Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Coming out of Hatred

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Coming out of Hatred

Article excerpt

My name is Mark Flanigan, and I am a former neo-Nazi, so I speak of intolerance from an intensely personal perspective. Nearly 13 years ago, at age 18, I joined the white supremacist movement in Pittsburgh. I became a skinhead leader: organizing rallies, Writing articles, and making hatred were the very center of my existence. People of color, gays and lesbians, Jewish people--they did not measure up as members of the "Aryan race," I preached, and were not worthy to share this country with the white heterosexual Christians who built it.

Although I have long since rejected that message of hate, I live each day with the grim reminder that the poisonous rhetoric I once spouted is the very same venom that manifested itself in the senseless, brutal killings of Matthew Shepard, Brandon Teena, and James Byrd Jr. It has taken me nearly a decade--I am now age 30-to feel comfortable speaking about my past mistakes, but if my life story can change even one person's mind, that's a burden I am willing to bear.

As a former white supremacist I understand some of the motivations behind hate crimes. Hate groups feed our natural aversion to "the unknown" by providing easy answers to complex social and political questions, and quick comfort to unhappy people. Many things led me to the white supremacist movement: my parents' divorce; shame over the economic indignities my family suffered when I was growing up; the rudderless, antisocial behavior I indulged in while in the punk rock scene. My anger was fueled by drugs and alcohol, and soon fanned into flames of hatred by neo-Nazi mentors who made me feel like a part of their movement. I was told that my hard life was part of an orchestrated anti-white conspiracy. I finally felt as though I had come "home."

Hate crimes are the very real manifestation of irrationally blaming others for our problems and disappointments in life. One powerful way to counter the rhetoric of hatred, I believe, is passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which would add crimes motivated by a victim's sex, sexual orientation, or disability to the list of hate crimes already recognized by federal law: those motivated by race, religion, color, or national origin. …

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