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White American Youth: My Descent into America's Most Violent Hate Movement—and How I Got Out

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A stunning look inside the world of violent hate groups by a onetime white supremacist leader who, shaken by a personal tragedy, realized the error of his ways and abandoned his destructive life to become an anti-hate activist. As he stumbled through high school, struggling to find a community among other fans of punk rock music, Christian Picciolini was recruited by a no A stunning look inside the world of violent hate groups by a onetime white supremacist leader who, shaken by a personal tragedy, realized the error of his ways and abandoned his destructive life to become an anti-hate activist. As he stumbled through high school, struggling to find a community among other fans of punk rock music, Christian Picciolini was recruited by a now notorious white power skinhead leader and encouraged to fight with the movement to "protect the white race from extinction." Soon, he had become an expert in racist philosophies, a terror who roamed the neighborhood, quick to throw fists. When his mentor was arrested and sentenced to eleven years in prison, sixteen-year-old Picciolini took over the man's role as the leader of an infamous neo-Nazi skinhead group. Seduced by the power he accrued through intimidation, and swept up in the rhetoric he had adopted, Picciolini worked to grow an army of extremists. He used music as a recruitment tool, launching his own propaganda band that performed at white power rallies around the world. But slowly, as he started a family of his own and a job that for the first time brought him face to face with people from all walks of life, he began to recognize the cracks in his hateful ideology. Then a shocking loss at the hands of racial violence changed his life forever, and Picciolini realized too late the full extent of the harm he'd caused. Raw, inspiring, and heartbreakingly candid, White American Youth tells the fascinating story of how so many young people lose themselves in a culture of hatred and violence and how the criminal networks they forge terrorize and divide our nation.


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A stunning look inside the world of violent hate groups by a onetime white supremacist leader who, shaken by a personal tragedy, realized the error of his ways and abandoned his destructive life to become an anti-hate activist. As he stumbled through high school, struggling to find a community among other fans of punk rock music, Christian Picciolini was recruited by a no A stunning look inside the world of violent hate groups by a onetime white supremacist leader who, shaken by a personal tragedy, realized the error of his ways and abandoned his destructive life to become an anti-hate activist. As he stumbled through high school, struggling to find a community among other fans of punk rock music, Christian Picciolini was recruited by a now notorious white power skinhead leader and encouraged to fight with the movement to "protect the white race from extinction." Soon, he had become an expert in racist philosophies, a terror who roamed the neighborhood, quick to throw fists. When his mentor was arrested and sentenced to eleven years in prison, sixteen-year-old Picciolini took over the man's role as the leader of an infamous neo-Nazi skinhead group. Seduced by the power he accrued through intimidation, and swept up in the rhetoric he had adopted, Picciolini worked to grow an army of extremists. He used music as a recruitment tool, launching his own propaganda band that performed at white power rallies around the world. But slowly, as he started a family of his own and a job that for the first time brought him face to face with people from all walks of life, he began to recognize the cracks in his hateful ideology. Then a shocking loss at the hands of racial violence changed his life forever, and Picciolini realized too late the full extent of the harm he'd caused. Raw, inspiring, and heartbreakingly candid, White American Youth tells the fascinating story of how so many young people lose themselves in a culture of hatred and violence and how the criminal networks they forge terrorize and divide our nation.

30 review for White American Youth: My Descent into America's Most Violent Hate Movement—and How I Got Out

  1. 5 out of 5

    Leo Robertson

    Timely and highly compelling piece of narrative non-fiction. I just stayed up way too late to finish it! What struck me most was the visceral nature of the prose. The author's life is portrayed so vividly, from the loneliness, confusion and disaffection of youth to the joy of acceptance by someone at least. Later, we feel the excitement of violence, the thrill of being something bigger than yourself, of playing in a band and having a room full of folk dressed like you go absolutely nuts. It's eas Timely and highly compelling piece of narrative non-fiction. I just stayed up way too late to finish it! What struck me most was the visceral nature of the prose. The author's life is portrayed so vividly, from the loneliness, confusion and disaffection of youth to the joy of acceptance by someone at least. Later, we feel the excitement of violence, the thrill of being something bigger than yourself, of playing in a band and having a room full of folk dressed like you go absolutely nuts. It's easy to see, reading this book, why white power movements are so seductive. People get lost at the wayside, attacked. Become the victims of misdirected anger. Being possessed by an evil ideology comes at several immense costs—personal, familial, social... what with the reach of white power music, global, even. Those costs may remain hidden for years and years, festering until their final too-late revelation. More wholesome joys permeate the narrative: finding love, having children, forming unlikely friendships... Jesus, how will all that pan out? Check out this Atlantic piece on the guy behind The Daily Stormer. Picciolini's story is woefully archetypal. That makes it gripping, terrifying and essential reading.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    I found this book after hearing a podcast of Christian doing a live talk with Sam Harris. I was hoping for some kind of deeper analysis of why he became a neo-nazi skinhead, then why he left, but the book was basically devoid of intellectual content -- a "love everyone" cliche. His life story is basically angry teenager: who became a street fighter and teenaged nazi, then grew up with the movement into the inevitable dead end, left when his wife complained about it, ran a small business (a recor I found this book after hearing a podcast of Christian doing a live talk with Sam Harris. I was hoping for some kind of deeper analysis of why he became a neo-nazi skinhead, then why he left, but the book was basically devoid of intellectual content -- a "love everyone" cliche. His life story is basically angry teenager: who became a street fighter and teenaged nazi, then grew up with the movement into the inevitable dead end, left when his wife complained about it, ran a small business (a record store), got a lucky break and an IT job with IBM, then became some kind of SJW speaker. I didn't find this particularly novel or interesting -- lots of kids get into stupid things for no good reason, then eventually leave as they get older. Becoming a skinhead neo-nazi is a bit more extreme than an video game addict or hardocre high school athlete, but it's essentially the same thing -- a transition-period identity which someone grows out of. What was interesting was accidental. 1) The role of music in fueling the neo nazi movement (and extremist movements in general. 2) That people are brought together through capitalism/commerce, even people who otherwise hate each other -- when he started a small and originally racist-focused record store, he started having positive interactions with customers he would have fought out on the street (and then ironically ended up pulling the racist music his store primarily sold, making it no longer viable as a business). He failed to notice that he'd been supported by others (first his parents, then the state through make-work jobs and welfare) for most of his life, and that this essentially enabled his behavior. I was hoping for some kind of rational argument against racism or hate; none of that in this book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kris

