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Childhood Abuse, Military Service, and White Supremacism

ICSVE Panel Discussion featuring

Sean Gillespie, Former National Guardsman, Former Member of the Aryan Nations

Jeff Schoep, Beyond Barriers


 Anne Speckhard, Director ICSVE as Discussion Moderator

The event was held at 11am on April 28, 2021, on Zoom.

Questions abound over extremism, specifically white supremacism, in the military, with recent stand-down days mandated by the Secretary of Defense to raising awareness and rooting out violent extremism. It is increasingly apparent, however, that the problem is complex and requires complex solutions. One part of the problem is how to deal with violent extremist servicemembers when they are identified. Should they be dishonorably discharged, thus removing them from the military but sending them out into the community, possibly weapons trained, feeling betrayed and embittered? Is there a responsibility to treat violent extremists as one would treat someone with a substance abuse disorder, PTSD or suicidality, with the risk of possibly leaving servicemembers of color or targeted religious groups feeling threatened, if not undervalued? These questions must be addressed if the United States is to effectively reduce extremism in the military and in our society.

Sean Gillespie, who was sexually abused as a child, joined the Army National Guard while already a member of the Aryan Nations. Even after being arrested for protesting a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade while wearing a swastika, he was still sent to basic training. Sean was kicked out of the National Guard after six months but rejoined a year later. He was kicked out once again for refusing to renounce his beliefs. Shortly thereafter, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison for firebombing an Oklahoma City synagogue, along with several other hate crimes. Sean has since been released from prison and no longer adheres to his white supremacist ideology. He believes he should have been dishonorably discharged far earlier than he was, but should the National Guard have done more to reform or rehabilitate him?

On April 28th, 2021, ICSVE director Dr. Anne Speckhard and Sean Gillespie discussed childhood abuse, military service, and white supremacism.

Dr. Anne Speckhard is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has interviewed over 700 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In the past five years, she has in-depth psychologically interviewed over 250 ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners  as well as 16 al Shabaab cadres (and also interviewed their family members as well as ideologues) studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, their experiences inside ISIS (and al Shabaab), as well as developing the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project materials from these interviews which includes over 250 short counter narrative videos of terrorists denouncing their groups as un-Islamic, corrupt and brutal which have been used in over 150 Facebook and Instagram campaigns globally.  Since 2020 she has also launched the ICSVE Escape Hate Counter Narrative Project interviewing 25 white supremacists and members of hate groups developing counternarratives from their interviews as well. She has also been training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals, both locally and internationally, on the psychology of terrorism, the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE as well as studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS.  Dr. Speckhard has given consultations and police trainings to U.S., German, UK, Dutch, Austrian, Swiss, Belgian, Danish, Iraqi, Jordanian and Thai national police and security officials, among others, as well as trainings to elite hostage negotiation teams. She also consults to foreign governments on issues of terrorist prevention and interventions and repatriation and rehabilitation of ISIS foreign fighters, wives and children. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles. She is a sought-after counterterrorism expert and has consulted to NATO, OSCE, the EU Commission and EU Parliament, European and other foreign governments and to the U.S. Senate & House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, CIA, and FBI and appeared on CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, CBC and in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, London Times and many other publications. She regularly writes a column for Homeland Security Today and speaks and publishes on the topics of the psychology of radicalization and terrorism and is the author of several books, including Talking to TerroristsBride of ISISUndercover Jihadi and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Her research has also been published in Global Security: Health, Science and PolicyBehavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political AggressionJournal of African Security, Journal of Strategic Security, the Journal of Human SecurityBidhaan: An International Journal of Somali StudiesJournal for Deradicalization, Perspectives on Terrorism and the International Studies Journal to name a few.  Her academic publications are found here: and on the ICSVE website  Follow @AnneSpeckhard

This is the seventeenth discussion in this series of panels discussing ISIS Foreign Fighters and terrorist rehabilitation. The previous panels can be found at the following links:

Issues of ISIS Prisoners & Repatriations in a Time of COVID

Can an ISIS Terrorist be Rehabilitated and Reintegrated into Society?

Can We Repatriate the ISIS Children?

Terrorist Rehabilitation in the Dutch Prison System

Into and Back Out of ISIS: An ISIS Defector Speaks Out

Fighting ISIS Online: An Introduction to Breaking the ISIS Brand

Talking Terrorist Propaganda with a Pro

Terrorism Prevention, Intervention, and Rehabilitation with Juveniles

Community-Focused Interventions Against Terrorism

Are We Losing a Valuable Feminist Project in the Middle East?

