Ep.38 Tony McAleer – Addression Hate with Compassion

Do love and compassion truly have the power to positively impact hate? Listen to this inspiring conversation between former White Supremacist, Tony McAleer and Gissele, about the power of love in transmuting hate into compassion.  Tony McAleer, author of the book The Cure for Hate, shares his amazing story of leaving violent extremism to work on ending racism and discrimination. 



[00:00:00] hello and welcome to the Love and Compassion Podcast with Gissele.

Gissele: We believe that love and compassion have the power to heal our lives in our world. Don’t forget to like and subscribe to our podcast for more amazing content. On today’s podcast, we’ll be discussing how someone who was so devoted to spreading hate can turn their lives around to focus on spreading love and compassion instead.

Our guest is an international speaker, Changemaker, and the author of the book, the Cure for Hate. He’s also a father of two and co-founder of the Not-for-Profit Organization, life After Hate. He has made it his mission to help people leave hate groups and cultivate greater compassion.

He’s an attorney turning in his previous life. He played a pivotal role in white supremacy and Canada, Welcome to the show, Tony Mcaleer. Thank you for having me. Thank you so much. I wanna begin by saying just how much I loved your [00:01:00] book. It resonated so much with me and I, I found myself kind of giggling at the fact that I thought to myself, here I am an immigrant Latina, right, immigrant to Canada, who is resonating so much with a message from a white male who was, you know, background is from the uk.

and I chuckled at the fact that I thought, you know, your former, you would’ve been kind of amazed by that, right? Maybe

Tony: ab Absolutely. A absolutely, and it, it’s just sort of a testament to, you know, on the, on the surface, it’s, it’s something that’s my past is something that’s so horrific and out there yet be behind.

That is a very human story. And you know, I wrote it with. through the lens of probably a thousand hours of one-on-one and group counseling where I really, did a deep journey inwards to understand why I ended up like that, why I chose to do [00:02:00] the things that I chose to do and what I got from them.

And, you know, when, when I speak to people that are leaving movements behind at, at Life After Hate, which I left in, in 2019, but they’re, remain a great organization. there, there’s very human stories behind the sort of tabloid cover, labels that we, that we put on people. And I think that holds true for people mired in, addiction or, yeah, other areas of life where they’re, where they’re struggling and it’s easy to.

just read the tabloid cover that’s presented to us in past judgment, but when we get to know the stories behind it, they’re very human stories and they’re, and they’re themes that connect, connect all of us.

Gissele: Yeah. Yeah. That’s, yeah. Thank you for sharing that. That’s so true and so wise. I was wondering if, I know in your journey your childhood played a key part in you eventually kind of joining the white supremacy movement.

Can you tell us a little bit about your childhood [00:03:00] and kind of how it led you to that journey?

Tony: Sure. I grew up in a very affluent, middle class neighborhood in Vancouver and went to, all boys private school. my father was a doctor. We were immigrants from England. I came when I was two in 1969. And I went without any sort of material wants and needs.

My father was a great provider, and that was his love language, you know? Mm-hmm. , yeah. Be, be a provider, as a little boy who didn’t get to see him very often because he was a workaholic. the thing I crave most is time and attention was in very short, short supply. And, when I was 10, I walked in on him with another woman.

And this man that I so idolized and, and worshiped, you know, I think there’s probably many of your listeners can relate to the time when the God fell off the pedestal, you know, in the, in their own childhoods and that really. Shattered my trust, not just in his authority, but in all the authority figures in my life.

I didn’t trust them anymore. And I [00:04:00] was angry and was a whole flood of emotions. And I went from being an A and and a B student to a C and a D student. And by the next year, the teachers at the school, all boys Catholic school, tried all kinds of carrots to motivate and inspire me. None of them worked.

so they resorted to the stick. And with my parents’ encouragement, they, gave me a deal. And that deal was if I didn’t get an A or a B in ma major tests and assignments, I was to be hit on the rear end with a yard stick. And you know, I think even to this day, as, as I think back to those times in the office over and over and over again, where I was getting hit on the rear end with the, with the stick, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more powerless than I did in, in, in that office.

Tony: And. I went from listening to Queen and Elton John to The Clash and the Sex Pistols, and got into the punk scene because I, that’s where my, my anger resonated and found a, found a [00:05:00] home with other angry, angry kids and people who didn’t feel that, that they belonged. And I just wanna be clear here. I don’t blame anything on my childhood.

Mm-hmm. , share with you these things from my childhood. So you understand the lens through which I made these, these choices. And what I got from initially, joining the, with the, with the skinheads and then later becoming a leader and, and into more serious organized white supremacist groups is I got power when I felt powerless.

I got attention when I felt invisible, and I got acceptance in community when I felt unlovable. And it’s, it’s these sort of emotional drivers, these vulnerabilities that are created. Through, adverse events in our childhood or traumas or, or whatever that create the vulnerabilities that make the ideology seem so seductive and creates the vulnerabilities that people like me, when I was a leader and recruiter, became [00:06:00] quite adept at exploiting

The, the, the common misbelief is it’s all about the ideology. And if we could just stop or change the ideas in the person’s head, or stop them from reading this or make them read that, you know, we can change everything. But while the ideology plays a significant role, these deeper, these deeper psychological drivers play a far, far greater role.

And, and these things become about identity. Mm-hmm. and they become about, they, they’re emo, they’re deeply emotional. connections. It’s one thing to convince a person not what they believe is wrong. It’s a whole other kettle of fish, to convince a person that who they are is wrong.

Gissele: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, what you said was so spot on.

The first part I wanna address is, which I really, really, really resonated with me because I remember the day when I felt my parents, like when I saw them fall off the pedestal and I thought, oh, these are just humans, . And I had much the [00:07:00] same experience in that I stopped trusting the adults in my life. I thought, okay, I can’t trust you, so therefore I’m gonna be making decisions for myself.

