From Hate to Acceptance: The Story of a Reformed Nazi

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Skinhead, neo-Nazi, racist, white supremacist, anti-semitic— Frank Meeink has been called all of these. A former skinhead himself, Meeink, now 43, went from being a top recruiter for the Neo-Nazi movement to lecturing against it.

By Abby Strusowski

Meeink remembers the feeling of normalcy when his cousin introduced him to the Neo-Nazi movement during the summer of 1989 at the age of 14. By 16, Meeink had climbed the ladder and become a prominent leader and recruiter. During his time as a skinhead, Meeink dabbled in the media, where he aimed to spread his ideologies with the masses. He had his own show on the cable access network in Illinois called “The Reich.” The groups within the Neo-Nazi movement often fought each other and Meeink was never one to back down. When he was 18, Meeink was arrested and sentenced to a three-year stint in prison after almost murdering a rival skinhead member and kidnapping another. In prison, Meeink felt isolated by his fellow skinheads and started socializing with men of different races— those who he originally thought he hated. Meeink’s time in prison sparked the beginning of a change: a mindset of hate to one of acceptance.

The seven years that Meeink was a part of the Neo-Nazi movement took over his life. A native of South Philadelphia, Meeink grew up as an enthusiastic Philadelphia Eagles fan. “The day that I joined the neo-Nazi group, for the next seven years, I can’t tell you one thing about the Eagles. But I can tell you this. Every day I woke up mad that black people had BET and I didn’t have, you know in my ignorant, white, stupid head, we didn’t have White Entertainment Television. That’s what I thought about every day,” said Meeink.

Meeink found himself able to easily adapt into the world of Neo-Nazis and wanted others to share in his experiences, “I was trying to market whatever I was into cause I got more people into it— that’s what we wanted, we wanted the numbers.” However, for Meeink, it was never about boosting up his own ego: “When I was learning all of this stuff, I wasn’t learning this just to be better as a white person, I was learning this stuff to go back and fight with the adults in my life because they left me to fend for myself.”

Meeink’s younger sister, Bridgett Crain, remembers the time when Meeink was most involved in the movement and the effect it had on their family. Crain said, “He was not around a whole lot. When he was around he always seemed to have some anger to him and I believe this was because my dad was around and they did not see eye to eye.”

Meeink’s mindset was to anger those who were never there for him. “I’m 15 and I’m learning all this worldly knowledge—that I think is worldly—my family argues with me and is like, ‘Why are you into this neo-Nazi stuff?’ and I would rattle off some facts and figures and s**t. I love that, I love being able to do that to them. They left me to fend for myself,” said Meeink.

Meeink in his younger days showing off his neck tattoo. He later had it removed. This image is also the cover of his book, “Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead.” (photo courtesy of Frank Meeink)

With the tension of his own family, Meeink searched for acceptance among his peers, who happened to be other Neo-Nazis. But, within the Neo-Nazi group itself, Meeink said there was always tension. “There’s factions amongst groups and those guys had one, too. The Neo-Nazis were getting really big in the early 90s and what they started to do was they started to pick away at each other. Hate always has to hate.”

When Meeink left the group, he kept it a secret. Not long after, he was jumped at the funeral of his friend, another Neo-Nazi who was killed. “First and foremost, to them, I’m a race traitor. I traded out on my race,” said Meeink. “The other formers that are out now just want to pick fights with the Neo-Nazis. I’ve been out for so long, I just do my thing. I don’t go out there and try to make an a** of the Neo-Nazis at all. I never called them names or dummies, none of that s**t. How am I going to have a conversation with a guy after I do that to him?”

In August 2017,  masses of white supremacists swarmed to Charlottesville, Virginia, for the Unite the Right rally that had two goals: to strengthen the alt-right movement and to oppose the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The rally sparked interest from media outlets all over the world and attracted many counter-protestors. The Charlottesville rally was not out of the ordinary— these rallies have occurred since the beginning of the post-World War II Neo-Nazism movement and were especially popular during the 1990s when Meeink attended.

Even though Meeink left the Neo-Nazi movement in the mid-1990s, the rally in Charlottesville was eerily similar to the ones that he used to attend when he was still a Neo-Nazi. “All these people want to come and fight the alt-right, you know, smash bottles over their heads, I was that guy that you threw the bottles at. I never ducked a bottle and thought, ‘Whoa, I better rethink my beliefs here. What’s going on?’ That made me more dedicated to my cause no matter how many enemies we had out there. That’s one thing that doesn’t work. Beating the Nazi out of a Neo-Nazi doesn’t really work,” Meeink said.

Meeink insists that racism should never be tolerated, but he said, “There are people in these groups that are people’s sons and brothers and uncles and cousins. These are other people, that when they look at them, they just think that they are born and bred not racist Nazis. Think about what life they must’ve come from for that to be an okay option in the world.”

Snapshots of Meeink when he was younger, detailing his tattoos. (photo courtesy of Frank Meeink)

Turning his life around was the only way forward for Meeink: “It was human nature that really changed me. I come at it from such a different perspective than some people just because I used to be so racist. Now, the thought of that disturbs and disgusts me to no end. I felt right as a human being when I started to notice that when I was kind and nice to people and using my manners, I noticed my life got better. I got more smiles than I did with the look of ‘Oh, there’s this guy again with the swastika on his neck.’”

As an activist and former skinhead, Meeink is able to recognize the feelings of both sides, which is a rare understanding. Peggy Boyce, Meeink’s representative at MMB Communications, said, “When given the opportunity to speak, Frank’s story changes lives which makes him an impactful speaker and activist. He has worked with law enforcement agencies to help understand the mind of a white supremacist and where they are coming from, so he is actually using his life as a force for positive change in the world.”

Meeink’s sister, Crain, saw his transformation firsthand. “Frank is more involved in things. He wants to help others and tries to be very understanding of people no matter what they go through. He has become a better father and a better brother even with the other hurdles he’s encountered. Frankie has become a nurturing person in a way where he wants people to trust him and lets them know he will listen.” Meeink’s rep, Boyce, agrees: “I have not seen another individual create such an impact on so many through the live re-telling of his story.”

Since leaving the movement, Meeink has co-written a book, Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead, about his life as a Neo-Nazi. In 1998, Edward Norton starred in the movie, American History X, which is loosely based off of Meeink’s life. He is also the founder of two organizations, Harmony Through Hockey and Life After Hate. The latter of which he co-founded with former white supremacists, Angela King and Christian Picciolini, and is a non-profit organization to help those looking to leave extremist hate groups. “It always just goes back to doing the next right thing in your life,” said Meeink. “Just do the next right thing and the right things will happen for you, I can promise you that.”