Do you remember being a kid and looking for where you belonged? Every child knows deep inside that he needs to find a place to belong and that in fact his very survival depends upon it.  As a child, hopefully, the people around you made sure you had food, shelter, school—without them, even if they did a miserable job of nurturing, you probably wouldn’t be here today. Much as the loner male is often cast as a heroic figure, the truth is you are very unlikely to make it in life alone.

We humans are a social species and every single one of us has genetic wiring that rewards us for cooperating and going along with the group. We also suffer physically and emotionally painful responses of shame and rejection when we are punished by shunning or otherwise being excluded from the group for some misbehavior or perceived defect.

As a social species, our entire lives are built upon belonging to one group or another.  Remember trying to fit in at school?  Maybe you were bullied or you were the bully?  In either case it was all about the group dynamics and making sure you had your place or you were the victim, being driven from belonging. The inbuilt knowing that it’s important to belong is also why peer pressure has such a great influence on teens who are in the process of separating from parents.

We all know the pain of rejection.  It’s real and is actually experienced in the brain just like physical pain.  It’s emotionally painful and anxiety producing to be rejected, left out, and only have partial belonging. Most of us would do a lot to find our way to fit in somewhere.  Sadly some of us came from broken homes, parents that didn’t love or nurture us, schools that were violent, peer groups that hurt us—and belonging has been a lifelong issue. And then came the hate group to join…

Most people who join hate groups tell us that they did so in large part out of wanting to belong.  Finally, they found acceptance and the security that comes from being part of a group—a group that wanted them due to their whiteness.  What they missed, however, was that over time there would be deep costs of belonging to a hate group.

Most hate groups, and any violent extremist group, for that matter, offer immediate rewards in the first months of joining.  Some recall joining for protection. Even as kids they found a group that would walk them to and from school or protect them from other groups that were threatening or violent.

Fred, who used to be a member of the National Socialist Movement, was assaulted at age 15 by “11 to 13 Black guys.” Traumatized, he went to a man who had been trying to recruit him into his skinhead gang. The recruiter said, “Don’t worry, we’ll walk you to and from school. You just have to be there for us when we need you.”  Later, despite the rewards he received in the first moments, Fred would find out the true costs of hate.

Other’s felt a deep sense of welcome and a feeling of “this is where I am meant to be.” Benji, who was once a member of the Ku Klux Klan, recalled, “I was inducted into the Klan and went through the whole ceremony with that, with lighting the cross. That night really changed me because it felt so powerful. I felt like I was loved. It felt like that’s where I belonged at.”

 

Some recall finally feeling a sense of family after having survived abusive homes or homes where one or both parents were physically absent or doing drugs and not nurturing. Former member of the National Socialist Movement, Red, states, “Growing up in [a] shit household, I needed a place to belong, that family aspect, to be better than what I was.”

Belonging is also strengthened in having a shared purpose and feeling that purpose has nobility to it.  But the cost in hate groups is often having to limit one’s friends to those who share the same whiteness and beliefs and to sign on to group prejudice and even violence. On the surface looking out for the white race, and promoting one’s group’s advantages can seem like a good thing.  As Shane Johnson would argue with new recruits, “White pride is not the hatred of other races, it’s love of our own race.” But when we go deeper, “love” for the white race is often filled with promoting fear and hatred for others.

 

That said, most people who join hate groups tell us they didn’t join out of hate, but that it was a slow process that we call directed hate, in which they joined out of a need for belonging, purpose, and significance. Then, they got channeled into believing they were special due to their whiteness and that they were being let in on special knowledge that others didn’t know, false claims about other races being lesser and Jews organizing to replace whites with other races in order to achieve worldwide domination. Watch Søren’s thoughts on this here.

 

Over time, as these beliefs were instilled, the people who joined out of a need to belong became haters. Some even tattooed symbols on their bodies both to signify their belonging to their hate group and to signal to outsiders to fear them and the group they represented.

They took part in demonstrations to intimidate minorities and to spread hateful ideologies and they may even have attacked minority members, LGBTQ+ people, and Jews.

When one has found a substitute family, especially when you didn’t have a strong family growing up, giving up on that family and even recognizing that it is a toxic family can feel like giving up the air you need to breathe.

You may lose your job, all your friends, your spouse, even your children to walk away from hate.  But think of it this way: There are better groups to belong to.  There is healthier air to breathe! There are others that want you.  You can begin by erasing the hate on your body by covering up and removing tattoos.   Check out Erasing the Hate here. You can reach out to formers’ groups to get support from others who have left. Check out the many options here.

You can make friends from a much bigger selection of humanity. Now that you are older and wiser, you can pick people who know how to love, who will have your back through thick and thin, and who will support you to love yourself and others.  Most who thought they found belonging in hate groups told us that the group loyalty and bonding was skin-deep and they were easily abandoned.  There are more loyal and good people to belong with.  It might be a church, a social club, a sports club, you name it. There are groups out there where you can fit in and become the person you were meant to be.  It just takes making the first step—turning your back on hate and saying goodbye forever to hate while at the same time starting your search for love.  And you should always remember, all love begins with also loving yourself enough to do what’s right for you.

If you need help exiting hate you can contact people who care here.

 

 

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