And so I think I felt that part of the book. and so I thought that was so pivotal. The other part that I really thought was really important is that you make clear in your book, It’s not like you sought to be in a world of hate you, you didn’t seek to be in a, in a world of hate. You made a series of choices, which led to beliefs and thoughts, which then encrusted into an identity.

And so what you mentioned about you can’t just tell people that their ideas are wrongs because it becomes so enmeshed in who they are. what did you find or, or what helped you kind of shift away from that identity of, of aligning to the beliefs of, of white supremacy to one where you could actually start to soften it?

Tony: It started with the birth of the birth of my children. And there there’s a, a couple aspects, to this, you know, the birth of [00:08:00] my daughter when I’m standing there in the delivery room and this, I get handed this little baby girl and mm-hmm. , you know, she’s got scrunchy face and she’s like that and opens her eyes for the first time.

And, and, And my face is the first picture her brain’s gonna take. And, and I connected to another human being for the first time since I couldn’t remember when. Because you know, as we go through childhood, you know, if I think back who little Tony was, you know, at the age of three or four, I was this bright, curious, little mischievous, stubborn, sensitive, open to the world, little guy.

And as we go along, we learn it’s not safe necessarily to be sensitive or open to the world or, or curious. And we put on armor and we put on masks and we shut ourselves down in order to feel safe. Mm-hmm. . And I was so cut off from my heart, you know, and, and living purely in ego. and, and, you know, the ego should never be driving the bus , right?

[00:09:00] True. It’s okay. Chirping from the backseat. Yeah. And giving suggestions of where to go. The heart should always be driving the bus. but when the ego’s driving the bus and it’s not tethered to the heart, it can take us through some very strange and awful, awful places, as it did with me, but with my, with my children, I, you know, I connected, you know, for the first time since I couldn’t remember when I, I began to accept.

I was making decisions with someone else other than me as the primary, factor. And you know, the beautiful thing about children’s love is it’s, it’s infectious. Mm-hmm. and it’s safe to love a child, you know? And at the age of two and three and one, they’re not capable of shaming, they’re not capable of ridicule, they’re not capable of rejection that that comes in the teen , teen years

But, but in, in, in this moment, it became safe for me to allow the thawing to begin and to allow myself to feel and, [00:10:00] and to begin the slow movement from my head, into my heart. And my son who was born. 15 months later, I, you know, between the two of them, I got to parent them the way that I was wanting to be parented.

I had all the, the time and attention that I had craved as a child. I offered, offered them. I probably wasn’t as good a provider as my, as my father, but, but they turned out pretty good anyways. But mm-hmm. , it was very cathartic to be able to, heal those wounds, you know, and, and repair, repairing them through.

they’re doing that with my, with my children. And so they taught me my very, although I didn’t quite know it or understand it at the time, they taught me my very first lesson in, in compassion. They gave me my first taste of compassion and, and mm-hmm. , you know, what’s, what’s incredible is they, they couldn’t speak the word compassion.

Tony: They had no idea what it meant. Mm-hmm. they didn’t say, oh my God, that’s too hard. I can’t be compassionate with that person. And there was none of that . Yeah, none of [00:11:00] that limitation. in, in their minds and they just, you know, they, they loved me. And, and when we’re compassionate with someone, we hold a mirror up and allow them to see their reflection.

The humanity reflected back at them when they can’t see it themselves, when they, when they look in the mirror. And, and that’s what my children did for me. They, they saw, could see in their eyes and in their faces and their expressions. They saw this magnificent human being. And I didn’t see that when I looked in the mirror.

You know, that’s, that’s the, the, the, the problem with all these childhood, and events, and traumatic events, and it doesn’t have to be sort of a childhood event. It, it can be a catastrophic event around you. I mean, it’s not, it’s not necessarily that we have to, you know, suffer abuse or anything like that, but, That leaves us with, with the feeling that we’re not good enough, we’re not smart enough, we’re not pretty enough, we’re less than, we’re unlovable, we’re weak, we’re powerless.

And we go out into the world living our lives in reaction to that. And, and we put on mask to pretend ourselves to be powerful. And we, [00:12:00] we become, overachiever or perfectionists in order to hide what we believe, the false belief of what all our flaws are. Mm-hmm. . And, and that leads us to a, an alienation of the self to a dehumanization.

And I truly believe the level to which we dehumanize other human beings is a mirror reflection of our own internal disconnection and dehumanization and what my children did with me through that compassion. And just began the process of rehumanization. You know, if, if toxic shame is the root of a whole spectrum of antisocial outcomes for a person, whether they project it onto others, through what various forms of violence mm-hmm.

or whether they do it to themselves through various forms of self-harm. that compassion is the rehumanizing part of that, that dehumanization process. And, and that, that really started it for me. And another piece was when they were two and four, I became a full-time single father. And in the nineties, you know, it’s, it’s [00:13:00] not fair that it was that way, but single dads were like unicorns.

Yeah. And I got, I was able to transition. That became my identity, you know, you know, so-and-so’s a single dad. And, and I, I got, acceptance and approval and community with my family, and I got all of the things that I had been craving, that I saw it in the, in, in the white supremacist movement through the illusion of those things actually got for real.

and, and that sort of became my identity. So it was. You know, the challenge with helping people leave these movements behind is when you go into these movements, you excommunicate yourself from friends founding in society, and you go, that’s okay. I, I, I’m getting, I’m gonna get my needs met over here. I wasn’t getting it there.

Tony: And then when we realize that it’s all an illusion and it’s all false promise, and we become disillusioned when we go to leave, that those movements behind our old friends founding society aren’t waiting for us with open arms because we’ve violated the [00:14:00] trust and that that trust has to be rebuilt. And, and there’s this part in the middle that they call void where you have no identity, you have no social circle.

You know, you’ve, if you’ve left that behind and you haven’t established a new one, you’re in this place where it’s, and, and without that I identity, it’s a very lonely place to be in. It’s often where people. go back because the perception and the pain of the loneliness seem to, the mind seems greater than the pain of the dysfunction when we go back to that toxic, toxic place and life after hate.

We created, a community in that, in that void to help people, transition to the other side and reclaim their humanity and, and live, like compassionate lives in the, in, in the community. Hmm.

