A former white supremacist tells: How I got out
A former neo-Nazi who visited Australia this month has given a disturbing insight into the mindsets of young people mixed up in the white supremacist movement. Sam Caldwell reports.
Young people are susceptible to the white supremacy movement because it provides a deep sense of belonging and superiority, says Robert Orell.
He should know.
In his youth, Robert spent five years involved with a violent Swedish white supremacist group.
Now the director of Exit Sweden, a group which combats the white power movement, he shared his experiences this month with Australian audiences in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.
“The most important difference with the white power groups in contrast to the other sub-groups I was involved in, was the feeling of being superior ... The worldview in white supremacy groups are based on the idea of an apocalyptic battle between good and evil, and I was a part of that important struggle,” he told The Point Magazine.
'This kind of environment doesn’t promote critical thinking and questioning of the cause, so it took quite some time before I started to realise something was wrong.'
– Robert Orell, a former white supremacist who now works with Exit Sweden
These white power groups also work to suppress feelings of “weakness” and critical thinking associated with questioning or doubt, solidifying the world view of their followers.
“In these environments you invalidate feelings that you perceive as default or weak,” Robert said.
“For example, it´s not really valid to feel afraid, ashamed or even submission to love. For me, it lead me to shutting off a lot of feelings and thoughts, not questioning or responding to my doubts or engagement at all ...
“This kind of environment doesn’t promote critical thinking and questioning of the cause, so it took quite some time before I started to realise something was wrong.”
For Robert, his descent into the white power movement coincided with childhood struggles with identity, and a xenophobic scene in some parts of Sweden in the 1990s, which led to his first contact with the movement.
This came against a backdrop of growing up in a relatively safe, middle-class suburb in Stockholm in a supportive family.
Yet, Robert attended riots and neo-Nazi meetings. He practiced the teachings of Nazi ideology such as eating healthy, staying abstinent from drugs and alcohol and doing physical exercise. All of this helped to promote the ideas of elitism and superiority that existed in the movement.
Over time, however, Robert began to question the double standards present within the movement, and analyse his personal doubts. But it was not until his compulsory military service that he physically spent a long enough time away from the movement that he decided he wanted to leave.
Robert’s advice for those who are mixed up in a white supremacy group and considering getting out is to realistically consider the risks and what would need to be done to get out safely, such as potentially changing address or contact details. He also believes support from someone close, who is not involved with the movement is extremely helpful.
These very reasons, Robert says, are what make Exit Sweden such a powerful tool for those trying to get out of the movement. Exit Sweden does not try to judge or condemn these people, merely support them.
“I was used to always being questioned and confronted,” Robert said.
“Here, I was listened to by someone who actually could understand why I was engaged in the movement. This meant a lot and that I could leave and go on in my life ...
“We [Exit Sweden] have no interest of being in conflict with persons engaged in the white power movement but do want to offer support to those who want to leave.”
Robert was a guest of the anti-racism charity All Together Now, in partnership with the Federal Attorney-General\'s Department and PaVE (People Against Violent Extremism).
He visited Australia as part of All Together Now’s EXIT project running in Australia, which is aimed at helping prevent racial hatred groups from recruiting the young and creating an informed discussion about racism and white supremacy in Australia.
According to the managing director of All Together Now, Priscilla Brice, and as reported in The Point Magazine in September, there are white supremacist groups active in Australia.
“There are racist hate groups that operate in Australia and we think it’s important to ensure they remain small so that their effect on society is minimalised,” she said.
“That’s why we’ve invited Robert to do this tour. Extremism based on white supremacist ideology has the potential to grow and result in violence unless preventative action is taken.”
Since becoming involved with Exit Sweden, Robert has become an expert in radicalisation and de-radicalisation. He has studied psychotherapy and has now spent over a decade working with defectors, including from political extremism and criminal gangs.
A former white supremacist tells: How I got out