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Saturday, 7 January 2012

Life After Hate - A Former Skinhead Speaks

Earlier this year Arno Michaels, an ex-skinhead, founder of the website Lifeafterhate.org, and author of the book “My Life After Hate”, explained how he abandoned his old life and talked about how skinheads justified targeting homosexuals, Jews, blacks, and anyone else . Originally published in the Wisconsin Gazette, parts of it where excerpted on the website Queerty. Needless to say, it got a response.
My experience with ex-skinheads has been limited to watching American History X, and a brief conversation a long time ago, at a house party in Florida, with one who after getting a SS tattoo decided it was stupid and time to get out. Reading the responses to Arno Michaels’ interview bought up all types of issues of forgiveness, gay skinheads, skepticism, etc. So many issues were bought up that I struggle writing this, cause I don’t even know where to begin. The best place to start I figure would be with Arno Michaels, the catalyst and cause of conversation.

After reading his autobiography “My Life After Hate”, to describe Arno Michaels when he was a young skinhead as a feral drunk would not be adequate enough. For someone whose descent into hate is a harrowing experience, he comes across a bit like the Lord Byron of Skinheads: mad, bad, and dangerous to know.
Quite a few passages describe violent encounters, from facing off against angry protesters at a rally where he knocks out some one’s teeth with a metal shield, to an encounter at a party where he brutally beats a hippie partygoer unconscious after a unsuccessful attempt to stand up to his crew of skinheads. The subsequent visit to the hospital to obtain stitches for a head injury that left his skull exposed is also detailed. But what makes this more than a record of gladiatorial combat in the name of saving the white race is the many unexpected aspects of his life.
No one expects a tattooed racist thug to also be a big Dungeons and Dragon fans, or that somebody who used to be a break-dancer and big-time Beastie Boys fan would eventually become a member of Centurion, one of the biggest racist bands of the 1990′s. Having to think about a hostile, violent menace in a very human way is not something new to anyone who is a minority. It’s a reminder that people who you struggle with are human too. This fact of humanity haunts Arno Michaels in certain encounters, such as when skinhead compatriots of his sliced up the face of a homeless black man, and eventually helps change his racist ways, like when he watched his young daughter playing with classmates of different races.
Not highlighted, but most likely self-evident to the author in retrospect, and very apparent to readers, is some of the ridiculous behavior that was expected of him and his fellow skinheads. Swearing off watching Seinfeld, because of the shows many notable Jewish characters and actors was one of them. This and many other behaviors separated him and other skinheads into an insular close-minded society.
A important part of this environment was the rampant encouraged drinking, which aided Arno Michaels’ alcohol abuse.
Violence and alcoholism kept him and others in as frenzied, drunk, and violent a state as possible, in the name of keeping white folks pure and prepared for a grand race war that Arno and other skinheads, imagined themselves the frontline for.
I’ve never known any environment like this (even minus the racist ideologies and motivations) to not have tragic consequences, and Arno’s story isn’t an exception. One of his tragedies was a young friend of his who he introduced to the skinhead life style being shoot and killed in a streetfight.

Arno Michaels has a clear eye in retrospect in describing many aspects of his former life. One aspect he describes is the motivation of racial superiority, how despite his low social status, poverty, and alcohol abuse he was able to hold on to the “better than thou” attitude towards non-whites:
“If you’re going on a premise that the white race is something special and that it needs to be saved from ‘non-whites’, you need to be able to justify the hows and whys of that—namely the whys. Why your people are superior to their people. Never mind that your way of life is almost indistinguishable from theirs. Never mind that you’re a raging alcoholic and that you work a shitty minimum-wage job and that you go around and start fights with honest people on the street. That’s all really beside the point, because you are ‘fighting for your race’, and your race is something worth saving because pretty much anything worth anything was, according to us, invented by white people.”
Now there is no such thing as a unchallenged premise and “My Life after Hate.” is no exception. There were quite a few contentious commenters on Queerty who were skeptical of Arno Michaels’ transformation and refutation of his old life, and I doubt his former compatriots from the white power movement would be happy with his decisions. Being morbidly curious, I checked out the reaction on Stormfront.org, the most popular white supremacy site on the Internet, for their enlightened reaction.
Some of the Folks you would encounter on Stormfront:



Being the enlightened and tolerant types, some of their reactions to Arno Michael’s rejection of a shared racist ideal with them include:
Accusations of being a “Secret Jew”:
This guy probably found out he had Jewish heritage, because I have observed quite a number of Jews with the surname ‘Michaels’ or ‘Michael.’
And false equivalence:
You know what’s funny, even if his story is true and he saw his kid playing with a non-white in pre school, how come we never hear stories about how the black kid now thinks differently about skinheads after playing with one of their kids?
It’s always the same, “Blah blah blah I got trapped in an elevator with a black guy for 10 minutes and realized I didn’t want to kill him anymore…”

If meeting a nice, well educated black person is supposed to “change my thinking” about all black people, how come meeting a nice, well educated racist doesn’t change black peoples’ thinking about us? (Where to even begin to reply to this one…….)
I first encountered this post on was on Queerty, a news site dedicated to gay news, as Arno was was discussing the skinhead attitude towards gays. The reaction to his article was interesting to say the least. But one of the most interesting things I encountered was finding out in the very first comment about Nicky Crane, a figure in Britain’s White Power movement who also happened to be gay…

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