Emerging science suggests that the key to changing hearts and minds is exposure to people who defy negative stereotypes, and befriending those you are inclined to hate.
By: Ryan Ramsey
I have been asked many times why I spend time arguing online with leftists, NatBols, NatSocs, NeoCons, and others. The best way to become a skilled debater is by debating those of differing views. You can go research their arguments later and find counter points to do a better job next time. Sometimes you also realize you were wrong. At one time I was a white nationalist. That’s how I changed a number of my views and left the old movement, then the GOP, and finally became a Libertarian.
I volunteered in 2017 to be a research subject in an academic study on people who have left extremist movements and embraced non-violence. There is apparently lots of research into what makes people join extremist groups, but very little on what makes them leave. Naturally, I wanted to help, but almost immediately I was also struck by how important this research could be to the Libertarian Party.
The Libertarian Party seeks to unite people around similar principles and convince them to leave the Democrat and Republican parties.
I could make a decent case now that bombs are falling in Syria, and probably before, that the Democrat and Republican party are as much violent extremist hate groups as any white Nationalist organization in the US.
I can also make a case pretty easily about how the continued votes for these parties, in light of all the false promises of their leaders, makes being a Republican or Democrat akin to being a cult member.
My essential message in light of this science, is that our job is not to shun people, but to be positive examples in their lives and show them the truth.
One of the most powerful things that leads people out of bigoted views is having a personal relationship with someone that defies your stereotypical negative association of that group.
It is a huge problem for the LP because if we are 3% and call the other 97% “statist (fill in the perjorative)’s”, they close their mind and become harder to convert. That’s why I associate with old friends on the far right, some on the far left, and maintain tons of friendships with non-libertarians. I am not alone, in fact, I am in the majority according to research.
52% of the participants have varying contacts with active members. Several do so in order to provide outreach to current members in hopes of helping them transition away from involvement.
We have to use our influence in peoples lives and not be stuck in an echo chamber. In addition to debate skill, being around them allows us to hear their argument, and craft an effective way to plant seeds and counter the logic that keeps them members of the political duopoly, or stuck in a simplistic world view where race is all that matters.
I left the White Nationalist arena when I realized all my enemies were white leftists, and met tons of people of other races I shared core values with. By the racist standard I am supposed to be on the side of John McCain and Hillary Clinton, and hate Eric July and Thomas Sowell? It just became ridiculous.
The racist needs to meet good people of other races and realize that an ethno-state isn’t necessary. You won’t change the Alt-right by yelling epithets at them, and I am as guilty as the next guy in the past, and that is part of why I am writing this. This is also an emerging theme of the research, that meeting positive people of a group you previously had negative stereotypes of is one of the most powerful factors to motivating a change of belief and formation of a new identity.
Gadd’s (2006) study of a British far-right extremist found that identification with different social groups led to a recognition of dissatisfaction with far-right extremism. It detailed his friendship with a mixed race bartender who voted for him in a BNP election.
Frank described how he felt afterwards,
Them as friends had voted . . . for me, like, even though it’s a racist party. That hurt me. It really did, like . . .  Felt ashamed, like cos they actually voted for me and I was telling them that it is no longer a racist party, ‘It isn’t National Front’ . . . I was telling them lies at the end of the day because they are.
When he discussed it with the mixed race bartender friend, she replied:
“She said she didn’t vote for the party, she voted for me anyhow”
At this point he became increasingly disgusted and left the party and his identity evolved beyond his former narrow views on race. All it took was friendship and empathy. Contrast this with the approach by the likes of ANTIFA or the SPLC.
In light of all this I realize that in the past, my confrontational attitude at times was counterproductive. Perhaps I could have had more success with various groups and individuals to consider my views had I taken a different approach.
My friend and American Guard President Brien James is probably the highest profile far right leader to ever publicly renounce race based politics and embrace a civic worldview over an ethnic one. In my opinion he risked more and was rewarded least for his effort.
He continues to face relentless smears by the left and their propaganda arms. It is becoming increasingly clear their tactics perpetuate racism and actually deter people from leaving ethno-Nationalist groups.
There is a bizarre credibility given to groups like the SPLC, that smear every individual to the right of Stalin as a racist, and every group opposed to Communism as a “hate group”, especially when tons of research shows these tactics are counterproductive.
The evidence of their lack of credibility is profound, well beyond the Cayman Island accounts of a group with “poverty” in the name. The FBI quit using them as a resource, along with a mirror group called the ADL. Even after these left wing slander machines were responsible for an attempted mass shooting at a christian family organization, they still get to state who is, and who is not, a “hate group”.
