A 'Recovering Skinhead' On Leaving Hatred Behind

Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead
Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead
By Frank Meeink
Paperback, 316 pages
Hawthorne Press
List price: $15.95

Read An Excerpt

As a teenager, Frank Meeink was one of the most well-known skinhead gang members in the country. He had his own public access talk show, called The Reich, he appeared on Nightline and other media outlets as a spokesman for neo-Nazi topics, and he regularly recruited members of his South Philadelphia neighborhood to join his skinhead gang.

At 18, Meeink spent several years in prison for kidnapping one man and beating another man senseless for several hours. While in prison, Meeink says, he was exposed to people from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds and started reevaluating his own racist beliefs. His transformation solidified, he tells Dave Davies, after the Oklahoma City bombing, when he saw the iconic photo of a firefighter cradling a lifeless girl in his arms.

"I felt so evil. Throughout my life, even when I was tattooed up and wanting to be a skinhead, I felt like maybe I was bad on the outside. But I felt good on the inside," he says. "And that day it switched. I felt OK on the outside, but I felt so evil inside. I had no one to talk to. ... So I went to the FBI and ... I told them my story. I said 'I don't have any information on anybody, but I just need to let you know what it's like.' And of course they wanted to listen, because the Oklahoma City bombing had happened."

The FBI recommended that Meeink contact the Anti-Defamation League — which he did. He now regularly lectures to students about racial diversity and acceptance on behalf of the ADL, and he has written a memoir about his past, called Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead.

Frank Meeink i i

Meeink now works with the Philadelphia Flyers on an anti-hate program called Harmony Through Hockey. Courtesy Frank Meeink hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Frank Meeink
Frank Meeink

Meeink now works with the Philadelphia Flyers on an anti-hate program called Harmony Through Hockey.

Courtesy Frank Meeink

Meeink says the biggest change in the skinhead movement since he left is how easily members can spread their message and communicate with one another.

"When I was around, we contacted each other through P.O. Box numbers — and not through Web sites," he says. "So the Web has really got numbers looking bigger than they are. But you gotta remember, too: Sometimes those are just misguided kids who are looking for anything to do. But if your children are looking at these Web sites more regularly, and they're not looking at them for research, you need to step in and ask why and ask the right questions."


Interview Highlights

On the neighborhood where Meeink grew up, in South Philadelphia

"You're raised knowing don't go into the other neighborhoods. It's passed down through generations of Irish people in the neighborhood. So I come from a place that has a feel-good background to it. We're very proud of being Irish. Proud of being working class. And it was a tough neighborhood. A lot of drugs and alcohol were really bad in our neighborhood. Decisions were made in our neighborhood at the Catholic church or in the bar."

On how attending a predominantly African-American middle school influenced his later racial hatred

"That school was what did it for me. Growing up in South Philly, where we just had this Irish pride thing, I never really thought of the other races or the other races who lived around us as inferior or as much trouble because most of the kids — and most of the fistfights you got into — were with other Irish kids. We all knew each other. So it wasn't this big 'I hate them.' It was just an us-them. Once I got out there and noticed that the 'us' was very, very small and the 'them' was very, very big — and there was no one helping me — and I think that's where it started."

On how he became involved with neo-Nazi activities

I went up to the Lancaster, Pa., area, and I'm up there and some of my family — my mother's sister, my aunt and uncle moved up there with their kids. And I was very close with all of my cousins. ... My cousin that lived in the Lancaster area was very into punk rock, very into skateboarding. And I couldn't wait to get up there that summer and live there all summer. That was the summer I was getting out of that [middle] school. So I get up there, and he's not a skateboarder anymore. He's not a punk rocker anymore. He's a skinhead. And in his room, there's a swastika flag and stories about Adolf Hitler and stories about skinheads. ... And I knew of skinheads, but I didn't know of their beliefs or anything yet. And he kind of introduces me to it. He says, 'You know, this is what it is.' And now every night, all these other skinheads would come over his house and come drinking and listening to music. And they'd always give me a couple beers. I was the young kid to the group. You know, they're all 15-, 16-, 17-year-old guys who are cool to me. And they gave me a beer, and they start talking 'multiracial society will never work.' Now, I have no idea what that means at all."

