MLK Speaker: A Skinhead Sheds His Hate

MLK Speaker: A Skinhead Sheds His Hate

On a snowy and cold day of January, Williston welcomed Arno Michaelis, a former founding member of the largest racist skinhead organization in the world with interested curiosity for the story and message he might bring to us for Martin Luther King Jr. day assembly.

Michaelis was not only a founding member of the largest skinhead organization, but he was also a reverend of self-declared Racial Holy War, and lead singer of the race-metal band Centurion, selling over 20,000 CDs. That is what people would find on the internet if you Google his name. However, what we were surprised about through his story was how much pain he was going through during that period.

“If we don’t process our own suffering, we will bring that suffering to others.” That was how Michaelis lead us to the true story of his life, what he had to go through that created that much suffering and, eventually, how he was able to release all of that hatred and underlying pain and change the course of his life

Growing up, Michaelis believed that he was nurtured in an environment that had everything. “I had a nice house, good parents.”

However, according to Michaelis, suffering is a subjective thing, therefore it is different for everyone. And for him, it came from his father’s drinking and the burden the drinking had put on his mother when she had to take on two or three jobs to keep the family going. The pain it caused his mother made Michaelis became miserable as well. But instead of trying to be helpful and support his mother, Michaelis took a wrong turn and started to distract himself from his family issues.

Because Michaelis was in his suffering and refused to deal with it and instead tried to ignore it like everything was fine, he accidentally put his suffering on other people as well. And before he knew it, he started to lash out at other kids, bullying his friends at school. He took his teacher’s punishment and as a reward for his actions. He thought it was cool that he was getting attention from them.

But as we all know, this kind of happiness doesn’t last long because it is not truly happiness. Michaelis said of his rebellious teenage behavior, “I was on a roller coaster, but then that adrenaline rush would fade away and it would get boring.” Michaelis compared his actions to a type of substance abuse; just as one must drink more to get inebriated, he would need more negative attention each time he did something bad to feel the same rush. It was an ugly, and dangerous, cycle.

Michaelis became a alcoholic at 16 and hatred started to become a new “rush” for him. Along with the suffering, practice had turned the “unfamiliar” emotions of hate and violence “familiar” for him.

“Hate and violence are unfamiliar for human beings, and that is a good thing because we don’t want to become familiar with those things,” he told the crowd. “However, when we are hurting and it becomes our thing, we would want other people to live in the miserable world with us too. Because like they said: miserable loves company.”

Michaelis said the same emotions — hate, violence, misery seeking company — applied to his time as a racist skinhead leader “Racists want people to hate them because hate is something that they are familiar with.”

Michaelis also shared to the Williston community the first film he made with the message of how to stop the hate. He claimed that the most important weapons for a person in their lives are forgiveness, compassion and kindness.

Michaelis showed an example of a person that portraits these qualities through a story of his friend called “Patty,” a person who witnesed his father being shot by a racist shooter. But instead of hatred and vengeance towards the shooter, Patty decided to forgive him because he didn’t want to waste his energy on hate. And he knew that underneath that guy that murdered 6 people, including Patty’s father, was once an innocent child that somehow turned into this monster. That’s how Patty started an organization called “Serve To Unite,” an organization that Michaelis is also a part of.

Michaelis said he learned from Patty that: “The difference between Bitter and Better is the “I.”

The reason for Michaelis to make that huge change in his life, from being a founder of a racist skinhead organization to a speaker to unite people in mutual understanding, was because of his exhaustion of continuously producing hate everyday.

Michaelis relayed a story about his love for New York City, but the restrictions he felt as a person navigating the city while also being forced to uphold racist, hate-filled beliefs.

“I loved the city. I loved how I could go to the part and see different people from different parts of the world,” said Michaelis. “I wanted to enjoy that life like a harmony of life. I love diversity, genuinely. But then I remembered that I was supposed to hate all of these people. If I was in an diverse environment like Williston today 25 years ago, I would have been terrified right now. And the thing that changed was the way I chose to perceive the world.”

Being inside the organization also created a fantasy world for Michaelis, a unrealistic one that was unhealthy. Since he was the founder of the organization, he was considered “the big deal”, the one that everyone in that organization looked up to. However, the real truth behind the hateful façade was that he was an alcoholic high school dropout that couldn’t get a job.

Talking about the pain he has caused people in his past, Michaelis confessed that “the feeling of guilt will haunt me to my grave”, but still, he does everything in his power to fix the mistake he had made.

Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr, Michaelis wanted to remind people to find a way to understand other people’s pain in order to forgive them and treat them with compassion and kindness. Because he knows that we cannot reduce hate by producing hate. “And all the change in the world starts with every person: we can change the world just by existing in it,”  he said.