a better person and making the community better and making the world a better place. I know this sounds like big stuff or whatever, but I mean, at the end of the day, it really is thinking a little deeper about what we're part of or what we're doing. Right. I mean, I can't imagine what's going through somebody's head when they're at the Capitol building taking part in those things, but I can relate to that mentality of like we're doing this, but why are we really doing this? So I ask people to consider, you know, let's get before all these things and start trying to think about who we could have been and why are we doing these things.
BOB GARFIELD All you have fought for, believed you've been fighting for and it's come to this. Is this the cause that you believe in? Besieging the Capitol building? Is that what you're talking about?
BRAD GALLOWAY Right. Freedom was a central theme on the January 6th thing. Well, freedom from what? We're fairly free, I would like to believe, but living in this state of collective mentality that everyone's out to get us and like, that's this idea that, you know, white genocide, white victimhood, all of this kind of stuff. I've worked with a lot of people trying to get them out of that silo and thinking well beyond that and trying to come back to the community and live with everybody else.
BOB GARFIELD For Galloway and his colleagues, it's not just rubbing their subjects’ noses in their perversion of patriotism and Christianity, it's getting them to accept responsibility for their choices.
BRAD GALLOWAY Blame is often what we get at the onset. And I look at that and I say, no, let's take accountability. Let's say, yes, I was in prison for being a right-wing extremist or yes, those were my actions. And now I'm ready to face whatever I need to face so that I can move on and that the community can heal.
BOB GARFIELD You're a case worker, a case manager, and what you do is one on one. Is there any way to scale that kind of work to address what feels like a growing acceptance of extreme ideas and extreme conduct?
BRAD GALLOWAY That's a tough one, because I kind of am a firm believer in this idea where, you know, the human contact, the dialog that we create between human beings is so important to this process of deradicalization and disengagement from the groups.
BOB GARFIELD We don't have much of a social work infrastructure to begin with. You know, it's hard enough to deal with the existing cases of drug and alcohol abuse of spousal and child abuse or a host of other pathologies. The potential for political extremism, you know, seems like - yeah, take a number.
BRAD GALLOWAY You know, violent extremism. Is this really does this really take precedence over the opioid crisis? Maybe not. But I think we've got to think about where there's some connections to. You know, gangs and violent extremism and addiction and the crisis that is in the prevention space. If we can do more to try to end mass incarceration, I think that one is a good one to add to that list. Too often these places are sort of the breeding ground for these types of groups.
BOB GARFIELD I want to return to the question of what draws people, let's say to skinhead life. You said belonging, purpose, acceptance, shared culture. If an extremist gang offers you those, what's the incentive to give that all up?
BRAD GALLOWAY A lot of times you mean come with some pretty real stories here, but like throughout my time in the movement, a lot of my friends were killed or committed suicide because of their involvement in these movements. They often talk about like, oh, this is the race war, like being a martyr for this cause or whatever, but I mean, like for what cause exactly? I swear they're all fighting each other more than they're fighting any of the enemies that they ever talk about in the ideology.
BOB GARFIELD Well, Brad, thank you so much.
BRAD GALLOWAY Thanks for the conversation today. I very much enjoyed it.
BOB GARFIELD Brad Galloway is a case manager with Life After Hate and Exit USA and coordinator at the Center on Hate Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University.
Coming up, how to treat the disease of extremism, targeted therapy or vaccination? This is On the Media.
BOB GARFIELD This is On the Media, I'm Bob Garfield. Brad Galloway and his Life After Hate colleagues, specialize in personal one on one intervention like social workers or drug counselors. But in a country where tens of millions of citizens expressed sympathy with the January 6, insurrectionists, such a methodology, as they say in Silicon Valley, may not scale. To have a wider impact, others have undertaken messaging campaigns designed to neutralize right wing propaganda, conspiracy theories and calls to action before they take hold. The language to describe one of these programs is striking: attitudinal inoculation. Heading that research is Kurt Braddock, a professor of communications at American University and author of Weaponized Words: the Strategic Role of Persuasion in Violent Radicalization and Counter Radicalization. He says that deradicalization is a tougher slog than intervening at an earlier stage.