    I checked this book out after I listened to an interview with the author on NPR’s Fresh Air. I couldn’t put it down. Not exactly for the faint of heart, this is a heartbreaking and horrifying story about a lonely, angry kid who gets swept up by a few charismatic individuals who offer him a sense of purpose and belonging, preying upon his sense of disenfranchisement... which eventually leads to his indoctrination into America’s white power skinhead movement. He finds himself heading down a dark tu I checked this book out after I listened to an interview with the author on NPR’s Fresh Air. I couldn’t put it down. Not exactly for the faint of heart, this is a heartbreaking and horrifying story about a lonely, angry kid who gets swept up by a few charismatic individuals who offer him a sense of purpose and belonging, preying upon his sense of disenfranchisement... which eventually leads to his indoctrination into America’s white power skinhead movement. He finds himself heading down a dark tunnel of hatred and violence, spewing the twisted rhetoric of his newfound far-right ideals even while he begins to question the gravity of his actions. He details his misspent youth, and eventually how he was fortunate enough to escape his Nazi punk life and channel the hatred into positive change for the well-being of all people. He co-founded the non-profit Life After Hate, to help disengage others from hate movements. The ending felt rushed, but the book was otherwise well-written and direct. The content and message, relevant. Compassion and empathy are crucial. That can’t be stated enough.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    Guy is a pathetic little whiner who never truly understood the movement and never will. Those that are honest know there is no leaving the facts you learn behind. He was a snobby little middle class kid who was angry mommy and daddy didn't spend enough time with him and was never suited for the life he chose for several years. The definition of a cuck if I ever saw one. Could have been worse he could have claimed the reason he left it all behind was bc of his kids like another traitors book I re Guy is a pathetic little whiner who never truly understood the movement and never will. Those that are honest know there is no leaving the facts you learn behind. He was a snobby little middle class kid who was angry mommy and daddy didn't spend enough time with him and was never suited for the life he chose for several years. The definition of a cuck if I ever saw one. Could have been worse he could have claimed the reason he left it all behind was bc of his kids like another traitors book I read stated. Overall slightly interesting story but no substance he couldn't even defend his brother's death at the hands of gang bangers bc he lost his spine and spirit.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Paul Fike

    White American Youth is a frank exploration of the life of Christian Piccioloni. The book I s an enlightening exploration into the underbelly of the white nationalist skinhead movement in America. As an insecure son of immigrant parents Picciolini discovered acceptance and purpose in a Chicago skinhead group. After his mentor was imprisoned, Picciolini rose through the ranks quickly to become a national leader of this movement, as well as, the front man for a white supremacist band. Through viol White American Youth is a frank exploration of the life of Christian Piccioloni. The book I s an enlightening exploration into the underbelly of the white nationalist skinhead movement in America. As an insecure son of immigrant parents Picciolini discovered acceptance and purpose in a Chicago skinhead group. After his mentor was imprisoned, Picciolini rose through the ranks quickly to become a national leader of this movement, as well as, the front man for a white supremacist band. Through violence and intimidation he led this movement. Hatred seethed through his pores. Through a failed marriage he became more and more aware of the corruption of this movement and the philosophy behind it. In time his eyes were opened to the truth of his insecurity, self-loathing, and need for genuine love. These deep needs could never be met in racial hatred and the people who promoted this insidious ideology. What I found most disturbing is how the radical philosophy behind this violent movement has moved from the periphery, to the mainstream. White nationalism has always existed in America, but only recently has it resurfaced on the national political scene. An excellent read for anyone interested in exploring this insidious movement or those who believe in the possibility of redemption.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    I found out about this book through the Northern Illinois librarian professional network. Oak Lawn Public Library had Christopher Picciolini speak at a library program. It helps that I'm familiar with the area Picciolini grew up. I am from the northwest suburbs of Chicago BUT my boyfriend is from Oak Lawn. Many friends' parents are from Blue Island and another one of our good friends graduated from Eisenhower High School. South Side culture is unique an also completely different from the rest of I found out about this book through the Northern Illinois librarian professional network. Oak Lawn Public Library had Christopher Picciolini speak at a library program. It helps that I'm familiar with the area Picciolini grew up. I am from the northwest suburbs of Chicago BUT my boyfriend is from Oak Lawn. Many friends' parents are from Blue Island and another one of our good friends graduated from Eisenhower High School. South Side culture is unique an also completely different from the rest of Chicago / the surrounding region. It does not surprise me that Picciolini was able to develop a white nationalist skinhead movement down there. I say that because South Siders are waaay more up-front about race than anyone else in Chicagoland. However, Chicago is the most racially segregated place I have ever been in the United States. This same thing could have happened further north or out in the northwest 'burbs by me; it would have just been covered up inside the homes of millionaires whose children are literal perfection. Other regions of Chicago claim to be not racist, but if you look around the only people there are white people and it is not a mistake. It is interesting to me how horrifyingly segregated and racist Chicago is compared to cities I have been to in the South like Atlanta or Washington DC. Martin Luther King Jr. did even mention in his last book that the Civil Rights Era forced Southern cities to figure out their shit while Northern Cities got the free pass on racism since they won the Civil War (or in Illinois' case, because they are The Land of Lincoln). And then, of course, these Yanks brought the Neo-Nazi skinhead movement to the United States and made in popular. I'm also way interested in this perspective because it is so unimaginable for me. My grandfather was born into the Third Reich in 1938 so I have very real Nazis and SS Men in my direct family tree. Even though my grandfather immigrated to Chicago in the 1950s, the effect of Nazi propaganda are visible and real in 2018. In my childhood, the Von Trapp family in The Sound of Music were "dirty traitors" to Germany because they fled the Nazi regime. Also, the film Schindler's List is "Jewish propaganda bullshit." With him though, THE JEWS are the issue, not individual Jewish people he happens to know and be friends with. I can't imagine taking on a Neo-Nazi American perspective because I feel responsible for righting the wrongs of my family or at least making my life count for something when so many others were murdered so that my family could have a future resulting in my life. It would be interesting to see how many descendants of German immigrants end up as Neo-Nazis cause this Italian guy doesn't have any of that in his blood. ALLLL of that aside, this book is awesome and you should read it!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mike Davis