Gissele: Yeah. Thank you. You said so many key things. I think the first thing that I wanna comment on is the, children are such a gift, right?

Like, I, I do believe that our, at our very core, we are [00:15:00] loving and compassionate, but then we learn all of these things and create all of these barriers that, that kind of prevent us from being loving to ourselves and other people. . And so, you know, I was, when I was reading your book, it really struck me that, you know, you had such, such a sense of belonging that you said that, you know, somebody had asked you like, when did you lose your humanity?

And you said, I didn’t, I traded it for acceptance and approval. I was wondering, well, there was nothing left. Yeah. Until it was nothing left. I was wondering if you could comment on, the way that extremist movements in, in, in, you know, like extremism uses the language of love and compassion and belonging to attract people to that, to that kind of ideology.

Tony: Well, they, I mean, these are, these are primal human needs. Mm-hmm. , you know, as, as human beings, we, we need to belong. We’re social, we’re social animals. And you know, they, they use language, [00:16:00] they use the language of grievance. Mm. To, to drive a wedge between them and society. And then they exploit these feelings of the need to belong and, and they create a belonging around grievance.

And that’s what makes these movements so, so toxic. Mm. And, and so dangerous. you know, because the, it you be then get trapped in the identity of grievance. And, and one of the things I’ve learned through all of the counseling that, not only I went through, but that I observed and others in, in group and stuff like that, was that the identity of victim is the most disempowering state a human being can be.

And it’s not to say people aren’t victimized and, and that people, shouldn’t recognize that they’ve been victimized. But when we say I am a victim and the world is happening to me and I have no power, when we take on the identity of victim, it, it’s very disempowering and. and it’s easily manipulated.

[00:17:00] Mm-hmm. . And, and in this world there’s, you know, different, different, you know, it’s often opposing narratives of, of victim grievance that, that is manipulated and, and leads people to a place where, you know, if the, if the solution doesn’t include compassion, I it, it, it, it’s a false solution. It, it can’t bear anything.

But, but further, further misery.

Gissele: Yeah. And in a world of victimhood, there has to be, because we live in a world of duality, there has to be a perpetrator, right? Yep. And so we con continue to give energy and attention to that idea of victim perpetrator, victim perpetrator, and it continues that dichotomy.

Whereas compassion really has no other, there’s no duality in it. It’s like the feeling is more, less dualistic I would say, or pitting one against the other. What would you say your definition of compassion is? I’m curious.

compassion is, for me is, is, you know, the desire [00:18:00] to alleviate or taking action, to alleviate the suffering, suffering of another, so, or others as a, as a group.

that’s why I say, you know, things that are so much rooted in, in, victim identity, aren’t really about alleviating that suffering. It’s about keeping the suffering in place. And, and that’s why without that compassion component, it, it’s, it’s problematic. And, and you know, when I talk in the book about radical compassion , And in that, you know, there’s, there’s the need to, or the, the drive to alleviate the suffering of, of o of others.

Tony: And a radical compassion. I, there’s three components I talk about. One is that your practice of compassion must take you outside your comfort zone. Mm-hmm. , you know, and this age of extreme polarization. we are not going to solve this by tiptoeing around it. We’re not gonna solve this from within our comfort zones.

Mm-hmm. . and, and that requires courage. And, and I’ll, I, [00:19:00] we can get into the three Cs a little bit. The second piece is, it’s not just enough to alleviate the suffering of individuals or a group, but we must also take a social activist role and look at the environment which gives rise to or supports the suffering and, and work to alleviate that.

And the third, and it’s the most important lesson that I ever learned about compassion. I think it’s the most. Missed component of compassion is, is developing compassion for self and that that journey inwards to understand and have compassion for self. Cuz we can’t have compassion for others until we develop it within ourselves.

And I think that’s one of the, the, the bravest, most courageous journeys a human being can do is, is to turn inwards and take a look at, at the whole of us that’s inside the good and the bad. And, and learn to love and, and accept it. And, I had a great, powerful coach and mentor and guide to help me [00:20:00] through that process.

And the more I understood myself, the more I understood. . And as I started to understand others more and see, see them through that lens, it gave me glimpses back in, into myself. It was like this positive feedback loop. Mm-hmm. . and again, I say the level to which we dehumanize other, other human beings as a mirror reflection of our own internal disu dis dehumanization and disconnection.

That’s the, the negative feedback. The, the polarity of that is, is the opposite. The, you know, we humanize people as we humanize ourselves and as we humanize ourselves, we humanize, we humanize people and yeah. That’s why the, the, the answer has to be, compassion, you know, because I, as I talked earlier about toxic shame and, and that internal disconnection, compassion is the antidote to shame.

Mm-hmm. . And when we can, we can help people get to that, that place. It’s, and it’s, [00:21:00] it’s exponential, you know, if we want to give compassion to others, we have to mine it from within ourselves. Mm-hmm. . And the more we mine it from within ourselves, the more we exponentially expand our capacity to give compassion to others.

And, I think that’s a really, really important point because I think if we, if we’re compassionate for everybody else, but not ourselves, that’s not about compassion, that’s about ego. It’s about being seen to be compassionate. Mm-hmm. . if we’re compassionate to ourselves and nobody else, that’s not compassion either.

That’s narcissism. Hmm. And we have to hold, we have to hold both, at the, at the same time, in a healthy way. And, and I think at that point, it, it, it becomes a truly powerful, powerful force. not just in our own lives, but in the lives of other people.

Gissele: Yeah. I, I completely agree and I loved how you said in the book that it was almost a social responsibility for you to be compassionate and loving towards yourself because you loving yourself, translated to you being loving for other [00:22:00] people.

for us it’s akin to, you know, you fill up your bucket and then you give to people from your overflow, not from your reserves. Right? Instead of trying to, manipulate people or manipulate their energy or need them to give you something, you can, you flow from within. Exactly. And so I thought that was really, really important.