KURT BRADDOCK When we talk about counter radicalization, we're really talking about preventing somebody from going down that radicalization path in the first place. But when we talk about de radicalization, we typically are talking about bringing somebody back from having already gone down that rabbit hole, maybe somebody who's already engaged in violence or is on the verge of engaging in violence. Most of my work centers around counter-radicalization, trying to keep people from becoming violent in the first place, because I think most research would show that it's much easier to prevent somebody from becoming a violent extremist than bringing them back from becoming one.
BOB GARFIELD Last year, you published a study called “Vaccinating Against Hate: using attitudinal inoculation to confer resistance to persuasion by extremist propaganda.”
KURT BRADDOCK Research has shown for decades that if you introduce an idea to somebody in the same way that a body is introduced to a weakened version of a virus, that people will build their own counter arguments against that idea in the same way the body builds antibodies against that virus.
BOB GARFIELD Give me an example of the vaccine and the actual pathogen.
KURT BRADDOCK Sure, so the way that it's been studied historically was typically done in things like health communication. So you want to tell teenagers not to smoke? The idea would be to tell them, listen, we know that you don't smoke now, but people just like you have been convinced by these other people to smoke cigarettes. So the first step is to raise the perception of threat that their beliefs and attitudes aren't as set as they think they are. Following that, that's when you introduce the weakened "pathogen." You tell them, here's the different arguments you're going to get. Somebody may tell you that smoking is cool. Somebody may tell you that smoking will help you get girls, et cetera, et cetera. And what decades of research has shown is that when you do that, people will develop their own counter arguments against smoking.
BOB GARFIELD So what does it look like in the political context to not about adopting smoking, to look cool and get girls, but in the face of violent extremism, say, or just fringe political thought?
KURT BRADDOCK So in the study and what I'm actually doing in real world populations now, or at least testing in real world populations, is you identify the source of messages that are resonating with different audiences that are vulnerable to the messages or that are targeted by terrorist groups for recruitment. So, for example, right now, a lot of far-right groups are doing recruiting on online channels. What you do is you find individuals who would be targeted by QAnon but haven't gone down that rabbit hole yet, for example. And you would say, listen, we know that you don't follow the QAnon ideology, we know you don't think that you need to get violent to stop some electoral steal that Donald Trump has been talking about. We know you don't have those attitudes, but people just like you had been persuaded by these arguments in the past, so that's the first step. You make them think that their beliefs and attitudes aren't set in stone as they think they are. Then you say, well, listen, there's this group out here who's going to tell you that there is an underground cabal of pedophiles who need to be taken out and executed, which is part of the QAnon ideology, so you introduce them to these arguments and then you step away. And what my research has shown is that a couple of things happen. Number one, the individual will counter argue against the propaganda more. Number two, they'll be angrier at the extremist group. Number three, they'll perceive the group to be less credible. And most importantly, number four, they'll say they have less intention to support the group in any way, whether it be ideologically, monetarily or with armed support.
BOB GARFIELD Now, as I've watched the rapid evolution of right-wing extremist organizations and QAnon. In particular, I've often thought if these people had any idea how the government actually works and how the Internet and particularly social media trap them in filter bubbles, echo chambers, whatever you want to call them, that they would be far less prone to embracing these ridiculous or toxic ideas. How is what you're describing better or different from just plain civic and media literacy?
KURT BRADDOCK Well, I actually think they're part and parcel of one another. And one of the things that I've argued for as a critical component of counter radicalization is media literacy. Because although it differs culture to culture, generally in Western cultures like the U.S., the U.K., we really don't like when we know somebody is trying to persuade us of something. And that's what inoculation is based on. Another kind of theory or perspective called the persuasion knowledge model that says, look, these people are trying to use you to their own ends and here's how they're doing it. You kind of show them how the sausage is made. And when you do that, the research would suggest that people would be less inclined to be persuaded by those sorts of arguments.
BOB GARFIELD When you did the first study, what surprises did you have along the way?
