By Giacomo Liberato
The St. Petersburg College Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions hosted a dinner forum entitled Full of Hate: The Toll of Violent Extremism at the SPC Seminole Campus Conference Center on January 25th, 2018. The event was constructed as a panel discussion with an ex-white supremacist and knowledgeable individuals from various backgrounds that are often the target of hate groups.
The event was moderated by International Speaker, Maura Sweeney, and the featured panelists were the former neo-Nazi and founder of Life After Hate, Angela King, SPC Professor of Social and Behavioral Science, Jack Packer, the Director of Transgender Equality of Equality Florida, Gina Duncan, and the Chief Executive Officer of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Florida) Hassan Shibly.
The evening began with a brief introduction of the event by the Executive Director of the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions, David Klement. He then introduced the moderator Maura Sweeney.
After Sweeney spoke about her background, she shared a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, “I have a dream that my four little chi1dren will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” She followed up by asking if the audience will be people of great character and requested that the audience open their minds. These words set the tone for the evening.
Then, each speaker similarly introduced themselves and took their seat on stage. Angela King explicitly detailed her story and her reason for attending the event, “My involvement and work with those trying to leave [hate groups] is why I’m here.” She also offered some important lessons she’s learned over the years. She informed us that her work can be very frustrating and that it’s a process that she must work at every day. She also offered this sobering statement, “Every person can’t be saved with kindness; the importance is to try.”
When Gina Duncan was invited up to the podium, she used her time to speak about a few critical issues that her organization is working to resolve. Such problems include the discriminatory transgender bathroom legislation, 2017 as the deadliest year on record for transgender people, and the passage of more “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” (RFRAs).
The next speaker, Hassan Shibly, came armed with compelling facts and insight. He began by citing the 500% increase in anti-muslim hate crimes in recent years and highlighted that victims of these hate crimes include non-muslims who are assumed to be Muslim. He followed up by mentioning the Department of Homeland Security’s conclusion that far-right extremists are a more significant terrorist threat than so-called Islamic extremists; he contests that these “Islamic” extremists have much in common with Islam.
Last to the podium was Jack Packer. Comparing hate groups with roaches, he explained that they don’t fear the light, they fear what will happen in the light. He claimed that hate groups would keep coming out, “because the light is on, but they don’t feel retribution.” He then pointed out that “there are as many black hate groups as there are white, and there is no justification for either, regardless of color.” Packer finished by making the crucial distinction that hate-crimes target communities, not individuals.
Sweeney then asked that the audience examine the results of the instant survey. The survey question asked was “Have you ever experienced or witnessed a hate offense, or been part of committing one?” The results were projected on the screen: 57% answered Yes, 33% No, and 10% Not Sure. Each table was then given time to discuss the results and the forum thus far.
After a few audience members shared their table’s ideas, Sweeney transitioned the forum to a conversation with the panelists. She asked the panelists, “What do you think is the best way of handling hate?” Gina Duncan answered first and explained that humanizing the perceived other and building connections with people is a great way to eliminate the “other.” Jack Packer then told a story from his military days about a (lower ranking) young man who said he “just don’t like n*ggers.” Packer made him his driver, and after a few years, they became best friends. Hassan Shibly suggested that people should have serious conversations with people they know and come together for community service.
Sweeney also asked panelists how they felt about “Antifa” or violence from the other side. Hassan Shibly chimed in by speaking from the Quran, saying that “you cannot defeat hate with hate; you can only defeat it with love and compassion… and that’s how you build those bridges.” He followed up by communicating to the audience the importance of the second amendment, and in light of the death threats he has received, he began carrying.
Shibly was then asked to respond to the last question from Sweeney, which was about Jewish organizations declining to attend the event because of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) presence. Shibly commented that “it’s a shame to see people employing the same hate tactics that were employed against their forefathers against the next minority.” He invited these people who were fearful of him and CAIR to come to his home, mosque, and office “unannounced and get to know their brother and sister in humanity.” Duncan then chimed in speaking about the importance of visibility, awareness, and education to achieve equality.
After a few questions from the audience, David Klement closed out the evening. He announced the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions next event, a forum on veteran’s affairs, on February 15th in the Seminole Campus Conference Center. He also announced their next dinner event, Hacked: Can We Win the Cyber Security Battle?, on March 27th, in the Seminole Campus Conference Center.
After the event concluded, student intern and volunteer Michael shared his thoughts on the conversation as well. “The beauty about tonight is what the institute does on a periodic basis… it opens up the floor [and] it gives the room to members in our community, to [SPC] students, and to our civic leaders.”
Watch the full event on the college’s YouTube channel. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5T9vrfzjQM&feature=youtu.be