On the ideology of the neo-Nazi movement

"When they would say these bigger words, like multiracial and multiracial society, I had no idea in depth what that meant. When I asked, they would say about blacks and whites not getting along, and I understood what they were talking about. And we're sitting around, and they'd say, 'Oh, you went to school in Philadelphia. What's it like?' These kids have never really been down to the city, so they're asking me what it's like to go to school there, and I'm telling them it's horrible, I hate it, it's hell. And for me, when I look back on that now, that was finally someone saying to me, 'How is your life? How are you doing? How is your school?' Because my parents never said, 'How was school today? What'd you learn?' They never did that. For once, someone's asking me how my life is."

On his media appearances as a skinhead

"I did a lot of national TV shows, like with Ted Koppel and other news organizations, and so I've been kind of a face. And it just kind of happened, where someone said, 'You are the face of our movement.' I did a TV show. They liked me because basically I looked like a nut, so they wanted me on their other shows, and, you know, swastikas on a young kid's neck sells TV shows, so now I did a couple shows like that, and I kind of made a name for myself. And then when I [moved] to Illinois, I wasn't doing much media press, but I was really trying to get this thing started, so I got my own cable access show. ... Called it The Reich, like Hitler's Reich and the Third Reich, and started a talk show about being a skinhead. So everyone got to know me from this talk show and it went on from there. What I'd do to recruit kids from that show — I mean, it was easy — I'd go on, say this is what I'm into, then the media would pick up on it."

On the crime that landed him in prison

"There was this lefty-type skinhead that hung around us in Springfield [Illinois] and he was the only one. And him, me and my roommate kinda had a falling out. My roommate didn't like him. I didn't like him. And I didn't like mainly his political beliefs. So I [told him], 'Come over to our house on Christmas Eve for a Christmas party,' and when he came over, there was no Christmas party. It was just me and my roommate waiting for him. And we kidnapped him and we randomly beat this other human being for hours and videotaped the whole thing as a joke. And that's eventually what got me put in prison."

On his withdrawal from the skinhead community

"It had already come to me [while in prison]: Maybe I need to start looking at things. But I still always thought my purpose in life [was] God wouldn't have put me in this purpose of being an Aryan Christian soldier if he didn't want me here. So I'm still trying to say, 'There's something going on but I need to stick with this because that's where I am. This is my team.' But I'm on a train one day, and I'm talking to this black dude, and he just sits down next to me and he asks if I did prison time. He's seen all my tattoos. Me and him start talking about prison life, about how we get away with things, how we sneak things away from guards and sneak food out, and just prison talk. So he gets off and he says, 'Hey man. Real nice to meet you. You're really down to Earth.' And this is on the El train. So he gives me a pound and I get off and I walk off to this skinhead meeting that night. And these are all old recruits of mine in Philadelphia. These are all guys I got into this. ... And I'm sitting at this party and I'm drinking ... and I'm thinking about some of the guys I just did time with and parts of my life with my family, and one of the guys stands up and he starts saying, 'Italians ain't white,' and I'm half Irish, half Italian, and I let him sit for a second. And he doesn't know half of us are Italian in the Philly crew, and I say, 'Hey, buddy. I'm half Italian, what do you think of that?' And he says, 'OK,' and kinda the whole party stops. ... So then we're sitting there and everyone starts talking again about it, and I say, 'How 'bout my daughter? My daughter's probably more than 75 percent Italian. Are you saying she's not white?' And he says, 'Nope, she ain't white.' And I just beat the crap out of this guy at this party. And I get everyone off of me and I say, 'I'm outta here.' And I walk back down, and I'm going to go catch the train by myself and go back home, and I had been drinking a little bit. And I remember looking up at God and saying, 'God, maybe there's something wrong. Maybe you're right. Maybe on the black, Asian and Latino issue, maybe we are all equal."