Rescue Me: A Conversation with the Yamout Sisters re Prison Rehabilitation

ICSVE and Parallel Networks Team Up to Fight Violent Extremism

The Journey Back – Turning Away from Extremism and the Road to Hope and Healing

Asking Incels: An Insiders Account of the Involuntary Celibate Community

Understanding Q-Anon

Professor Arie Kruglanski and the Three Pillars of Radicalization

Chat Log:

10:54:58 From Ibitoye Olukosi to Everyone : Hello Professor Anne… I planned to mail you. Nigeria is currently under the terrible siege of Boko Haram and Bandits. 

10:56:59 From Rogelio Castro to Everyone : Hello everyone

10:58:45 From Matt Shaw to Everyone : Hello from not so sunny England

10:59:57 From Amanda to Everyone : Hi everyone from Australia ?

11:01:27 From Michael Haines to Everyone : Hi jeff how you doing

11:01:58 From TM Garret to Everyone : hello to everyone

11:02:15 From Daniel S to Everyone : RCMP Cst. Daniel STURGIS – Hello from Canada.

11:02:44 From ICSVE – Molly Ellenberg to Everyone : You can watch all of our past events here:

11:04:25 From Vladimir Kačanovski to Everyone : Hello to everyone from Serbia-Valjevo, 

Vladimir Kacanovski – NGO Salvos,

11:05:08 From Stacey Meyer to Everyone : Hello everyone! From Minneapolis, MN.

11:05:18 From Julia Jones to Everyone : Hello to everyone from Blackpool, England

11:05:43 From Shahu Maldives to Everyone : Hello from the Maldives

11:06:06 From Michael Haines to Everyone : Scotland here

11:06:07 From Besir Wrayet to Everyone : Hello from Istanbul Turkey

11:06:26 From ICSVE – Molly Ellenberg to Everyone : This is ICSVE’s YouTube channel:

You can also view the counter narratives and read about the project here:

11:07:07 From ICSVE – Molly Ellenberg to Everyone : You can find the UN Women training manual here:

11:07:26 From ICSVE – Molly Ellenberg to Everyone : You can read all of our research and brief reports here: and here:

11:18:40 From Michael Haines to Everyone : Wow Sean what a story well done mate

11:18:43 From Harjit Sandhu to Everyone : Sean, you prove that:

11:19:28 From Michael Haines to Everyone : Turning the back on hate is a hard road

11:19:28 From Harjit Sandhu to Everyone : “Every saint has a past and every criminal has a future.”

11:19:53 From David Ruhm to Everyone : I’d love to know more about Sean’s turning point.

Anne Speckhard after the event: Sean didn’t have time to go into everything, but he got disgusted with the criminals espousing white supremacism in the prisons who were drug addicted, interested in money, not serving the cause or loyal to one another.  And in solitary confinement he started reading, watching movies, and exposed to many other ideas.  Finally he got into psychological treatment for suicidality and ultimately was put in a mixed prison group where he befriended other races.

11:19:55 From Michael Haines to Everyone : well said @Harjit

11:20:27 From Julia Jones to Everyone : Hi Sean, Thank you for that.  I am interested in asking – Why white power over anything else?  How did you choose the groups you did?

Anne Speckhard after the event: Sean did not have time to explain in detail but after being disappointed by the authorities who did nothing when the sexual abuse was reported he learned about Aryan Nations and travelled to them.  There they convinced him that he should be a proud Aryan man, reject other races and they channeled his hurt and anger to Jews and other races.  They became his primary attachment figures and offered him an identity he clung to.

11:20:52 From Stacey Meyer to Everyone : So proud of you for coming out the other side of this. I think, as a species, we vastly underestimate the profound damage of childhood sexual abuse. I’ve seen it so many times. That particular trauma is so very damaging. And I totally agree with you that hate is a drug. As a survivor myself and a person in recovery, I see these connections too.

Anne Speckhard after the event: Thank you Stacey.  It’s a hidden trauma and it’s easy to tap into that pain and channel the rage over being hurt and betrayed.  

11:25:13 From Julia Jones to Everyone : Do you feel you were ‘recruited’ or were you looking for recruitment?

11:26:22 From Julia Jones to Everyone : Did you know you were radicalised?

11:26:25 From Dr. Daniel S Brown to Everyone : Sean, as powerful as you story is now (and it IS POWERFUL), your future story will help so many others. Know that your story is valuable, but more importantly you are appreciated and valued.

Anne Speckhard after the event: You can share Sean’s video from our Escape Hate videos and please do!  

11:28:24 From Julia Jones to Everyone : So do you think that you were looking for structure?

