Former White Supremacist Arno Michaelis: Understanding Hate, Overcoming Fear

March 15, 2016

Today’s guest is former white supremacist Arno Michaelis, author of My Life After Hate. A leader within what he called a “racial holy war,” Michaelis later realized his hate was misplaced, the product of fear, anger, and an overall misunderstanding of concepts such as forgiveness and personal responsibility. Today he is a Buddhist and anti-violence activist with Serve 2 Unite, an organization that works with student leaders to create compassionate, nonviolent leadership in their communities.

In a frank discussion with Josh Zepps, Michaelis reflects on his mistakes, and how he came to let go of his hate and anger. He notes the similarities he perceives between the language and emotion of the white power movement he left, and that of the campaign rhetoric of Donald Trump, whose rallies are now plagued by racially charged clashes and violence. Michaelis joins us today to offer some insight on this worldview of rage, and how we can work toward alternatives to hate and violence.


This is one of inquiry for Tuesday, March 15th, 2016. 

I’m Josh Zepps. This is the podcast of the Center for Inquiry. The Republican presidential campaign has raised many befuddling questions. One of them being, to what extent is Donald Trump’s rise driven by a disgruntled white people? The Donald wants to ban all Muslims from the United States, deport all illegal Mexicans. Black protesters have been punched and assaulted at some of his rallies. He’s endorsed by David Duke, the former head of the Ku Klux Klan. And Trump’s repeated disavowal of white supremacist groups has so far always been couched in language that’s a lot less strident than his opinions on nearly everything else. So in the wake of Black Lives Matter, how should we understand white racism and white supremacy in America in 2016? Arno Michaelis used to be a major figure in the white power movement. He was a founding member of what became the largest racist skinhead organization in the world. He was a reverend of a self-declared racial holy war. And the lead singer of a race metal band since Syrian, which sold in Arnaud’s woods over 20000 seeds of the most violent, hateful music ever made. His book is My Life After Hate. And he joins me now. Thanks for being on the show. 

My pleasure, Josh Levs. 

So can we just start by trying to understand the internal logic of the white supremacist world view? 

If I were interviewing you at age 23, what would you tell me is wrong with America? 

Well, I think in its simplest form, it’s rooted in fear and especially for the disgruntled white people demographic. It’s a fear that things are it’s a fear of change. It’s a fear of losing power over society while at the same time not fully admitting that we have power over society. It ends up in a real kind of victimhood complex. This attitude that, like white people are being marginalized, white people losing rights. That’s that’s really the driving factors behind the white supremacist ideology. 

Did you think that it was about fear at the time? 

I had no idea I I didn’t and I highly doubt that any act of voids of promise would admit that it was about fear because, you know, for his virtually for men, you know, no man of any color wants to admit that they’re afraid. It’s just kind of the the way are module’s society operates. But at the same time, you are driven to the point where you’re wrestling with violence and you’re saying you hate people. That’s not the behavior of someone who is fearless. It’s the behavior of someone who is fearful. So it’s not a difficult case to make. Even when you’re talking to an active white supremacist. But it’s back in the day. I certainly wouldn’t. Is that a fact? I would have told you that every all of my hate and violence is motivated by my love for my people, which interestingly, I caught a tiny sliver of the Republican debate last night when Trump was asked about the violent incident at one of his rallies recently. He quickly spun this around and say, well, you know, might the people at these rallies loved their country? And it was kind of a treat be to see him kind of use the same mental dynamics that we would have used back in the day. They’d only not quite as blatantly if he can help it. 

And so what’s the link between I love my country. Therefore, I’m going to be violent towards people who aren’t part of my race. 

Well, it did. I think, again, it had comes on the fear and again, a misunderstanding of how love works. Any time you see love is a finite resource that, you know, has to be very judiciously measured to be heard as it’s doled out, then you can find yourself. There is a why I love this. And it’s it’s kind of this this approach. Like, I, I’m sorry, I only have 10 pieces of love and I, I need to spend them over here so you can’t have any of it. 

And it it it’s it’s incredibly tragic really, because the truth is, is that love, like all noble human qualities, like compassionate forgiveness, all of these things is boundless. And the more you exercise, the more you have to give to the world around you. And, you know, when you have a zevi, I love my country. So I have to hate this. Other countries, as I would have said back in the day, I love the white race and it’s being threatened by all these other races. And so therefore, I have to hate everyone else. It’s it’s a pretty clear indicator that you don’t understand how love works. 

Yeah. And you probably don’t understand how race works either, just biologically and scientifically. 

Absolutely. I mean, race being a social construct, it’s a misunderstanding of all racial works. 

