Former white supremacist: Trump's post-Charlottesville statements aren't a 'dog whistle' — they're a 'bullhorn'

A former neo-Nazi says President Donald Trump's statements after the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month have sent clear messages to white supremacists and other far-right groups.

Christian Picciolini, a former white supremacist, helped lead neo-Nazi group the Chicago Area Skin Heads 30 years ago, at the age of 16. He left the movement at the age of 22.

Trump has received widespread, bipartisan condemnation for his statements after the violence at the white supremacist "Unite the Right" rally, where far right groups clashed with counter-protesters, leaving one dead after a white supremacist plowed a car into a 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer.

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U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
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PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 22: U.S. President Donald Trump gives a thumbs up to a crowd of supporters at the Phoenix Convention Center during a rally on August 22, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
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Trump initially blamed "many sides" for the violence and failed to specifically condemn white nationalists and neo-Nazis. A later statement did condemn those groups explicitly, before Trump doubled down on his equivocation at a press conference the next day.

"You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent," Trump said in a press conference last week. "Nobody wants to say that, but I'll say it."

Picciolini says that with statements like that, Trump has moved from what political commentators call "dog whistles" — subtle political messages intended to be understood only by a particular, often racist, group — to a "bullhorn."

"The way he defied the country after Charlottesville, where he put both sides on the same moral plane, this is what people call dog whistles. But to people like me and in our network, it's a bullhorn," Picciolini told Business Insider.

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Washington

Klan groups based in state: 1

(Photo via REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Pennsylvania

Klan groups based in state: 1

(Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Oklahoma

Klan groups based in state: 1

(Photo credit ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Ohio

Klan groups based in state: 1

(Photo credit DAVID MAXWELL/AFP/Getty Images)
New York

Klan groups based in state: 1

(Photo credit WILLIAM EDWARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Michigan

Klan groups based in state: 1

(Photo credit ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Maine

Klan groups based in state: 1

(Staff photo by Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
Louisiana

Klan groups based in state: 1

(Photo by Nathan Benn/Corbis via Getty Images)
Illinois

Klan groups based in state: 1

(Photo by Tim Boyle/Newsmakers)
Florida

Klan groups based in state: 1

(Photo via REUTERS/Chris Keane)

West Virginia

Klan groups based in state: 2

(Photo by Chet Strange/Getty Images)

Virginia

Klan groups based in state: 2

(Photo via REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
North Carolina

Klan groups based in state: 2

(Photo by NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Missouri

Klan groups based in state: 2

(Photo via REUTERS/Heikki Ahonen/Lehtikuva)
Maryland

Klan groups based in state: 2

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Georgia

Klan groups based in state: 2

(Photo by Getty Images)
Arkansas

Klan groups based in state: 2

(Photo by Greg Smith/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Texas

Klan groups based in state: 3

(Photo by Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Sygma via Getty Images)

Tennessee

Klan groups based in state: 3

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Kentucky

Klan groups based in state: 3

(Photo via REUTERS/Chris Keane)

Alabama

Klan groups based in state: 4

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Mississippi

Klan groups based in state: 5

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
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"It's not lost on us. We recognize immediately the things that are said as 'dog whistles' speak clearly to the people in the [white supremacist] movement."

These days, Picciolini leads Life After Hate, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping neo-Nazis, white supremacists, KKK members, and other far right activists leave their organizations and their hateful ideologies. The organization has seen a flood of donations since the events in Charlottesville, Picciolini said.

Picciolini further said that Trump's statements and stances throughout the 2016 campaign, and now as president, have "absolutely emboldened" white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups because, in many cases, they have mirrored what those groups outwardly advocate.

"If we had a president 30 years ago who said what Donald Trump has said, we would have rejoiced," said Picciolini, specifically pointing to Trump's harsh anti-immigration rhetoric and policies and his infamous "Muslim ban."

Picciolini likened Trump's statements and actions to a "bucket of gasoline" dumped on the sparks and fire of racism that have long existed in the US.

"It's pretty clear that the perfect storm in this recipe for disaster is happening right now," he said.

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