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Sección: Estados Unidos de AméricaTítulo: I used to be a neo-Nazi. Charlottesville terrifies me.- Enlace 1
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I used to be a neo-Nazi. Charlottesville terrifies me.
Publicado en politico.eu por Timothy Zaal | 8/19/17, 4:00 AM CET | Updated 8/20/17, 7:09 AM CET
When I was a skinhead, living in the Los Angeles area in the 1980s, I remember watching a favorite video with my fellow extremists. It was footage of the 1979 Greensboro massacre, when Ku Klux Klan members shot and killed five people at a workers’ demonstration in North Carolina. A group of cars pulled up, KKK members jumped out of the vehicles, killed a group of communists, then drove away.
We laughed at it.
This past weekend, the news from Charlottesville brought back that memory — of being surrounded by fellow white supremacists in my old house, watching our odd choice of Friday-night entertainment. Today, of course, you can find clips like these online. In those days, extremist groups had mail-order services where you could purchase VHS tapes. That was where we bought it.
I gave up being a skinhead years ago. But now, I’m getting uncomfortable feelings of déjà vu as I watch footage of the bloody events in Charlottesville. The white supremacist organizations of my day were different, but after researching these so-called “alt-right” groups, and seeing the violence this weekend, I realize they’re all too similar. They hate the same minorities we did. They spew the same conspiracy theories. They consume the same kinds of propaganda.
I was not recruited into white supremacist groups. They didn’t have to — I sought them out.
But there’s one huge difference: These newer offshoots have been far more successful than we could ever have dreamed. When you see crowds of hundreds marching through the streets with their faces uncovered, when white supremacist leader Richard Spencer holds a press conference a few days after a woman was killed by one of his fellow travelers and hosts reporters in his home, it becomes clear just how much more terrifying this new generation of extremists is. They’re savvier than we were. Better connected.
I recognize so much of myself in those hate-filled faces from Charlottesville. Their innocuous-looking khaki pants, white polo shirts and blue blazers are sharper than the intimidating combat boots and red suspenders we wore, but I can see my old life in those images all the same. And if in fact their movement is growing, it’s not hard for me to understand how: I know how easy it is to slip into a racist group and become so passionate about the cause that it becomes unthinkable to leave.
I was not recruited into white supremacist groups. They didn’t have to — I sought them out. When a black man shot my brother when I was 10 years old (thankfully, he didn’t die), that trauma manifested itself in deep racial hatred. Later, when I was 17 years old, a few friends and I beat a young gay man and left him on the street to die. (He didn’t. His name is Matthew Boger, and we would meet years afterward when I was working at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, almost completely by chance.)
The Ku Klux Klan protests on July 8, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia | Chet Strange/Getty Images
Initially, they resisted me, I suspect out of fear of infiltration by law enforcement, which was fairly common. I applied to join the military and was rejected for medical reasons. White supremacist organizations became my twisted way to fight for my country. So I drove almost 200 miles to the home of the national leader for the White Aryan Resistance. I looked him up in the phone book; he sent a guy to make sure I was who I said I was; and half an hour later, I was sitting in his parlor talking politics. He gave me the business card of a local group, and we met up a few weeks later. There was no initiation process; I had joined.
But what really radicalized me was jail. Several years after that near-fatal beating of Boger, a few fellow skinheads and I attacked an Iranian couple and a black man at a supermarket in La Verne, California. I was sentenced to a year at Los Angeles County Jail — today, thanks to more federal and state hate crime laws, my sentence would likely be significantly longer — and when I got out, I was even more obsessed with race. I felt more victimized by what I thought was the Jewish-controlled state and by the police — paranoid delusions I bought into because of the warped media I was consuming instead of the mainstream press.
My growing radicalization drove me further into the white nationalist movement. I toggled between two groups — the White Aryan Resistance and Hammerskin Nation — and because of the high-profile nature of my crime, I gained some notoriety. New recruits were an easy target.
I sank deeper and deeper in. At my day job in industrial construction,there were as many 12 fellow skinheads, so I had few interactions with people outside racist circles. I no longer trusted mainstream news — I read organization-approved news only, so I didn’t realize how removed from reality my perception of the world was.
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In white supremacist and other domestic terror organizations, there’s a clear-cut division between those underground and those above-ground. The underground members are those more likely to commit acts of domestic terrorism; as an above-ground guy, I was seen as a kind of mouthpiece: I distributed leaflets at high schools and on college campuses and operated a phone hotline for my main group, White Aryan Resistance, for four counties. My friends and I took our organization’s newsletters, rolled them up and delivered them—each stamped with our phone number, just in case the recipient was curious. Because of this propagandist role, I was told to distance myself from the guys I knew who may have been making bombs and stockpiling weapons, because if I was found to have any connection with them, it would discredit the organization and the movement as a whole.
We failed to soften our image, but the alt-right groups have largely succeeded — which may help explain why people were so shocked to see the violence at Saturday’s rally. When I was associated with the older white supremacist groups, we were told to go to college, to grow our hair out, to not get tattoos, to join the military, to get into influential business and political roles if possible — to become embedded in respected parts of society. Today’s alt-right has done that, from Spencer’s “think tank” that calls itself the National Policy Institute to protests like the one on Saturday, which was organized under the inoffensive name Unite the Right, as if it had more to do with conservative politics than it did white supremacy.
I’ve never been more frightened for the future of our country.
I left the movement — eventually — but it was a long, slow process. It started when I was in a supermarket with my young son, who called a black man the n-word. To see him repeat my mistakes made me ashamed in a way that went deeper than my shame over my own choices.
This was in the early ’90s, and in my part of California, everyone knew about my past crimes. But I started traveling for work more, going to new places, particularly in the South, meeting new people. Often, these people weren’t white, and more importantly, they didn’t know who I was. When I came back and re-entered my insulated social network, where my friends were surrounded by the same conspiracy theories I had once bought into, the shared delusions were a shock to me. What are you talking about, a race war? I thought. We’re not at war.
Today, I look at the factors that kept me in white supremacist movement, and I think they must be stronger than ever. My closed-off media sources and mail-order propaganda videos, music and literature were one thing in the early ’90s; today, anyone with a smartphone can go down rabbit-holes watching hours and hours of YouTube videos with far-right personalities, from actual Hitler supporters to more lightweight figures like alt-right YouTuber Paul Joseph Watson, who peddle the same racial paranoia without the overt Nazi ideology, feeding viewers their sick spin on the news. On social media, it’s easy to find like minds halfway across the country who can affirm your worldview with likes and retweets. We had only our pamphlets and shoe leather, which made it harder to build a national following.
Timothy Zaal, a former racist and neo-Nazi, now helps others leave the far-right movement | Getty Images
You don’t have to look much further than last weekend to understand what this more diffuse, more tech-savvy network of extremists has done to magnify and better organize the same hate that I once espoused.
Today, racist skinheads like the ones I knew are pretty much extinct in the United States. They’ve grown up and had families, and I know a few who have, like me, disavowed their past associations and dedicated their lives to combatting the kind of hate that once consumed us. Just a few years after severing all my ties to my former white supremacist friends, I went on a date with a Jewish woman from Texas. We’ve been married for 18 years.
I wish I could be more hopeful. Instead, I’m watching a new generation of white nationalist and supremacist organizations flourish right in front of our eyes. And I’ve never been more frightened for the future of our country.
Timothy Zaal is a consultant and regular speaker at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Today, he works with former racists and helps them leave the far right and become happy and productive individuals.
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