A former white supremacist, a former al-Qaeda recruiter and an activist supporting a persecuted Muslim group in China will meet on Wednesday in Louisville for a conversation about hate and peace.
They will discuss their personal stories, as well as how to address extremism. In addition to local faith and public safety leaders, the main speakers are Tony McAleer, who was an organizer for the White Aryan Resistance; Jesse Morton, who recruited for al-Qaeda; and Rushan Abbas, an activist for the rights of Uighurs.
McAleer, who is based in Vancouver, said people need to know that those who join hate groups often have histories of trauma or identity problems.
“I think we just need to approach it with more compassion across the board, because it’s the root of addiction. It’s the root of violence. It’s the root of violent racism,” he said. “It’s the root of so many things plaguing our society.”
Convincing people to disavow hateful ideology requires appealing to their emotions rather than their intellect, McAleer said.
“I believe the level to which we dehumanize other human beings is a mirror reflection of our own internal disconnection and dehumanization,” he said. “Then the answer is to actually change the internal dehumanization and work from that point.”
Once people recognize their humanity, it becomes easier to disprove the ideology, he said.
Organizer Martin Brooks, of Christian nonprofit Peace Catalyst International, said he hopes the event will attract people of diverse backgrounds, including those who may not think there is a need to have this kind of conversation. He said sometimes people are attracted to these extremist groups because they’re seeking belonging, not necessarily an outlet for violence.
“We want to show the the dangers of what happens when we marginalize people, and don’t give them productive outlets for their concerns and grievances,” Brooks said.
Fighting For Peace is a daylong symposium hosted by The University of Louisville Commission on Diversity and Racial Equality in partnership with Peace Catalyst International. A free evening session will take place at the University of Louisville Kornhauser Health Sciences Library and Auditorium. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Disclosure: This panel discussion will be hosted by WFPL Reporter Amina Elahi.