It’s certainly a misunderstanding of how violence works because we don’t understand all violence words. You can convince yourself that you can somehow extinguish violence with more violence than you’d understand the cyclical nature of violence. I mean, I see people who wallowed in violence their entire lives who’s zero understanding of the dynamics of it. And I think that’s absolutely in play in all violent extremism ideologies and also in the rhetoric of Donald Trump. 

Was there a point in your teens where you remember concluding that race was the problem, that race was the big motivating issue that you had to do something about? 

I mean, I did start to draw that conclusion as I got more involved in the literature and like the dogma of the ideology. My my initial attraction to white supremacy, though, was just because it was so repulsive to civil society. And I was angry, drunken, bored teenager who really liked to piss people off. 

And few things piss people off like a swastika. 

So once I donned a swastika and I went around kind of radiating hate and violence out into the world, the world, as it does, reflected those things back at me, often in multitudes of the magnitude of what I put into it. And that seemed to validate all the paranoid victimhood and fear essentially that drives white supremacist ideologies. So the more I identified myself as white, the more it made sense that race was the issue. And it was like the really the the only issue that mattered. So that’s what led me to see race as really a defining factor. 

Right. So it almost sounds like it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy or a feedback loop that you create where your hatred and anger caused people to not like you or tend to ostracize you. And then the fact that you’re ostracized. It reinforces the belief that you’re being ostracized. So you react with more anger and it spirals. It sort of ratchets up out of control. Is that a is that a fair assessment? 

Yeah, I think that’s entirely accurate. 

Really, what it is another like kind of the central element of this is the element of responsibility. And in white supremacist ideology and again, many, many of the things that I say are going to be common threads behind all violent extremism, and that is the element of blame. 

So, you know, according to me as a white supremacy skinhead back in the day, nothing was the only thing that white people ever did wrong, was to allow anybody else a leg up to take the foot off the gas in the genocide and oppression that has been going on for 500 years. Everything else that was wrong with the world isn’t there needs to be a bit of historical myopia in place as well to willfully not understand why things are the way they are. That’s a hidden ingredient that’s necessary in order to look at the president and say, well, all health messed up things are. This must be everyone else’s fault but mine. And, you know, they’re all to blame. I’m doing everything right. I’m trying to fight for the white race. And of course, that attitude just leads to more failure and more suffering so that when that happens, like you said, when the rest of society ostracizes you and you don’t have a good job and you know you don’t have a girlfriend and everything else is going wrong in your life, of course. Whose fault is this? It’s the Jews fault. It’s the blast wall. It’s people’s wall. It’s everyone’s fault. 

But yours, which creates that feedback loop. And it gets you stuck in a point where if it’s somebody else’s fault, what the hell can you do about it? There’s nothing you can really do about it. So for me, a lot of my Tauron had to do with taking responsibility and saying, hey, you know, this is it is my fault. 

I have a minimum wage job. You know, I’m the one who dropped out of high school really is to really grasp the American dream that was served up for me on a silver platter. And I didn’t fail to do so. I just refused to. And then I blamed everybody else for the repercussions. And that’s that’s something you’ll see over and over again in white supremacist ideology. 

It’s fascinating that you talk about blame because obviously a large component of Trump’s appeal is blaming immigrants for the problems of working class Americans, is blaming Muslims as an entire faith group for the problems of a few radical extremists, Islamists and then sort of blame America. First mantra is something that you hear constantly on the right and on media outlets like Fox News. Mitt Romney’s book was called No Apologies. The sense, the sense that we’ve been spending far too long blaming America for the world’s problems, blaming white people for black people’s problems, and it’s time to step up and refuse the burden of guilt that’s trying to be placed upon us. It strikes me that that is a much, much milder form of the kind of ideology that you’re talking about. 

Absolutely. Yeah. But that’s that’s a perfect example. It’s interesting to me that people who use the language blame America first are also typically the first people who like to throw around the term personal responsibility. So you’re very being irresponsible by saying things are not our fault, it’s someone else’s fault. That’s the definition of your responsibility. And then you’re at the same time you’re saying, well, I believe in personal responsibility. So don’t just pick yourself up by the bootstraps, no matter who you are and what your problem is. And you’ll be just fine. And it’s rethinking. It’s a glaring contradiction. And again, it indicates a pretty serious misunderstanding of the basic principles behind these words. What does responsibility mean to be responsibility? Yes, it means being able to pull your own weight and paying your own bills, but it also means being your brother’s keeper and being responsible for the impact that you have on the world around you. And the more responsible you are, the broader that sphere of impact becomes. 

