Fighting the Flames: A Discussion With Former Members of Violent Organizations

Christian Picciolini

The Program on Extremism at George Washington University, in partnership with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), hosted a discussion on countering violent extremism (CVE) with two former extremists, Jesse Morton and Christian Picciolini, and one former gang member, Sammy Rangel.

Jesse Morton, once a prominent jihadi propagandist, was a research fellow at the Program on Extremism. Christian Picciolini, a former skinhead, is an Emmy-nominated television producer and co-founder of Life After Hate, an organization that works with individuals who wish to leave a life of hate and violence. Sammy Rangel, a former member of the Maniac Latin Disciples gang, is the program coordinator for the SAFE Streets Outreach Program in Racine, Wisconsin, and started the self-help group Formers Anonymous.

Morton, Picciolini, and Rangel discussed the similarities and differences in extremist collectives and gangs, and shared their experiences and viewpoints relating to counter-messaging, direct intervention and mentoring, the provision of off-ramps and exit strategies, disengagement, and de-radicalization. Program Director Lorenzo Vidino moderated the initial discussion, followed by an extensive question and answer session with the audience.