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LGBTQ Nation: White supremacist takes MDMA & finds “connection” that changes his life


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In 2017, Brendan (who uses his first name only for privacy reasons), was on a trajectory shared with many young men in their 20s and radicalized by the racist rhetoric of the former president of the United States, Donald Trump.

That year, Brendan attended the infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA.


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He’d joined the white supremacist organization Identity Evropa to connect with like-minded racists and moved quickly up the ranks.

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Soon he was planning the group’s activities in his native Illinois and the entire Midwest. He coordinated with other racist and antisemitic organizations around the U.S. and Europe, where he visited the birthplaces of modern fascism.

But three years later, the floor fell out from Brendan’s ideological foundation as he and dozens of other operatives at Identity Evropa were doxxed by an anti-fascist group.

He was fired from his job and pushed away by family and friends.

Brendan was revealed to be a white nationalist, actively preparing for war between the races.

That’s when he was dosed with MDMA.

He was unemployed and “still in the denial stage,” Brendan told Rachel Nuwer, the author of I Feel Love: MDMA and the Quest for Connection in a Fractured World, when he enrolled in a drug study at the University of Chicago.

It was something to do, he said. And it changed his life.

The study was an experiment to see if MDMA increased the pleasure of social touch. About 30 minutes after taking 110mg of the drug in pill form, Brendan says he started to feel strange.

“Wait a second – why am I doing this? Why am I thinking this way?” he began to wonder. “Why did I ever think it was okay to jeopardize relationships with just about everyone in my life?”

Lying in an MRI, Brendan felt a tickling sensation as a coordinator started stroking his forearm with a brush.  

“I noticed it was making me happier – the experience of the touch,” Brendan said. “I started progressively rating it higher and higher.”

That’s when one word rushed through his body and blossomed in his head: “Connection.”

“This is stuff you can’t really put into words, but it was so profound,” Brendan said. “I conceived of my relationships with other people not as distinct boundaries with distinct entities, but more as we-are-all-one. I realized I’d been fixated on stuff that doesn’t really matter, and is just so messed up, and that I’d been totally missing the point. I hadn’t been soaking up the joy that life has to offer.”

That night, Brendan reached out to the Identity Evropa mole responsible for revealing his identity to make amends. He started therapy, began meditating, and plunged into a list of self-help books. He even enrolled with a diversity, equity, and inclusion coach.

According to the authors of a case study about Brendan’s experience, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, conversions like his are rare, but worth examining for their potential to “influence a person’s values and priorities.”

If “extremist views [are] fueled by fear, anger, and cognitive biases,” the researchers ask, “might these be targets of pharmacological intervention?”

Based on his own experience with extremism, Brendan thinks a drug like MDMA alone won’t end anybody’s obsession with white nationalism or other like-minded ideologies.

But it can be a start.

“It helped me see things in a different way that no amount of therapy or antiracist literature ever would have done,” he said. “I really think it was a breakthrough experience.”

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