So an example would be, if I may want a cup of coffee in the morning, am I being considerate of the process that brought that coffee to me? Is is the coffee produced by people who are essentially enslaved to picket and that aren’t getting any of the profit in any of the benefit from the commerce involved in getting the coffee to me? Or is the coffee fair trade certified? And I can be confident that the person picking the beans is gaining from the commerce as much as the exporter, the importer and the coffee shop. And those are my responsibilities to make that decision in a market based economy. That’s how it’s supposed to work. Is that. People who buy the products, they’re supposed to be responsible for what they’re buying. And unfortunately, again, ironically, you get a lot of the people you know, Trump’s supporters are the same ones who shop at Wal-Mart and they’re buying all this stuff that’s cheap made in China by people who are essentially slaves and they’re not being responsible for the impact of their purchases. So in that respect, it’s a good example of how our responsibility should extend far beyond our personal sphere it into a community, national and even global sphere. 

I think this is fascinating, this idea about responsibility, because, as you mentioned, it’s so often conservatives who pride themselves on it. So it almost I’m trying to get my head around this. You know, people who are broadly on the left will regard it as being their responsibility to have an empathic imagination that encompasses groups other than them. You know, I sort of regard it as my duty to care about whether or not black people are being shot by cops unnecessarily because I’m not black. And so I don’t face that problem. 

Therefore, it’s an added, I guess, burden. It’s an added moral responsibility to make that imaginative leap. But conservatives think of liberals like myself as being afraid of responsibility, sort of the right airy fairy libertine, not believing in social order and structure. So it’s an odd thing. I wonder if you have any thoughts about where that comes from, their pride in personal responsibility and institutions like the military and the church. Is it a small town thing? Was it from. 

I think, again, if it we’re talking of a lot of misunderstandings here, and for me, I’m really not in the politics. There’s a lot of things where I find myself pretty far left on and I don’t know a whole lot of areas where I get really far right. 

But at the same time, I you know, I don’t think capitalism is a problem. I think greed is a problem. 

So I don’t split when I say the words to capitalism anymore. That’s. When I say the word socialism. It would be silly. They’re both schools of thought. Neither one is the silver bullet answer at all. Human problems. 

Both have pros and cons. It’s a it’s a responsibility of an enlightened society to sift the pros from the cons and then kind of apply them in a dynamic way. But if we’re talking about this weird kind of irony that conservatives who are all about personal responsibility and accusing liberals of not being responsible and actually liberals are being responsible for the impact of their purchases and the impact of their environmental footprint, things like that, I think what it means is it’s a misunderstanding of interdependence and how the actions of one essentially affect everyone else and everything else on the planet. And I’m a Buddhist, and so I’m all about interdependence. And I sit around for good chunks of time contemplating and thinking about, you know, what? What happens if this happens? How does that affect who? And then how does how does the affect of them affect other people? So I think when you look at the bread and butter conservative montreaux of individualism, that’s really what the crux is, is this idea that that a human being can somehow be independent of other human beings or independent of the society they live in or independent of the earth. And this notion of the self-made man that the conservatives and the swoon about, it’s just such a falsehood that logically I don’t see how anybody can they could see it hold any water is illogical, their point. 

And yet when it comes to when it comes to racism, that’s almost the exact opposite of individualism in a strange way. And in this rugged sense of individualism, in the socially conservative mindset. But when that intersects with racism, racism is the ultimate sort of form of tribalism, of you are defined precisely by what is in your blood and the color of your skin. And I’m not going to give you any opportunity to flourish as an individual. So it’s a sort of a I feel like socially conservative racists and white supremacists. I mean, a hybrid state between their own sense of individual self empowerment and the Klan’s by which they define themselves and humanity. 

I’d say that’s true. But I would also say that there’s a pretty serious difference between the kind of back in the day I wouldn’t call us overweight. It’s a premise. I wouldn’t call myself a white nationalist. In fact, I use the word racialists to define who I was. And I would have said yes. To me. Everything is all about race. And to me, by race is far more important than my individuality in us. Right wing conservative politics. It’s tilted a little bit. It is essentially this. It’s a bunch of white people who’ve kind of had a head start on everybody else and therefore have like all the good shit. You know, if you have a bunch, you have family wealth, they have savings accounts, they have good credit ratings. They they won’t get their resumé shredded because they have a weird sounding name. They have all these legs up. And then they say, well, and anybody who has all these legs up and then makes good of it, they’re great and ensure that that, you know, look at this black. I was in my original road, my rich neighborhood of one hundred people. And then there’s a one rich black guy there. So I can say, hey, he’s my peer. 

Anyone can do it. I mean, we’ve got a black man in the White House. So obviously there’s no racism in Berkeley. 

