Former white nationalist explains how he was deprogrammed — and how America is unprepared to stop hate online
White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the "alt-right" march in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017 GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File

On Monday, NBC News profiled Mak Kapetanovic, a former white nationalist who was radicalized by extremist ideology online — but who managed to shake himself out of it and get his life back on track.

Kapetanovic, who lives in Jacksonville, Florida, explained that he was isolated and depressed, having lost his mother at 16 and studying at a magnet school far from his home where he didn't know anyone. Without human contact, he turned to the internet to study his heritage and identity, only for online algorithms to push him toward message boards and sites with increasingly extremist content.

"There was a lot of just casual racism," he said, adding that every new radical site he found pointed him to another, more radical one. Before long, he had adopted a number of racist and white supremacist beliefs, including some against his own Muslim heritage.

His awakening came, he said, when he started actually reading the technical documents these white nationalist communities relied on, and discovering they didn't prove any of what he was being told they did. "Just insane methodological errors. No serious person would consider this sound science. And, of course, all these things are omitted when they're spoken by white nationalists to other people." Disillusioned, he learned to trust only reliable sources and walked away from the white-hot hate he was being indoctrinated with.

Though Kapetanovic managed to escape, his story shows that the United States does not understand the full scope of the problem. On YouTube, he said, "You can go in five clicks from doing your homework to white supremacist videos." And these ideologies kill — tragedies from the New Zealand mosque shooting to the El Paso Walmart massacre were committed by young men shaped by these same beliefs.