KURT BRADDOCK One thing that stood out and it was disappointing at first until I found out what was really going on, was that inoculation doesn't directly stop somebody from engaging in terrorism or intending to support violent extremism. You have to inoculate against somebody's beliefs. And with respect to the ideology first before you can inoculate against behavior itself. So in statistical terms, what I found was that there's no direct link between inoculation and preventing behavior. You have to decrease their perceptions of the extremist group’s credibility. And that's what stops them from reporting intention to engage in any kind of violent extremism. The big finding that really surprised me was that when you inoculate people, they actually feel active anger against the group trying to persuade them.
BOB GARFIELD Your funding is from Department of Homeland Security, which gives me the shpilkes because, you know, I'm not sure that I want the government messaging me on any matter of political ideology, no matter how twisted.
KURT BRADDOCK And I can understand that concern. Many agencies recognize that their engaging in counter messaging, has all kinds of negative effects. There's one program that's--it gets beat up all the time because of how poorly it went. But back in 2013, there was a program where the Department of State tried to engage in counter messaging on its own. And it was an abject disaster like they got in flame wars on Twitter. There was a boomerang effect where people were actually defending ISIS, things like that. So the government has learned very slowly that the government maybe shouldn't be in the business of counter messaging, but that doesn't mean that they can't help support individuals and groups to work with individuals and groups on the ground that are engaged in counter messaging in their communities.
BOB GARFIELD Kurt, thank you.
KURT BRADDOCK Thank you very much, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD Kurt Braddock is a professor of communications at American University.
Ross Frenett is co-founder of Moonshot C.V.E., a private consulting firm that also deploys counter messaging but not with a general vaccine. Moonshot treats the disease of extremism with something closer to monoclonal antibodies, targeted messages derived from specific pathologies of individual subjects, not from blood samples, but from another reliable diagnostic source.
ROSS FRENETT Never underestimate how much people just put into their search engines. We found specific search strings of people saying, you know, I want to build a bomb and kill X or more subtle ones where they're just exploring ideology. The advertising industry is a multibillion dollar industry based on understanding what people are looking for, and what we've tried to do at moonshot is harness that technology to get people that are at risk of hurting themselves or hurting others, the material that they might need to walk them back from that.
BOB GARFIELD In 2016, they undertook a pilot for 8 weeks to try to reach people searching online about ISIS. Moonshot, built a checklist of ISIS's own selling points and knocked them down one by one. Not by producing slick counter messaging themselves, but by harvesting existing authentic content from the Internet.
ROSS FRENETT They were talking about things like their legitimacy, their military success, and also this idea of a utopian life. For each of those we then use found content to try and undercut that. So when we were looking at the utopian ideals, we said, well, OK, let's go and find some material from Syrian citizen journalists from Iraqi citizen journalists to see what life is really like under ISIS rule, and make sure that folks that are thinking of traveling there can see that. Similarly, when you talk about their glorious military success, there's quite a lot of stuff out there on military failures that ISIS have had even in 2016, those existed. Everything from bloopers of these folks just not knowing how to use their weapons through to actual defeats that they'd suffered themselves. So with each of these narratives, we were trying to do is find ways, not to directly attack it, and, you know, like a government that kind of say, here are the reasons your narrative is incorrect, but to more subtly just serve things up to these folks and say, hey, you're interested in what's going on in Syria, let's show you.
BOB GARFIELD Is there any evidence the minds were changed or behavior?
ROSS FRENETT We know that we reached over 300000 individuals who otherwise would have been consuming extremist content. And then likewise with a small subgroup of those, we actually took a look at some of their YouTube patterns to see pre- and post-engagement with our content. Were they engaging more or less with ISIS material. And although it was a small sample size, we did actually see that there was a tendency to engage less with ISIS material after our campaigns. We've seen similar results with other campaigns where the amount of searching that's been done by those who consume the material has differed slightly from those who haven't, but again, I'm not going to go on here and claim that this is a silver bullet. A lot of what we're trying to do here is fill the space. So as far as I'm concerned, if someone spends three minutes watching our material and that's three minutes, they could have been spending, watching ISIS material and chalking that down to a win.