Exactly. It’s there’s a lot of that going on. Whereas back in the day and I, I kind of shunned materialism as a whites promise, like I was by no means capitalist. I didn’t see money as as a noble pursuit. I was really in actuality, I got drunk and picked fights a lot. But if you want to listen to me, pain romantic. I would have talked about how I was a warrior for my people and I was fighting for a wider and broader world. And, you know, I had all those grandiose vision and the matrix, but none of it really had anything to do with making money or being rich or anything like that. So, you know, there’s a pretty broad spectrum even once you get to the far right. And it would be hard to pigeonhole where my old political standpoint would have been as a. I wasn’t a nationalist. I wasn’t a capitalist. I actually we we considered racial socialism like what we wanted to see in our whiter, brighter world. We felt that, you know, we should all share resources and pull together. And if laws are white and agree with us. 

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It’s so interesting to hear you talk about. I’m fighting for my people, I’m fighting for on behalf of what is good and rapping and in this kind of morality. 

And I wonder what you think about identity politics now, because as you say that I think of some Jewish friends who I know I’m Jewish, but I don’t really go into bat for Israel and I have a conflicted relationship with things that that country does. 

And so I think about people who say, like because you’re on this team, you have to be fighting for us. I see that also in the gay community and we see it, of course, in minority communities. 

I wonder what you think of the morality of people who dedicate themselves to fighting for their people. 

Now, do you have sort of a unique insight on that, having been at the very extreme of fighting for your people in the most malicious possible way? 

I do. And I really appreciate the question, actually, because I hate it. Believe me, this doesn’t win me many friends in the social justice circles, but very, very often in the Black Lives Matter movement and in social justice and anti-racist philosophy, especially in our universities nowadays, as we’re getting to this really repressive trigger warning culture where, you know, if you look at somebody sideways, it’s a microaggression and intersectionality. You know, who is the most oppressed, who is the least of Presley while you’re black or your white skin. So, you know, you don’t really you’re not as oppressed as those dark skinned black person, is it? It’s not that there’s not a logical philosophical merit to that. But the thing is, it’s like at what point are you gonna stop letting constructs like race, like religion, like, you know, people to see people to do. All right. TSD about how gender is a construct while at the same time say, yeah, we’re there’s not gonna be any men allowed here. There’s no straight people there. 

They’re going to be bound by the construct and how they view other human beings. And so I, I can’t do as much flak from the far left as I do from the far right. The far right doesn’t like me because I acknowledge racism exists. And that’s a problem we need to deal with on the far left. Doesn’t like me because I don’t think you can hate racism out of existence. 

I mean, going around and say, I don’t hate white people, I hate white supremacy and I’m always like, OK, what do you think white supremacy thinks of your hatred? 

Laughter. It puts mustard on it. Can I have some more hatred, please? I’ll take all the hatred I could get. 

I read it here. Yeah. 

You’re never gonna eat white supremacy out of existence and you’re never gonna eat it. Well, you’re not gonna hate anybody. Anybody or anything out of existence. It’s just not the way a word. 

But what what role is there on hating hatred and not tolerating intolerance? I mean, as you say, this is a big part of the national conversation now and anything that’s going on on university campuses, you know, with what’s happening. I mean, I saw a story about how a music festival, a women’s music festival in Australia, there was a furor because they’re not allowing trends women to the festival. But their point is they are a safe space. The people who were born female and they desire to have a legitimate safe space for people who were born female. Now you can get in kinds of all kinds of trouble with this stuff, and I routinely do. 

But the reality is surely they have a right to to constitute entry into their festival, however they see fit. And if you are born with a dick, maybe maybe you don’t get to come to their music festivals, right? Yes. And no offense, but. 

So I wonder how we disentangle all of this identity politics stuff and where the boundary is in allowing ourselves. Yes. We’ll take that where you will, because I could also go off on a whole rant about university campuses and my method and the limits being imposed on free speech. I just I just believe that societies and cultures are at their healthiest when there is the largest quantity of diverse ideas flowing around. And people don’t feel like they constantly having to tread on eggshells and people can express their own bigotry and ignorance. But surely that comes to a point there where you you say this this far, but no further and maybe sort of Trump is at that point. 

Yeah, exactly. I mean, there is there has to be a line drawn there. There has to be you know, if you have a campus where, you know, there’s a minority of black students, you can’t have people hanging effigies in their trees and waving convertor flags around. There’s there certainly are limits. And I appreciate the concept of, you know, a healthy learning environment by using the word healthy is a much better approach of using the word safe. And part of that health is a free exchange of ideas. It’s healthy to be able to. Sit down with somebody who you, Rehema, we disagree with and have a discussion and not go running away in a hissy fit because somebody touched your hair or somebody put their hand on your shoulder. It’s it’s it’s not a healthy thing to expect safety out of a single moment of life. 

And really, anyone with an undergraduate degree in psychology, even from today’s campuses who will corroborate that. 

