On July 4th weekend in 2015 I had the chance to hear Christian Piccolini speak with Matt Chandler about his experience as a leader in the Neo-Nazi movement. Christian shared stories about his upbringing as a young teenage outsider, often outcast because of his Italian descent, looking for a community he could connect with in suburban Chicago. A charismatic older man with a cool sports car took Christian under his wing and brought him into the Neo-Nazi movement. Christian eventually moved up the ranks to positions of leadership within this well known extremist hate group. Christian spoke about opening a music store as an adult and how his connections with customers from all walks of life awakened him to love those who were different from him and eventually leave his role with the Neo-Nazis.
Matt Chandler served as Deputy Chief of Staff for the Homeland Security Agency in the Obama Administration. When Chandler spoke, he addressed many of the technical and tactical strategies the US government uses to combat violent extremists both in the US and abroad. Many of these tactics were oriented around surveillance and often aggressive practices that felt like a mirror of the extremists they target.
During the conversation I felt compelled to raise my hand and ask, ‘It seems like we’re putting a lot of resources towards fighting extremist hate with strategies founded on anger and fear. What is the US government doing to create or support groups that are bringing extremist love to the world as a viable alternative to hate for those who feel outcast by mainstream society?’ There was little Matt or Christian had to say and I felt like something had become illuminated in my question, there’s so many extremist hate groups but where are the extremist love groups?
This question stayed with me for some time. As I began to think about new projects I was excited to work on in 2016 I kept coming back to this idea, what about extremist love? What if my purpose is to bring extremist love to the world as an alternative to extremist hate, but even more as a way to empower others who may feel drawn to hate or fear.
As I dug in on this thought I began to consider the meaning of extremist love. What is the ultimate act of love? I realized that if destruction is the result of extremist hate, then creation is an act of extremist love. Our creativity, our art and expression is the ultimate act of love.
The words extremist and love both have strong connotations. For many, love is a feeling reserved for those they keep close. Family, partners, close friends–love isn’t for community, or the world as much as it is for the select few. Perhaps to come into your ‘higher heart’ and love beyond your intimates is an act of extremism unto itself. Many associate love in community with the hippie movement and the ‘free love’ flower children of the 60s. The idea of love in community is reserved for the polyamorous jam band scene.
What if we could reclaim what it means to love? What if love was a muscle we could exercise to bring light to a dark world? What if my purpose, all the incredible privilege and love I was born into and grew up with, was about exercising this love muscle and inspiring others to join me?
I am a very visual person and enjoy graphic arts. It felt natural to start concepting the extremist love brand and build a logo that I could use to spread the message. The heart logo came quickly, it was the perfect balance of love and extremism, something others could connect with and wear on their lapel. As someone who often acts before he thinks, I quickly ordered 100 pins with the extremist love logo. When they arrived I immediately put mine on and started having conversations about it, asking what extremist love meant to others and sharing the pins with people who would wear them and aligned with the picture I painted.
People really connect with the pins. They are a symbol of something special, the possibility of change. I am still discovering what potential this symbol holds as a way to build this movement, and I want it to go far beyond visual iconography. But right now my theory is that creativity and community can become tools to bring love to those who need it most and can combat extremist hate. I am excited to see how this theory plays out as the community grows and we begin to create art together.
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Ethan Lipsitz, the founder of Extremist Love, is a Los Angeles based entrepreneur with a background in urban design, architecture and industrial design. In 2008 he moved to LA to start Apliiq, a custom apparel platform founded on empowering creative entrepreneurship with cut and sewn appliqué streetwear. He is passionate about building products and experiences that exist at the confluence of creativity and community and is currently working on a project that unifies collective singing with modern dance music. Follow Ethan on Instagram @ethanlipsitz