Gissele: And it also showed the interdependence in all things, right? So what I do for myself, I do for others, and what I do for others, I do for myself.

Tony: in this journey, the, I absolutely discovered that we are all, yeah, all connected and, and in intertwined. And when I was in that world of white supremacy, I didn’t see any connection anywhere.

We were individuals, we were groups of individuals trying to. Battle for scarce resources from other groups of individuals. And everything was, you know, the ego sees the world through separation, right? Mm-hmm. And heart, see, art sees things through, you know, connection. And I often say to people, I said, well, you know, listen to someone who’s reading from a religious scripture if they’re talking [00:23:00] about us versus them and pagans and infidels.

Mm-hmm. and the heathens and, and, yeah. And separation. You know, they’re talking from their, their head, their ego. Mm-hmm. . But if it’s about coming together and community and love and compassion, forgiveness mm-hmm. , you know, their, you know, they’re talking about the same book from, from their heart. You can, yeah.

You can listen to people to hear whether they’re head centered or, or heart-centered. ,

Gissele: you, actually in the book you talk about doing a lot of different things that you weren’t proud of. can you tell our audience how d how challenging was it for you to be compassionate towards yourself considering all the things that, you know, you talked about toxic shame, y you know, how hard it was it for you to deal with that toxic shame through compassion?

Tony: It was really difficult because I was involved in lots of street violence, you know, in the book. you know, there’s a, a gay bashing I write about, you know, that, you know, I remember with my, you know, with my [00:24:00] mentor at the time I was, it was doing a program on, workshop on public, speaking of all things

And he said, and we all had these ideas in our heads of what we were gonna talk about. And, and, he said, I want you to think of the most shameful thing you’ve ever done. And then I thought, , there you go. Then go up on stage and tell the story. Wow. And you know, that was the story where we had chased the gay man into a construction site and he, he hid under a, like a crawlspace.

And, you know, we were 17 at the time, and like kids at the lake, we threw stones into the darkness. And, you know, every third or fourth stone elicited a, a yell of pain and terror from, from this young man. And when, I remember when I told it on front of this class of 30 people and I couldn’t feel it, I, I was disconnected from it.

I couldn’t, I told it sort of as a third party mm-hmm. narrative. And he said, no, do it again. You’re not feeling it. [00:25:00] Do it again. And then it was okay. Now I want you to tell the story from his perspective. Well, you didn’t feel it. Do it again. And I think for two hours, you know, I told this story that took six or seven minutes to actually tell mm-hmm.

over and over and over again until I could connect to it, and feel it, and, and feel the shame in my role in it, and be able to express, that shame and really that compassion and, and forgiveness for, for myself was one of the hardest things I had to overcome. Because I know all the things that I, that I didn’t said.

You know, I think I probably did more damage with my words than I did with my fists, and, and boots. But it, it was hard. And I remember reading. The, the Dalai Lama book on compassion as I was trying to deepen my [00:26:00] understanding. And he said, you know, the more I have compassion and forgiveness for myself, the more I diminish my capacity to do harm in the world.

Yeah. And that really, clicked for me, and I realize I’m approaching this all wrong. Right. I’m, I’m not, I shouldn’t be having compassion and forgiveness for myself because I deserve it. I was sort of, sort of getting over my, it’s not about me. Mm-hmm. . Right. and I was hung up on my, whether or not I deserved it or not.

I deserve to have compassion and forgiveness for myself because the world and the rest of society deserves it. Mm-hmm. , you know, and if I, if I can’t have compassion forgiveness for myself, Then I’m still gonna be not a nice person. I’m still gonna be a jerk. I’m still gonna be, oozing harm into the world through, words or behaviors or anger or losing tempers or, or, or whatever.

Tony: And it was, once I flipped it around that it’s, it’s not about me. Mm-hmm. the world deserves it, [00:27:00] then I was able to get to that, that, that place. It’s the me part. Still put up a bit of a struggle, but I was able to, to get there. But it’s that, that paradigm shift was, was key for me. Mm.

Gissele: And you mentioned as well that what helped you in your journey was also getting forgiveness and compassion from others, those people that you had harmed.

can you talk a little bit about that?

Tony: Sure. No, that’s, that’s,I’d been doing these. personal development workshop. So I’d left, I got in the movement about 82, 83, left in 98. Mm-hmm. was a single father, and still lived, emotionally dysfunctional, life and drank too much and, and stuff like that.

And I started new career as a financial advisor in 2004. In 2005, I was doing,these workshops, put on by this, this guy named Dov Barron, who, he was from England. I was from, England, the, you know, I was from Liverpool, [00:28:00] he was from Manchester, and we, he’s about 10 years older and bonded over Monty Python and quirky British pop songs in the eighties and stuff like that.

Mm-hmm. and I really connected with him and, and did all of his courses about getting out, stepping out of your own way and getting rid of limiting beliefs and dealing with the ego and such. And, and the friend that had introduced us, eight months later, hands me a gift certificate for my birthday and I got the gift certificate and I open it up and it’s like, ah, great.

It’s a gift certificate for one-on-one counseling with Dov like , who,

Gissele: that’s exactly what I wanted. Thanks .

Tony: Yeah. Who doesn’t want therapy for their birthday? So I go in and, and, and the see Dov and, and I’m. Telling ’em about why I’m angry at my dad and why I’m angry at my mom and the, the Catholic school I went to and you know, all sort of, all the, the blamey bits you do at, in your first, counseling session.

And, and then I thought, do I tell him the rest? Do I tell ’em about being a skinhead and neo-Nazi and Aryan nations and stuff? And I like, Hmm, I, [00:29:00] I’m not sure cuz the reason I was terrified to do that is it when people have found out about my past, it usually meant the end of the relationship, if not an entire social circle.

And this was a relationship I valued and I’m humming and hawing and I’m staring at the carpet as if it’s gonna give me some sort of, cryptic clue and. He’s like, mate, just, you know, we only have an hour here. Just let it out. It’s okay. It’s safe. And I’m looking around the room like anything, but at his eyes,

And he goes, look mate, you look like you’re trying to swallow three golf balls. Just let it out. And, and in a sort of great leap of faith, I decided to let loose and I told him about skinhead and Aryan nations and Holocaust denial. And the more I tell him, the more he starts smiling. Mm-hmm. . And the more he starts smiling, the more annoyed I’m getting.