My approach is that we have far more in common as human beings than we have different. And that’s even between myself and, you know, a black trans woman in a wheelchair who is a Muslim. It’s despite all these constructs and despite all these societal means of creating separation from each other. If we really sit down and see each other as human beings and we see ourselves in one another, which which can be done. I mean, I I’ve I’ve felt afraid. I’ve felt marginalized. I felt unsure of myself. I’ve felt like the world being against me and, you know, may or may not have been the same as someone else. But it doesn’t mean that I am foreign to those feelings. So if we can connect and see each other as human beings and really build a foundation of common humanity. Now we’re in a position to see our differences as assets rather than liabilities. And then once their differences are seen as assets, now it’s going to dawn on street. White men like myself that. Yeah. It’s pretty clear that having dark skin increases your odds of being shot by a police officer. Now, why is that and how do we fix it? Now I give a shit. Now I’m an arm like engaged and I’m ready to fix this. If somebody comes to me is if you can’t understand me because you’re white and you’ll never know what it’s like to go do what I dealt with. And we’re not the same. And we’re more different because society has done this and that. Then why do I care what what’s going to motivate me to really go to bat for someone who’s who is screaming at me right now about how different we are and all how disparate we are and that we’ll never, ever find common ground? It’s it’s it’s kind of a non starting position. And it’s not a position aimed towards a solution. It’s a position aimed toward perpetuating the strife that caused the problem in the first place. In a way, it’s kind of like a huge hopping case of Stockholm syndrome at a societal level, like we’ve been bound so long by the construct of race that the people who are most wounded by this construct are so terrified at the idea of being without it that it’s it’s more comforting to them to just like let race define the entire world rather than imagine a world that’s not defined by it’s interesting. 

And, yes, that that’s easy for me to say as a straight white guy. I understand that. But it doesn’t excuse you. Yeah, I. 

I really think that that, you know, we we have to look at the common human elements here and all the other dynamics. We’re talking about our common human. 

It’s interesting because when a foreigner moves to the United States, at least my experience and that of many other foreigners I know in the U.S., the racial conversation in the states is so much more difficult and fractured, race in America looms so much larger. And again, I’ll add any qualifying language that I need to add about being a white, being a white male. 

So hit your. 

But but in my experience, growing up was really that race was invisible. I mean, Australia has tons of Asian people on tons of Middle Eastern people. Not a huge African population because we didn’t have slavery. And we’re a long way from Africa. Right. But, you know, moving to the United States with the legacy of 400 years of slavery has kind of calcified racial the racial boundaries in America in a very problematic way. 

And I think it touches on what you’re referring to, where on both sides race matters so much as as an identity marker that I don’t know how you disentangle that. 

I mean, is your solution here, too? We had to wave a magic wand and have all racial problems in America are fixed for everyone to attain some kind of Buddhist enlightenment about how we’re all one, because that that only happens to a few people and a few moments in their in their life. Right. 

There has to we have to be able to reason through reason each other into understanding one another rather than rather than sitting around singing Kumbayah. Well, maybe that’s the only way. 

Why? It’s actually a lot of my position and my kind of thoughts on this matter have been shaped by my friendship with a guy named Party Kaleka. And I met partly because his father said the one. 

A week was the last person murdered on August 5th, 2012, when a white supremacist skinhead who was a part of the Zoome gang I had started who was a lead singer away bar band, walked into a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and he murdered six people for no other reason that they had brown skin and some of the more turbans and that he saw them as others and to his principles of the six faith that are really common to all human spirituality, whether it’s organized or not. 

But those principles are essentially the idea of being in service to other people. And the idea of looking at all of humanity as a common vision in the Sikh faith, it’s that we’re all God’s creations or what sense does it make the hate some other person because God made you and God made me. 

And it’s pretty stupid. You don’t question the will of God. Why would he create, as all of you didn’t put us all that here, to hate each other? Right. Interesting. We heard that from a Pentecostal woman down in Georgia the past couple days doing some work down there. So it’s a spiritual principle. I think that is it’s always there for us to connect with. And it’s really kind of it’s the founding principle of a small human spirituality. And I think if we connect with that principle, typically through service to other people, that’s a that’s a fantastic way to connect with it and see that connection as a practice and as a cultivation, as something that we we constantly need to care for and nurture and keep building and keep working. 

