#828 Compassion in a dangerous time

The Cure for Hate: A Former White Supremacist’s Journey from Violent Extremism to Radical Compassion
by Tony McAleer, with a foreword by Daisy Khan

Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2019
$22.95 / 9781551527697

Reviewed by Ron Verzuh

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Fighting Hatred: How a Vancouver Skinhead Reinvented Himself

As a Canadian living in the United States, I am witnessing an era of deepening tensions fueled by racial, class, and gender hatred. Tony McAleer’s book seemed a possible antidote to the national animus that the White House is tweeting out daily aided by Fox News, Breitbart News, and many white supremacy outlets. So I was anxious to discover McAleer’s solution, his “Cure.” Perhaps I expected too much.

McAleer’s book is a confession about his years as a violent, obnoxious, conscience-free skinhead and leader of the Canadian white supremacy movement. How did a white, middle-class psychiatrist’s son “end up a violent white-supremacist?” as he puts it. And how did he come back from that hateful place and return to humanity?

Cure is also a guide to how he escaped to a better, more tolerant, place through self-examination and therapy. It is not a panacea for the hate that permeates U.S. society. Still, I wanted to learn about the subculture he had chosen, the lifestyle he had adopted, and why. I wanted answers to the questions raised above.

Tony McAleer as a young man
Tony McAleer. Photo by Carlos Taylhardat

The journey from abused child to abusing skinhead is carefully documented here, listing the many individuals and organizations that McAleer and his Doc Marten-wearing neo-Nazi buddies sought to destroy. Defacing temples and synagogues, harassing innocents, and terrorizing events became a way of life for McAleer. And he was good at it.

Seeking acceptance by creating fear in others led to his joining various white supremacy groups around North America. He describes many encounters with the police and meetings with the baddest of the bad white supremacy leaders. Among them are American supremacists Paul Fromm and Tom Metzger and Canadian neo-Nazi leader Don Andrews.

Tony McAleer. Photo by Pat Johnson. Courtesy the Jewish Independent (Vancouver)

McAleer was a good catch for these hate-mongers. With a superior education despite bringing havoc to the classroom, McAleer made himself indispensable to the groups he joined. He became a website designer, cleverly weaponizing the electronic media to distribute messages of racial hatred and enticing young people to join the movement. He also developed skills as a media presence, appearing on programs designed to spread views from people like Holocaust deniers Ernest Zundel and Jim Keegstra.

No racist claim or revision of history was too outrageous for McAleer. He embraced his neo-Nazism and was earning his credentials with every new racist rally, white supremacist band concert, and disruptive action.

Daisy Khan, author of Born with Wings: The Spiritual Journey of a Modern Muslim Woman (2018), wrote the foreword to The Cure for Hate. Photo credit WISE

Somehow during all of this, he got married and had two children. The marriage didn’t last, but he got full custody of the kids. Remember, McAleer came from a well-to-do family. He was well educated and a steady earner, working at various decent-paying jobs. He easily won full custody. Did the court overlook his racist activities?

Although it didn’t happen immediately, his love of his children finally brought him around and he began to see his supremacist actions in a different light. Once that happened he sought ways to climb out of the senseless violence that had informed his life. It required learning to slowly exit the community he had embraced and that had trusted him.

Albanian stamps, 1999

The story of his cure for hate leads him into a soul-searching journey of what he calls “radical compassion.” He became an advocate against racial hatred. He joined with others to form an organization called Life After Hate. He bathed himself in guilt, even visiting Auschwitz and participating in a documentary film about the horrors of the death camp. That journey took him to a path of forgiveness first of himself and then asking forgiveness of all the people he had wronged.

It’s hard not to feel empathy for McAleer as he recounts his struggle to rejoin the saner, less violent world. Yes, he got himself into the mess in the first place. Yes, he bought into white supremacy without apology and did similar damage to what we have witnessed as the movement rises, encouraged by the Trump presidency.

At the same time, this is no ordinary skinhead. It’s hard not to respect McAleer for his courage in trying to atone for a young life of pointless terror. He doesn’t ask for anything from his readers. He’s not selling a set of religious beliefs. The only thing he is selling is a belief in love as the way forward.

Tony McAleer. Photo courtesy Twitter

A few years ago, a Seattle-based journalist wrote a similar story about a young white supremacist in the U.S. Derek Black was raised in a Ku Klux Klan-loving family in the Deep South. Like Cure, Rising Up From Hatred took readers through this young man’s journey from perpetrator of racist hate to his embrace of humanity. He, too, found love served as the path to his redemption.

It may sound hokey to say love was the answer, but both men convinced me that it provided them with the strength to find a new beginning. Telling their story is both a cleansing exercise for them and a warning to the rest of us.

Did I find an antidote to the hatred that has become increasingly public in the U.S. since 2016? In a way, I did. McAleer’s story offers various causes for his fall and an intimate look at what he went through to rise up. His journey, and Derek Black’s, advise us to watch for signs that hatred is breeding. There are plenty of those signs in Trump’s America.

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Ron Verzuh

Ron Verzuh is a Canadian writer, historian, and documentary filmmaker. He currently lives in the United States.

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The Ormsby Review is a journal service for in-depth coverage of B.C. books and authors. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Wade Davis, Hugh Johnston, Patricia Roy, David Stouck, and Graeme Wynn. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Provincial Government Patron since September 2018: Creative BC

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