Here I am burying my soul in my first therapy session. And, and here the guy’s like laughing at me and I said like, what’s so funny? He leans in with a big grin on his face and he goes, you know, I was born Jewish. Right. You know, I’m like, [00:30:00] oh, of course. The irony, right? And I, and think back.

Watching with shame. And here’s this man who wants to heal me, wants to see the best for my family, and, and a man who loves me. And here I am knowing that I’d once advocated for the annihilation of him in his people. And he said, that’s what you did. That’s not who you are. I see you. I see little Tony.

And with that, I began sobbing. And, and you know, for the first time I felt that somebody saw me. And, and, and if, if this man could learn to love me, surely I must be able to learn to love myself. And that began a magnificent journey. into that self-discovery, that self-inquiry, the healing going, running towards the pain and the [00:31:00] wounds that I’d been running away from my entire life, and that had had cast a shadow over my entire life and, and was able to sort of, with his guidance weigh weighed into the muck and, and start to clear it out.

Gissele: Yeah. It’s amazing how unconditional love can be so powerful. just the, the witnessing of someone and being there without judgment, without the need for them to be different. Just seeing the humanity in someone else is so powerful.  

Tony: to receive it from someone who we don’t feel we deserve it from.

Yeah. You know, it’s like, it, it’s sort of, you know, doubly powerful. And I, I’ll say this with, with the, with the caveat that I’m not saying for a minute, it’s. The responsibility of marginalized communities are people of color to take this on. I’m not saying this should be your first step in your journey of, in practice, of, of compassion, but I’ve certainly met enough people who was the next step for them, as, as people of color in marginalized [00:32:00] communities that in, in order to.

step out of their comfort zone and, and, and take their practice of compassion to another, another level. It was something that they chose to do and it’s incredible gift should you choose to give it, but I’m in no way suggesting it’s an obligation. Yeah.

Gissele: and thank you for mentioning that because I think that’s a really key point.

I love what, Valarie Kaur says about it, which is, you know, obviously, you know, put your own oxygen mask on first. Love yourself first. And if you can’t do that for other people, like if, if I as a marginalized person, I’m not the point where I can say to you, Tony, I either forgive you or love you or see you.

I can allow other people to get curious about you. I can allow other people to love you. I can allow other people to get to, to extend compassion to you. I don’t have to get stuck in that cycle of hate, but when I think about how we, the systems we’ve created and our systems reflect our level of consciousness, our systems are about separation, alienation, punishment.

And in the [00:33:00] book you talk about how nobody goes out to become Hitler, right? Like, nobody goes out, Hey, I’m gonna be Hitler. I’m gonna be this hateful person. and so it’s interesting to me what, what that I had read in your book, something that I had reflected on myself. And so I found it like, oh, wow, somebody else believes this, that people blame Hitler.

But there was a whole bunch of people that followed him, and the treaty of Versailles was actually very harsh on Germany. And so it, it really suppressed people. And this is not a justification, but out of that suppression, people desired. Something else people desire to be, to be given to, to. And so it sets up the environment where people like Hitler could come and, and say, I’m going to, like you said, with the, with the movement, I, I can give you, you know, we, we gotta get ours.

You know, we gotta stop being oppressed. And so these systems aren’t built, that [00:34:00] we’ve created, aren’t built on radical compassion aren’t built on, on unity. They’re built on separation. why do you think that is? Like, why do you think that we are kind of have created these systems, but I mean, we tend to blame individuals, but don’t see kind of the larger context?

Tony: No, and, and, and, you know, there’s, there’s, you know, politicians of the current age mm-hmm. that, people point to and, and, you know, say it’s their fault, but really their symptom. Yeah. You know, they’re a symptom of, of something else. And I think under stress, we regress. Right? And, and I, I’ve, I’ve said to people, you know, multiculturalism and intolerance works until you have to compete with your neighbor for a crust of bread in the street.

And then all bets, all bets are off. We devolve into tribalism. And, and below the tribe is the family or the, you know, the, the community and, and ultimately down to the, down to the [00:35:00] individual. And I think, you know, in a, in a more global perspective, there’s the ebb and flow, the rhythm of polarity back and forth where we go from one mm-hmm.

to the other. And, and I, I’m, I mean, I’m hopeful mm-hmm. , right? As much as, you know, there’s chaos happening in the world, I think, I think the old order is dying. Mm-hmm. agreed. You know where winter is? Here? . Yeah. . and agreed. And I’m, I’m looking forward to getting, you know, it’s like being in the middle of January, you know, we got another month or two of cold weather and, and then it’s spring and, and, and, and green, green shoots.

But it, winter is never fun. . Yeah. Except

Gissele: honestly, in, in, in, in the book you talked about how kind of that, that pendulum that happens right between like the, the extremism and how censorship doesn’t really work because it’s silencing. [00:36:00] So what, whereas compassion allows us to lean in censorship prevents us from, from really listening to each other.

How do you think censorship really feeds the kind of movements, like the, you know, like white supremacy?

Tony: Well, if you, if you’ve got. these movements that are, you know, exploiting a grievance narrative mm-hmm. further alienating and further disenfranchising those people, makes those groups more, more attractive.

And, and, and suppression simply, simply doesn’t, doesn’t work. It makes things more extreme. If I can’t speak through words then maybe I’ll have to speak through violence. It, I, you know, the, the steam has to escape somehow. Yeah. . Yeah. And I think it’s naive to think that, that, suppression of speech, and I just wanna be clear here, there’s a difference between.

You know, speech that is promoting violence, which is promoting illegal acts, [00:37:00] which is already illegal. Mm-hmm. and harassment. Cause I often see the two, conflated that we need to limit ideas over here because people over here are being threatened and harassed. I, I think that we need to separate those two and I don’t think censorship works.

