When we are secure and confident in our oneness—knowing that all are created in God’s image and are equally beloved—differences of faith, culture, language, skin color, sexuality, or other trait no longer threaten us. Rather, we seek to understand and honor others and to live in harmony with them.
.. In the Qur’an, the people who opposed Islam when Muhammad began to preach in Mecca are called the kafirum. The usual English translation is extremely misleading: it does not mean “unbeliever” or “infidel”; the root KFR means “blatant ingratitude,” a discourteous and arrogant refusal of something offered with great kindness. . . . They were not condemned for their “unbelief” but for their braying, offensive manner to others, their pride, self-importance, chauvinism, and inability to accept criticism.  . . . Above all, they are jahili: chronically “irascible,” acutely sensitive about their honor and prestige, with a destructive tendency to violent retaliation. Muslims are commanded to respond to such abusive behavior with hilm (“forbearance”) and quiet courtesy, leaving revenge to Allah. They must “walk gently on the earth,” and whenever the jahilun insult them, they should simply reply, “Peace.”
.. There was no question of a literal, simplistic reading of scripture. Every single image, statement, and verse in the Qur’an is called an ayah (“sign,” “symbol,” “parable”), because we can speak of God only analogically. The great ayat of the creation and the last judgment are not introduced to enforce “belief,” but they are a summons to action. Muslims must translate these doctrines into practical behavior. The ayah of the last day, when people will find that their wealth cannot save them, should make Muslims examine their conduct here and now: Are they behaving kindly and fairly to the needy? They must imitate the generosity of Allah ..
.. By looking after the poor compassionately, freeing their slaves, and performing small acts of kindness on a daily, hourly basis, Muslims would acquire a responsible, caring spirit, purging themselves of pride and selfishness. By modeling their behavior on that of the Creator, they would achieve spiritual refinement [what I would call growing in God’s likeness].
It is church leadership, from the popes all the way down, that hasn’t been able to tell right from wrong. Yet how can this be, in an institution at least nominally dedicated to precisely that task? I think there are two interrelated reasons.
The first is an age-old problem. Since its alliance with the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th century, the Catholic hierarchy has been tempted by power. It has cloaked itself in mystery to rule by edict rather than by example. At root, this scandal springs from idolatry: Bishops employ secrecy and deceit to promote the heresy that the priesthood is superior to the people in the pews. The words of John A. Hardon, a Jesuit priest, are as true now as when he wrote them 20 years ago: “Most of the chaos in the Catholic Church today is due to the pride of priests.”
.. The second is the church’s unfortunate negative obsession with sex — a problem it shares with many conservative Protestant congregations. To a broken world they offer a gospel of no-nos. The church exalts, from the Virgin Mary to the parish priest, the sexless life, as though the very engine of God’s creation were a sign of spiritual failure and source of shame.
Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso. These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history. We also know that this treatment inflicts trauma; interned Japanese have been two times as likely to suffer cardiovascular disease or die prematurely than those who were not interned... Americans pride ourselves on being a moral nation, on being the nation that sends humanitarian relief to places devastated by natural disasters or famine or war. We pride ourselves on believing that people should be seen for the content of their character, not the color of their skin. We pride ourselves on acceptance. If we are truly that country, then it is our obligation to reunite these detained children with their parents — and to stop separating parents and children in the first place... People on all sides agree that our immigration system isn’t working, but the injustice of zero tolerance is not the answer... . She reported that while there were beds, toys, crayons, a playground and diaper changes, the people working at the shelter had been instructed not to pick up or touch the children to comfort them. Imagine not being able to pick up a child who is not yet out of diapers... Twenty-nine years ago, my mother-in-law, Barbara Bush, visited Grandma’s House, a home for children with HIV/AIDS in Washington. Back then, at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, the disease was a death sentence, and most babies born with it were considered “untouchables.” During her visit, Barbara — who was the first lady at the time — picked up a fussy, dying baby named Donovan and snuggled him against her shoulder to soothe him. My mother-in-law never viewed her embrace of that fragile child as courageous. She simply saw it as the right thing to do in a world that can be arbitrary, unkind and even cruel. She, who after the death of her 3-year-old daughter knew what it was to lose a child, believed that every child is deserving of human kindness, compassion and love.
In 2018, can we not as a nation find a kinder, more compassionate and more moral answer to this current crisis? I, for one, believe we can.
you write that people don’t get into these kinds of groups or other kinds of terrorist groups so much because of ideology, but out of a personal need for community, identity, some kind of fulfillment. You didn’t come from a broken or abusive home. Where do you think your need came from?
PICCIOLINI: I felt abandoned by my parents, not understanding at that age that my parents as immigrants had to work seven days a week, 14 hours a day to survive in a foreign country. And as a young person, I just wondered what I had done to push them away and why they weren’t there. And I went in search of a new family. But you’re right. I don’t believe that ideology nor dogma are what drive people to extremism. I believe it’s a broken search for three very fundamental human needs of identity, community and purpose.
