Few CEOs can say their work is focused on engaging with members of the violent far right, providing opportunities for them to leave behind a life of extremism and hate. Few can say they spend their days helping violent extremists deradicalize and disengage from the violent far right. As the CEO of Life After Hate, these are Patrick R. Riccards’ realities, working toward these goals while building, expanding, and supporting a terrific team that is taking on some of the most challenging – and meaningful – work in society today.
Life After Hate is the nation’s leader in the violence intervention community. They are the first nonprofit in the U.S. dedicated to helping individuals disengage from violent far-right hate groups and hateful online spaces. Their core values drive their work and the progress they make in improving society. “In everything we do, we focus on compassion, empathy, integrity, redemption, and accountability. These values are embodied in our clients, our staff, our board, and our community at large,” says Patrick. “We can only improve as a society if we practice compassion and believe in second chances. None of us should ever be judged by our very worst moments. We all must learn from our mistakes, accept responsibility for our previous shortcomings, and continually work toward improvement and positive change. Life After Hate is committed to providing that to those who know it the most.”
While Life After Hate is now 11 years old, in many ways, it is again a startup, focusing on how it can more effectively deliver on its mission and serve its clients. To do that, the organization is now focused on outcomes and data, particularly for its Exit USA program.
Because of the complexity of the work, Life After Hate needs to constantly collect the information that allows them to improve their programming and the impact they are having on the clients and the field. “We need to push to raise standards in the field, particularly concerning those medical and mental health professionals that are necessary to this work,” explains Patrick. “And we need to constantly redefine what “going to scale” looks like in a field that depends on one-on-one counseling and support, looking at new ways to provide scalable engagement initiatives that can better educate the nation on this important work.”
For Patrick, having complete knowledge of his sense of purpose and moral compass is extremely important. “As a social entrepreneur, it is essential that I am focusing on advocating for positive change, on looking for ways to improve us as a society, community, and individual. We must know what we stand for, and what lines we won’t cross, no matter what,” elucidates Patrick. “No job, no organization, is worth sacrificing your compass for. I wear my sense of purpose on my sleeve and incorporate it into the organization. That means explaining not only what we are doing but ensuring that everyone understands why we are doing it and how we are going to get to our collective destination. And it means treating your team in a way that positively embodies that sense of purpose.”
As CEO of Life After Hate, for Patrick, success comes from honoring and building on the mission and achievements of the past to improve and meet the needs of the future constantly. How the violent far right operates, how it recruits, deploys its recruits, and attacks those it disagrees with, is continually changing to meet the realities of politics, technology, and civic obligations in the nation. To remain successful, Life After Hate must stay nimble and constantly adapt to fulfill its mission. Ultimately, though, our success depends on the quality and strength of their team.
The future of Life After Hate will include greater use of asynchronous learning and learning management systems. This fall, Patrick and his team launched a new asynchronous learning course for members of the law enforcement community, helping them better understand the violent far right and how they best deal with members of the movement. These courses allow Life After Hate to take some of their education programs to scale while allowing the customer to engage with them on their own time, at their speed.
Looking ahead, Life After Hate will be taking the lessons learned from their work in the law enforcement vertical to design and deploy similar education and engagement efforts focused on members of the military, those preparing for mental health careers, and even family and friends of those currently engaged in the violent far right. “We want to use asynchronous learning – modeled after short, effective YouTube videos – to expand our market reach,” says Patrick.
Life After Hate is also successful, in part, because of its ability to tell the stories of those who are former members of violent far-right extremism. Later this year, they will release a new video series that captures the stories of many “formers,” sharing why they participated in the violent far right and ultimately chose to get out of the movement. These raw, emotional, personal stories are necessary to show the real people affected by VFRE and to connect in a human way as Life After Hate works together toward real solutions and interventions. “These stories must be shared in a respectful, meaningful way. That is the only way we can help those seeking to disengage from the violent far right and provide second chances to those who can demonstrate they are truly worthy of such,” adds the pioneering leader.
Life After Hate measures its achievements both quantitatively and qualitatively. Quantitatively, they can look at the millions of individuals consuming their messages and public education campaigns, realizing there are paths to redemption and second chances. Qualitatively, one can and must look at the individuals they are counseling and supporting daily. For the days to come, Life After Hate is excited to launch a new initiative focused on veterans of the armed forces and how they can help them either exit current violent far-right extremism or avoid entering the movement in its entirety. This will include the development of asynchronous learning and public engagement initiatives. “Our nation owes our veterans so much, and we must do what we can to help these veterans continue to lead a noble life of good works and positive change,” says Patrick.