And I think I agree. We, we go down a slippery slope and I, and I’m actually shocked at how quick it’s moved from, hateful speech. to now this nebulous disformation misinformation and the number of topics that you can get, you know, banned on social media for, for speaking about is rapidly expanding.

Yeah. And I think that’s a, that’s a very dangerous and a totalitarian precedent.

Gissele: Mm-hmm. agreed. I think, you know what, we resist persists, right? And the more we resist it, it doesn’t go away, it just goes covert. Right? And so what we’re missing is an opportunity to really lean in and, and have conversations with [00:38:00] one another about why.

People Exactly. Why, why people believe what they believe. And so it really is a missed opportunity. to get better at listening and, and listening means not, not just waiting for my turn to speak .

That’s right. Not so, not not thinking about my counter-argument so that I can prove that you are right or wrong.

So it’s listening with, like, compassionate listening.

Tony: We listen to people to, to understand, you know, I think the society conflates listening with validation. Yeah. I can listen to someone and understand someone. I don’t have to agree with them. You know, their, their grievance is real to them. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s real, it’s real to me.

And I think that understanding is, is the first step. It’s the first foundation in healing. If we want to heal and repair the polarization in society, we have to be prepared to listen to people we don’t agree with and try and understand, where it is that they’re, that they’re coming from. Keeping more judgment or calling them [00:39:00] names is not gonna change, is not gonna change anything.

So there’s. I talk a lot about, these days, about the three Cs. Mm-hmm. , and that that’s, you know, I think as, as human beings in the society, we have to practice more of the three Cs. Three Cs are, compassion. First of all, courage. You know, I spoke about that. You know, we, we can’t do this from inside our, our comfort zone and curiosity.

We have to be curious about why we have to be curious about people and, and move beyond the, the, the, the tabloid headline label that we, the one dimensional labels that we, that we throw on people and understand the, the, the story. If we want to change them, we don’t do it by telling them something different.

We do it by listening.

Gissele: Yeah. And we, you know, it’s so interesting that we make these caricatures of people. Everybody is one-dimensional, except ourselves. Of course. We’re , we are more than that. I wanted to, talk a little bit about, vulnerability [00:40:00] in men in particular and about true intimacy. how might a fear of being vulnerable lead to a life of hate?

Tony: That’s a, that’s a great question, and I’m a huge fan of, Brene Brown. Mm-hmm. And, and, and really when we, talk about, you know, practices that we’ve learned, at, at life after hate and working with people coming from these spaces, it’s, you know, when we listen to someone, Air their grievance. and we give them a safe space to do so.

We give them the safe space in which to be vulnerable. that’s very transformative in and of it of itself. And once they realize it’s a safe space, that they, they start to reveal themselves mm-hmm. . And then we can, we can work with that. but in the absence of that safe space, everything is, is nailed down and, and, and, and shut.

And in that absence of safe [00:41:00] space, there, there is no place for the heart. And then we find ourselves back in that space of the head. The ego driving the bus and the ego is, without the heart as a guidance system easily, so easily gets itself, gets itself lost. And, and so many of these movements are predominantly male.

Yeah. And, and, and there’s so much confusion about what healthy masculinity, looks like. You know,  nobody really defines healthy masculinity. There’s, there’s only toxic masculinity, and nobody, nobody provides an opportunity to understand what, you know, what, what’s behind the divine masculine?

What are the principles? What are the features of the divine masculine? How can we, how can young men embody the divine masculine? How can the divine masculine embrace the divine feminine within, within a person? There’s, there’s a whole world that needs to be explored and understood and brought into being that gets completely [00:42:00] ignored when all we look at is everything through the lens of toxic masculinity.

Even some aspects of healthy masculinity are labeled toxic masculinity, because they’re not divine feminine. You know, there’s mm-hmm. , it’s a, there’s a, a, a distortion, and I think. that’s an important thing, which needs to be unlocked. if we’re going to usher young men into embracing a healthy identity in masculinity, and at the same time, embrace that divine feminine, so that the, the two are in balance and, you know, we should be able to go back and back and forth with them and, and, that’s what I’ve learned in Tantra anyways.

Gissele: Yeah, . Yeah. And since you mentioned the divine feminine and masculine, obviously there’s a spiritual component. has spirituality been a key in your

Tony: healing? Absolutely. I, I don’t think that you can see the world through the lens of connection. I mean without it, it being spiritual and, and [00:43:00] really spirituality and connection or interchangeable words.

For me, I, I was coaching, a women’s adult, women’s soccer team. Mm-hmm. , and we talked about the four quadrants of we wanted to have, mental health, physical health, emotional health and connection. What we really wanted to say was spirituality. Yeah. But that, that, you know, there’s so many trip wires and triggers involved with that word.

So we replaced it with the word connection and everybody was fine with it. Yeah.

Gissele: Yeah. It’s funny how people get triggered because they think religion, whereas spirituality is not

Tony: religion. No. And in fact, often religion is anti spiritual. Like that it’s, it’s, it’s the opposite. Fair enough. Yeah. Yeah. but that, that spiritual component and, and understanding that we’re all connected, you know, that those are all deep, deep spiritual, beliefs.

And I think my. the, at the beginning of my journey, one of the most profound things I [00:44:00] did, and I didn’t really understand what I was getting myself into , but my introduction to meditation was a 10 day Vipassana. Yeah. And that was a really profound experience that really, you know, opened the door. And, I’ve been a, a spiritual seeker and, and a seeker of crazy wisdom traditions and, and, and such ever, ever since to develop,perspective of the nature of who I am and, the nature of the universe and the nature of creation and, and where we all fit in it, and how we can realize our, our highest truest self.

Yeah. Yep.

Gissele: Yeah, spirituality has definitely been, something that has really helped me heal in my journey. it’s interesting from this, from my perspective in the spiritual perspective, the soul cannot be broken. So, so it really kind of has helped me shift from that belief [00:45:00] in good and bad, right or wrong.

because if I cannot be broken, other people cannot be broken either. And so it helps me move away from that victim perspective and to see myself as a victim and therefore to see you as an oppressor. the other thing that it helps me do is it, it also helps me see the divinity in you. So if I’m part of the, of this universal source universe, juice , then so are you.