I mean, I think we have a chance and that this element of looking at it as a practice of various angel. I had a comment from who I assume was an old buddy of mine from his screen name or a dad like neo-Nazi numerology in it. But he say he is surprisingly civil. And the any he responded to my my video I recorded in response to the Sikh temple shooting where I was calling for people to be respons, warned him to have compassion and to respond to hate, violence with kindness and forgiveness. This guy said, no, you know, you world peace is a utopian fool’s quest and it’s never gonna happen. And, you know, you’re too smart to be wasting your time on such a stupid thing. I was really grateful for that comment because it made me thinking and I it really made me kind of conceptualize and measure my perspective on all as an Hannant in that resulted in the realization that at no point did I did I ever or will I ever see world peace as some sort of destination, like, you know, if we do this, this or that, then we’ll have world peace. I don’t see that happening at all. I think conflict is a natural state in human society. And we just need to learn ways to manage that conflict in a healthy way. I think the more we we go in that direction and the more we’re going to be able to do it. But essentially was the way I approach pieces that first of all, peace has to come from within. It has to come from inside you if you don’t have inner peace, that you’re not going to be any sort of asset to creating altarpiece and inner peace cannot depend on what other people do or don’t do. It can depend on white people checking their privilege. You know, it can’t depend on the actions of government or the actions of society or whatever it has to depend on, on yourself and your your love for yourself and your gratitude for life. 

Also, in the Sikh faith, they have a saying called Charity Carlaw, which essentially means relentless optimism. And I mean, I witnessed this firsthand after the Sikh temple shooting and that even these people who had lost their fathers and kids who lost their mom and their grandpa, they believed in church. They know, you know, even in this horrible, horrible time, this experience is something to be very grateful for. And I’m overjoyed that I am here and that I’m breathing and that we’re here for each other. And I forgive the shooter. And I’m not going to respond in hate to his hate. That’s a really powerful thing. And going back to the peace process is once you can build an interpeace out of building blocks like Chardy Kaleigh, you can then create altarpiece. So you have a moment of altarpiece and you can bring peace to a a household. You can bring peace to a block in the inner city, maybe a couple blocks. And you keep building on that. And then you have an afternoon of peace and you have a week of peace and you have a month of peace. And then something really messed up happens in the whole thing comes crumbling down. And then you pick up the pieces and you start the process again. 

That’s life. 

That’s that’s how it works. It’s a process. And there’s going to be isaam laws. There’s going to be challenges. It’s when you can embrace those challenges and see them as opportunity. He is for growth and opportunities to practice compassion, opportunities to practice love for other human beings and for the life you lead. 

That’s when you win life. 

And I think the more of us who find the ability to do that, it’s a contagious thing with, you know, that’s that’s essentially what everyone wants is the ability to just be like, cool, no matter what’s happened in our world around them. 

And when you see somebody who has that, you’re going to watch them and see like, how do they have that? What do they do to get it? I want to get it to you. 

And that’s all pretty bad. 

I run our organization to serve two Unite, which people can find out more about it served to unite that, or it’s with the number two. And we engage young people of all backgrounds, of all ethnicities in creative service learning projects and in global engagement. And we cultivate that human identity. We cultivate charity. Calon, that relentless optimism, the belief that life is a basically good experience and that no matter what happens, we always have that no one can ever take that away from us. We always have the ability to love each other. We always have the ability to forgive, to be kind. And what greater gift could anyone ask for in life? And when you start to buy into that, you become an incredibly powerful being in this life. 

And you’re you put yourself in a position to not only heal and survive your own trauma, but to help others do the same. And the more we we reach out and heal each other and help each other. I think the better off we’re going to be. 

So here at the Center for Inquiry, we lobby relentlessly for secularism, for separation of church and state against religious orthodoxy and oftentimes against religion itself. 

And so I think a lot of a lot of people will be thinking, how do we achieve this? Like, this is all very good for Buddhism is Buddhism and Sikhism and maybe Jainism and some other religions. One of the only ones that are consistent about the principle that you’ve just articulated in most religions around the world. Dogma trumps love and empathy. You know, ordinarily throughout the world, religion, our listeners would contend, is a divisive force that separates people. That gives people reasons to believe that they have a unique understanding of what the creator of the universe wants for them and that they’re his chosen people and creates unnecessary divisions, and that all of the all of the kind of empathic approach to life that you’ve just outlined is possible in the absence of any spirituality. 

There are perfectly good, non-religious reasons to go through life with a sense of awe and wonder. 

There are perfectly good, non-religious scientific reasons to meditate. I mean, you know, Sam Harris is what is one of a growing number of atheists who’s interested in it. Precisely what happens to your sense of the world and your sense of spirituality and perception? When you undertake a regular practice of mindfulness. 

So I wonder whether you think that there’s a what is the what is the more reliable, dependable path here? Is it to try to sway people away from religion? 

Because religions divide is divisive was to try to get them to understand religion in a different way so that it isn’t divisive. Because I just think that religion is always going to be more divisive than not. 

It’s. I mean, first of all, if you were to from Vermont whole like just spiel, I just went on. If you take out the part where I said, you know, we’re all part of God’s creation. Maybe if you take out the word God, it really it’s an entirely secular thing that really you know, I didn’t vary in the supernatural. 

