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Scott Shepard was in the Ku Klux Klan for 19 years and admits to encouraging violent attacks and acts of terror against people of color and the government.

Today, he says he's reformed.

Shepard is the focus of a short documentary by Independent Lens that profiles his journey toward an eventual harsh rebuke of the KKK and how his family — particularly the black woman who helped raise him — responded to his violent turn and eventual change of heart.


The film may even help prevent another tragedy, revealing the specific — and totally ordinary — reasons Shepard was radicalized, how he radicalized others, and what he'd say now to teens and other people feeling desperate to belong.

Like a lot of KKK members, Shepard says he joined because he felt isolated. He just didn't fit in anywhere.

Growing up in Indianola, he says he was  an "angry child" who was drawn to other violent or extremist groups like the Italian mafia and the Irish Republican Army.

"I could've very well gotten involved with ISIS," he said in the film. "I was just looking for a place to fit in, to fill a void within myself."

When Shepard went to a rally in Tupelo, Mississippi, it changed his life.

There, he met with KKK members and leaders, and he finally felt he fit in somewhere. He officially joined at 16 or 17 years old in the mid-1970s.

All GIFs via PBS/Independent Lens.

Shepard quickly ascended the ranks of the KKK as a spokesman for the group and a successful recruiter.

He admits the playbook for recruiting new members never changed: It's as easy as offering angry, confused young people a place to belong. For many, that's all it took.

It's hard not to imagine what those kids' lives would have been like if a teacher, coach, faith leader, or another trusted adult got to them first.

Shepard's path toward redemption began when he was in rehab for alcoholism.

"I was forced to sit down with these people, and we shared life stories and intimate conversations," he said.

Building meaningful relationships with people from different backgrounds helped Shepard get on the path to atonement. After some soul searching, he walked away from the KKK in 1992.

Now, Shepard is doing his part to change himself and keep other teens from following a dangerous path.

He shares his story widely, speaking out against racism on TV and at numerous public appearances. His Twitter handle is even @reformedracist.

The advice Shepard gives to young people considering joining an extremist group is simple but powerful.

Though he wishes he'd gotten it many years ago, it's never too late to share with someone else at risk of being radicalized by extremists.

"First off, I'd tell you to find someone you trusted. And if they have problems with their parents, don't go to your parents. Go to someone you trust and talk to them about your feelings. They've gotta open up early. They can't take these feelings and hold 'em in ... for the rest of their life."

Shepard embraces Rebecca Hawkins, the black woman who helped raise him.

A breastfeeding mother's experience at Vienna's Schoenbrunn Zoo is touching people's hearts—but not without a fair amount of controversy.

Gemma Copeland shared her story on Facebook, which was then picked up by the Facebook page Boobie Babies. Photos show the mom breastfeeding her baby next to the window of the zoo's orangutan habitat, with a female orangutan sitting close to the glass, gazing at them.

"Today I got feeding support from the most unlikely of places, the most surreal moment of my life that had me in tears," Copeland wrote.

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RumorGuard by The News Literacy Project.

The 2016 election was a watershed moment when misinformation online became a serious problem and had enormous consequences. Even though social media sites have tried to slow the spread of misleading information, it doesn’t show any signs of letting up.

A NewsGuard report from 2020 found that engagement with unreliable sites between 2019 and 2020 doubled over that time period. But we don’t need studies to show that misinformation is a huge problem. The fact that COVID-19 misinformation was such a hindrance to stopping the virus and one-third of American voters believe that the 2020 election was stolen is proof enough.

What’s worse is that according to Pew Research, only 26% of American adults are able to distinguish between fact and opinion.

To help teach Americans how to discern real news from fake news, The News Literacy Project has created a new website called RumorGuard that debunks questionable news stories and teaches people how to become more news literate.

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Family

A mom describes her tween son's brain. It's a must-read for all parents.

"Sometimes I just feel really angry and I don’t know why."

This story originally appeared on 1.05.19


It started with a simple, sincere question from a mother of an 11-year-old boy.

An anonymous mother posted a question to Quora, a website where people can ask questions and other people can answer them. This mother wrote:

How do I tell my wonderful 11 year old son, (in a way that won't tear him down), that the way he has started talking to me (disrespectfully) makes me not want to be around him (I've already told him the bad attitude is unacceptable)?

It's a familiar scenario for those of us who have raised kids into the teen years. Our sweet, snuggly little kids turn into moody middle schoolers seemingly overnight, and sometimes we're left reeling trying to figure out how to handle their sensitive-yet-insensitive selves.


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