11:28:32 From Daniel S to Everyone : Were skinheads/Aryan race your support network that you kept returning to?

11:29:36 From p.brouwer to Everyone : So that was the family that you never had as a child growing up.

11:30:28 From Darius Naderpour to Everyone : It sounds like some people are looking for a place to fit in, due to various reasons in their lives, and they find acceptance within these groups. If you look at those groups like a pyramid, do you feel that the people next to you were there for the same reasons, or were peoples reasons vastly different ?  And the people at the “top”, or the leaders of these hate groups, do you think it’s a pure belief that their cause is legitimate, or do you think they get addicted to the power and knowingly do “bad” things to stay at the top and enjoy the “power” or status of being in charge?

Anne Speckhard after the event: This is an important question.  Leaders and instigators often have very different reasons for joining and staying, some because they love the power.

11:30:48 From Victoria Gurevich to Everyone : Thank you for telling your story. You mentioned that you abandoned the ideology on your own, do you think there was anything anyone else could have done to bring you to this decision sooner? A deradicalization program, for example? 

11:31:29 From Rogelio Castro to Everyone : Thank you so much for being open to be part of this and telling your story. I do have a question, which element of their ideology was the most relevant to your identity as member of the Aryan nations?

Anne Speckhard after the event: As Sean explained he was told that it was enough to be an Aryan Man, that he should be proud.  This was a very strong antidote to the shame from his mother’s abandonment and the sexual abuse.  Likewise it gave him someone to blame and funneled his rage.  These elements were so powerful other things didn’t have the same strength to compete even when they offered him “family”, belonging, purpose, etc.

11:32:51 From David Ruhm to Everyone : Did you need conflict?

11:33:02 From Stacey Meyer to Everyone : It definitely seems similar to drug or food addiction or even religious extremism in that it is a coping mechanism. That belonging, that comfort. And then it all goes sideways.

11:33:15 From Professor Darer to Everyone : I think you have a really powerful story, and as a fellow survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I thank you for sharing it. My question is that you keep referring to the $250 of physical damage you did to Bnei Israel, and I find that very jarring.  As a Jewish person myself, whose synagogue had to implement active shooter training before the High Holidays in 2019, there’s a profound psychological damage from things like firebombing synagogues – because that’s how it started in Germany.

Anne Speckhard after the event: Sean addresses this later on.  It’s important to put his comment about the small amount of damage into the context of he was given a very harsh sentence that after many years was reversed.  He does understand and did offer to make amends, even give a kidney to someone from the synagogue in need of one.

11:34:36 From Amanda to Everyone : Thank you *so much Sean* for your courage & confronting description of the damaged psychological processes of child abuse survivors. This is from Dr Judith Herman, “Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror” (she uses female pronouns as a feminist principle but her research & compassion applies to all survivors):

“The child entrapped in this kind of horror develops the belief that she is somehow responsible for the crimes of her abusers. Simply by virtue of her existence on earth, she believes that she has driven the most powerful people in her world to do terrible things. Surely, then, her nature must be thoroughly evil. The language of the self becomes a language of abomination. Survivors routinely describe themselves as outside the compact of ordinary human relations, as supernatural creatures or nonhuman life forms. They think of themselves as witches, vampires, whores, dogs, rats, or snakes. Some use the imagery of excrement or filth to describe their…

11:35:12 From Stacey Meyer to Everyone : In Mpls in the 90’s the punk rock scene here included a group called the Baldies and they were anti racists skinheads and we used to do anti-fascist type of stuff way back then.

11:35:25 From Amanda to Everyone : Some use the imagery of excrement or filth to describe their inner sense of self. In the words of an incest survivor: “I am filled with black slime. If I open my mouth it will pour out. I think of myself as the sewer silt that a snake would breed upon.” 

By developing a contaminated, stigmatized identity, the child victim takes the evil of the abuser into herself and thereby preserves her primary attachments to her parents. Because the inner sense of badness preserves a relationship, it is not readily given up even after the abuse has stopped; rather, it becomes a stable part of the child’s personality structure. Protective workers who intervene in discovered cases of abuse routinely assure child victims that they are not at fault. Just as routinely, the children refuse to be absolved of blame. Similarly, adult survivors who have escaped from the abusive situation continue to view themselves with contempt and to take upon themselves the shame and guilt of their abusers. The profound sense of inner badness…

11:35:39 From David Ruhm to Everyone : What made you even start to question it?

11:36:26 From Amanda to Everyone : …becomes the core around which the abused child’s identity is formed, and it persists into adult life.”