Excerpt: 'Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead'

Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead: Cover detail

LANGUAGE ADVISORY: This excerpt contains language some readers might find offensive.

"I ain't never ratted out nobody from the movement, other than myself. And I never will. So all youse who knew me then, relax. This book ain't about you. It's about me."

—Frank Meeink

Chapter Two: The Neo-Phyte

Cold sober, my dad can read the trail of another fighter's hooks and jabs as well as any Boy Scout can read a map. Of course, it had been a lot of years since my dad had really been sober. Still, I knew he wasn't going to buy, "It happened in hockey."

"John shoved me around a little," I admitted on my way in the door.

Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead
By Frank Meeink
Hardcover, 316 pages
Hawthorne Press
List price: $15.95

My dad eyed me suspiciously.

"It was nothing," I lied.

If I'd confessed the truth at that moment, my dad might have gone after John. I like to think he would have, if only I'd told him, but I didn't.

How in the hell could I tell my dad the truth? That every precious afternoon he'd ever let me have with him at the bar had been a total waste of his time? That I hadn't put even one of his lessons into practice to save my own ass? That I hadn't looked to see where somebody might be hiding? That I'd turned tail and run like a fucking pussy? That I'd let John corner me? That I'd let John attack me with my own goddamn lamp? How in the fuck could I tell a 68th and Buist boy that his only son had let himself be a prisoner of war for nearly three years and a punching bag for two?

He took me down to the bar with him. Cha-Cha, Fat Mike, and the other guys sensed something was up; they left us alone in a corner booth. I sipped a Coke in silence while my dad worked his way to the bottom of a pitcher.

"So, youse wanna talk about it?" he finally asked me.

"No," I pouted.

"Okay." He started to get up from the booth.

"I can't believe she fucking kicked me out instead of him."

I didn't expect much of a response from my dad, maybe not even any response at all. What could he say? He didn't know what John had really been doing to me. He didn't know John. Hell, he barely even knew my mom. So I wasn't expecting him to give me some mind-blowing insight.

But he did.

"Son," he slurred. "She chose dick over you."

That's all he said, but it was enough. It knocked the wind out of me. It was so raw, so brutally, undeniably true, that it cut to the heart of all the abuse I'd suffered. My dad knew my mom after all. He knew her better than I did. And he knew I needed to see her for what she really was if I was going to make it through even my first night without her.

After my mom left him, my dad spent several years playing the field. His binge of one-night stands resulted in the birth of one child, one that we know about anyhow. Then he married a woman named Sally, who he met at his bar, and became the step-father to her three sons. The whole crew shared a small row house with Cha-Cha Chacinzi in Southwest Philly.

The night I moved in, I didn't have a clue about how many different drugs my dad was on, or how much he was using of each one, or how he had to use one to bring himself down from another so that he could move on to the next. But after a few days, I saw enough to know, without doubt, he was an addict. I saw the white powdery residue on the table, the empty pill bottles by the sink, the little bags in the trash can, the cut straws on top of the nightstand where he always stashed his gun. I wasn't an idiot.

I think the adults in that house actually tried to hide the hard stuff from us kids, but they were too fucked up to pull it off. They didn't even bother to hide their drinking or their pot-smoking. Beer was their water; joints were their Marlboros.

Cha-Cha out-smoked my dad and Sally combined. He started in on pot first thing every morning, rolling a doobie while his coffee brewed. He'd sit out on the back stoop with Smudge, his enormous white cat, and toke himself into the new day. Every few drags, he'd lower the joint down to Smudge, who'd do that open-mouth inhale thing most cats do when you give them catnip. Smudge could've given a fuck about catnip; he was a full-blown pot-head by the time I moved in.