I didn’t say anything that involves any sort of divine guidance or beings. I really just said things. This is how our human psyche works. And you’re right, more and more people. It’s it’s scientifically proven now that, you know, meditation shapes. Our brain works. It’s proof. Neuroplasticity is the scientifically sound theory that the synapses in our mind are kind of geared towards one thing or another. And if we use our our compassion synapses more often, they actually grow closer together so they can happen easier and happen more readily. Whereas the same is true with anger. If we use our anger synapses all the time, they they get closer and it becomes really, really easy to be angry. That’s like your your go through a response. So this is all I mean, this is only logic. This is science. This is physiology. So it’s something that I think there’s no issues whatsoever dealing with in a secular way. Here in the states here, you know, our program is in public schools for the most part in public schools. We we can’t go inheritance that he has. This is you know, we’re all God’s creation. 

That’s why we all care about it. Yeah. No, we were. Probably sue you if you did that. 

I think go for it. I did. I really I. 

I don’t have a problem with that. 

I’m not a fan of church and state, you know, being in cahoots with each other. I definitely appreciate a secular society as a Buddhist. Buddhism is really not about all supernatural things. It’s the there’s no supreme being here where we’re sitting here and study and our mind works and our compassion. So it’s to me it’s more of a science and religion. 

But as far as as our relationship with religion goes, I’ve come to learn personally that as human beings, we tend to find what we look for in life. 

And I actually see this as one of the most amazing aspects of the human experience. Because I you know, when I talk to kids and I’m like, hey, you can craft your own reality, you know, they’re like, hey, I give you a zone or whatever you’re taking. 

I know you’re crafting your own reality, man. Well, yeah, I am. 

Because the rules are my life when I look for reasons to believe that I was different than everyone else and superior to everyone else and incapable of moving in peace with everyone else. And I found them everywhere I look out is. And it also, interestingly, for the bulk of my life, I was extremely anti Christian from every possible angle. As a white supremacist. Jesus was a Jew. And what kind of suicidal religion asked you to love your enemies and turn your cheek? I mean, this is ridiculous. As I left the white power movement, I went from being a white power skinhead to being a raver, which is about 180 degrees. You could possibly be it in the rave scene. I met all people of all ethnicities and of course, all gender identity and sexual identities. And I became very passionate about LGBT rights. And so in the mid 2000s, the so-called Christian right, the United States was putting amendments against same sex marriage on the ballots of many states in order to drive out their base. And so I hated Christianity because I considered it homophobic and oppressive, the LGBT people. 

It wasn’t until I had like this aha moment studying the Dharma where I was like all. 

If everyone was a Buddhist, just like you said, if everyone was a Buddhist, there would be world peace. I want to go grab people by the collar and be like, have you heard the good news about the Dharma that I get stopped by? Sort of like. Wait a minute. 

Who I sound like, you know, I hold like all the the Bible thumping people who I despise my whole life who would knock on my door at 9:00 in the morning on Saturday. 

Have you watched our magazine? And Watchtower watched parts of the side. I challenged myself. 

I said, you know, somebody really finds a profound sense of forgiveness and love and the teachings of Jesus Christ, and they truly translated into their relationship with the world. Then more power to them. 

Like you as that’s something that we. Again, is that a finite amount of things? Is that something that we can have too much of in the world? I don’t think so. So it was an epiphany for me at that point in that I saw in human spirituality viewed in the form of an ancient organized religion or breed in the form of some, you know, recently concocted secular approach. I see an infinite number of ways for us to engage with noble human qualities like love, like forgiveness, like compassion. And that’s a great thing. There can’t be too many ways to do that. So once they started to be mindful of what I was looking for in the world and I started to look for reasons to be inspired by Christianity and reasons to be inspired by the teachings of Jesus Christ, I found them left and right. 

I followed them everywhere I look. 

And, you know, we were sitting around having a beer and barbecue and I could go on all day about Christians who really inspires shit out of me this time. 

It’s because that cause I, I challenge myself to look for that instead of looking for reasons to despise Christianity. 

Yeah, this is a problem for me as well. I mean, I’m guilty as charged because if I was sitting around a barbecue having a beer with you and you were banging on about ADRAC Christianity is I would I would back away slowly and find an excuse to go to someone else in public. 

We can all have a little bit more empathy in our lives. And I take that point. Let’s just let’s just wrap. But by looping back to to white supremacy, because the FBI says that it’s increasingly concerned about the possibility of domestic terrorism. It’s increasingly concerned about what extremist groups. And I wonder whether or not you have any kind of thoughts or insights about how to bend that trajectory away. I mean, other than encouraging everybody to be empathic, just what is what is going on here? 

