The move to bring a pair of former white supremacists to speak at a Richmond synagogue has been hailed as a resounding success.
Tony McAleer and Brad Galloway captivated around 85 members of the Beth Tikvah congregation last week with their face-to-face explanations of why they joined and got out of extremist groups.
McAleer, among other things, spoke about discovering compassion for others helped him get out of where he was, while Galloway told a story of how a doctor, who turned out to be Jewish, treated him, even though Galloway had Swastika tattoos on his body.
The talk was engineered by Leanne Hazon, vice-president of the Beth Tikvah Congregation, who was racking her brain for an event that “spoke to her.”
“It was around the time of the mosque shooting in New Zealand and I was thinking about bringing in someone to talk about racism. But I didn’t want people getting lectured,” Hazon told the Richmond News.
“Then this thought popped into my head about getting white supremacists in to speak. And I had watched this news piece on TV, where a former white supremacist was talking about his experiences.
“Then I starting thinking, ‘what if I could get that guy and then this guy?’ When I contacted Tony (McAleer), he suggested Brad (Galloway).
“There is always value in hearing different perspectives. I wasn’t sure what to expect really and it’s a challenging topic for a targeted group to hear about. But I was amazed at how it was received, many people said it was an incredible program.”
Many members of the congregation, added Hazon, “were going up to (McAleer and Galloway) at the end and talking to them.
“It was brave of them to speak to an audience who they once hated and also brave of the audience to listen to what they had to say and speak to them afterwards.
“It was two groups of people that you really don’t expect to see together. It’s very interesting to hear how they ended up being involved in that and how they got themselves out of it.”
McAleer, 52, is the co-founder of Life After Hate, a Chicago-based organization that helps white supremacists leave hate groups.
He told how, as the child of a psychiatrist who attended private schools in Vancouver, his life began derailing at age nine, when he became aware of his father’s infidelity. He went from a straight-A student to an angry youth who entered the punk scene and later became a skinhead.
Galloway, meanwhile, volunteers for Life After Hate, after the organization helped him leave a “hate group” in 2015.
He said he grew up in a middle- to upper-class home and veered off course after losing a friend in a car accident.
By age 14, he was in youth custody and by 2015, he’d spent 13 years as an active member of far-right movements, including VolksFront, where he was the leader of the Canadian chapter.
Becoming a parent was a turning point for Galloway, when he realized his involvement in such groups was putting his whole family at risk.
With a file from Lauren Kramer