A University of South Florida student is speaking out about his past in the white nationalist movement.
Scott Ernest, an undergraduate student in public health at USF Tampa, said he first got involved in the movement online in 2004 and eventually moved to Montana to join a white nationalist organization. Now, Ernest advises young people who are thinking about leaving the alt-right, particularly those who are LGBT.
Ernest will be speaking on a panel titled "After Charlottesville: Understanding and Addressing White Nationalism" at the USF Student Center on Wednesday at 6 p.m.
Ernest sat down with WUSF's Roberto Roldan to talk about the rise of white nationalism ahead of the panel discussion:
Roberto Roldan: Tell me a bit about how you ended up being involved in the white nationalist movement?
Scott Ernest: “In 2011, I had been wanting to get out of Florida for a while and I knew somebody in northwest Montana who was a part of the movement. I decided to take the leap. She had been starting a group called “Pioneer Little Europe – Kalispell” and I became a part of it. They did things like Hitler movies in the library and, basically, a lot of political white nationalist stuff. That wasn’t really my thing, so when I got there I tried to get it more to be about going hiking, you know, community-based stuff. My goal was to normalize white nationalism, it wasn’t to be as shocking as possible.”
Roldan: At one point, as part of your job of “normalizing white nationalism,” you were also a facilitator or moderator of Stormfront, which is the most popular discussion board for white nationalists and the alt-right?
Ernest: “Yeah, at the time it was the most popular.”
Roldan: What made you want to leave the movement?
Ernest: “I got sick of the negativity, was the bottom line. I lived with white nationalists; I associated with white nationalists every day. Over time, it kind of got to me. And there’s the fact that I never really shared their beliefs. Other races weren’t really the big thing for me, but I was very ethnically oriented toward white people. I would always be like ‘I love my race, I love my folk.’ But I really didn’t care if like there was a white man and a black woman or the opposite. It didn’t really bother me. I tended to go after ‘liberals’."
Roldan: You’re now a student of public health here at the University of South Florida here in Tampa. So I’m wondering when did you start actually helping people who wanted to leave the white nationalist or alt-right movement?
Ernest: “When I originally left it I wanted to do so quietly, but I contacted Christian Picciolini. At the time he was a part of Life After Hate, his current organization is Free Radicals. Both of those groups exist to help white nationalists get out of that life. I occasionally help him out, but aside from that I do get a lot of people on Twitter contacting me for advice, usually LGBTQ alt-righters who are confused about their beliefs. I’m openly LGBTQ so I’m in a unique position to be able to give them advice."
Roldan: As someone who sort of came to the movement online and now works trying to help people get out of the movement online, what role has the Internet played in the mainstreaming of white nationalists that we’ve seen over the last few years?
Ernest: “Well the Internet has grown so much that the racist and white nationalist information is everywhere: Twitter, Reddit, 4chan, you name it. You can’t even go to a comment section without there being something along those lines.”
Roldan: You’ll be speaking on a panel titled “After Charlottesville: Understanding and Undoing White Nationalism.” Can you give me a taste of what you’re going to be speaking on? How do we go about addressing the current rise of white nationalism?
Ernest: “I think that we do need a lot of discussion in this country. We need a lot of understanding. There’s a lot of division in this county…”
Roldan: A lot of people might be turned off to hear someone say what we need to do is have more understanding of what most people would say are Nazis.
Ernest: “Right. You don’t necessarily need to tolerate their beliefs, but if you just back them into the corner, that does nobody any good. They’re not going to see any way out and then it just gets worse and worse and worse, and then, as we’ve been seeing in the last couple years, mass shootings by white nationalists that see no other escape. We need to be able to discuss it and do our best to solve the issue together.”