CHICAGO (Fox 32 News) - A former neo Nazi skinhead from Chicago has started an organization to try to help others leave violent hate groups.
Christian Picciolini said that he was sucked into the skinhead life when he was 14. His parents were immigrants who worked a lot, and he said he spent a lot of time alone, feeling bullies.
"I was a normal kid from a loving home who felt very abandoned. I was looking for a sense of community and a sense of purpose," he said.
Into that void walked a skinhead who promised him meaning and friends.
"He promised me paradise. He told me all my problems would go away," Picciolini said. It took years for him to get out.
Now, he helps others escape violent extremism, not by arguing the morality of their beliefs, but by offering them a feeling of community.
"I recognize how hard it is to leave. It's hard to abandon the identity and the community," he said. "We fill the void in their lives."
His group can be reached at exitusa.org.