U.S. consulate general issues warning to citizens about rival rallies at Vancouver City Hall

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      A possible showdown today at Vancouver City Hall has led to an unusual statement from the U.S. consulate general.

      It begins by "informing U.S. citizens" that demonstrations and rallies are being held by the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam and Stand Up to Racism.

      "Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence," the consulate general warns in its security statement. "You should avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations."

      It's expected that antiracist demonstrators will vastly outnumber those who are raising objections to Islam and current immigration policies.

      The rallies come in the wake of last weekend's violent confrontations in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a terrorist drove a car into a crowd, killing 31-year-old antiracism advocate Heather Heyer.

      Life After Hate offers a way out

      In the meantime, former neo-Nazis and ex-white supremacists are trying to help those who want to exit the movement.

      On its website, Life After Hate (a.k.a. Exit USA) says it's "dedicated to inspiring individuals to a place of compassion and forgiveness, for themselves and for all people".  Part of its work involves visiting schools and educating kids about hate groups.

      There are also videos from the ExitUSA.org website, which pledge "no judgment, just help".

      According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, about 100,000 people belong to what it defines as "hate groups".  

      Below, you can see a short video of former extremists who've turned their lives around—and are now involved with Life After Hate.

      Sociologist Pete Simi has spoken to many radical right-wing extremists.

      In an interview posted on the Southern Poverty Law Center website, he said they often come from families where there's been a "disruption, whether that be divorce or parental abandonment, a parent becoming incarcerated, or substance abuse by one or both of the parents". Some, however, are raised in stable households.

      He pointed out that those who join hate groups tend to be concrete thinkers who see the world in a very black-and-white way. They're not all blue-collar types, either. He noted that doctors, lawyers, and scientists have also joined the movement.

      "In terms of socioeconomic backgrounds, there’s a common misconception that only people from lower economic backgrounds are attracted to these types of groups," Simi said. "I can say not only from my own research but also that of others like [scholars] Kathleen Blee and James Aho that this is just not the case—people from a wide cross section of socioeconomic backgrounds become involved."

      Watch this video about how a right-wing extremist and a victim of his violence forged an understanding.

      Some are violent and others are not violent. And the initial attraction is not always ideological.

      "At the most fundamental level that’s what most of these movements are all really based on—oversimplifying a highly complicated world—and that’s a powerful thing to offer people, especially those who feel lost or are looking for some easy answers," Simi said. "Now, obviously, a lot of people who have a low tolerance for ambiguity are not involved in extremist groups, so it’s certainly not a perfect relationship."

      In some cases, people leave because they get sick of the level of control being exerted over them as part of these groups. 

      "Formers have told me that they just got tired of not being able to listen to certain music or eat certain foods or wear certain clothes or hang out with certain people," Simi said. "Many said they had just finally had enough."

      Others leave because they resent the "tremendous amount of backstabbing and infighting" that can occur within the far-right movement.

      The message is simple: no judgment, just help.

      At the same time, it can be difficult for some to leave, especially if family members or friends remain members of hate groups.

      It's also hard for them to know how they'll be viewed by mainstream society once they cross over.

      "A lot of the formers I’ve talked with discuss the difficulty of wanting to leave but not being sure how accepting people will be," he stated. "They’re in this no-man’s-land, which is pretty common for formers of all types."

      Simi said that to diminish extremism, it's important to play a constructive role in helping people exit this way of life. And he called Life After Hate "a very promising development".

      "Part of the problem is that formers may also be verbally or physically confronted by violent antiracists who may think this person is fair game," Simi said. "So I think we have to ask ourselves whether what we’re doing is making it harder for people to leave these groups and, if so, I think we should revise our approach."