Ex-skinhead seeks path of redemption

Man now preaches message of tolerance and acceptance through his work and his words

Edmonton Journal, Canada/January 12, 2006
By Graham Andrews

Edmonton -- Daniel is well-acquainted with the ignorance that inspired someone to spray-paint anti-Semitic graffiti on Edmonton's Beth Shalom Synagogue a day before the beginning of Hanukkah.

For more than eight years, the 30-year-old ex-skinhead -- who moved back to Edmonton three years ago -- used his fists and his Doc Marten boots to spread similar messages of hatred and fear locally, in Vancouver and in northern B.C.

As he discusses the acts of vandalism at Beth Shalom, Daniel (who, out of fear of retribution from his one-time counterparts, doesn't want his last name publicized) paws self-consciously at a swastika tattooed on his forearm. He has several other similar tattoos on his body that serve as all-too-permanent merit badges from a mythical but serious war in which he served as a misguided Aryan commando.

His voice rises in an anger that originates from a different spot along the racial spectrum than it once did.

"Cowards," he says with a deliberate sneer. "I think it's sad that a kid can be so hurtful and so hurt."

Almost five years ago, Daniel turned his back on his hate-filled surrogate family of white supremacists when confronted with the fallout from a spate of rage in B.C.

He had just finished beating a First Nations man into unconsciousness with an axe handle. The attack was motivated almost solely by his victim's skin colour.

With tears welling in his eyes, Daniel describes what happened and how glad he is today that it didn't escalate in accordance with his original intentions.

"I had him on the ground and I was raising my arm up," he says. "I was going to cut his head off, but something stopped me. I just didn't do it."

This was, by no means, an isolated instance of violence for Daniel. But it was different. Instead of going on the lam as he had in the past, he turned himself in at the local RCMP detachment.

"It was the first time I felt regret for something I had done."

That regret inspired him to face up to his actions by entering a guilty plea and fulfilling his six-month house arrest for assault causing bodily harm. But more importantly, he says, the remorse motivated him to leave the World Church of the Creator and the National Alliance, skinhead gangs he belonged to in Vancouver and Edmonton, in favour of a life as a helper.

Today, Daniel works as a supervisor in homes where people of all ages, creeds and colours receive assistance with their disabilities.

He also works as a part-time facilitator for a cultural awareness program. He loves his new path and he's quick to talk about the many positive turns his life has taken since he abandoned his old life.

He's also not too shy to talk about the path he walked in the past, or what led him to that path, even though he's often afraid for his own safety. His exit from the world of white supremacy was anything but clean and the assistance he has offered in the prosecution of some of his one-time gangmates has put him in danger of retribution.

In February, for example, Daniel is scheduled to be a witness in the trial of a white supremacist accused in a failed bombing on a British Columbia reserve.

"Every time I see one of them (skinheads), I feel fear," he says.

Daniel became aware of the skinhead movement at the age of 14, but it was a few more years before he completely immersed himself in their world.

At the age of 16, he abandoned his girlfriend and one-year-old daughter in White Rock, moved onto the streets of Vancouver and promptly got involved in a fight during which he shot a man in the leg. One year later, while walking along Vancouver's tough Granville Street, he was introduced to a member of the White Aryan Resistance and a member of the Toronto-based T.O. Skins.

In an act of dubious fortune, Daniel and his new skinhead acquaintances came across the man whom Daniel had fought with a year earlier. With little prompting, Daniel beat the man into submission as the skinheads held any would-be helpers at bay.

Daniel was immediately impressed by the power the two white supremacists wielded through intimidation. He began spending more and more time with the WAR member, who provided him with camaraderie and, eventually, the half-baked philosophies of the Aryan resistance.

"They were willing to stand up with me and for me," Daniel says. "After that came the theory that attempted to explain why things in the world were the way they were."

That theory, of a Jewish-based conspiracy, purported to explain how Jews were seizing control of politics and commerce by orchestrating the perceived pollution of the Aryan race through the interbreeding of non-Jewish whites and people of all other colours.

The racists found fertile ground in Daniel's young mind and keen fists. It wasn't long before he was putting up anti-Zionist posters, passing out leaflets and surrounding himself with skinhead music, lore, clothing and violence. He says he can understand how a confused young man would be drawn to the movement. It was a place where he was no longer a misfit.

"It gives you purpose," he says.

But that purpose came at the significant expense of other people: an expense that was frequently paid in terror and blood.

Among groups of racist thugs, Daniel was at home. When the gang set out to hurt somebody, he was quick to participate, but he also claims to have frequently acted alone in hunting down blacks, South Asians, natives and homosexuals.

He never targeted his violence at Jews, even though he was particularly hateful toward them.

With an eerie but self-deprecating pride that betrays his not-so-distant past, he lapses into the occasional bit of skinhead rhetoric.

"Not just anyone can fit in," he says. "You've got to have that drive to hurt. You've got to have that willingness."

And, he says, that willingness is no longer alive within him.

Daniel deals with his past issues through his work and through his developing appreciation of people and their diverse backgrounds.

That message of tolerance and acceptance, he says, is one he tries to carry with his own words and actions.

When pondering the hypothetical thought of his 15-year-old daughter, the eldest of four children, getting involved with the movement, he says he would try to carry the same message he has learned.

"I'd just love her," he says as he chokes back tears.

"Ultimately what they're (skinheads) looking for is just love without it being the typical version of love.

"Because if you had told me before that I was looking for love, I would have told you off."


Here are some of the signs and symbols associated with the white supremacy movement, says Daniel, a 30-year-old ex-skinhead:

- Publications -- Hate literature has become significantly more available with the advent of the Internet. While much of the largely U.S.-based industry's products were confiscated at the border in the past, the web now greatly assists white supremacists with their key recruitment tool.

- Music -- White supremacist music is widely available on the Internet. Daniel says the local "black metal" music scene is also rife with racist bands.

- Symbols -- In addition to the swastika, skinheads favour two ancient Nordic runes: the odal rune, which looks like a diamond with tails, and the life rune, which is similar to a trident. Other symbols include drawings of white fists; Celtic crosses that look like targets; and the number 88 (representing the phrase "Heil Hitler": each eight stands for H, the eighth letter of the alphabet). White supremacists also tend to have an uncommon fixation with German memorabilia from the Second World War.

- Clothing -- Doc Marten boots are still frequent favourites of the skinheads, but the accompanying colour-coded shoelaces and pants braces are no longer as prevalent. Still widely used in the skinhead uniform, however, are military-style pants and bomber-style flight jackets. Two common skinhead patches used in the Edmonton area are those belonging to two gangs: Hammerskins, and Blood and Honour.

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