20.09.2016 - Education Sector

Kimmie Åhlén - from White Power extremist to youth worker educator

© UNESCO

Kimmie Åhlén is the best man for his job, teaching youth workers how to interact with young people vulnerable to being influenced by violent extremism.

That’s because when he was just 12 he joined the Swedish White Power movement and became a leading figure in the Nationalsocialistisk Front for nine years.

Now he works with the Brottsförebyggande Centrum (Crime Prevention Centre) in Värmland, Sweden sharing his unique experience and knowledge about extremist groups and what attracts young people to them, to develop the preventive work of youth workers, politicians and other officials.

Mr Åhlén was an invited speaker at the UNESCO-MGIEP Preventing Violent Extremism through Education conference held in New Delhi from September 19 – 20 where he shared his knowledge at a session entitled Paths to radicalization and drivers of violent extremism.

Critical role of school and parents

He spoke to UNESCO of his startling life-change and the crucial role of school, parents and open communication to prevent violent extremism.

“I grew up in a small village of 3000 people with one factory everyone depended on for work. Very traditional. Very high unemployment. You could say it was a typical poor small town but burning with frustration and anger. My father was a racist who hated immigrants, gay people, anyone different. From the first time I can remember he would speak to me about immigrants as rapist and thieves and murderers. I was six years old. I believed him.”

While in junior school he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder which made him the target of relentless bullying.

“I had no friends, no identity, no belief system. I turned in on myself and my fantasies,” he said.

All that changed when he discovered a discarded CD and began to listen to the music of the ‘Viking rock’ band Ultima Thule, who have been associated with a White Power following.

“The lyrics told me I was a Viking and I was descended from Kings and Gods. I started to feel included for the first time. I had an alternative identity, I believed I was a patriot. Also the skinheads were the cool popular guys with shaved heads and bomber jackets. I wanted to be cool and popular as well.”

At 12 years old his life began to spiral out of control when he became a skinhead and began to drink heavily.  When a close friend killed himself he further blocked out his feelings with drugs and crime.

While undergoing rehabilitation in 2010 a friend suggested he learned to box as a way to deal with his anger.

The right teacher at the right time could have changed everything

“The gym was full of immigrants and I was paired with an Iranian guy. I said I didn’t want him as a partner but in the end I started to learn to box with him. He would talk to me about his wife and kids, about leaving Iran and coming to Sweden. He would tell me details about his kids – their favourite colours. He never stopped talking! Then I started to talk as well and we soon became friends and I realised that my father was wrong. This immigrant wasn’t a rapist or a murderer or a thief. He wanted a good life with his family and friends which is exactly what I wanted.”

He decided to put his experience to use as a trainer of youth workers who work with young people exactly like he used to be.

He is convinced that if there had been a teacher to talk to, to make him reflect on his ideas, to build his critical thinking, he might have not have taken the extremist path.

“We need to talk to each other about subjects like the Holocaust and those who deny it, about homophobia,” he said. “Let people meet each other, let a Swedish Nazi meet a Somalian refugee. Listen to him or her. Afterwards it is not so easy to maintain your racism.”

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