“Although the majority of victims do not become perpetrators, clearly there is a minority who do. Trauma appears to amplify the common gender stereotypes: men with histories of childhood abuse are more likely to take out their aggressions on others, while women are more likely to be victimized by others or to injure themselves. A community study of 200 young men noted that those who had been physically abused in childhood were more likely than others to acknowledge having threatened to hurt someone, having hit someone in a fight, and having engaged in illegal acts.”

11:36:36 From Roger Kluck – Projects for a Civil Society to Everyone : In your psych studies did you encounter the Adverse Childhood Experiences studies? ACEs.

Anne Speckhard after the event: Roger in our sample of 30 there is over representation of subjects who were in white supremacism with multiple ACEs

11:37:17 From Johnny Howorth to Everyone : Thank you for speaking today, Sean – amazingly powerful story.

11:39:29 From Roger Kluck – Projects for a Civil Society to Everyone : “We know from studies that those with ACE scores of four or higher are 20x’s more likely to be incarcerated at some time in their lives compared to the general population. ”

11:39:34 From FRANK to Everyone : Do you have any insights into how common it is for other supremacists to have been abused as a child?

Anne Speckhard after the event: I don’t think anyone has a representative sample of white supremacists but we are finding a lot of abuse in our convenience sample.

11:39:59 From Professor Darer to Everyone : Had you read much outside of school before you started reading in prison?

11:40:20 From Julia Jones to Everyone : Horrible question I know…  Do you think you were looking for excitement, and was de-radicalisation as exciting?

11:40:55 From Professor Darer to Everyone : Literature helps us be in another person’s head – helps create empathy!

11:42:44 From Professor Darer to Everyone : When I was In a psych ward after a suicide attempt, we had 10 people in our therapy group, 8 women and two men. 9 of us had suffered from childhood sexual abuse

11:43:15 From Daniel S to Everyone : I’m not familiar with local laws where you are? Is it too late to follow up with the police now?

11:43:51 From FRANK to Everyone : In many states, the statute of limitations for child abuse has been lifted – there is also the possibility of civil suits. Have you considered this?

11:45:50 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : some here are admitting to carrying the pain of sexual abuse, we all care for you, you are valued, you can heal, just like Sean

11:49:42 From Harjit Sandhu to Everyone : I repeat the questions of Daniel S Brown and Frank. Have you, Sean considered that option now that statutes of limitations are changing all over on child sexual abuse cases.

11:50:21 From Amanda to Everyone : The concept of “relational starvation” is so powerful in this discussion. This article is about domestic violence but can relate to any form of violence:

11:52:32 From Toby Charlton to Everyone : Sex offenders can be excluded on general principle from entry to countries. However information needs to be reported and shared. 

11:52:44 From Stacey Meyer to Everyone : Yes. Jeff Schoep, I so am with you on all of that. That is why I am here.

11:53:27 From Amanda to Everyone : Thanks Jeff as always for sharing your lived experience and invaluable insight.

11:54:05 From Dr. Daniel S Brown to Everyone : Jeff, thank you for all you are doing to (literally and figurately!) save lives.

11:55:32 From p.brouwer to Everyone : Where do the “Oath Takers” fall into all of this unrest?

11:59:23 From Amanda to Everyone : Thanks TM for sharing your painful personal story too. You’re all so brave, compassionate and insightful.

11:59:59 From Ibitoye Olukosi to Everyone : Is tattoo a symbol of violence or terrorism? 

12:00:21 From Zoë (she/her) to Everyone : Have you feared any retaliation or threats from these white power communities after leaving?

12:00:22 From Roger Kluck – Projects for a Civil Society to Everyone : The discussion of broader nonsexual abuse (and neglect) are also precursors for lots of future issues – drug use, violence, incarceration and more.

12:02:24 From Stacey Meyer to Everyone : Oath takers are like, militia, they are just slightly left of the far right, but at this moment, militia members are just as dangerous as accelerationists, in the US anyway.

12:02:57 From TM Garret to Everyone :

12:03:02 From Harjit Sandhu to Everyone : Excellent presentations- Sean, Jeff and TM. All three of you are brave and have exhibited great courage in coming out and not only sharing your painful experiences, but also making your lives more meaningful.

12:03:15 From TM Garret to Everyone :

12:04:08 From Jeff Schoep to Everyone :  &

12:04:45 From TM Garret to Everyone :

12:05:29 From iPhone Dr.Armando to Everyone : Are you aware of any law enforcement members part of or join those types of groups then and now?