Gissele: But we just forget. And so there’s only behavior that is in alignment or out of alignment. . And so I go back to as children, our, our very essence is love and compassion. We just wanna be loved and to love. And so, but we create all of these barriers. And so going back to our true essence is really the return to that love and compassion.

and so I find that that helps me forget, like, it has helped me forgive, people that I, I felt needed to forgive and myself when I was really hurtful.

Tony: Yeah. No, that’s, that’s a, that’s a great point. And you know, I’ve had people say to me, [00:46:00] I’m not buying it. You know, people never change, you know, I’m saying, you know, I agree with you.

And they go, what? Yeah, yeah. I said, you’re right. People, people never change. I said, you. The who I am is Little Tony, who I was as a neo-Nazi, couldn’t have been more, diametrically opposed, the opposite the, the, the pure polarity of, of my core essence. It wasn’t who I was, you know, and, little Tony was always that core essence was always there.

And, and, and you’re right, it never changed. Mm-hmm. And that often confuses . Yeah.

Gissele: So that’s why from the perspective, be becoming more loving and compassionate is about unlearning. It’s about unlearning all of those beliefs, those things that, those identities that have solidified based on our continuous habits.

And that’s what I loved about your book. You’re like, I made choices and every choice that I made solidified a thought and believe in. And then before I knew it, I had this identity, which was so enmeshed within white [00:47:00] supremacy. And so to challenge the, the ideology was to challenge the essence of who I was or who I thought I was.

and so you kind of had to unlearn everything and really kind of go back to yourself, which must have been challenging, right? Like it’s, it’s easy, it’s easy for us to have this conversation, but you’ve lived it, right?

Tony: It’s, it’s challenging, but so rewarding at the same time. Right. And, and when my life was in direct opposition to who Tony Little Tony was.

I couldn’t have been less in flow. I, yeah. You know, everything was difficult. Everything was a challenge. And as I’ve gone to live my life more in integrity with who little Tony is, and I’m not saying I’m perfect and I’m not there yet. This Yeah. journey takes, takes to the lifetime. Yeah. But the more I get an integrity, the more I find myself living in flow and the easier.

life becomes, and even though, you know, we have to look at uncomfortable parts of ourselves and acknowledge uncomfortable things about [00:48:00] ourselves as we peel back layers of the onion. that short-term pain versus the, what I know is the long-term gain of doing that and the fear of doing it is, is purely psychological in the mind anyways.

Tony: You know, it’s, oh, if you open that door, it’s gonna, you’re gonna burst into flames. Like you open the door and it’s like, no, that didn’t happen. And . Yeah.

Gissele: Yeah. And I think that’s what stops people. The fear is, feels real. It really feels real to go through. so thank you for mentioning Living in the Flow because I, I wanted to go back to something you had mentioned before, which is the belief and lack, the belief in not enough, the belief in competition.

When we are in survival mode, it is really hard for us to be compassionate and loving for other people because we see each other as competition. But as we start to. Understand that, that those beliefs aren’t true. There’s so much opportunity, there’s so much potential, there’s so much abundance everywhere.

We can then shift from that survival strategy to start to say, [00:49:00] Hey, Tony’s not a threat to me because my abundance is mine and there’s so much abundance in this world. This is unlimited possibilities. Then we can think open up to the potential. So from my perspective, living our dreams really is a key part of creating a better world for everyone.

More loving and compassionate world. What are your thoughts? A

Tony: absolutely, and, and you know, the beautiful thing about being, being in flow and living that life, is we get to inspire others. Yeah. You know, people are like, what’s your secret? Or, you know, like, you know mm-hmm. people that knew me then, or even, you know, know me now, they can’t, they can’t even imagine me as that other person.


Gissele: You know, because you’re not. , you’re actually not the same identity wise. You have shifted. Right. And so yeah. It’s, so to that, those memories must feel like a bit of a dream, right. At times.

Tony: Yeah. No, there, there’s, there’s certainly a, a sort of an ethereal distance mm-hmm. to them. And, and, [00:50:00] you know, I’ve almost, I almost can’t believe that I did those things.

Yeah. But, but, you know, I understand. And you know, there was something I just wanted to talk about earlier is that, that within compassion, we can hold the, the space of perpetrator and victim, you know, it, it, yes. It’s a, it’s a, it’s a, a duality, but mm-hmm. within compassion, those two things can be held and healed.

Gissele: Yeah. And our perspective on the definition of compassion is actually allowing all things to be. , which ca which people say, oh, well then you’re allowing all of these negatives to be it. It’s not, it’s about the non-resistance in the curiosity and then making a choice. I’m choosing not to, so I understand that these exist.

The, the victim, the perpetrator, who am I gonna choose to be every day? Like, who am I gonna choose? And knowing that it’s a purposeful choice and that I sometimes may falter, but I can still choose again. And so that’s where the [00:51:00] non-resistance is really key because all of these anti programs, anti-drug, anti-racism, anti, all you’re doing is feeding that same perspective.

We’re feeding what we don’t wanna create. And so I think what your book invites us to do is to reimagine to, to, to really think about, okay, what do we wanna create and how do we heal ourselves in order to get there?

Tony: Yeah. Cause a lot, a lot of my life was, you know, where, you know, where we end up as human beings, you know, for, you know, forget the specifics of my life.

Where we end up as human beings, you know, at, at any given point is it’s the totality of the choices we made. And many of those choices are unconscious mm-hmm. until we decide to, or sometimes the, the, the decision is made for us to, to awaken to that fact. Yeah. And choose to live life from intentionality.

Mm-hmm. choose to look at every decision. you know, as, as I talk about in the book, we, in life, you know, [00:52:00] we, we come at, at, at living from one of two places, you know, fear or love. And we get to choose, which, we get to choose expansion over current contraction. We get to choose connection over disconnection.