    I was lucky enough to find a copy of Christian's book at a recent conference, and I was already familiar with him through stories from other people. For that reason I was more than prepared to be a fan of this book. It was not a pleasant read, that is, a good portion of this book is spent watching someone go deeper and deeper into an abyss. It seemed inevitable at the start of things. He was young and impressionable, and someone made an impression. What would otherwise be leadership and ingenuit I was lucky enough to find a copy of Christian's book at a recent conference, and I was already familiar with him through stories from other people. For that reason I was more than prepared to be a fan of this book. It was not a pleasant read, that is, a good portion of this book is spent watching someone go deeper and deeper into an abyss. It seemed inevitable at the start of things. He was young and impressionable, and someone made an impression. What would otherwise be leadership and ingenuity in any other use, was twisted into something darker and more sinister. There were parts in here where the fear he is facing is easy to feel. Being asked to point a gun and fire it in the direction of an innocent person while a gun was to his own head must have been terrifying. This example is extreme, but I think there was something common in it. Many of us have been in a position where our actions simply must line up with our posturing. Christian's was much more high stakes, and each time it was easier for him to rise to the challenge than walk away. Music played a large role in this, and I looked up some of the band names on Spotify. While Skrewdriver isn't a band, there is a playlist with more than 3000 followers. This outlet is there for a lot of people. It seemed to me that the lifestyle was a lot of work, but for disaffected youth with excess time, it might be attractive. Looking back on my life, I can see that the maintenance of enemies was very intensive work. I wonder why I would ever do that. I am glad that Christian made (and continues to make) the amends he could make. More importantly, I am grateful that he represents a way out for anyone in the lifestyle that shouldn't be. I hope more people give this a read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rich Humes

    I originally heard about this book when the author was interviewed on Waking Up, the Sam Harris podcast. I put his book on my "To Read" list because it sounded interesting. Then, days later, I heard his Ted Talk. Odd coincidence. Then two days ago while walking around my favorite bookstore this jumped right out at me. I figured the universe was speaking to me so I grabbed it. I haven't put it down too much since. It's a dangerously relatable story for me. Watching the author go down this path remin I originally heard about this book when the author was interviewed on Waking Up, the Sam Harris podcast. I put his book on my "To Read" list because it sounded interesting. Then, days later, I heard his Ted Talk. Odd coincidence. Then two days ago while walking around my favorite bookstore this jumped right out at me. I figured the universe was speaking to me so I grabbed it. I haven't put it down too much since. It's a dangerously relatable story for me. Watching the author go down this path reminded me of how easily it would have been for me to take the same one. The Skrewdriver tapes being handed out in the late 80s were also handed out in the late 90s. Also, it's a timely read in the current political climate. Fairly easy read that I'd recommend to anyone, especially if you have kids. Get them to read it too.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Certainly speaks to the need for strong, involved father figures. It underscores how easily teens can become lost. However, this is not a new problem nor is it limited to humans. The lessons from this book are needed more today than ever. Check out the elephants from Pilanesberg National Park. Yes, elephants. Even if you don't read the book, check-out The Delinquents of Pilanesberg - https://www.kotafoundation.org/the-de... Certainly speaks to the need for strong, involved father figures. It underscores how easily teens can become lost. However, this is not a new problem nor is it limited to humans. The lessons from this book are needed more today than ever. Check out the elephants from Pilanesberg National Park. Yes, elephants. Even if you don't read the book, check-out The Delinquents of Pilanesberg - https://www.kotafoundation.org/the-de...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Fishface

    Chris Picciolini's memoir of growing up skinhead -- what drew him in, what dragged him back out again almost a decade later, and how he made sense of it all. Well-written, and illustrated throughout with photos doctored in the traditional manner of the punk-rock era. If only I could have shopped at Chaos Records while it was still open for business! This book is well worth your time. Chris Picciolini's memoir of growing up skinhead -- what drew him in, what dragged him back out again almost a decade later, and how he made sense of it all. Well-written, and illustrated throughout with photos doctored in the traditional manner of the punk-rock era. If only I could have shopped at Chaos Records while it was still open for business! This book is well worth your time.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mersadys

