One of the main questions I’ve had in all the recent activities of our homegrown nazis is how can we reach those folks? Can someone who has fallen into the sucking whirlpool of racist hate ever pull themselves out again? Yes they can; it happens all the time. Here are the stories of a few men who changed.
My Life After Hate by Arno Michaelis
Like many reformed nazis, Michaelis began questioning the white supremacist narrative partly from his higher education, but mostly when he became a father. Watching his daughter play with other children – of whatever ethnicity – reawakened his empathy and caused him to reflect on the suffering he had caused others.
Here’s a recent interview with S. Mitra Kalita on CNN.
Skinhead Confessions: From Hate to Hope by TJ Leyden with M. Bridget Cook
Leyden was a star in the white supremacist movement, brilliant, charismatic and influential. Check out this interview from 1998; I had to double-check the date, because the nazi sound bites he talks about are from right now: “They want to take our guns and our free speech”. Sound familiar?
Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead by Christian Picciolini
Picciolini turned the corner at the birth of his first child. The Chicago man noted in his recent NPR interview how recent nazi rhetoric is identical to the kind he used to espouse, but the strategies have changed, as they’ve learned to blend into mainstream society: less shaved heads & tattoos, more suits & law degrees.
Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead: The Frank Meeink Story as Told to Jody M. Roy Ph.D. by Frank Meeink and Jody M. Roy
It took playing football with fellow prison inmates, a mixed, multi-racial group, to start Meeink’s process of questioning the racist ideologies he’d swallowed whole during his youth on the streets of Philadelphia.
Here’s a 2010 interview from NPR.
Hate: My Life in the British Far Right by Matthew Collins
Collins explains how he fell in with neo-nazis in Thatcher’s UK. When his own dad left his family, the only father figures, the only men who paid any attention to him, were the skinheads who created space for him in their gang. After years of working for the British National Front and drunken pub brawls, a bloody, mass assault against a group of women at the local library stopped him in his tracks.
Here’s a great article with Matthew Collins from The Independent.
Führer-Ex: Memoirs of a Former Neo-Nazi by Ingo Hasselbach with Tom Reiss
This book is from Europe in the mid 90s, so it offers a different perspective from the more recent books. What is alarming is the support the nazi movement in Europe received from American groups. Founder of the first neo-nazi group in East Germany, Hasselbach tells a familiar story about a rough home life and the need for belonging.
Here’s the LA Times story from the mid-90s.
None of this is to say we should feel sorry for nazis, the worst of whom will not “look” like nazis. Certainly there is no substitute for all those systemic changes we know need to happen. [Here is our post on systemic injustice from 2016.] Those should be our main focus. That said, the sources of racism are buried in the dark corners of the human heart. I am encouraged from these stories to see that recovery is possible. Those ideologies offer no room for negotiation, but they’re also not terminal to those infected with them.
A few more things to check out:
Here is a PBS collection of interviews with a few of the folks above.
Here is a short piece on a book club in prison.
And a few Vice interviews w/ former neo-nazis.
If you haven’t seen the film Accidental Courtesy, please do. It’s a documentary (now on Netflix) about an African American musician who strikes up friendships with Klan members, many of whom end up leaving the Klan.