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If you're like most people, your only exposure to modern neo-Nazis is the movie American History X, which means you probably think that white supremacy is all about working out a lot and getting Edward Furlong shot.

Well, I was a high-ranking member of a South Philadelphia skinhead gang. I've seen almost every part of the movement, and while I do hate Edward Furlong (you don't just forgive something like almost ruining Terminator 2), things do look a little different from the inside. And the scariest part is how easy it is to get sucked in.

5
We All Start Out as Scared Kids

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The first thing to understand is that it's not about racism. Yes, hatred of other races is what binds a skinhead gang together, but it could just as easily be something else as long as it binds us. If the skinheads hadn't found me, some other gang would have, and I'd have gone along with whatever they were into. It could have been that gang of mimes from The Warriors.

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If it had been the Boppers, you'd be reading a way different and way more stylish article.

I remember the night I joined. A bunch of local skinheads invited me out to a club and made me feel like part of the group. After we got kicked out (because we were fighting everyone within punching distance), we picked some guy on the street and immediately got in his face. "You got something to say?" one of us asked. "No," he said. And, like any person would be after being surrounded by a bunch of angry-looking kids at night, he was scared. That detail was important to me. I can see his face, clear as day, right now. I can see the fear in his eyes, and I can remember loving it.

Understand that up to that point, I had grown up scared of everything -- but when I was with these other kids, I was a source of fear. This guy was afraid of me. And I loved it.

So no, it had nothing to do with race. I didn't grow up thinking the white race was hot shit; I was taught that I was just normal, room-temperature shit. My stepdad spent most of his time telling me I was so stupid that if I spoke at the dinner table, I'd ruin his appetite. I spent my childhood absolutely terrified of everything: some of the black gangs at my new school, running out of money, clowns ... In short, I was a textbook case for a kid who ends up an addict, ready to fall into any stupid thing that would give me purpose.

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Decoupage, for example.

So, we beat the shit out of that guy outside the club, and afterward one of my new friends told me, "Frank, we gotta cut your fucking hair." And then I was in.

4
Recruitment Is a Bait-and-Switch

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At that point, other people's race was still an afterthought -- I'd never even met a Jew before, let alone developed a deep-seated resentment of their control of Hollywood. It wasn't until I was already in that they explained to me that the reason for everything wrong with my life was other races and Jews, and it suddenly seemed like a good explanation. After all, the only thing I'd ever heard about Jews was my older brother saying "He Jewed me!" after he got ripped off by someone. So it made sense. After all, why would so many people say that if it wasn't true?

And once I started recruiting, I learned that trickery is just how you do it. I don't care how charming you are, if you walk up to random kids and say "Hey, wanna be a Nazi?" they're gonna say "no." They've seen Indiana Jones movies, nobody wants to be those guys. So instead, you pretend it's a positive thing: You can always dress up hatred of minorities as "pride" or "rights" for the majority (the Westboro Baptist Church doesn't hate gays, see, they're just standing up for Christians). So, my skinhead group would go up to kids and say, "Hey, you want to feel good about who you are? Be proud to be a white Irish-American? Then come to our meeting."

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"White Power Bill makes the best gluten-free cupcakes!"

That invitation is going to sound appealing to any aimless kid who's been shit on his whole life and probably has never done or had anything to be proud of since that time he successfully made it out of a womb. Then, once you get them to a meeting, it's always "Look at them. Look at what the blacks are doing, the Mexicans, the Jews. Isn't it disgusting?" We never talked ourselves up, never tried to feel better about ourselves. It was all focused on other people. Probably because the only people we hated more than everyone else was us.

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3
There Are Non-Racist Skinhead Gangs (and We Hate Them)

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And here is where my story starts to get stupid.

I needed money to finance my fistfights and drinking, so I got a job in construction. The guy who employed me wasn't a racist -- in fact, he was a stoner Oprah Winfrey fan, which is pretty much the opposite. In retrospect, my every interaction with him was hilarious: He asked for my Social Security number and I didn't know what that was, so I gave him two phone numbers in a row. He said that was too many numbers.

"How too many?"

"Four too many."

"Well, take two off the front, two off the back," I said. Then I mocked him for smoking pot, because (and I quote) "that shit's destroying the white race."

Meg Roussos/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"Did you know the Chinese have been stockpiling Cheetos? You're creating a munchies gap!"

One night he bought me a pack of beer, and I got drunk and tried to kill myself (again, I was convinced the pot smoker was the one destroying the white race, and I'm the one who ended up in a mental hospital). That night, my skinhead buddies came to bust me out, and I wedged all my furniture against the door to keep the orderlies out while I climbed out the window. The orderlies showed up, and right then I realized the door pulled open, meaning that my barricade accomplished all of jack and shit. "To hell with it," I thought, and I jumped out a fourth floor window.

After I broke out of the hospital, I was on the run, so I immediately started recruiting again, hanging around nerdy high school kids and threatening to beat up their bullies to get them on my side. Eventually I started a cable access show to spread my message, like some kind of Wayne Campbell of hate. Then I found out that a prominent non-racist skinhead had a problem with me, and I knew I had to do something. "Wait, a non-racist skinhead?" you cry, shocked that such a thing can exist. Yup, it's more common than you think. "Skinhead" is an old working-class/punk subculture that was more of a rebellion against hippies than anything else, and even today most people who identify as skinheads aren't racist -- they just think black leather boots and shaved heads are cool. Because they are.