I think awareness of fear and how it works is incredibly important here. A couple weeks ago, I saw a headline, you know, causes complete clicked babe, like all headlines are now. It is. But the headline says the FBI admits that white supremacist far right militias are far more of a threat to the United States than Islamist terror groups as an OK is late. I go and read this ad in the opening sentence as if to prove their point. They said since 9/11. So obviously not counting 9/11, but since 2002. 

Forty eight people. 

Forty eight individuals of the United States of America. 

48 states citizens have been killed by far right violence compared to 45 killed by Islam as well. 

And then they went on for twenty five hundred words like elaborating on how how dangerous the white supremacist are and how they’re crawling out from every on Iraq. And it’s just a huge, huge problem. And I couldn’t get past that first sentence. I’m like a math frightens and confuses me. I’m no mathematician, but I know that 40 hate is three bigger than 45. It’s not. 

Yeah. And also that both that both figures are about the same number of people who die on the roads every four in the time. It’s taken me to say this sentence that number of people have been have that gun. 

That’s the other mathematical truth that hit me. And I actually started digging up some numbers. And in the city of Milwaukee from January 2015 to October 2015. One hundred and forty two people were killed by street violence. Right. In less than a year. So we’re talking about ninety three people dying from violent extremism in the United States in a 16 year period. 

OK. So let let’s look. I’ll grant you that maybe we don’t need to worry that much about right wing terrorism, but we do need to worry about a society and a culture that is being torn apart and divided by extreme ideologies of any description, whether or not that translates into actual violence. 

Right. So let’s let’s just reframe the question that way. 

Sure. But maybe, again, the answer is stop feeding the fear in people from the left, like when Charleston happened in it. I don’t want to say anybody love that. 

But but, you know, there are so many people who polls that you’ll look how horrible is is is horrible. Just messed up. White supremacist killed nine innocent black people. You know, they’re they’re pumping it out into the system that we all can are plugged in. You know, that’s the way social media works. Now, it’s no longer in control of a few media conglomerates. Essentially, the media conglomerates reflect what social media does. It’s you know, if a story gets so many shares and somebody likes, all of a sudden it starts becoming a bell force. 

But shouldn’t. Should we not regard something like a young white supremacist walking into a traditional black church and just randomly shooting people as a bit of a canary in the coal mine? That deserves our attention to try to figure out how that guy got there in the first place. So are you saying we’d actually be better served by putting the story on page 16 in a smaller, logical and just not not worrying about? 

I shall I, I, I drove down to Charleston a 20 hour drive the day after it happened, and I died when bore witness to the suffering there. And I found nine day the bravest do your jobs. But I got a bunch of people like gleefully celebrating life and defying and violence within their Christian faith. 

But that’s that’s what was happening. 

But by no means by saying it should be ignored, it shouldn’t be swept under the rug. But we again, we need to be responsible with how we respond to it. We need to actually follow the lead of the victims families and say, you know what? I forgive this horrible, miserable, suffering human being who committed this this crime. Instead of saying, you know, I want somebody to answer for this, I want to see somebody suffer, I want to see Bill in written roof, you know, raped and drawn and quartered, responding with more hate. Violence is essentially what gets us to this point. That’s creating more, more and more hate and violence. So we need to understand the dynamics of these things. And we need to follow the example of the Hayami church community, follow the example of the Sikh temple community in and we don’t have to do it literally. We don’t have to convert to a religion. We don’t have to believe in a supreme being. But we do need to understand that if we respond with fear and anger to this very fearful and horrific circumstance, that we’re feeding it and we’ll make it worse. And that and that’s what’s happening. That’s why things are kind of spiraling in that direction. And that’s why in our front running Republican presidential candidate is like cheering on his crowd as they’re beating people up is because there’s this overload of fear and anger and everybody keeps porn’s where are anger into it. And I mean people from all ends. This is the reason why Donald Trump is so huge is because when he’s runs, his malteds is so ridiculous. All the people who love them go, hey, that’s great. And they share it on social media. And all the people who are scared shitless of them go, oh, my God, look how messed up this is. And they share social media. And then there’s a whole spectrum of people in the middle who are just like this is like a car wreck, like look how crazy this is that they share it on social media. It ends up with this. No matter what the intention is, the end result is just more, more fear and anger pouring into the system. So by all means, you can ever ignore when when a tragedy like Charleston happens. But we have to be very mindful of how we respond. And I think the more of us who do that and the more examples we set in that regard, the better the odds that we can start doing it on a broader scale. 

You’ve made me feel guilty that I tweeted about Trump three times yesterday. I know it’s great to talk to you. Thanks for being with us. UniMac callouses book is My Life After Hate. Thanks for being on the show. 

Thanks a lot. Jazz appreciation for his Dadush. 

Josh Zepps

Josh Zepps

An Australian media personality, political satirist, actor, and TV show host. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. He was a founding host for HuffPost Live.