    like most other people in the reviews I picked this up genuinely interested as to how one could be so intimately involved with the white nationalist scene and change one's mind so radically, and was disappointed in how very boring the answer was - you get groomed as an angry young teenager by a Nazi cult leader and then, after a few years pass and the cult leader in question is long gone, you grow up a little, meet a girl, open a record store, and decide maybe some black people are alright after like most other people in the reviews I picked this up genuinely interested as to how one could be so intimately involved with the white nationalist scene and change one's mind so radically, and was disappointed in how very boring the answer was - you get groomed as an angry young teenager by a Nazi cult leader and then, after a few years pass and the cult leader in question is long gone, you grow up a little, meet a girl, open a record store, and decide maybe some black people are alright after all. there's no refutation of racist ideology or talking points (many of which are explicitly stated in the book, slurs and all - from ZOG to racial crime stats) beyond an overly sappy "we are all one race, the Human Race" neatly sandwiching an otherwise pretty bland coming of age story. on the other hand, there's also no logical justification for American white supremacy specifically beyond "non whites are icky and I am better than them because I said so", a vague imperialistic drive that seems to only appeal to a specific brand of disaffected male youth and is just as easily discarded upon achieving some semblance of stability in adulthood, because it was only ever about misplaced existential angst and had nothing to do with culture, heritage, nation or pride (at this point I'm starting to give up on ever understanding it any other way). Picciolini's description of what punk meant to him illustrates this pretty effectively - stating that he never cared about the working class British politics that it arose from, echoing this revisionist sentiment that the scene was all about anger and nihilism or what the fuck ever. I understand the implications of me calling this dude who was an irl skinhead punk who fronted like 3 different bands and toured with Joan Jett a poser but hey if the shoe fits. basically, if this book can be believed (and I guess I'm in the minority here, but I took virtually everything he said with a grain of salt after he opened the book saying that the way he got indoctrinated was that a dude randomly came up to him while he was smoking in an alley and went "hey lil centurion kid wanna buy some racism") all you can really do is wait for Nazis to grow out of it, be nice to them, and introduce them to your foc (friends of color). if that doesn't work we are plumb out of luck I guess

  12. 5 out of 5

    J.E.H. Roth

    “Don’t you know that’s exactly what the Communists and Jews want you to do, so they can keep you docile?” Clark Martell to Christian Picciolini in an alley c: 1987. Christian Picciolini’s life story is based on ethnic isolation. He starts with early upbringing in a Southside Chicago neighborhood mostly inhabited by other recently immigrated residents from Ripacandida, a small town in Southern Italy. His maternal grandparents and widowed paternal grandmother had immigrated to the U.S. and Christia “Don’t you know that’s exactly what the Communists and Jews want you to do, so they can keep you docile?” Clark Martell to Christian Picciolini in an alley c: 1987. Christian Picciolini’s life story is based on ethnic isolation. He starts with early upbringing in a Southside Chicago neighborhood mostly inhabited by other recently immigrated residents from Ripacandida, a small town in Southern Italy. His maternal grandparents and widowed paternal grandmother had immigrated to the U.S. and Christian’s parents met and married in Chicago. Like many Italian-American families, Christian attended Catholic school. His mother rejected the public school because she had attended there and had been mocked for her inability to speak English well. His parents wanted the best American upbringing for Christian and his younger brother, so they worked very hard and long hours as beauticians and left most of Christian’s upbringing up to his grandparents. In 1987, when Christian, about 14-years old, smokes a joint in an alley, he is approached/accosted by a notorious White Supremacist, Clark Martell. Martell states the sentence above, “Don’t you know that’s exactly what…” and smacks the back of Christian’s head with one hand and snatches the joint from Christian’s lips with the other hand. Christian didn’t exactly know what a Communist or a Jew was or what “docile” meant, but that was the day his recruitment into hate and violence based on race and religion began, and he grows into a violent and well-known leader as well. A good portion of this memoir depicts the details of: shaved heads, tattoos, Doc Marten boots w/white laces, braces (suspenders) and the influence of white-power skinhead concerts and recordings; guns, violence, drinking and indoctrination; snail mail, leaflets, and face-to-face recruiting. This narrative takes place 30 years-ago from today, but all the elements remain the same now, except we have the Internet to recruit members more efficiently. Throughout the story, we see spots where Christian pauses and reflects on the craziness and the violence, but enmeshed as a total believer in maintaining the white race he keeps going. His marriage and the birth of his sons affect him in a positive way, but it took years for him to resign fully from the movement. It is interesting that he was not taught racism by his parents and that outside influences turned him into a White Supremacist. Finally, now, after escaping the Neo-Nazi movement, Christian helps others to leave the movement and the hate behind as well. This book is one element of his good work, and while the violence was difficult for me to read as a mother and an empathetic human, I would encourage other parents to read and learn more about this and share with their children. It is a very sneaky world for a teen to navigate. Your children need your full attention and guidance.

  13. 4 out of 5

    JoAnn

    Incredible interesting book that gets into the head of a white Nationalist. Picciolini didn’t come from a family who shared his hate-filled views, but he does share his journey that leads him to become a founding member of a skinhead group at the young age of 14. This book gives insight to what lures young people into such ideologies. You may be asking yourself why would someone want to read such a book? It wasn’t an easy read—a tragic account of hate, violence, pain, and isolation. However, I h Incredible interesting book that gets into the head of a white Nationalist. Picciolini didn’t come from a family who shared his hate-filled views, but he does share his journey that leads him to become a founding member of a skinhead group at the young age of 14. This book gives insight to what lures young people into such ideologies. You may be asking yourself why would someone want to read such a book? It wasn’t an easy read—a tragic account of hate, violence, pain, and isolation. However, I had two reasons for wanting to read this book. First this is a story of redemption, of cognitive self-reflection and awareness. Christina Picciolini is the founder of a nonprofit called Love After Hate. The organizations helps people, who like him, come to realize the enormous cost of being immersed in such a detrimental ideology and wish to transition out of such a life. I do wish he shared more details about the organization and the transition, as the changeover seems to be such a difficult one. Second, after hearing Picciolini’s speak on NPR’s Fresh Air, while driving home from work, I was completely fascinated by the interview. I just had to read his book. I was hoping that reading his story would give me some kind of clarity as to how someone, especially the intelligent, respectful, sensitive, sounding individual I heard coming through my speakers, fell into a life of such hate. I stopped and bought the book before arriving home. I’m certainly not condoning and or advocating White Supremacy, but I do believe in always trying to view issues from another perspective. Only through understanding can we come together, and therefore, I highly recommend this book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michael Dixson