Mm-hmm. . And, and with those choices, we can inspire others. , and I think it’s who we choose to be in every moment of every day. Mm-hmm. , that is the power that is going to transform society. It’s not some government body or some politician on a white horse that’s gonna save the day. It’s, it’s who we choose to be in every moment of every day and, and how we inspire others to make conscious choices.

To choose connection and to choose love over fear. And I think it’s, it’s it’s millions of little tiny choices. And so we have to look at all of the choices we’re making and, and conduct ourselves with the, that proper intention behind it.

Gissele: Yeah. Oh wow. So powerful. And I think really that is kind [00:53:00] of the purpose of this podcast for people to realize that it’s, it’s the, everything that every choice that they make is not meaningless. It’s not. cuz people want other people to change and systems to change. Oh, once the system changes, things will get fixed.

But they’re, they’re taking themselves outta the equation when, if they’re experiencing, they’re aligned with it. Right? And so they, they’re consciously contributing to those systems. So that kind of transformation really begins at home with ourselves. And so I think it’s really an invitation.

Tony: Absolutely.

It starts with us. Yeah. It starts with us. And, and I’ve recently became a founding partner of an organization in the United States, called, starts With Us, starts with us that, looks to. Beyond the polarity that’s, that’s happening in society and to, be more compassionate and less judgmental and learn to have dialogue with people we, we disagree with.

it’s worth, it’s worth checking up, you know. There is, there is a, there is something sane out there in the middle . [00:54:00]

Gissele: Yeah, definitely. And you know, in, in talking about, before we conclude, talking about compassionate conversations, it’s, it doesn’t mean that the purpose is for us to change each other.

It really is, like you said, understanding. It’s about mutual understanding

Tony: and, and finding, you know, what we have in, in common with each other. We, we have things we can connect. Yeah. You know, there, there are , you know, it’s, it’s once every, you know, four years we’re in the voting booth and we have this disagreement.

but there’s so much more going on in between those times that we have to connect on, whether it’s, you know, sports or art or culture or the food or what our kids do, or, you know, what we want for our kids. You know, those, those things don’t, don’t change. And, and you know, when I was coaching the, the women’s soccer, one of the things we did at the beginning of every season is we paired new people with, [00:55:00] with the veterans and they had to go out and find out, you know, what are your three, three biggest fears of the other person they had to meet in person.

Tony: Oh, what are your dreams? That kind of thing. And they had to come back and, and, and, you know, find three things that you, that, that you had in common. And, you know, when they had these conversations, they came back and they said, you know, well, you know, I couldn’t believe it. You know, we were in the same piano class when we were seven and mm-hmm.

I didn’t even like this, this, all of a sudden when we, we had these curiosity questions to engage with stranger. Hmm. all of a sudden, you know, it’s like six degrees of separation. It’s the, there’s even less degrees of connection between, between every, every person. And, and once, once the people on the team had uncovered those connections, the team bonded way faster.

Mm-hmm. , right. And, and the, and the, and the group, you know, coalesced and felt more connected. And that translated into like, we, we used to call it like hacking the, the team . Cause [00:56:00] they would perform better on the field and they would pass. Yeah. We’d be more willing to pass. And, and the, the eagles were gone and we didn’t, you know, have any cattiness.

And it, it was really remarkable. what can be done with, with little, little exercises just like that in, in.

Gissele: Yeah. There’s more that unites us than divides us. Absolutely. Mm-hmm. . Yeah. Yeah. Latina relating to white male from the uk. Yeah. so, I, I’m gonna, I’m starting this kind of thing where I’m asking all of my, guests, you know, from my perspective, you know, whatever this universe source God is, it’s all love and it’s unconditional love.

And so I’m asking all of my guests what they think, what’s their definition or what they think unconditional love is.


Tony: that’s a great, that’s a great question. And it’s that love is, is, it’s, it’s at a connection [00:57:00] level. You know, it’s, I’ve even experienced it at a vibration level. Mm-hmm. me. It’s, you know, at an emotional level. but it, happens at a level that’s below for me. you know, the things that we see that, that are, that are different, you know, and it’s, it’s, you know, it’s like namaste.

The God in me sees the, sees the God in you, and regardless of where life has taken you in the, and, and the choice is made, that divinity is, is always there. And, and, you know, and, and I can, I can connect, with that, you know, doesn’t mean I love everything you do . Yeah. Or, or everything you say. but I love and respect and connect to the divinity that is within every human being.

Mm-hmm. .

Gissele: Beautifully said. last question. Where can people find you? Tell us about your organization, your website, and about the book or anything you wanna share? Sure.

Tony: The, the book is The Cure for Hate, A former White supremacist journey from [00:58:00] violent Extremism to Radical Compassion. you can get it on most book sites, the Cure for hate.com.

You can reach me or Tony at the cure for hate.com. If, if you want to email me, there’s a film I’m featured in, which is on Amazon Prime called Healing From Hate. And, we’ve got a film just about to be being submitted to festivals this week. So next year it’ll be in festivals. the Cure for Hate, former white supremacist confronts the legacy of the Holocaust.

So for that chapter where I go to Auschwitz and, and. Wow. And, and atonement and, and that, that I spent 15 hours with two day, over two days with a, with a guide that was all documented. So we have a documentary about that whole trip, and the journey of, of Atonement. Oh, because what started with, you know, and, and you kind of caught onto it earlier too, I started with trying to heal myself.

Then once I healed myself to a part, I was like, well, I can heal people that were wounded like me. And that led to the start of co-founding Life After Hate [00:59:00] and, and helping those people. And now, I’ve grown my bucket where I can go back and heal the communities that I’ve, that I’ve once harmed. And that is really where my work is at now, is going back and, undoing the damage that I’ve done.


Gissele: Beautiful. Beautiful. And thank you very much Tony for being on this podcast. This was an amazing conversation. Please go out and get the Cure for Hate. It is an amazing, amazing book. And please join us for another episode of The Love and Compassion Podcast with Gisele.

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