.. It was really the driving beats and the edginess of – and the angst that I was able to release through the music that was very appealing to me. I had already been a part of the punk rock subculture so I was already searching for something to express my anger. And when I heard Skrewdriver, when I heard this music that was coming over from England at the time, it allowed me to be angry because the lyrics gave me license to do that. And I very effectively then used lyrics myself when I started one of America’s first white-power bands to both recruit young people, encourage them into acts of violence and speak to the vulnerabilities and the grievances that they were feeling so that I could draw them in with promises of paradise even through my lyrics.
DAVIES: But when you were getting into this and you were hearing that Jews and blacks and Mexicans were the enemy, I mean, to what extent did that square with any of your own experience or opinions?
PICCIOLINI: Well, it didn’t start that way. It started out with Clark and several of the older skinheads in this group appealing to my sense of pride of being European, of being Italian. And then it would move on to instilling fear that I would lose that pride and that somebody would take that away from me if I wasn’t careful. And then it went on to name specific groups through conspiracy theories that were bent on taking that pride or that privilege away from me. So it was the fear rhetoric.
.. But I can tell you that every single person that I recruited or that was recruited around the same time that I did up to now, up to what we’re seeing today, is recruited through vulnerabilities and not through ideology.
.. There were disparate groups all around the country popping up after it started in Chicago, and the goal was to try and unify everybody. But that was the first time that I felt a sort of energy flow through me that I had never felt before, as if I was a part of something greater than myself. Even at 14 years old when I was desperately searching for that purpose, this seemed to fill it. And I certainly bought in.
DAVIES: And at this point, you had shaved your head and started wearing boots and took on the skinhead look?
PICCIOLINI: I did. And I noticed a change in my environment very quickly. The bullies who had marginalized me prior now would cross the street when they saw me coming because they feared me, and then I would begin to recruit them. And I noticed a very stark change in how people treated me, and I mistook that as respect when in reality it was fear and really not wanting to be involved with what I was involved in.
.. DAVIES: You know, the music has a lot of energy and a lot of anger to it. I mean, I – you know, it’s – how much of a connection is there that – between this kind of – the emotion of that kind of music and the violence of the movement, do you think?
PICCIOLINI: I think it’s very connected. At least, it was during the ’80s and ’90s. Music was the vehicle for propaganda. It was the incitement to encourage people to commit acts of violence, and it was a social movement. People would come in for the very few concerts that were held every year from all over the country or all over the world. And it was a way to gather. And still today, I believe that music is a very powerful tool that the movement uses to inspire vulnerable young people into a very hateful social movement.
.. You went to Germany and toured there with the band with some groups there. And there’s a point where you give a really evocative description of the skinhead rally where you say, it begins with speeches, and there’s lots and lots of beer-drinking throughout and then, you know, frenzied, you know, music and then eventually, sooner or later, fights break out among different groups who are in attendance or because someone was jealous over a romantic approach to somebody’s girlfriend. It doesn’t exactly sound like people were trying to put together a strategy for change, right? Either winning elections, or armed revolt or much of anything other than coming together and having these moments with each other which often ended in violence.
.. PICCIOLINI: Well, I don’t think that that’s correct. I do think that there were a lot of concerted strategies in the ’80s and ’90s that we’re seeing take hold today. We recognized in the mid ’80s that our edginess, our look, even our language was turning away the average American white racist, people we wanted to recruit. So we decided then to grow our hair out, to stop getting tattoos that would identify us, to trade in our boots for suits and to go to college campuses and recruit there and enroll to get jobs in law enforcement, to go to the military and get training and to even run for office.
And here we are 30 years later and we’re using terms like white nationalist and alt-right, terms that they came up with, by the way, that they sat around and said, how can we identify ourselves to make us seem less hateful? Back in my day when I was involved, we used terms like white separatists or white pride. But it certainly was neither one of those. It was white supremacy and – as is white nationalism or the alt-right today.
.. we ran businesses. We ran record labels. We ran record stores. We ran magazines that were glossy. We made videos before the Internet. I mean, it was for all intent and purpose a global movement that was highly organized but lacked a, you know, a very charismatic central figure.
.. Well, aside from just the indiscriminate violence that, you know, the acts that we committed on almost a daily basis against anybody – it didn’t really matter, there really wasn’t a reason – there were also times where we were involved in, you know, in planning armored car robberies, where we talked about that. There was a point in 1991 where I was approached by somebody representing Muammar Gaddafi, from Libya, who wanted to bring me to Tripoli to meet with him and accept some money to fund a revolution against the Jews in the United States.
And that’s something that’s always scared me because that set a precedent that I think that we will see more of in the future where we start to see some of these Islamist terror groups start to partner with these far-right groups.
And while that may sound crazy because they hate each other, unfortunately, their enemy, their number-one enemy is what they would consider the Jew. So I think it’s only a matter of time before we start to see these organizations begin to work with each other and start to spread their terror more globally.