Life After Hate

A former neo-NAZI with a bloody and violent past undergoes a stark transformation into someone who promotes peace and tolerance. People in his life wonder: has he changed?

During the late ’80s and early ’90s, Arno Michaelis was rising to prominence in the white supremacist movement in the U.S. He’s still a tough looking guy: a lean 6’3 with shadows of swastika tattoos on his arms and chest, some of which have been removed. 

In a CBC Radio program titled Metamorphosis, Michaelis talks about falling in with a white supremacist group, and violent rampages with his skinhead crew, fueled by alcohol and hate. He talks about one incident where he and his friends beat up a long-haired, hippy-looking white man, kicking him with their steel-toed boots:

“I felt like a machine hitting this guy, and he had at this point just gone limp. At that point I had a sensation that if I kept doing this, this guy was going to die. It was just a mental note and I kept going. I didn’t keep going because I expressly wanted to kill him, I kept going because there was no consciousness in my mind, there was no thought, it was just all fight.”

What changed in Michaelis’ life? Besides a slow move away from his skinhead group, he says he had a realization when picking up his daughter from daycare. Another father, a black man, was also picking up his daughter, and Michaelis thought, “the smile on his face was the same smile I had on my face when I picked up my daughter.” He then thought about the people he had beaten up in the past, injured to the point where only their parents could recognize them. 

As Michaelis began to reach out to his community and speak about his experience, some people called for him to own up to his crimes. 

To listen to the episode, click here. 

07/11/12

[photo © flickr.com/Mark Heard]

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