12:07:56 From Stacey Meyer to Everyone : Police forces have a big problem from what I understand. The FBI put out a warning 14 years ago warning forces around the US that white supremacists were actively infiltrating and they did not address it. Everything we’ve been witnessing with Trumpism, Jan 6, etc is part of this problem.

12:08:47 From Jenny to Everyone : Dr. Anne…. when are you going to address black Supremacy and categorize BLM as a terrorist organization?

Anne Speckhard after the event: We at ICSVE stick with the U.S. State Department and FBI designations

12:08:59 From Dr. Daniel S Brown to Everyone : To all panelists: I am hearing some allusions to religion or theology in each of your stories. Did religion from your “past life” or from your more recent life play a role in your story? Just curious.

12:09:21 From Alan Frank to Everyone : Are you currently active with any organized spiritual or religious organization?

12:13:43 From TM Garret to Everyone : religion plugged a role for me, same Christian identity… now I’m converting to Islam

12:14:55 From TM Garret to Everyone : judaism not Islam

12:15:08 From TM Garret to Everyone : weird my phone auto corrected this

12:15:22 From TM Garret to Everyone : I’m converting to Judaism

12:15:38 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : it’s a conspiracy TM :)

12:16:36 From Brian Gran to Everyone : Thank you. Have another meeting to prepare.

12:16:40 From TM Garret to Everyone : ?

12:16:47 From David Ruhm to Everyone : TM, are you with an organization?

12:17:12 From Amanda to Everyone : Great work happening around economic factors in crime and violence too:

12:17:20 From TM Garret to Everyone : Yes Https:// is my organization

12:17:37 From Aleyah Glasper to Everyone : When is the next one happening?

12:17:43 From David Ruhm to Everyone : Thank you, very impressive.

12:20:09 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : Next meeting is Wed May 5th

12:20:19 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : Register now!

12:21:07 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : TM runs Change

12:21:13 From Matt Shaw to Everyone : is it in our nature, as humans, to fear what we don’t understand? Brilliant words gentlemen, thanks for hosting Anne.

12:21:17 From Roger Kluck – Projects for a Civil Society to Everyone : A good read

12:21:26 From Alan Frank to Everyone : You deny the other the right to their humanity

12:21:28 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : Jeff runs Beyond Barriers  &

12:21:57 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : you can also see our videos of those who have agreed like Sean, TM and Jeff to talk about their stories in counter narratives at

12:22:47 From David Ruhm to Everyone : All 3 of you are very impressive people. Thank you.

12:22:52 From Johnny Howorth to Everyone : Great discussion, Anne! Thanks for organising.

12:23:12 From Alan Frank to Everyone : Agree, Great Discussion!

12:23:42 From Amanda to Everyone : Excellent research on PTSD from Phoenix Australia

12:24:07 From Esteban to Everyone : Thank you everyone. This was incredible. Thank you for sharing about your experiences.

12:24:35 From Stacey Meyer to Everyone : Yes, there are huge connections between childhood abuse, ptsd, cptsd, addictions of every sort.

12:24:39 From Harjit Sandhu to Everyone : Excellent. Thanks Anne and all the three presenters. It was so interesting that I forgot my fever.

12:24:52 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : Be healthy Harjit!

12:24:55 From Shahu Maldives to Everyone : Thank you for the very informative and thought provoking session!

12:25:12 From Stacey Meyer to Everyone : Thank you everyone! Very cool presentation.

12:25:15 From Harjit Sandhu to Everyone : Thank you Anne.

12:25:15 From Shahu Maldives to Everyone : Thank you all 3 for sharing your stories with us.

12:25:45 From Dr. Daniel S Brown to Everyone : Thank you, Panelists. This has been amazing. Thank you Anne and ICSVE.

12:25:57 From Amanda to Everyone : Thank you so much again Anne, ICSVE, Sean, Jeff, TM and everyone for a difficult but inspiring discussion

12:26:11 From Roger Kluck – Projects for a Civil Society to Everyone : Thanks Anne!

12:26:46 From Besir Wrayet to Everyone : Thank You Everyone!

12:26:48 From Robyn Yorktown she/her to Everyone :  Thank you to all who shared today, this was incredible.  Wishing you all a safe and awesome day! 

12:27:08 From TM Garret to Everyone :

12:27:23 From TM Garret to Everyone : for further questions

12:27:27 From TM Garret to Everyone : Thank you everyone

12:27:45 From Matt Shaw to Everyone : thanks all see you next week

12:28:04 From Dr. Daniel S Brown to Everyone : Amazing event.

Anne Speckhard after the event:  Thanks to all for participating!

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