I wasn't. Thanks to my parents' example, the whole idea of getting high made me sick. But it seemed like I was just about the only kid in my dad's neighborhood who was on-board with Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No To Drugs" campaign. Within hours of my dad getting me registered as a transfer student at Pepper Middle School, I saw deals going down in the hallways. At least one kid in each of my classes was totally whacked out on something. Most of the others were too stoned to care.

I still don't know what went wrong when my dad signed me up at Pepper, but I somehow managed to jump from seventh grade to eighth on my bus ride across town. I had no clue what was going on in any of my classes, but I didn't care. I had a bigger problem.

Pepper Middle School is pretty far from my dad's house, too far to walk, and there are only two bus stops anywhere near it. One is right in front of one of the worst housing projects in Philly; the other is by the strip mall around the corner. I rode the bus each morning with some of the other Italian kids from my dad's neighborhood. If we got off at the first stop, we had to run for our fucking lives through four blocks of projects controlled by the gang called the Black Mafia. We'd run in a pack, hoping there was truth in that old saying about safety in numbers. There wasn't. The Black Mafia got at least one of us every damn morning. I was usually pretty lucky. I was pretty fast. But not always fast enough.

It wasn't any better if we stayed on the bus until the second stop, the one by the mall. The mall itself was no big deal; the tangle of trees and brush behind it was the problem. The City of Philadelphia called the area a "nature preserve." The local crack dealers called it their office. One morning, they taught us what happens to little boys who get lost in the woods on their way to school.

Whether we braved the projects or the nature preserve, we always had to run one last gauntlet before the first bell rang. The Bartrum Ninth-Grade Center sits in front of Pepper Middle School, and for reasons I will not live long enough ever to figure out, some moron school official thought it would be a good idea to have the Bartrum Center start classes about fifteen minutes later than Pepper. As a result, the meanest ninth-grade gangsters in Philly were loitering outside, looking for recruits and fights, when us seventh- and eighth-graders went filing past. Let's just say I never got an offer to join the Junior Black Mafia. Some days I got busted on with a lot of smack-talk. Other days I got my face busted up pretty good.

I hate to admit it, even to myself, but I came to appreciate John in a weird sort of way after I transferred to Pepper. After two years in the ring with a full-grown boxer, I knew how to take a punch. Short of stabbing me or shooting me, there was nothing the gang-bangers could do to me that I hadn't already survived at least once before. When they came after me, I fought back with everything I had.

After a couple weeks, I stopped getting my ass kicked on the way into school. But I still never felt safe inside Pepper. I knew one of the neighborhood's gang wars could break out at any moment, in any hallway, and I could be caught in the cross-fire. So I started carrying a switchblade with me, even though it was no match for my classmates' guns.

The only place I actually felt comfortable was on the softball field. I joined a youth-league team that practiced on Pepper's diamond after school each day. Softball didn't thrill me like hockey, or even football, but it served its own purpose. I was a pretty good player, good enough that I had a hunch my teammates would keep me from getting killed, in a pinch, at least until after our season was over.

One day after practice, I went back inside the school, hoping to God the boys' bathroom would be empty. There had been so many attacks in there over the years that the authorities had removed all the doors from the stalls. At Pepper you only got to drop a deuce in private if you were the only one in the john. Since it was nearly five o'clock, I figured I'd have the place to myself. I was wrong.

The hallway door no sooner thudded shut behind me, when a voice growled, "There's another one." Several guys, I couldn't tell how many, were crowded into one stall. One of them was glaring at me. I recognized him; I'd seen him before, hanging with the Junior Black Mafia in front of Bartrum.

When he started moving toward me, I caught a glimpse of the kid on the floor. From the looks of things, the JB Mafiosos had wedged the kid against the toilet to keep him from sliding away when they kicked him in the face. What was left of his face was unrecognizable to me. In fact, if it hadn't been for this one wisp of straight, brown hair that wasn't matted in blood, I wouldn't have even known the kid was white.

The JBM dude was almost on top of me when another voice echoed from the back of the stall: "Frankie's cool." The guy charging me stopped dead in his tracks.

