This filmmaker spent months interviewing neo-Nazis and jihadists. Here’s what she learned.
Deeyah Khan, a Muslim woman, met her enemies — and came away more hopeful than ever.
Ken Parker was the guy in the film with the swastika on his chest who was posting neo-Nazi flyers in a Jewish neighborhood when I met him. He was saying the most vile things I’ve ever heard. He actually marched at Charlottesville as well.
Well, he called me up a few months after the film aired and he said, “I’ve left.” He said he left because he used the word “friend” to describe me. Now, this was one of the most extreme people I met. But his experience with me opened him up to speaking to other people who are different from him.
So he actually became friends with the pastor of a mostly black church who lived in his apartment complex. The pastor invited him and his fiancée to his church, and Ken basically stood in front of everyone there and said, “I used to be in the Klan, now I’m in a neo-Nazi organization, these are the views I hold ...”
And after he was done, people came up to him and hugged him and said, “Look, we detest what you stand for, but it takes a lot of courage for somebody like you to come in here and share what you have shared.”
That was the last straw for him, where he realized that the people he hated so deeply are showing him nothing but kindness and compassion and an open heart, and are showing it to him even though he doesn’t deserve it. His whole ideology fell apart.
I’ve maintained my friendship with Ken and I’ve connected him with other former neo-Nazis because I know how hard it is to leave these groups, whether you’re a white supremacist or a jihadist. These movements become your identity, your life, your whole network of friends, and when you leave, you’re completely shunned. So we have to support people who want to get out.