A former member of Identity Evropa took the drug as part of a study and subsequently realised that racism was wrong
A leading US white nationalist says he renounced his racist views after he took MDMA as part of a scientific study.
The man – known only by his first name, Brendan – took the psychoactive drug as part of a study in February 2020 which sought to investigate whether the drug could increase the “pleasantness of human touch”. After taking part in the trial, he told researchers: “This experience has helped me sort out a debilitating personal issue. Google my name. I now know what I need to do.”
Researchers were concerned when they looked up Brendan and saw that he had been the leader of the US Midwest faction of Identity Evropa, a white nationalist group, and that he had attended the violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017, where one woman was killed after a protester drove his car into a crowd of people. Brendan had also been sacked from his job in December 2019 after activists at Chicago Antifascist Action had exposed Brendan's identity and his racist views came to light.
Concerned, researchers then reached out to Brendan to ask him some follow-up questions, where he revealed that taking MDMA soon after losing his job had made him question his decisions and realise that his life was missing connection. He explained to the BBC that 30 minutes after taking the MDMA pill, he began asking himself, “why am I doing this? Why am I thinking this way? Why did I ever think it was okay to jeopardise relationships with just about everyone in my life?”, and realised that “love is the most important thing” and that “nothing matters without love.”
Brendan’s case suggests that MDMA has the potential to “influence a person’s values and priorities” and researchers hypothesised that if extremist views are fueled by fear, anger and cognitive biases, they could potentially be treated with drugs.
Since the study, Brendan is trying to make changes for the better and has enrolled in therapy and started meditating. “There are moments when I have racist or antisemitic thoughts, definitely,” he told the BBC. “But now I can recognise that those kinds of thought patterns are harming me more than anyone else.”
In recent years researchers have turned their attention to psychoactive drugs like MDMA, which trigger feelings of empathy and sociability, to assess whether they can be used therapeutically to treat mental and physical illness. Of course, this case is an isolated one and it would be reductive to suggest that ‘MDMA can solve racism’, but perhaps Brendan’s experience means that psychoactive drugs have a role to play as therapeutic tools which can help individuals rediscover compassion and empathy.