DeShawn Cooper emerged from the stall with a big smile on his face. We looked like twins in our matching softball uniforms.

"You're cool, aren't you, Frankie?" DeShawn asked.

I knew what he meant. He meant, you aren't going to tell anyone what you're seeing, are you, Frankie?

I glanced down at the kid on the cold tile floor. He was shaking violently. Through the blood and the bruises and the swelling, his eyes were just begging me to do something, to get somebody, to do anything I could to save him. I looked back up at DeShawn.

"Yeah, I'm cool," I promised.

I kept my eyes on DeShawn and his friends as I backed out of the bathroom. I walked slowly down the hallway, trying to look cool, in case they were watching me. But when I threw open the front door of the building, I bolted. I ran faster than I'd ever run before in my life. I shot through the dealers' district like a bullet. Just behind the mall, I dove into a bush and dropped my pants. It was like my whole insides had just liquified. My ass was still squirting when I jerked my pants back up and took off running again.

I ran all the way back to my dad's house. I snatched off my filthy uniform, and climbed into the shower. I reeked of sweat and shit and something worse. As the hot water rained down on my body, I knew I'd never be able to scrub off the stink of how rotten I felt for leaving that kid laying there on that disgusting bathroom floor. I knew I would never be able to wash away the memory of how fucking degraded he looked when he locked his desperate eyes on mine. We both had known then that I wasn't going to go get help, because we both knew I couldn't. I had to be cool, or I'd be lying on that floor in a pool of my own blood the next day.

I did not go back to Pepper the next day. I never went back again. My dad never noticed that I dropped out.

Most mornings, I'd grab my skateboard and take the bus back to my mom's neighborhood. I'd snag my cousin, Jimmy, before he went into his school. He was always up for ditching with me. We'd head over to South Street. By then, we were old enough to try to scam on the punk chicks. They just laughed us off, though. To them, we were still just "the little skater kids."

If Jimmy wasn't around, I'd kill time in Finnegan's Park. It wasn't far from my dad's house, and the other guys who hung out there were older, so they never had any trouble scoring booze. And they were never stingy with it. Whenever they broke out the forties, they'd always toss a few my way.

Those guys thought it was freaking hilarious that I had managed to drop out of the eighth grade when I was actually a seventh-grader. It was pretty funny. The whole situation was so royally fucked up I could hardly believe it was real. In less than three-months time, I'd gone from being a seventh-grade prisoner of war to being an eighth-grade drop-out free to roam Philadelphia twenty-four hours a day.

Freedom got real boring real fast, though. So in early June, just a month after my fourteenth birthday, I called Nick's parents to see if I was still welcome at the farm.

"You don't ever have to ask that," my mom's sister promised me.

A few days later, Uncle Nick drove into the city to get me. Aunt Catherine was the only one home when we pulled in the driveway. She mauled me with hugs, then told me to take my stuff to Shawn's room, where I'd be bunking.

My cousin had redecorated since my last visit. The plain curtains that once covered the sliding glass doors had been replaced by two flags: a Confederate battle flag, and a black swastika on a red background, the symbol of the Nazis. Newspaper clippings about skinheads wallpapered the room.

I knew all about skinheads. There were skinheads on South Street. Every time Jimmy and I went down there, he warned me to watch my back around the skinheads. They were really hard-core street fighters, and they didn't like skaters, especially long-haired skaters like us.

I'd seen the South Street skinheads around enough to know that you couldn't tell who they were just by their hair. Most of them did have their heads shaved, but some of them just had their hair cut kind of short. To really tell if a guy was a skinhead, you had to go by how he was dressed. That was always the give away, because the skinheads dressed really sharp, especially compared to us skaters. The skinheads wore matching flight jackets with suspenders and combat boots, unless they were going to the clubs; then they usually wore suits. They stuck out on South Street because they always looked so pulled together, and, frankly, because they were one of the very few groups in Philly in those days that seemed to be completely integrated. Some of the skinheads were Irish, some were Italian, some were black, but no matter what, they were all really tight with each other, kind of like a corner, only they had all of South Street.

