Brad Galloway spent more than a decade as part of a neo-Nazi group.
His departure came down to a series of positive changes in his life — including the birth of his first child — and, ultimately, his ability to see the humanity in people he had learned to hate.
“Any kind of extremist movement is going to involve hate or de-humanization of the other,” Galloway said on CBC’s Radio Active this week.
“That’s one of the major things that can wear people down over time. Rather than challenge the ideologies, we’re trying to challenge them to humanize people and to work with people rather than against them.”
It’s been eight years since Galloway left the movement and he is now a research and intervention specialist with the Organization for the Prevention of Violence, based in Edmonton.
It released a report this week on extremism and hate-motivated violence in Alberta, which it says has a “disproportionate number of extremists.”
The organization wants to create a standardized program to help people trying to leave extremist groups. People who want to do so may need counselling, mentoring, or even addiction resources to help them break away, said Galloway.
“When I was leaving there was nowhere to go,” Galloway said. “One day, you have no friends. There’s a loneliness if you’re sitting there wondering where to go next.”
Galloway is also involved with Vancouver-based Life After Hate, where he works with people he calls “formers” — people who have left extremist groups.
The organization runs an online network to help them find mentors or friendships with others who have gone through similar experiences.
Many people first become involved in extremist groups when they’re searching for a sense of belonging, Galloway said. He joined because he felt like he was “missing some sort of identity.”
“So I guess why people want to leave is sort of the same thing. You start reflecting on those bad things that you’re doing and you’re missing good things again in your life.
“I had a supportive family, had children … a lot of good things started happening and it led me away from it.”
Galloway’s work focuses on people who have either left extremist groups or want to leave. He never starts by questioning the ideology that fuels their involvement.
“Challenging people’s train of thought right off the hop often becomes conflict,” he said.
“I ask them how they want to better themselves, what would they want to change in their lives. To change behaviour and how we look at others, it’s all about re-framing the humanization of others. And eventually the ideologies break down.
“If you’ve learned to humanize a certain minority population, you’re not holding grief against them anymore.”
Galloway knows it can be hard to muster the desire to help people who have promoted hate. But he thinks it needs to be done.
“Think about helping the broader community. If people are in these groups and are doing damaging things in communities, and trying to divide communities and put fear into them, if we can help these people leave and seek a better life … then you don’t get these things in the broader community.”