BOB GARFIELD All right. So, let's flash forward five years to now, and you are teaming with the Anti-Defamation League on the use of the redirect method on domestic right wing extremists. Can you give me the outlines for that enterprise?
ROSS FRENETT What we've learned in the years since is that direct attacks on ideology can often be ineffective and can sometimes even lead to something called the backfire effect, where if you attack someone's beliefs, actually believe it more rather than less. In this deployment, the aim, instead of being to undermine the ideology, instead of being to undercut it in a direct way, was to try and calm the temperature of a whole bunch of information that's come out recently that a lot of people charged in the capital insurrection had a bunch of other problems, financial problems, psychosocial problems, et cetera. So someone who's gone to the point of going in front of a state capital, getting themselves armed to the teeth, isn't going to buy into an ad that says everything's hunky dory, go home. That's not going to work. However, what may resonate is something that's totally nonideological, that just asks them how their life is going, and encourages them to reach out to mental health charities or to other organizations that can listen to them. The way to make people feel heard is not necessarily to attack their beliefs, but just to make sure that the things that are important in their lives, whether it's money trouble, personal problems, whatever else, are important to someone.
MAN 1 I feared what I didn't understand. And that fear turned to hate and violence. Hate is like a cancer that will eat you alive.
MAN 2 Until there's nothing left to forgive.
NARRATOR If you or someone you know is in the dark world of hate takes you to. We can help, no judgment, just help. [END CLIP]
ROSS FRENETT We look for folks that are able to resonate with the audience. So do they look like them? Do they sound like them? We also try and look for the cadence of the videos. So, you know, if somebody is looking for neo-Nazi death metal, there is no point in giving them a lecture. You’ve got to serve that person music. When I look back over some of the campaigns we used to run against ISIS in 2016, sometimes we would serve people looking for military videos, videos of them arms, giving lectures. And like, of course, people clicked away from that because it's dull, so you've got to meet people where they are.
BOB GARFIELD Is there a subgenre of which I'm not aware of peace and reconciliation death metal?
ROSS FRENETT Yeah. It's funny you say that we find ourselves with a bunch of this stuff, whether it's jihadist anarchy or a kind of neo-Nazi death metal or whatever else, trying to find material that hits the same kind of emotional core, but without the racism.
BOB GARFIELD One side lesson from the January 6th insurrection is that many people without affiliations to a militia or to a hate group or to QAnon can still participate in acts of political violence. They were at a protest. And next thing you know, they're, you know, surging inside the Capitol building. It just feels like violent ideologies are becoming increasingly mainstream on the American right. How does that affect the work of Moonshot if, in fact, you are trying to do de radicalization, but the radicalization is edging ever more to the center?
ROSS FRENETT The United States isn't alone in this, stuff that we've looked at includes violent ultranationalist Buddhist mobs in Sri Lanka. We've seen similar things happen with Hindu extremists in India. That kind of societal radicalization and the fact that people can get carried away is one of the reasons that we focus just so heavily in the run up to the insurrection and the aftermath of the insurrection on reminding people of personal responsibility and reminding people that actions have consequences. We've heard a lot of people who participated in the insurrection saying afterwards that they kind of got caught up in the moment. They didn't understand. They thought it would be OK, they just got worked up. And that's why a lot of our messaging, I think, does have to focus in on, not the ideology necessarily, but just a reminder that what you do now could impact the rest of your life. So take a breath, consider whether or not following this particular organization at this particular moment is exactly what you want in your life. Most people who think that through the answer is going to be no.
BOB GARFIELD All right. So I can tell from your accent that you are Irish, you're also young, and I wonder if you have any personal or familial connection to the troubles that makes this work of particular interest to you?
ROSS FRENETT Yeah, there is a bit I mean, I'm probably the last generation of Irish people that grew up with bombings on the news every day. To be clear as well, I grew up in Cork, which is the other end of the country to where the conflict was primarily taking place. But I will say that family members of mine were involved in political violence. That history and the connection to it has always made me empathize with anyone conducting this kind of stuff, because having seen it in my own country, having seen it in my own family, I'm very aware that good people can sometimes be drawn into less than good activities.
BOB GARFIELD What was it that kept you out of the IRA?
