March 10, 2021

Combating Hate, Racism, and Extremism: A Conversation with AG Karl Racine and Author Christian Picciolini

3 min

With the January 6 attack on the Capitol by rightwing extremists still fresh in everyone's mind, Venable's Claude Bailey and Ian Volner hosted a conversation with DC Attorney General Karl Racine and author/activist Christian Picciolini. Racine opened the discussion with an analysis of the events that led to what he described as an assault on American values. "The attack would not have happened without years of lies and manipulation, which caused people to act in a way they never would act," Racine said. With hate crimes also on the rise – according to FBI data, 2019 was the deadliest year on record, with 51 hate crime murders – he highlighted the urgent need to recognize and address the roots of this growing problem.

To this end, Racine, as 2021 president of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), has launched an initiative, The People v. Hate: Standing Up for Humanity, which will focus on challenging institutional practices that promote hate, inadvertently or otherwise, and on supporting activities that counter hate and hate-related violence.

Christian Picciolini, author of Breaking Hate: Confronting the New Culture of Extremism, discussed his eight-year involvement in the white supremacist movement and his subsequent work with the Free Radicals Project, a group he founded to assist people who are trying to exit from hateful and violence-based radicalization. Over the past 20 years, Picciolini has dedicated himself to helping others disengage from hate groups and to educating law enforcement and government agencies about the scale of the problem and the threat the country is facing from violent extremists. He noted that, despite recent events, "this is a moment of hope, it's a moment of opportunity and we have to do something now while we can to finally put a name to (the problem) and start to address it."

Among the topics Racine and Picciolini explored together during the Q&A is the necessity of dispensing with the echo chambers that create and drive false or hate-filled narratives. "There are too many settings where people who are different don't get a chance to congregate, to get to know each other and share the difference as the well as the overwhelming similarity that we have as human beings," Racine said. Picciolini added that the key to destroying this echo chamber is understanding that individuals are not the only ones in search of identity, community, and purpose; our society is too. "While it's essential to dismantle systemic and institutional racism, we must also create a safe place for people who are transitioning out of hate." He emphasized, however, that this does not mean that people should not be held accountable, adding, "I really do believe that redemption without accountability is just privilege."

Finally, the panelists discussed the need to pass robust hate crime legislation in every state. Racine noted that as important as the legal forum is, "we are not going to be able to prosecute our way out of this." The only way to satisfactorily deal with this issue is to understand the psychology that causes it. "Hatred is born of ignorance, fear is its father and isolation is its mother," Picciolini responded. "If we want to solve this problem of hate, aside from the systemic and institutional racism, we also have to solve the issues of isolation and fear."

This was the first program in Venable's 2021 D&I Speaker Series. Our previous program can be found here.