As the trailer for the unflinching but hopeful new documentary Healing From Hate opens with the chilling commentary, “We believe that we’re the superior race, we were here first, and this is our country,” you immediately understand the kind of absurd, and dangerous rationalization that those who stand for tolerance are forever up against. But the peddling of the American story as one of white European immigration continues to fuel the prejudices that have led us to the growing zeitgeist of violent white supremacy.
The film examines this wrongheaded sense of victimization via an organization called Life After Hate, founded by ex-neo-Nazis as a kind of self-help group for those having been drawn into the ideology of hatred, and then finding themselves unable to leave it behind. It’s assembled around Frankie Meeink, Sammy Rangel, Christian Picciolini and Tony McAleer, all former white nationalists now working to lure others away from that life.
It’s directed by Peter Hutchison, the filmmaker, NY Times bestselling author, educator and activist whose work includes producing and directing Requiem for the American Dream: Noam Chomsky and the Principles of Concentration of Wealth and Power. And with Healing From Hate (based on the 2018 book by Michael Kimmel), he tries and succeeds to explicate the root causes of white supremacist doctrine and violence, but contextualizes it all in a message of hopefulness.
As Picciolini so poignantly puts it, “What really changed me was receiving compassion from the people I least deserved it from, when I least deserved it.”
But it’s McAleer, earlier in the film describing his previous self sardonically as being in the vanguard to “save the white race,” who then so perfectly sums up the ideology of Life After Hate: “We are operating as human beings from one of two places: fear or love. And we get to choose which one that is.”