ROSS FRENETT I think that maybe three reasons I didn't get involved. One was I was so interested that I started consuming as many books as I possibly could about the IRA. But then I started reading books about loyalists and I heard a lot of the same kind of emotional messages. I heard a lot of the same desire to defend your community that I'd read about when I was reading about the IRA. And that started to make me step away from it as something you'd want to get involved in and just get fascinated by this phenomenon.
BOB GARFIELD It's hard for me to believe that that would work on Oath Keepers.
ROSS FRENETT You never know that. You never know. We have seen some strange things happen over the years. Any and all journeys you can imagine take place, because ultimately extremists, whether they be Oath Keepers or jihadis, are just people and, you know, lives change.
BOB GARFIELD Ross, thank you.
ROSS FRENETT Thanks so much Bob.
BOB GARFIELD Ross Frenett is co-founder of Moonshot CVE.
Coming up, when governments get into the business of de radicalization. This is On the Media.
BOB GARFIELD This is On the Media, I'm Bob Garfield. The activities of violent extremists threaten citizens and society itself, so presumably it behooves governments to step in with education and law enforcement to reduce those threats. The Last Defense bill, in fact, earmarks money to study anti extremist strategies, but is that really what we want? Putting aside the privacy and propaganda implications of targeting any citizen over ideology, history shows that even when the threat is monstrous, government programs spectacularly fail. Stig Jarle Hansen is a professor and leader of the International Relations Program at the Norwegian University of Life Science. He's also coeditor of the Routledge Handbook of Deradicalization and Disengagement. Hansen says that government attempts at deradicalization go back to the prison rehabilitation movement of the late 19th century, which yielded little success. In fact, whether those terms are applied or demobilization or deprogramming, history has yielded few successes. His Exhibit A is post-World War II Germany, where the allies employed various methods to de-nazify captured military officers.
MAN 1 What about the ideas in their heads?
MAN 2 They have to be demobilized and got back to work. But let one man or woman who still believes in the Nazi regime or the destiny of the German people to rule the world, take office, and you have the beginnings of another war. [END CLIP]
STIG JARLE HANSEN The fact is that maybe all three major allies did a bad job in doing this, that they were not really successful in doing mass deradicalization. It seems like there was a generational effect that really eradicated these types of ideology from large segments of the German population. So it was rather a generation that changed, but there are several lessons that could be learned. The German officers that were committed to national socialists, they organized themselves within the prison camps clandestinely. We haven't only seen this in the denazification programs. We saw it with ETA in Spain and we saw it in Abu Ghraib.
BOB GARFIELD The shamed children and grandchildren of the officers exposed to the Nuremberg trials and the country's massive truth and reconciliation project would go on to repudiate their forbears’ ideology. But faced with denazification, the Nazi officers themselves doubled down and history has repeated itself. Hansen mentioned Abu Ghraib because post-Saddam Iraq is his exhibit B.
NEWS REPORT The U.S. military has confirmed the leader of ISIS was held as a U.S. prisoner at Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison in 2004. [END CLIP]
STIG JARLE HANSEN Abu Ghraib was really a big failure. It's a kind of roster of who is who inside the Islamic State. A lot of the Islamic State leaders, they went to Abu Ghraib and they were radicalized rather than deradicalized. So although there was deradicalization efforts, they failed utterly.
BOB GARFIELD In other words, backlash. Michael German is a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice, Liberty and National Security Program and author of Disrupt, Discredit and Divide: How the New FBI Damages Democracy. In his 16-year career at the FBI, he spent 12 years undercover, including far right extremist groups. But when the subject turns to de radicalization, he gets the willies.
MICHAEL GERMAN So, you know, my training as a law enforcement officer, I want to see the evidence. I know that there isn't significant empirical evidence to show that a radicalization process actually exists. So I question what the value of a deradicalization process is. If it's just a couple of scientists in a room bantering bad ideas back and forth, that's not my problem. My problem is they're bringing those bad ideas into the criminal justice system. Understanding the history of the way governments use the radicalization theory over time to engage in the Palmer raids.