Family Research Council (FRC) officials released video of federal investigators questioning convicted domestic terrorist Floyd Lee Corkins II, who explained that he attacked the group’s headquarters because the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) identified them as a “hate group” due to their traditional marriage views.
“Southern Poverty Law lists anti-gay groups,” Corkins tells interrogators in the video, which FRC obtained from the FBI. “I found them online, did a little research, went to the website, stuff like that.”
The history of the SPLC is a case of truth that is stranger than fiction, and a case of staggering irony. According to [anti-death penalty lawyer] Millard Farmer, the center largely stopped taking death-penalty cases for fear that too visible an opposition to capital punishment would scare off potential contributors. In 1986, the center’s entire legal staff quit in protest of Dees’s refusal to address issues such as homelessness, voter registration, and affirmative action, that they considered far more pertinent to poor minorities.
The Director, Morris Dees, had an original partner named Millard Fuller who described the early years:
Dees served in 1958 as state campaign manager for segregationist attorney general candidate McDonald Gallion and also worked for George C. Wallace.
In the early 1960s, Morris Dees sat on the sidelines honing his direct-marketing skills and practicing law while the civil rights movement engulfed the South. “Morris and I … shared the overriding purpose of making a pile of money,” recalls Dees’s business partner, a lawyer named Millard Fuller (not to be confused with Millard Farmer). “We were not particular about how we did it; we just wanted to be independently rich.”
Fuller stated: “We wanted to be sure of having friends in high places.” In 1961 when Freedom Riders were beaten by a white mob at a Montgomery bus station, Dees openly expressed his sympathies and support for what had happened at the bus station.
Dees subsequently defended a man, guilty of beating up a journalist covering the Freedom Riders, whose legal fees were paid by the Klan.
You read that right, Morris Dees, the leader of the organization so relentless in continuing to cast myself, Brien James, and others as racist extremists, long after we have abandoned those organizations and openly renounced identity politics, HIMSELF defended Klansmen who beat freedom riders, and was sympathetic to the violence. He worked for segregationist politicians. He did it for money. The SPLC does not list him on its “hatewatch” site.
One of the politicians Dees worked for, George Wallace, later made public apologies to the black community, which were accepted. In his last campaign for public office, Wallace won the 1982 Alabama gubernatorial race. In that election, over 90% of the black population of Alabama voted for the man who once vowed “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”.
Dees still refuses to acknowledge the power of redemption, or to consider the fact that he has become what he claims to fight against….. An ignorant bigot, who seeks to use force of law to ruin the objects of his prejudice. The sinister implication is that he obviously does know that redemption is real, but it would hurt his profits if he did not create an endless series of boogeymen to keep his donor pool in terror of.
John Stossel recently did an epic video on the group that makes that case quite well:
The science says the methods used by Dees and the SPLC are incredibly harmful, and I have seen its effects in my own life.
When the siren song of ethno-Nationalism seduced my former friend Augustus Invictus, forcing us to expel him from the American Guard during my time at the organizatioand, one of his principal arguments that led to the rift was his assertion that “they are going to call me a Nazi no matter what I do, so I might as well hang out with them”.
When I first found success in mainstream politics in the gun rights arena, and later in the Libertarian Party, it inspired many people to abandon the old movement and realize their past was something they could overcome and they could create a new life.
If they decide to make that choice, but are labelled and judged anyway for their past beliefs, it is likely to force them back into them. This was noted in research into rehabilitation of violent offenders in crimes relating to race, published in Scotland in 2011:
3.3. Prominent elements of identified programmes
A number of prominent elements and characteristics of programmes can be
distinguished from the information collected for the research. Although not all of the elements are common to all programmes identified by the research, they were
considered to be significant by particular programme providers :
- A commitment to the acceptance and understanding, rather than the rejection and condemnation, of hate crime offenders, and the setting aside initially of moral judgements about participants’ behaviour and attitudes.
When the left and ANTIFA began slandering me and sent operatives like Paul Stanton to sabotage and try and drive me out of the party, I began hearing “what’s the point, I can never live down the past”, out of people considering abandoning the various race based and collectivist groups to embrace liberty and America’s founding principles.
These organizations and their tactics discourage people from abandoning counterproductive and violent groups and joining the American Guard or the Libertarian Party. We have to understand that people considering such changes are already struggling, according to the research.
Fear of being unable to change also figured prominently among the participants. In
fact, 52% of the participants reported feeling fearful that their involvement in orga-
nized hate had permanently “scarred” them psychologically and that self-change
might ultimately prove elusive.
