I told Paula about Rising out of Hatred, the Awakening of a Former White Nationalist by Eli Saslow while sipping tea in the Williston Coffee shop. The book describes the extraordinary journey of the former white supremacist Derek Black who, thanks to his college friends, came to denounce the ideals he was raised on.
“This book pierces my heart, speaks directly to our divided country,” I paused, “And it gives me so much HOPE!”. Paula looked at me with compassion, knowing how much Black’s story bores right into my life’s dilemma of awakening after 18 years of cultic involvement. She sighed and said “Yeah, once you see this stuff, you can’t un-see it. “
Rising out of Hatred expands on a scrap of news I happened upon just after my own awakening in 2014. “Derek Black, godson to David Duke (the KKK grand wizard), renounces the white supremist movement.” When I read the article describing Derek’s transformation, I was riveted, not by him, but by his Jewish friend Matthew. Matthew’s dogged commitment to civil dialogue and refusal to turn his back on Derek, who still secretly hosted a daily talk show for his father’s Alt Right website, were essential to Derek’s slow release from an ideology that cultivates hate for non-whites. Conversation was the weapon of choice used to ferret out the enemy for Matthew and the few others who gathered for Shabbat every Friday evening for over a year.
I too, believe in the immense power of civil dialogue. In my own quiet corner of Vermont, I now co-facilitate community discussion forums called Cults&Culture: exploring power, authority and control in groups. Our mission it to promote understanding and recognition of the power dynamics inherent in cults of all kinds.
Back in 2014, when I left a cultic self-help group, I looked around me with new eyes. I saw, felt, heard and witnessed cultic abuse all over: in the news, in the self-help group a few towns over, in my neighbor’s complaints about the town council, in the pop-up church down the road- and in terrorist groups and gangs world wide. I coined the term Everyday Cults to describe this phenomenon – the existence of pervasive cultic dynamics through every level of society. Suddenly, I could not only relate to these diverse groups but also recognize core traits of my own personality reflected in the members. I could viscerally feel the power their leader held over their thinking and the choices they made. The mysterious veil of humanity’s dark side lifted, and I realized I was one of a multitude. At first, I was unable to articulate what I knew to be true, but over time, that has changed. Clarity about coercive, cultic dynamics has become the air I breathe, the lens I look through much of the time. I don’t like what I see, but that does not stop me. I like seeing the truth.
Hearing one of my colleagues describe the specifics of how she was harmed by the leader of our group created a crack in my psyche’s well-crafted, 18-year framework. I knew she was speaking the truth but that truth did not fit with who I believed our teacher, whom I had placed on a pedestal, truly was. My entire world shifted. In a similar way, through honest dialogue with his friends, Derek Black began to see how his beliefs harmed others. Once he saw this, he could not un-see it.
Perhaps it will happen to you too. When you read Rising Out of Hatred, you too will see that which you can’t un-see. Together, as citizens of conscience, we can talk openly about the taboo subjects of cults and power dynamics, and perhaps our honest dialogue will help someone in need.
 Stormfront Poster Boy Derek Black Renounces White Nationalism, Landau, Erica, July 19, 2013, New Times, Broward Palm Beach.