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
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.
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."
"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.
#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."
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"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 ...