Disengagement is the act of leaving a violent or extremist type of group. The goal is to foster deradicalization, which is different than disengagement, because it involves a change of identity for the individual. The language used to describe the process in the research should give Libertarian Party members serious pause, and sets up the parallel I am seeking to illustrate with this article, that of leaving an extremist group, and leaving one of the major parties to join the LP.
Deradicalization is distinct from disengagement because it suggests a change in an
individual’s values. Deradicalization may be defined as “the process of changing an
individual’s belief system, rejecting the extremist ideology, and embracing mainstream values” (Rabasa et al., 2010, p. xiii).
Individuals that undergo deradicalization may experience a change in priorities and come to the realization that violence should not be used to affect social change (Horgan, 2008; Rabasa et al., 2010).
I explained in an earlier article, “The Science of Political Success“, personal and political identity are intertwined in a manner that means direct attack on the political belief is taken as an attack on the individual’s identity, and is counterproductive.
This is why the shock methods employed by leadership such as Arvin Vohra are so harmful to outreach efforts. It is also why the over identification with the left by Nick Sarwark is extraordinarily damaging to growth of the party.
By shocking peoples sensibilities in the way Arvin and his faction insist on, they create negative impressions that nobody would want to incorporate into a new identity. The Republican identity is to be “against the liberals”, so by painting us as cozy with the left and hostile to the right, Nick Sarwark creates a barrier that is insurmountable for most.
We need to understand the power of identity, and in the context of politics, understand how it dovetails with the “Optimal Distinctiveness Theory”. By demanding these ideological purity tests, and incessant insults and arguing between Anarchists and Minarchists, we limit comfort within the libertarian identity to a small number that keeps us politically marginalized.
The optimal distinctiveness theory argues that a positive social identity fulfills the basic human need of belonging, while at the same time permitting the individual to retain a certain sense of uniqueness.
(Spears, 2011; Hornsey, 2008; Sindic & Condor, 2014).
Getting back to strategy, and how to make use of this new understanding of identity in crafting our game plan, political science says the next wave of mass growth for the LP will come from disaffected GOP members as their party abandons core principles like fiscal responsibility and gun rights. We are already seeing that play out.
The Democrats will come later as we gain enough power to support the factions that form their coalition. The Democrats bundled together disparate minority groups to form their coalition. These groups do not want to be relegated to a second tier again. They will come when they see us as able to champion their special interests, and at that point we will start pointing out Democrat hypocrisy and the fact their core constituencies haven’t received much for their loyalty, and contrary to the belief of many, there will always be an enmity between Libertarians and Progressives, because of economic views.
Meanwhile, GOP voters are already shifting our way, as they see us holding the torch for the founding principles of America. We have to allow them to keep their identity as opposed to the Socialist left in order to take advantage of that.
The LP should be focusing on restoring the originalist view of the Constitution, respecting the Bill of Rights, promoting states rights as opposed to rule from Washington DC, getting the government out of education, fighting literal and cultural Marxism, Constitutional carry, and cutting taxes and spending, which are all die hard libertarian positions that allow disaffected GOP voters too keep their identity. In fact, we can honestly say they MUST come to us, as the GOP drifts left, or LOSE their identity, which is a powerful motivator.
Murray Rothbard promoted this “Right Wing Populism” as the key to the Libertarian Party breakthrough as well, and described the core party being an intellectual elite around which a mass movement could be built. The masses did not have to be philosophical scholars of libertarianism, they just have to shift identity to become Libertarians, and vote for our candidates, and the rest will follow.
“This two-pronged strategy is (a) to build up a cadre of our own libertarians, minimal-government opinion-moulders, based on correct ideas; and (b) to tap the masses directly, to short-circuit the dominant media and intellectual elites, to rouse the masses of people against the elites that are looting them, and confusing them, and oppressing them, both socially and economically. But this strategy must fuse the abstract and the concrete; it must not simply attack elites in the abstract, but must focus specifically on the existing statist system, on those who right now constitute the ruling classes.
Libertarians have long been puzzled about whom, about which groups, to reach out to. The simple answer: everyone, is not enough, because to be relevant politically, we must concentrate strategically on those groups who are most oppressed and who also have the most social leverage.