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Just, you know, make sure you don't take it too far.

So I tracked this non-racist kid down, tied him to a chair, and videotaped myself violently beating the shit out of another human being. Then I spread the videotape among my new recruits, because I was convinced it would make me look strong and powerful. Then, surprising me and absolutely no one else, I was arrested at the next recording of Racist's World.

If you're expecting me to say here that getting busted opened my eyes and let me see the error of my ways, well, it didn't work out quite like that ...

2
Somehow, Jail Is Less Racist Than the Outside World

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In prison, they were worried about me getting messed up by non-Nazi inmates, so they stuck me in solitary. And this is where I found God: "Dear God," I'd pray, "please kill all the guards and let me escape." When that didn't happen, I started fasting, because I had it in my head that if I fasted for a week, God would show up and kill everyone and I could leave. I was so confident that when they asked me when I was gonna start eating again, I'd say, "Yeah, I'll start eating on Monday." And I said it in the most ominous way possible, because I figured that by Monday they'd have all been killed by God.

Once I did get out of solitary (without the help of any divine smiting), I started hanging out with Aryan Nation guys ... and playing football with some black gangbangers.

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Though quite a few shankings result from arguments over whether the defender got both hands on the runner.

That probably sounds impossible, but everybody makes exceptions now and then -- what vegetarian hasn't splurged on a cheeseburger? My Aryan friends didn't mind that I was hanging out with the blacks because, well, I was way better at football than I was at not-being-a-thug-racist-dick, and the old white dudes liked seeing me kick their asses. There was no great breakthrough where I suddenly saw how ignorant I was being -- over time I just found I was better friends with the Vice Lords than I was with my white "brothers." When my girlfriend gave birth to my daughter -- probably the greatest moment of my life -- I told my black friends first. I knew my "brothers" would've started talking about how she was gonna lose that pregnancy weight and start banging other guys, and I hated that shit. Their racial purity was overshadowed by the fact that they were dicks.

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Honestly, the haircut should have foreshadowed the dickhead thing.

A while later I got out of prison, and the O.J. Simpson trial happened, and that ended up being my turning point. See, the O.J. Simpson trial got me really interested in DNA, and when I started researching it, I discovered that DNA provides the blueprint for our entire lives, and that at a genetic level there is no significant difference between races -- you can have far greater differences between two members of the same race. Everything I'd ever been taught by the movement was that we were all different, fundamentally, as if we weren't even the same species. But now here's this science -- this real, hard science -- that says that's all bullshit. A collective lie we tell ourselves to unleash our shittiest impulses.

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See also: Westboro Baptist Church vs. gay people.

I didn't leave the skinheads right then, but that was the beginning. The end came when I realized ...

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1
All Racists Make Exceptions, and Some Actually Learn From It

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Now, if you're expecting some corny story where I meet a member of a minority who shows me kindness and changes my life forever ... that's good, because that's what you're going to get.

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And goddammit, you're going to feel moved.

Finding work is tough for any ex-con, but it doesn't get any easier when you have a swastika tattoo on your neck. The only guy who would hire me was, ironically, this incredibly Jewish guy named Keith -- if we made a sitcom about my life, he'd be played by Jerry Stiller. He hired me to move furniture for $100 a day, and after I worked for three days, I was ready for him to screw me over. I remember standing there, just thinking over everything I'd ever learned about how cheap and deceitful Jews were. Then he walked up, counted out the money, looked at me, and said, "You know what? You're a damn good worker, Frank. Have an extra $100."

I was even more pissed than if he'd tried to cheat me. But the worst insult was when he hired me full time. This all made me angry because, frankly, I didn't know how else to react. Kindness was new and scary. Here's an important secret: All us juvey kids grew up thinking we were dumb. I was told I was dumb my whole life, by my stepdad, by the cops, by myself, and it stuck. I believed it, so whenever I'd mess up working with Keith, my first reaction was to say how stupid I was. Until one day I broke this big expensive marble-top table, and I said to Keith, "I'm sorry, man, I'm so stupid, I'm sorry."

And he interrupted me: "Stop saying you're dumb, you fucking idiot."

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"Besides, have you seen that fucking thing? You did them a favor."

Then he started talking about me. He said I worked hard. He said I was reliable. He said I was smart. And I was blown away, because all I could think about was how much I looked up to this guy, how much I wanted to be like him someday -- this old Jewish guy who was everything I'd ever taught myself to hate. I was blown away by this entire speech he gave about how much he respected me -- me -- and then he ended it with: "You know who you remind me of, Frank? You remind me of me."

That's when I knew I was done beating my head against the wall. What you have to understand is that every racist, or anyone who belongs to some kind of hate movement, makes exceptions. Because you make stereotypes about people, and then you meet one, and that one is always the exception: "All women are bitches, except Jessica, she's cool." Or "All black people are n*****s, except Ronny, because I work with Ronny and he is a good guy -- oh yeah, and Maurice, I went to school with him, and he was just like me, too." For a while Keith was my exception. And then he just ... wasn't.

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And that's how you really stop feeling dumb.

The driving power behind these movements is fear: fear of inadequacy, fear of being forgotten, fear of not mattering. And as hard as we tried to scare people, no one was ever more scared than we were. Hate is just repackaged fear, and if you tear away the layers of a hateful person, you'll usually find a scared little kid in there.


For more insider stories, check out 8 Terrifying Life Lessons From a Former Terrorist and 5 Insane Things I Learned About Drugs as an Undercover Agent.

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