I’ve mentioned it briefly before, but the hardest part of leaving extremism, isn’t making the choice to leave, it’s realizing that you give up your entire identification and everything and everyone associated with it. Anyone who has been a part of an extremist movement for a decade or longer is enmeshed in the ideology, fully indoctrinated, and everything in their lives is directly connected to it. You watch documentaries based around it, you listen to music associated with it, you read books, your friends are all a part of it, you follow those involved in it on social media, you watch YouTube videos, etcetera.
The movement is your life…
When someone leaves extremism, they have nothing, less than nothing, they are often alone and feel incredibly vulnerable, this is why they often turn to extremism in an equal but opposite capacity. When I left, I felt as though I couldn’t trust my thoughts or make conscious decisions for myself that wouldn’t be harmful. I felt alone, I was scared, I didn’t know what the future held for me, I didn’t know if those perceived enemies I once had were real or not, but I knew I didn’t want to hate people or fear them any longer. I didn’t want enemies, I didn’t want to fall into any trappings that would lead me to a similar life as I led and so I did the worse thing possible and isolated myself.
When you leave extremism, you are admitting you were wrong, you are giving up everything associated with that life, you are essentially starting over from scratch. When I left, I cut off all ties, all friends I once had and simply vanished, I didn’t post much on social media, I stopped listening to extremist music, ceased watching any video on it, didn’t follow the news, didn’t go to websites, and got rid of all extremist literature. I had nothing and I was nothing, or so I thought…
…all I had that was for certain was that I am a human being, nothing more, nothing less. What some might see as so little, it was a cornerstone for me to build from, something to focus on and reframe myself from the ground upward.
Though I grew to hate politics from my days as an extremist, I still supported gun ownership and a right to self-defense for all people, so when I got back into social media, I used it as a tool. I began adding people of every race, creed, sexual orientation, age, etcetera… and joined a few gun groups. I met Bee (A black man), a fellow admin in one of the groups and we talked and became best friends while working through both of our issues and destroying the ideologies about both white and black nationalism. Through this encounter, I rekindled the love of hip hop I had when I was little, as well as started watching media that promoted unity, peace, and understanding.
I was building friends again, music, videos, and I’d begun finding books both fiction and non-fiction to read… life was rebuilding. It took a lot of work on my part, and a bit of bravery and willingness to break my indoctrination, but I did it, I made a new life for myself devoid of my past ideology.
Leaving extremism is NOT an easy thing to do, losing a life you’ve known for so long, believed in, and fought for. It’s scary, it’s difficult at times, it can be lonely, but ultimately it’s rewarding and the new life you make will be full of love and acceptance, not fear, hatred, and enemies around every corner. Leaving doesn’t need to be lonely, if you need someone to talk to after you leave… send me an email, I’ll see if I can help.