By Marsha Sutton
Hearing the words, “Hate feels so good,” is shocking in itself. But hearing those words uttered by a former neo-nazi skinhead turned equality and human rights advocate is a stunner.
To understand how a white supremacist is created, and how a racist bigot can find his humanity, check out Frank Meeink and his book “Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead.”
Meeink didn’t just reject his past but overcame it to become a spokesperson for compassion and acceptance, whose only intolerance now is for those who embrace violence, hate, and artificial race, religion and class distinctions.
The featured speaker at an Anti-Defamation League presentation on March 13, Meeink was in San Diego as part of the ADL’s centennial celebration of its founding in 1913.
Meeink told his compelling story with honesty and sincerity, a little sadness and regret, spiced with raw humor and earthy eloquence. It’s a journey through a landscape of hateful extremist behavior and ideology, to a place of peace and forgiveness.
Born in south Philadelphia and raised Irish-Catholic, Meeink was abused as a child, but not just physically. He suffered most from neglect and disinterest.
With a family life shattered by divorce, drugs, alcohol, hunger, poverty, and violent relationships, there was complete indifference to his well-being.
Fear was a major part of his life. He said he feared everything – his home, school, neighborhood, parents, loneliness.
“I was a broken individual,” he said.
Introduced to the skinhead white supremacist movement when he was 13, Meeink found the acceptance he longed for. At last people were interested in him. With gang life, he said, “I had a purpose.”
Instead of living his life in fear, he was able to instill fear in others. It felt good to make others feel afraid, he said.
He dove into the movement with enthusiasm and loyalty to the first group of people to embrace him fully.
Meeink shaved his head and tattooed himself with extremist symbols and slogans – including a swastika on his neck and the letters “skin head” on his eight knuckles.
“I was a jerk – an egomaniac with no self-esteem,” he said.
For five years, Meeink was an active member of his gang, a recognized leader who engaged in horrendous acts of violence – over 300, he told Katie Couric in a televised interview several years ago.
The usual minority groups were targeted, he said, but white people were attacked as well.
“Anyone who wasn’t a part of our movement was a potential victim,” he told Couric.
At the San Diego ADL event, speaking to a full auditorium of hundreds, Meeink said hate was the fuel that ignited so much violence. But when gangs got too large, members began inter-hating and would beat up other members.
“When you’re in the gutter, you look down on others worse [off],” he said.
In Illinois, Meeink had his own cable access television show called “The Reich” which he used to recruit new gang members.
Eventually, at age 17, he was arrested for kidnapping and assault, and was convicted and sent to prison where he befriended African-American and Hispanic inmates, mostly bonding through sports. These were people he formerly hated.