BOB GARFIELD You're referring to the Palmer raids in 1919, 1920 during the first Red Scare in which Woodrow Wilson's government just rounded up the usual leftist suspects.
MICHAEL GERMAN Targeting immigrants from Italy and Eastern Europe for deportation. Under this radicalization theory that the people who committed violence weren't the problem, the people who spread ideas are the more dangerous ones that need to be suppressed. And then, of course, during the civil rights era, justifying the suppression of the civil rights movement through spying and a host of dirty tricks that J. Edgar Hoover had come up with because the concern was that they were radical and they would change our system in a way that the FBI disagreed with. It made me worry after 9/11 when this lexicon came back into use by the FBI and now unfortunately actually drives counterterrorism programming, even though we know that it's a false and easily abused methodology.
BOB GARFIELD As I understand it, you're not just concerned with the politicization of law enforcement to root out threats who aren't necessarily threats. And you're not just concerned about the civil liberties of suddenly surveilling people for what are essentially thought crimes. You question the whole premise of abhorrence not because you aren't disgusted by Nazi ideology, but because you believe that white nationalism and racism are so rooted in the history of the country that what these people are supporting is just basically the preservation of the status quo.
MICHAEL GERMAN Absolutely. And that's really a big part of the problem with this discussion of deradicalization around white supremacy and far right militancy, because no matter how big your program is, as long as there are news channels like Fox News and the One America Network promoting these ideas and its bias, you're never going to cure it. As long as there are politicians that gain power by promoting these ideas, even if it's just through a dog whistle, which has been part of our politics for decades. Donald Trump's only difference was he put away the dog whistle and brought out a bullhorn to express his racist ideas. So we have to understand how our society itself is shaped by the history of our founding as a white supremacist project. Right. So it's not as if this is some extreme belief system, a bunch of crazy people on the margins invented for the most part. They're actually delving into the history of the United States of America in a way most Americans never do. And taking what were foundational documents explaining why it was these European colonists believe that God gave them the authority to dominate other cultures and commit genocide in doing so. White supremacists today has actually a better understanding of our history than than the history most of us learn in school.
BOB GARFIELD OK, stipulated nonetheless, there's a bunch of crazies out there. Some of them losers, some of them supposedly, you know, intellectuals, but nonetheless who are sowing mayhem.
MICHAEL GERMAN Some of them law enforcement officers, some of them military officials, some of them members of state legislatures, some of them members of Congress. It permeates our society, as you stipulated. So here's the issue. What is the role of law enforcement? The role of law enforcement is to enforce the law where there is serious crime, particularly violent crime. Obviously, law enforcement can take care of that. But imagining that there is this pool of people who have not committed a crime, who you can put some magic pattern over and determine which among them is going to commit the crime is not based on any empirical research. It's folly. And what has happened is because we're in this preventative mode, the FBI is looking out on the horizon, at who's threatening? And they see the Muslim American community as threatening, so they engage in lots of very expensive and resource intensive surveillance and suppression of Muslim communities. On the other hand, they can't tell you how many people white supremacists or far right militants killed last year. Because they don't even bother to collect the data of crimes that these groups actually engaged in. So it's not just that they're not investigating these crimes, in many cases, they're not even bothering to account for them.
BOB GARFIELD Is this a structural bias issue within the FBI? Is it a political issue that is attached most particularly to the Trump administration and before that, the George W. Bush administration? Is it just a question of meager resources and administrators looking for opportunities to push the problem to the states?
MICHAEL GERMAN So I joined the FBI in 1988, graduated just when William Sessions was sworn in. And like his predecessors after Hoover, he identified the lack of diversity in the FBI as a major problem, but actually tried to do something about it and started recruiting a more diverse workforce. And the numbers weren't changing fast enough, but they were changing every year, getting better. That stopped in 2001. And in fact, they've been getting worse since then in many ways. So this resurrection of the radicalization theory and the infusion of overtly anti-Muslim materials into counterterrorism training caused that to where in an enterprise where we're not just concerned about the security of the nation, but the security of FBI investigations. This very white, very male organization started looking at its colleagues who weren't white or weren't male as potential security threats and applicants who weren't white and weren't male as potential security threats. So taking a chance on hiring those people was no longer acceptable, and that's why we saw the stark lack of progress since 2001.