    This book is a great, page-turning read about a young Italian-American man's indoctrination into hateful white supremacy and how he eventually escaped it. While not shocking, it was enlightening to read how similar the hateful things he and his cohorts spouted were to the things preached by the modern-day "alt-right" (ironically, the hatred for Zionists and capitalists, mentioned sporadically, reminded me of the far left, though there's really no left-right parallel to be drawn here). Spoiler-rel This book is a great, page-turning read about a young Italian-American man's indoctrination into hateful white supremacy and how he eventually escaped it. While not shocking, it was enlightening to read how similar the hateful things he and his cohorts spouted were to the things preached by the modern-day "alt-right" (ironically, the hatred for Zionists and capitalists, mentioned sporadically, reminded me of the far left, though there's really no left-right parallel to be drawn here). Spoiler-related themes follow: (view spoiler)[What greatly facilitated his escape was being exposed to the kindness of people who were different from him. While the message of the book definitely isn't as simple as "be nice to Nazis and they'll change," compassion is a big theme when it comes to what allowed Christian's mind to change. (hide spoiler)] I highly recommend this book as it serves as a look into the mind of someone who was vulnerable enough to be corrupted by hateful ideologies. It shows the strategies Neo-Nazis and white supremacists use to bring impressionable young people to their cause and may serve to help lessen its prevalence in the future if the book's warnings are heeded.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Rech

    I heard a radio interview with Christian Picciolini, a former white supremacist leader, promoting his book "Breaking Hate." I decided to read his first book, "White American Youth", to better understand his journey into and out of the hate-filled skinhead mentality. This was a fast, easy, fascinating read. It provides insight into who these groups target as recruits, and the power they hold. I'm very much looking forward to "Breaking Hate."! I heard a radio interview with Christian Picciolini, a former white supremacist leader, promoting his book "Breaking Hate." I decided to read his first book, "White American Youth", to better understand his journey into and out of the hate-filled skinhead mentality. This was a fast, easy, fascinating read. It provides insight into who these groups target as recruits, and the power they hold. I'm very much looking forward to "Breaking Hate."!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Wall

    Listened to this on audio read by the author. Highly recommend.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    4.5 stars The ending seemed a little rushed but I seriously couldn't put this book down. 4.5 stars The ending seemed a little rushed but I seriously couldn't put this book down.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

    Wow. Completely engrossing and hard to put down. Honest, disturbing, fascinating, raw. A worthwhile read!!!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Olson

    Super disturbing, but a great look into the scary world of white supremacy.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Meixi Sun

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. February 9, 2021 Dear Christopher Picciolini, Hello! I recently finished your book White American Youth, and I found the journey that you have transcribed to be thought-provoking and raw. Truthfully, I went into the book with somewhat low expectations and by the end, embarrassingly, I was in tears. Your journey into, and eventually out of, the bowels of American society opened my eyes to a very dark, oppressive side of America. Yet it is also through this grim reality that I learned how much huma February 9, 2021 Dear Christopher Picciolini, Hello! I recently finished your book White American Youth, and I found the journey that you have transcribed to be thought-provoking and raw. Truthfully, I went into the book with somewhat low expectations and by the end, embarrassingly, I was in tears. Your journey into, and eventually out of, the bowels of American society opened my eyes to a very dark, oppressive side of America. Yet it is also through this grim reality that I learned how much human compassion and empathy can change someone’s life. Your story was truly something we can all learn from. One aspect your book depicts very clearly is the journey someone can take to become an extremist. It’s hard to empathize with those who so actively express their hate and prejudice, but reading about your childhood caused me to realize how American culture, in some ways, breeds its own villains. Your childhood as the son of two Italian immigrants who work long hours running their respective businesses, a hair salon and restaurant, was the quintessential American Dream. Yet life was far from perfect, with parents that were physically and emotionally distant and constant bullying and teasing at school. Being made fun of for having a weird last name, or having to bring greasy McDonalds to lunch compared to the rest of your classmates with their lovingly handmade lunches was what planted the seed for your hatred of society. Perhaps the defining moment in your early childhood was when you had to fight against a bully named Goliath. Beating him and suddenly becoming more than just the kid with the weird last name taught you that violence was power. I often wonder how different your life would be if you had had more support or compassion offered to you. It is no wonder that the first scrap of compassion you received from an adult would cause you to scramble for the validation of someone you believe who cared. And so you began down a dark path of racism and extremism. Craving the attention of those who deemed you ‘worthy’ you shaved your head, became a Nazi, and even hung up a swastika in your room, saluting it and saying, Heil Hitler. Reading about the racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic rhetoric you adopted from the leaders of the extremist group was disheartening, especially after reading about your lonely childhood. It was even more disheartening to learn about the white power movements of the ’80s and ’90s through your impressionable eyes as a teenager. Before reading your book, I had never heard of the Skinheads. I had no idea why anyone would want to join any hate group, but reading your path to becoming an eventual leader of this group caused me to understand how it somehow draws people in. Having a place to belong, having the same interests, even dressing the same, in leather jackets and heavy Doc Martens. The feeling of finally being included. It is sad to see how society can push people to turn their feelings of discontentment and loneliness into hatred and loathing for others. For much of the book, you were stuck in your mindset of loathing for people deemed “inferior” by your white supremacism. In high school, you led a gang of Skinheads and engaged in many fights in your neighborhood, many against African American kids. You even started White American Youth, a white power group, to recruit more members for the Skinheads. But even with all of your past transgressions, the most inspirational part of the book was when you began a path to atoning and finding forgiveness for your actions. Although the journey was not easy, I think it was admirable of you to promise your pregnant wife Britton to stop participating in white power movement activities. From that point on, you continued to change and step away from that life. I think an important part of this process was meeting and apologizing to Johnny Holmes, the head security guard at the high school you were expelled from. From that, you learned to find forgiveness in yourself before seeking forgiveness from others. By bonding with the people of color that visited your music store, you began to see them as people instead of scapegoats for your racist sentiments. You showed me that forgiveness might take a long time but all of us can find compassion for others. Your book, White American Youth, documents a very tumultuous life. Although it was hard to read your experiences at times ultimately your road to forgiveness is a lesson for us all. As the daughter of an immigrant family, your early childhood life was so relatable to me, and reading from your perspectives as both a reformed extremist and the child of immigrants was very meaningful. Thank you for sharing your story. Sincerely, Michele Sun

