Arno Michaelis

Video Transcript:

“The narrative that we subscribed to – that the white race was different than everyone else, we’re superior to everyone else, we’re in danger – we’re endangered, like an endangered species, we’re endangered of being driven to extinction. And because of those facts as we considered them, we didn’t see co-existence with other races as an option. So it validated the violence in the sense that we felt if the violence wasn’t there, we were gonna be wiped out. We cited, like, a phantom genocide as justification for our genocidal rhetoric.

The victimhood aspect of a violent extremism narrative is absolutely crucial. Without this feeling of victimhood you don’t have the urgency to justify – not only justify but romanticize violence. So whether that victimhood is real or imagined is absolutely immaterial. There are groups of people, there are populations of people, who you could very much rightfully say are oppressed, and there’s people in those groups who say, “I’m not oppressed. I don’t feel oppressed.” And so that to me indicates that it is a subjective thing and something you need to buy into. And what that also means is that people from groups who you could really have a hard time proving in court are oppressed can still convince themselves that they are indeed oppressed. And this is why, this is who’s oppressing us, this is why they oppress us, this is what we’re gonna do about it, this is what we have to do about it, this is why we hate them. And so that victimhood aspect – the sense of oppression, the sense of persecution – drives all of the violence, it drives all of the hatred, it drives all the separatism that the rest of the mechanics of violent extremism depend on.

Recruiting for us was all based on fear. It was, “this is what’s gonna happen if you don’t join us.” So, back in the late 80s we had a very unknowing ally to our recruitment. There was an alderman in the black community named Michael McGee and he was rightfully enraged about the conditions in the inner city of Milwaukee but he went about expressing that rage by saying things like, he was going to organize teams of black men to take sniper positions along the freeway and shoot at white people, and he had all kinds of really, like, violent escalated rhetoric that of course because he’s an alderman is getting broadcast all over the city. So at the time that our group was coming about you could throw a rock and find a white person who was very terrified of this black guy talking about shooting white people and we just, we cashed in on that all day long. Every white person we’d see we’d be like, “How bout that Michael McGee? Well if you don’t join up with us that’s what’s gonna happen.” And if somebody had kids we would latch on that right away, especially a white man with a daughter. “What’s gonna happen to your daughter when they come runnin into your neighborhood? What’s gonna happen to your wife?” Like to stoke these fears of women being raped and women and children being killed. That was, like, the path to kind of light the fuse on somebody to say, “yeah I do need to do something about this, I’m gonna join up with you guys.”

We saw the world around us as really like a constant threat. Once you start buying in to the white supremacist narrative of this shadowy Jewish conspiracy to wipe out the white race, everyone you see in your day to day life is an enemy. Because everyone who’s not white is an enemy by default, and everyone who is white and isn’t on your side is even more of an enemy. A race traitor was considered a more dire enemy than like your average black guy, because the black guy’s just being a black guy – that’s who they are, what they do – but like, white people should be fighting for their race and they’re not, and we saw it as like, if a white person wasn’t with us they were actively destroying their race. It was this “if you’re not with us you’re against us” kind of reasoning, and it’s interesting that you see that repeated in all sorts of in-group/out-group thinking.

The membership in the group, it obviously didn’t really provide what I needed otherwise I’d still be in it. But I think at the time, again it justproved a greater distraction to have an excuse to not sit down and look inward and try to figure out really what was wrong and what I really needed to do. It was something that numbed me to that inner humanity and gave me an excuse not to go there. And also it’s a matter of responsibility as well, in the sense that all of the problems I’m having, all the frustration I’m going through, all the anger – is not my fault. It’s the Jews’ fault, it’s the blacks’ fault, it’s everybody’s fault but mine. And now I can like dedicate myself to opposing them rather than going inward and seeing what the problem really is.”

Parents for Peace interviewed Arno Michaelis and Mubin Shaikh about their experience with and understanding of different forms of extremism. Michaelis was lead singer of a white power hate metal band and a founding member of racist skinhead organization before leaving hate behind and becoming a peace activist. Shaikh was drawn towards jihadist groups as he attempted to resolve the identity crisis he experienced as a young man, until the events of September 11, 2001 convinced him that the ideology he had bought into could not be the correct interpretation of Islam. He now works to counter terrorism and extremism.