White supremacy groups want to keep their members. They might appear to be a place to meet like-minded people; a place to socialise and meet friends. But if you changed your mind, would you be free to leave the group and what happens when people try to leave white supremacy?
When Uwe Luthardt, a senior member of the German neo-Nazi NPD, decided he wanted to leave the white supremacist group he’d joined, he was told that he wasn’t free to just walk away:
The local party leader threatened me. He said a board member doesn’t quit the party, he’s either thrown out or disappears… Someone who just quits usually gets a lot of problems, and can find himself waking up in intensive care.
After the Oklahoma bombing, in which 168 people were killed, Angela King decided that she no longer wanted to be part of a violent movement.
I wanted something different… so I made that half-hearted attempt, I didn’t call my skinhead friends or my racist friends, I didn’t go to the places that we hung out. And those friends that I thought I had, they answered my withdrawal with bullet holes in the building I lived in, the car I drove, subtle threats against my family. I did not have the courage to walk away at that point in my life, at 20 years old.
Despite these threats and violence many people have found the courage to leave the white supremacy movement. Their stories give an insight into what it’s really like to be involved in white supremacist groups, and why they decided to get out.
The movement didn’t live up to the ideals it preached
Robert Orell, a former member of a Swedish neo-Nazi group, started to question the movement he’d joined after he saw that they failed to live up to their own standards, and had no hope of succeeding in their aims.
We say we’re the elite and my comrades couldn’t really live up to that…I saw a lot of double standards…but also the feeling of being tired, we knew very well we’d never seize power, we knew we were far away from achieving our goals.
Uwe Luthardt saw similar problems in the German neo-Nazi movement.
They usually just boozed or were abusive. If there’s no opponent around, they just fight among themselves…Many … have an IQ close to my shoe size. Most of them are simply failures: failed pupils, people who dropped out of school or their apprenticeships, alcoholics that can’t find a foothold anywhere else, thugs.
After being involved in the US neo-Nazi movement for a number of years, Bryon Widner came to realise that their claim that they belong to a master race just didn’t hold up:
As a skinhead in my early years my thinking was very much the white race is the master race. After my first decade I didn’t really see it that way anymore ‘cause I just knew so many white people who were scumbags that I couldn’t say ok every white person is somewhat superior to every black person, you know I’m seeing the complete opposite, and I realised the only thing I really achieved in my life was a bunch of scars, a legal record, and half-way cirrhosis of the liver. That’s it – I’ve achieved nothing else in life, nothing positive.
Matthew Collins, a former member of the far-right UK National Front, says that his desire to leave the group grew over a period of time after he witnessed the hypocrisy of the group’s leaders.
When you see close up what happens inside these organisations, the way they ignore huge things, you know, trade unionism or the class issue, they refuse to engage on that. And these are basically, groups like the BNP, are basically run by people who’ve never done a hard day’s work in their life, and they have a working class membership giving them money. And so I just gradually, you know, not immediately but gradually, began to see that I was probably on the wrong side.
Receiving kindness from someone of a different race
Whilst a member of the Norwegian neo-Nazi movement Tom Olsen travelled to South Africa. Sitting in a bar, wearing a swastika t-shirt, he was surprised when a black man bought him a beer:
Having a family changed some members’ view of violence
Arno Michaelis was heavily involved in the white power movement from the age of 17, and was a founding member of what became the largest skin-head group in the world. However, after having a child he came to see the violence within the movement differently.
It wasn’t until I became a single parent at age 24 that I began to distance myself from the movement. I’d lost a number of friends to either prison or a violent death by now and it started to occur to me that if I didn’t change my ways then street violence would take me from my daughter too. And once I began to distance myself from the constant reinforcement of violence and hatred, suddenly it began to make much less sense to me. At the same time I began to feel I had an identity of my own – and so for the first time I allowed myself to listen to whatever music I wanted to listen to, and watch whatever TV shows I wanted to watch – not just what had been approved by the white power movement.
A leading recruiter, organiser and propagandist in the white supremacy, T.J. Leydon, also saw the impact that his involvement in a violent group could have on his family.
I wanted a better life for my kids. I didn’t want my kids to be me. My cousins, my friends. I didn’t want them to be in and out of incarceration, I didn’t want them to fear death. I wanted them just to be children, to explore life and learn about it on their own and I wasn’t doing that. I was giving them a very narrow view of the world. Now I mean, I teach my boys violence begets violence and you’re more of a man when you’re able to use your brain to diffuse a situation than your fists.
Frank Meeink was the inspiration for the film American History X. Following the Oklahoma bombing, that killed 168 people, he began to despise the hatred and violence he saw within the white supremacy movement.
They try to say they just love the white race which is all a load of crock because it’s all about hatred. I mean completely. It’s all about hatred…I had a daughter, who I never really got to see, and then when the Oklahoma City bombing happened, and with the little kids dying…and just to hear that this came from the movement that I knew, I was really broken up by it.
Wanting to live a different way
Angela King was a violent white supremacist. Whilst in prison she had the opportunity to reflect on what white supremacy had brought to her life.
At the age of 23 I found myself sitting in a federal prison…In prison I was able to learn about other people, people who in a million years I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to know and quite frankly I wouldn’t have tried to know. As I learned about others I learned about myself. I found so much in there, in those prison walls I couldn’t begin to tell you. I learned self-respect, I learned value in a human life. The two most valuable lessons I think I ever learned inside that prison was to take responsibility…for myself, my words, my actions. And the second thing I learned to do was to love myself…it was like being reborn.
As these stories show, even people strongly committed to white supremacist ideology can change their mind when they see what’s really involved in the movement. If you’re thinking of joining the movement, have you considered what would happen if you changed your mind and wanted to leave?
- Do the people in white supremacy groups really live up to the ideals they preach?
- Are you comfortable being part of a group that uses violence?
- Would you be proud to tell your kids you were part of a group that used violence?
- Are you happy to join a group knowing that you could face threats and violence if you ever changed your mind and wanted to leave?