  21. 4 out of 5

    Valeria Vega

    White American Truth A read of White American Youth is exceptionally uncomfortable, in a way that only thought provoking books can be. It makes the reader shift in their seat, look over their shoulder to make sure no one is watching them, and snap the book shut when their blood begins to boil. Admittedly, when taking these attributes of the book at face value, an unflattering picture of the literary merit of this book is created, an assessment that is grossly incorrect. A life of hate, as the one White American Truth A read of White American Youth is exceptionally uncomfortable, in a way that only thought provoking books can be. It makes the reader shift in their seat, look over their shoulder to make sure no one is watching them, and snap the book shut when their blood begins to boil. Admittedly, when taking these attributes of the book at face value, an unflattering picture of the literary merit of this book is created, an assessment that is grossly incorrect. A life of hate, as the one depicted in the book, is a burden to bear and, through his memoir, Christian Picciolini lures the reader in to bear this burden with him, a truly masterful feat. White American Youth provides a strikingly raw portrayal of the white supremacy movement, details the mentality of a conflicted youth, and serves as a warning against the toxicity and inescapable nature of living a life of hate through its masterful incorporation of character development. The most notable aspect of Piccioloni’s memoir is the way in which the structure helps to further the narrative. White American Youth commences by portraying Christian as a young boy who fits very well into societal norms in regards to his beliefs. He is a young, Italian-American boy who despite being bullied for his Italian background holds no resentment in his heart, if anything all he wishes is to fit in. However, cracks in Christian's character began to form as his desire to fit in anywhere lead him to hanging out with teenagers involved in the white supremacy movement, “I followed Martell around and observed his mannerisms. His racial rhetoric sank in too,” (Picciolini, 48). This image of Christian, a young boy who can so easily succumb to hateful rhetoric, begins to warp the reader's perception on a character which they had followed for the entirety of the book up to this point. It makes the reader question everything they thought to be so about Christian, and this uncertainty which the reader feels towards Christian’s change in character is a direct reflection about Christian’s own feelings in regards to his own change. Picciolini continues this motif about instilling in the reader’s emotions which mimic the that of the character but vary in regards to what the emotion is a reaction to as he details the progression of his own change in character. Christian Picciolini states, “Was that because Blue Island was less safe now, I started to wonder, with other races moving in? My new bike had been stolen my black kids, after all, (48). This not only serves as a head-scratching moment for the readers; it also serves as one for Christian. When first confronted with racial rhetoric Christian used the fact that his bike was stolen by a black kid and that he held no ill feelings towards them as a way to dismiss the belief of blacks being inherently bad. However, just a couple of pages further into the narrative Christian uses this same situation as evidence to prove his racial rhetoric as correct. By using the same scenario to justify completely different ideals, Picciolini emphasizes to the reader just how drastically he has changed. This use of structure is nothing short of masterful and it serves as a marvelous starting point for Christian’s character development and his descent into the white supremacy movement. At the forefront of the purpose of this novel lies the desire for Picciolini’s own experiences to serve as a warning tale of what a life of hate entails. Despite the memoir being told through the perspective of Christian while he was involved in the movement, the warning nature of the memoir still shines through as Picciolini uses precise diction and concrete character developments to convey his message in a way that makes the read quite an enjoyable one. When detailing the role of being a leader of the radical Skinhead movement Picciolini states,“People began to consider skinheads racial terrorists. In a way I liked the sound of the word terrorist. The power behind it. But people had it wrong. White-power skinheads were patriots, not terrorists. We were fighting battle other whites whispered about but were too complacent to take up,” (60). The way that Picciolini structures this passage illustrates the toxicity of the radical Skinhead movement. He begins by introducing a very puzzling idea and just two sentences later he rejects the same idea which he previously agreed with. This presentation of the character’s mentality solidifies Christian as a three-dimensional character who could serve as a stand in for any person on the street. The character crafted through just this one passage is just as complex as any person in the living flesh; he possesses core beliefs and contradicts his own thoughts, both which are key characteristics of human beings. Picciolini further elaborates on the toxicity and inescapable nature of the Skinhead movement as he details his own questioning of the morality of the moment. In chapter 21 he states, “Despite my growing reservations about the whole white-power movement, I found it very hard to let go. It had been my entire identity from the age of fourteen, and I still saved my role as a leader.”Once again, Christian’s character is plagued by contradictions. His emotions are palpable and the fear which he exhibits serves to humanize an inhuman character. This proves to be quite an enjoyable movement due to the reader finally beginning to see instances of the “old” Christian shine through his tough exterior. At this point in the story Christian's character arc begins to come full circle rights before the reader's eyes, and for this moment alone the entirety of the book is a must read. Reading the life of a radical Skinhead is nothing short of uncomfortable, in fact it is gut wrenchingly so. But Christian Picciolini provides more than an uncomfortable read, he provides a read that paradoxes the human mind, he provides a book which analyzes human behavior, and which details one of the most beautiful character arcs I have had the pleasure of reading. Yes, this book is uncomfortable to read, the words he uses will make any reader flinch, the portrayal of his mentality will provide the audience with multiple head scratching moments, and the warning he needs are unyielding honest, but all of these are characteristics of the best books. At its core, this book is not exclusively about Piccolino's experience, but about the experiences of any troubled youth. Picture a teenager, perhaps sixteen, who is by no means violent, but through a series of dreadful decisions he becomes involved with a gang. Now picture any other situation which would entail a decent kid getting involved with the wrong group of people, picture the repercussions and you have yourself the foundational narrative of White American Youth, that is the true beauty of this book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kerstin Gunia