The reality of the current system is that it constitutes an unholy alliance of “corporate liberal” Big Business and media elites, who, through big government, have privileged and caused to rise up a parasitic Underclass, who, among them all, are looting and oppressing the bulk of the middle and working classes in America. Therefore, the proper strategy of libertarians and paleos is a strategy of “right-wing populism,” that is: to expose and denounce this unholy alliance, and to call for getting this preppie-underclass-liberal media alliance off the backs of the rest of us: the middle and working classes.”
Much talk of becoming “Republican Light” can be found around this topic, but here again, the science says something very different. In fact, our party is already built by those who left one of the other parties, and is comprised of a high percentage of activist mentalities, with passions far greater than those of the average Republican or Democrat party member. This has been described in research about people exiting cults, as the “apostate”. Rather than simply leaving, they become public opposition, crafting the new identity as an almost “professional ex”.
We should encourage this as a recruiting tool, which again means having the wisdom not to attack certain elements of their identity. We want these “moral entrepreneurs” to engage in exposing hypocrisy among the Neo-Cons who hijacked the GOP, and become a politicized version of the “exit therapist”. The party will not be taken over by Republicans, they will grow to realize they were essentially members of a cult, and become a force towards engendering an “institutionalization of apostasy”. The simpler “leave-taker” is more a follower, and will not be a force against the “apostate”, of which we already are in heavy supply of.
These “exit-therapist apostates” will have powerful motivational tools at their disposal that also require us to allow vestiges of their identity to flourish in order to create social stress and anger at the hypocrisy among the political class, the “swamp creatures”. Research into people leaving gangs shows that social stress and anger are induced when there is incongruence between reality and expectation, which challenge the value of an identity as a gang member, and the role it plays in motivating them to leave the gang.
In order to most effectively facilitate gang exit it is important to understand the underlying processes of identity change and emotional expression within this context. This article uses identity theory, which is based primarily on symbolic interactionism to explain how individual changes in cognition and emotion correspond with gang exit.
The extent to which an individual meets their identity standard is determined by comparing the reﬂected appraisals they receive from others in their environment to the standards the individual holds. If there is incongruence individuals will attempt to modify their behaviors in an effort to achieve as much congruence as possible (Burke 1991). In this regard, identities can be viewed as a source of motivation for behavioral change where individuals attempt to conﬁrm their identity expectations (Burke and Reitzes 1991; Burke and Stets 2009).
Individuals frequently attempt to achieve congruence between reﬂected appraisals and their identity standard by changing their behavior; however, there are instances when incongruence between appraisals and standards persist which produces social stress and anger. Social stress and anger occurs when there are interruptions in the identity feedback loop that are not easily managed or involve a highly salient identity (Burke 1991; Simi, Bubolz, and Hardman 2013; Stets and Tsushima 2001).
We have witnessed this in Florida after the Republican gun control bill, SB-7026 was shoved through the legislature. Republicans pushing gun control forced an identity conflict and I founded a new county affiliate shortly after with people who had to switch to retain their core identities as pro-gun, and the betrayal of the Second Amendment allowed them to see clearly the many other actions by the GOP that were incongruent with their rhetoric.
We have to stop the snarky cries of “statist” at every newcomer who expresses an idea that their identity has not evolved to understand yet. Rather than calling them Commies or Nazis, listen and find an angle to reach them, frame a response based on THEIR understanding of the world, because we as die-hard Libertarians are all ahead of our time.
Contrast the approach you see on many Libertarian social media groups with that of Daryl Davis, a black man who befriended KKK members and proved the power of this science. He has over 200 robes given to him by individuals when they have quit the Klan after he befriended them. Watch this TED Talk and learn about how you can be a positive influence to even the hardest person for you to even consider such a demeanor.
If a black guy can befriend Klansmen, surely we can befriend Republicans. If everyone in the LP decided to be like Daryl Davis, we could grow 200 fold. In fact, I will state that it is probably an easier sell to convert Republicans to Libertarians than get Klansman to make friends with a black guy, quit, and give him their robes. When these Conservatives meet a gun toting gay Libertarian, their attitudes will change. They will grow in their new identity as Libertarian, not turn us into Republican-Lite, any more than Daryl Davis decided to join the Klan for his efforts.
So hit the pubs and the online forums with a new attitude. Be “that Libertarian” that applies a scientific approach to helping the party grow, and be a true soldier of freedom. Most of us have wondered why we haven’t grown faster. Larry Sharpe, the Libertarian Marine Corps veteran who is smashing fundraising records in his NY Governor’s race was quoted recently, saying:
“Libertarians have been winning arguments and losing elections for 45 years.”
Now we have the tools to understand why, fix it, and create the paradigm shift in American politics that can save lady liberty and end the duopoly forever.