BOB GARFIELD Should the government of a democratic society fight fascism on all fronts and using law enforcement resources? Can it and how?
MICHAEL GERMAN I think it's government's responsibility to protect the security of its people from threats from outside and criminal threats from within and to provide for their economic and social well-being, including with easy access to health care and easy access to a voting booth so they can have their opinions influence government policy. And that creates a healthy environment that no bad ideas find very effective purchase, whether it's fascism or anything else. Whenever government tries to come in and say what ideas are allowed to be expressed and what ideas are not allowed to be expressed, that doesn't end up, number one, killing those ideas. It turns out it's very hard to kill an idea, but number two, it then just gives justification for those who would argue that their rights have been violated and therefore they are justified in using violence to overthrow the oppressor. And it consequently makes things worse, not better. In the post 9/11 environment, we engaged in this war on terrorism and these foreign wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and now elsewhere in many places across the world. And that militancy breeds fascism, right? Not just that these military officials are being fed this Islamophobic narrative to justify the violence that we're inflicting around the world, but just that you're building a culture that glorifies the use of violence as a solution to political problems. And that infects the entire society.
BOB GARFIELD Mike, thank you.
MICHAEL GERMAN Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD Mike German is a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice is Liberty and National Security Program and the author of Disrupt, Discredit and Divide How the New FBI Damages Democracy.
If Mike German is right, we're on a fool's errand, something like cutting calories by picking the sprinkles off of an ice cream cone. Grateful, we should be, for interventions that succeed in pulling the scales from hateful eyes, but as so often is the case, the disease and its cure lie deeper. The extremists are repugnant and dangerous, but they're in many ways just dead enders fighting to preserve the power they believe is their birthright. They're vulnerable not just to the rewards of identity, purpose and cool military gear, but to a narrative of entitlement that rings true because it always has been true. They think the Libs and the deep state are taking something away from them, and they're right. They think the government has failed them and they're right. Yes, we need to lead twisted minds toward truth, justice and redemption, but also physician heal thyself. The grim fact is you can't just throw a switch on extremism, no matter how well intentioned, no matter how deeply felt. The process is rife with complications, inconsistencies and irreconcilable conundrum. Let's return to Brad Galloway, the ex neo-Nazi, now devoting his life to did not defying others. Early in his 13-year embrace of violent white supremacy, he was severely beaten in a gang brawl and found himself being treated by an Orthodox Jewish E.R. doctor.
BRAD GALLOWAY He saved my life that night. He didn't note that I was wearing a swastika shirt. However, I know that probably destroyed his mental well-being. And, you know, it's tough to manage thinking back to that, because at that time, I didn't deserve any of that.
BOB GARFIELD Have you since tried to track him down, apologize. Explain yourself. Thank him.
BRAD GALLOWAY You know, I've thought about it. I've had colleagues say, you know, you should try to do that. But I wonder what me coming back into that person's life would do to them. Right. I don't know if they want to talk to that guy that they saved many years ago.
BOB GARFIELD I have been doing this show for 20 years, and I can't recall a time where I've ever encouraged a guest to do anything, but I would, with all my heart, encourage you to try to find this doctor or his family if he's no longer alive, and just tell them that you came out OK and that you're grateful. No swastikas anymore.
BRAD GALLOWAY Yeah, that's you know, I think about it often.
BOB GARFIELD Now he says he worries about retraumatizing a kind soul, but for years he was simply paralyzed with shame. Shame. It can't be messaged, it can't be injected, it must be felt. By Nazi wannabes and by us.
That's it for this week's show. On the Media is produced by Alana Casanova-Burgess, Micah Loewinger, Leah Feder, Jon Hanrahan, Eloise Blondiau and Rebecca Clark-Callendar with help from Alex Hanesworth. Xandra Ellin writes our fabulous newsletter, and our show was edited this week by our executive producer Katya Rogers. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson, our engineer. This week was Adriene Lilly.
On the Media is a production of WNYC Studios. I'm Bob Garfield.
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