    I heard the author speak on TED and was intrigued. I wanted the whole story and began to listen to the audio version. While I understand that he wanted to give an authentic retelling of his entering the neo-nazi movement, the word for word profanity laced dialogue did not endear this book to me. The author proved, while speaking at TED, that he can relay his message in a respectful way so I don’t understand why he could not do so in writing.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mica

    Really wanted to like this. After a while, I became annoyed with his whining. It was disturbing to see how easily he fell into white nationalist thinking. Also, at the end, I didn’t think he demonstrated real growth, just that he kind of grew out of his ways. I was hoping there would be more of the “this mentality and way of thinking is flawed.” But instead it was more that despite going into white nationalism to feel accepted, he came out in the end still desiring that place of belonging.

  24. 5 out of 5

    June Gillam

    Dramatic story of one white man’s pathway to becoming a violent white supremacist yet experiencing his basic human goodness when it was not too late to turn his life around. I plan to require it as reading in the “memoir” unit of the English 1B class I will teach in spring 2021. This book will be useful for students as a model for understanding our culture and even their own places within it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Elliot Ratzman

    A fast-paced memoir of Picciolini’s teen years as a top leader in the Chicagoland Hammerskins, and white power music front man. You both sympathize with- and despise the author. The details of youthful street ganging and the violence of parties and rumbles is pretty vivid and memorable. Picciolini’s descent and drift away from white nationalism is told in a too-rushed manner (perhaps his second book has more there?). This is the second memoir I’ve read this week by a “former”—and it complements A fast-paced memoir of Picciolini’s teen years as a top leader in the Chicagoland Hammerskins, and white power music front man. You both sympathize with- and despise the author. The details of youthful street ganging and the violence of parties and rumbles is pretty vivid and memorable. Picciolini’s descent and drift away from white nationalism is told in a too-rushed manner (perhaps his second book has more there?). This is the second memoir I’ve read this week by a “former”—and it complements McAleer’s “Cure for Hate” in significant ways. Both seem to have significant gaps about their work lives that left me with questions. Both are immigrants’ children and imply they were smart fellows, perhaps which is why they have memoirs and careers and are not in prison. The simple answer to extremism seems to be: age a bit, get a wife and kids, a normie job, and meet people who are different from you. Now I’m curious about leaders who stay in the movement or leave the movements later in life.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    Honestly, I gave up. I believe Christian's story is an important one, but he was right on the edge of joining the White Supremacists and I *just* couldn't go along with him. Maybe someday. Honestly, I gave up. I believe Christian's story is an important one, but he was right on the edge of joining the White Supremacists and I *just* couldn't go along with him. Maybe someday.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie Huggins

    It's been a long time since I've read the afternoon away. This one was hard to put down toward the end. (What happens with Lisa?) This makes 2 books I've read in as many years. I've always loved memoirs. I heard about Christian through his interview with Sam Harris. His story of beating up a kid who shot at him brought tears to my eyes. It was that podcast that prompted me to contribute $20 a month to Sam Harris. I don't always agree with him but he is unafraid to have difficult conversations, w It's been a long time since I've read the afternoon away. This one was hard to put down toward the end. (What happens with Lisa?) This makes 2 books I've read in as many years. I've always loved memoirs. I heard about Christian through his interview with Sam Harris. His story of beating up a kid who shot at him brought tears to my eyes. It was that podcast that prompted me to contribute $20 a month to Sam Harris. I don't always agree with him but he is unafraid to have difficult conversations, which I find valuable. I get to see Christian in person tomorrow. Maybe even meet him. I hope to get my book signed at least. He's speaking at a library 5 miles from my house. I'm even giving up my Sunday afternoon disc golf for it. It's rather confusing to have so much respect for someone who was capable of so much hate. So much VIOLENCE. My god. Yet there must have been something there. Somehow a nice Catholic girl took a skinhead to meet her parents. Somehow an elderly man shooed away news reporters, defending his grandson, "He's a good boy." I'm sure being attractive didn't hurt. I found it hard to tear my eyes away from his in the pictures throughout the book. You can see how his confidence parted the world around him like Moses parting the sea (I'm not a biblical scholar so I don't know how that analogy extrapolates out). Throughout my reading I reflected on the racist thoughts I remember having as a young teen. I grew up in a neighborhood that had Bloods and Cripps (not sure how to spell that) gang activity and I was terrified (even though I never saw any gang members, that I could identify at least.) I remember thinking racism didn't exist and that blacks were just using it as an excuse. Martin Luther King solved all those problems after all. I remember listening to Rammstein. Feeling the comfort of such strength. Wanting to be goth. Dabbling in doodling 88 and Swastikas. It kind of scares me to think how close I could have come to being seduced by all that. But my budding racism was easily swatted away one afternoon after my shift at Village Inn, when I was waiting for my ride home. Two young black men were waiting for a table and I began to get nervous. One of them noticed, approached me and introduced himself as Anthony. That's all it took. Looking back, it astounds me that someone would have the courage to walk up to someone, knowing full well what's prompting the suspicion, and taking it upon themselves to put that person at ease. This book is a beautiful homage to the people he loves, especially his brother. I hope Christian finds the atonement his is looking for. He's got at least one reader who sees the angry white American youth with a little more empathy. This is one reader who will help promote more kindness in a world that is starved for it. One of my favorite passages: "One of the more hilarious instances of police harassment occurred when I was pulled over by a state trooper while driving home from a get-together in Atlanta, Georgia. Upon searching my vehicle, behind my driver's seat, the officer uncovered a wooden coffee table leg with a long, pointy lag bolt sticking out horizontally from its end. "What's this for, son? Do you intend to use this as a weapon for your Aryan revolution?" "No, sir, officer," I replied. "I intend to add it to my three-legged coffee table as soon as I get home. I'm getting tired of it tipping over every time I put my copy of Mein Kampf on it. Even he couldn't help but laugh at that."

