MICHIGAN — Brad Galloway wasn’t shocked when he heard the news that a radicalized group called the Wolverine Watchmen allegedly plotted to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
It was "chilling" news, he said, but not shocking.
“These types of groups that we’re seeing right now, whether they’re militia groups or Proud Boys or different types of things that are going on, this is the kind of climate that they thrive in,” Galloway said during an interview via Zoom on Friday October 9. “That’s why it wasn’t too surprising to me to see this.”
Galloway is a research analyst and case manager with Life After Hate, an organization that specializes in helping people leave the far-right movement, he said. They also keep a close eye on such movements and said this year, with all the racial, social and civil injustices, along with growing anti-government sentiment, they've been good recruitment tools for extremist groups.
“The problem that I see right now is there’s such a vast array of these types of groups,” Galloway said. “These movements are trying to get a shoe that fits for anybody who might be interested, which is quite concerning.”
He said there’s militia-style groups to Neo-nazi skinhead groups to the Proud Boys, who recently held a march that turned violent in Kalamazoo.
However, another trend that Life After Hate is seeing, he said, is that many people are leaving the groups.
“I think since Charlottesville, you know that was 2017, so we’re talking 300 plus people that have come through [Life After Hate]. It’s probably more than that,” Galloway said. “But, I think with the way things are going right now we’re definitely busy.”
According to the Life After Hate website, they’ve helped 500 individuals leave radicalized groups since the ‘Unite The Right’ march and rally in Charlottesville, which turned deadly that weekend in 2017.
“Personally speaking, the way that it looks inside of these groups, this type of activity is mentally and physically exhausting,” Galloway said. “It’s spending every day, 24-hours a day trying to hate other people.”
He said the people in the groups promote an ‘us vs. them’ mentality, pitting one group of people against another. They disconnect from societal norms and dehumanize other people and ethnic groups.
Galloway said he knows this firsthand because he’s experienced it. He joined a ‘racist skinhead organization’ as a teenager growing up in Canada. However he became disillusioned with the group and left in his 20s.
“I left the movement around nine or 10 years ago,” Galloway said. “ I ended up meeting some people with Life After Hate, five or six years ago. And from there it’s just seemed like such a worthy place to sort of hang my hat.”
He’s since been sharing his story helping others leave the movement, working directly with Life After Hate’s EXIT USA program, that not only helps people leave the groups but also leave racism behind.
“Particularly with hate groups, we hear that people get connections with a person of color or somebody from a minority community that they never would’ve have had a connection with inside of the group,” Galloway said. “But, something happened and there’s a mental shift for them where they start building back empathy.”
He said empathy is the goal at Life After Hate, which uses a team of professionals to help people get back on their feet .
He added that no one should be afraid of these radicalized groups. However, they should seek to be empathetic towards the people inside the groups and those trying to leave.
"We cannot do this divided. We cannot get through the pandemic divided," said Galloway, quoting a statement that he recently heard and admired. "We cannot get through racial and social injustice when we’re divided. We need to do this together as Americans or as North Americans or as the world."
***For more information on how to leave radicalized and extremist groups, please click here.***