  28. 5 out of 5

    Alex Bard

    ‘Relatable’ is not a word that I ever imagined myself using to describe a biography of a kid who became a Nazi skinhead at 14. But Christian Picciolini’s autobiography was honest, powerful, and, dare I say, relatable. My life couldn’t have been more different from his, having had an exceptionally stable youth as a nice Jewish boy from a white collar, upper middle class family, who never thought of rebellion. But we’ve all experienced insecurity, loneliness, social isolation, and frustration abou ‘Relatable’ is not a word that I ever imagined myself using to describe a biography of a kid who became a Nazi skinhead at 14. But Christian Picciolini’s autobiography was honest, powerful, and, dare I say, relatable. My life couldn’t have been more different from his, having had an exceptionally stable youth as a nice Jewish boy from a white collar, upper middle class family, who never thought of rebellion. But we’ve all experienced insecurity, loneliness, social isolation, and frustration about the outside world, and the desire to be popular, loved, idolized, or even feared. It’s no stretch to suggest that at certain times in my life, if I had been approached by someone offering friendship and an outlet for my frustrations, I could have loosened my convictions for that promise. Picciolini lays bare his thought process and his feelings in his description of how he fell into becoming a Nazi skinhead and how he justified his beliefs during his time in that community. In doing so, he makes an extraordinarily powerful argument that you don’t have to be a monster to become evil, and you don’t have to be a saint to become good. This is key for anyone who wants to make the world a better place by cutting down on hate—Picciolini makes clear that being shouted at by protestors no more convinced him to get out of his life of hate than Nazi rallies convince normal people like you and I to become Nazis. What did convince him was the act of being forced to form real relationships with different kinds of people as he was trying to run a business. This, combined with some rapid changes and difficulties in his personal life, made him realize that he alone was responsible for both ruining and fixing his own life. Thus, if your goal is to eliminate hate from someone’s heart, you can’t do that by projecting hate onto them. You have to take the incredibly difficult step of projecting humanity into them. Parallel to being a powerful treatise on how to end cycles of hate, this book is also a deeply moving account of a young man’s life, his missteps, his triumphs, his atrocities, and his salvation, with a truly devastating gut punch at the end to remind the reader (and, of course, the author every day of his life) that you can never change your past and the consequences of your actions, but you can fix your future. One of the hardest things to do is to humanize people who have done evil. There are those who would argue that it’s not worth it, or even detrimental. But I would ask anybody who holds that belief to read White American Youth with an open mind. As somebody who has been both a Nazi Skinhead and a tireless warrior for peace, understanding, and multiculturalism, Christian Picciolini has a unique perspective that precious few of us are (un)lucky enough to have. We should benefit from listening. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” -Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alicia

    Troubled youth trying to fit in, joins a hate group. Turns his life around when his family situation changes. Ok.......

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sarthak Khandelwal

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Dear Christian Picciolini, I have just read your book White American Youth, and I found it very fascinating, emotional and inspiring. It was fascinating to see how an innocent child could be led down such a dark path. I truly learned a lot from your book. One thing that is well portrayed in your book is the power of influence and the significance of the people you surround yourself with. You show how easy it is to get trapped in gang life and how difficult it could be to escape. You were influen Dear Christian Picciolini, I have just read your book White American Youth, and I found it very fascinating, emotional and inspiring. It was fascinating to see how an innocent child could be led down such a dark path. I truly learned a lot from your book. One thing that is well portrayed in your book is the power of influence and the significance of the people you surround yourself with. You show how easy it is to get trapped in gang life and how difficult it could be to escape. You were influenced by your friends and people you look up to and were lured into becoming a skinhead. Associating yourself with them caused you to be in many fights, rallies, and other violent crimes. This caused you many troubles, and you were forced to sacrifice a lot because of this. Only being with other skinheads narrowed your views and made you ignorant of what was true. You were only able to grow when you separated yourself from them and started exposing yourself to different people. In addition to the power of influence, the book also portrays the importance of love and acceptance. You showed how important it is to give love to people and how important it could be to not only the person but to yourself. One example of this is shown when you decided to stop being a white supremacist. You started accepting black people and other races. Instead of hating them and hurting them, you made them your friend. This made a huge impact on you. You began to see people in a different light, and you stopped being violent. Another example is your brother. Because you didn’t accept him, but you reject him, it caused him to make bad decisions in his life. Aside from the power of influence and the importance of love and acceptance, the book portrays a final thought of hard work and courage to change. You used to be a very big white supremacist and your ideals were unwavering. It took a lot of courage, hard work, and strength to try and change yourself. You showed how with enough hard work and courage, anything could be done. When you went back to your old school, you saw your old security guard. Even though you gave her hell during your school years, you still got the courage to go up to her and ask for forgiveness. You took the time and effort to be nice to your kids and try to be the dad that you always wanted. It is these constant acts of courage and hard work that got you to change your thoughts and ideals. Your book taught me so much about my life. It taught me how important my friends and family members are and how important it is to work hard for them. Your book was very engaging, full of excitement, but also a lot of emotion. It made me retrospect on my actions and made me want to make a change in my life. It has inspired me and many other people. Thank you. Sincerely, Sarthak Khandelwal

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