I had no clue why Shawn was taping up articles about skinheads at the same time he was flying a Confederate flag. From what I'd seen, the skinheads on South Street were about as "Yankee" as you could get. In fact, I was pretty sure Robert E. Lee would have rolled over in his grave if he'd seen how many of those black skinheads had white girlfriends.

I scanned a couple of the articles more closely and kept seeing the phrase "neo-Nazi." I knew about the Nazis, and Hitler, and WWII, from school and all, but, I wondered, "What's a 'neo'?" I figured I'd ask Shawn once he got home. The worst he could do was call me a "retard" for not knowing. If he did, I figured I could call him a "retard" right back for thinking the Civil War had anything to do with skinheads.

While I waited for Shawn to come home, I sat in the kitchen scarfing down a home-cooked meal and talking with Aunt Catherine and Uncle Nick. They didn't ask me about my mom kicking me out so I returned the favor: I didn't bring up anything about the flags flying in Shawn's room. Aunt Catherine warned me he was going through "a phase," though.

"I'm sure it'll pass," she said.

"It better," Uncle Nick added.

Aunt Catherine shot my uncle a look. Then she said to me in that low voice ladies use when they talk about divorce or cancer, "The move was real hard for Shawn, Frankie. But now he has some friends here."

A few hours later, Shawn clomped through the kitchen door and completely blew my mind. He looked just like the skinheads on South Street! His head was completely shaved. His combat boots glistened. It was too hot for a flight jacket, but his narrow suspenders looked just like the ones the skinheads in the city always wore, except his were red and, from what I remembered, the South Street skinheads usually wore blue suspenders.

My mouth dropped straight to the floor when I saw him. I just couldn't get over how different, and how good, Shawn looked. It wasn't just the clothes, either, or even that he'd been pumping some serious iron. Something in Shawn's eyes looked different. He had this intensity I'd never before seen in him.

Shawn's friends from nearby Morgantown had the same look in their eyes when they showed up later that night. They snuck in through the sliding glass door in Shawn's room, being very careful not to snag either of the two flags on the cases of beer they were carrying. Bob Reynolds and Tim Kleinschmidt were both around eighteen, just a little older than Shawn, but a lot older than me. I figured they wouldn't want a kid like me hanging around with them, but Tim tossed me a can of beer.

"I've been looking forward to meeting you, Frank," he said, shaking my hand. "Shawn says you're a real stand-up guy."

I blushed and glanced toward Shawn. My cousin was beaming at me.

"So, what's going on in Philly these days?" Bob Reynolds asked me.

"Not much, I guess."

"C'mon, Frankie," Shawn pushed. "It's okay. You can talk to these guys."

"What do youse want me to talk about?" I asked. The only thing going on in Philly was bullshit with my parents. And if Shawn thought I was going to spill my guts about that, he was crazy.

"I want to hear about that school you go to," Tim said. "Shawn says it's almost all niggers. They ever jump you?"

"Sometimes," I admitted. Then I puffed up a little and added, "But I hold my own."

Tim and Bob smiled at me. Shawn prompted, "Frankie, tell them about the time you saw that nigger shoot one of us by your mom's house."

So I did.

"Tell them about all the coon crack-heads by your school."

Okay.

It went on like that for hours. Every time I told a story about life in Philly, Bob, Tim and Shawn added their own commentary. It got me thinking.

I swear to God, that conversation was the first time I ever really, seriously thought about my life in Philly in terms of race. I'm not saying I'd been color blind; that ain't even possible in Philly. I'd noticed. Especially after I moved in with my dad and I saw black guys beating the shit out of white guys almost every damn day. Especially on the days I was the one they were wailing on.

But I had never really thought about it as a race thing. Having grown up in the inner city, I understood it as a gang thing. To my mind, the black kids at Pepper and Bartrum were vicious because they were gangsters. But the more I talked to Bob, Tim, and Shawn that night, the more they got me thinking maybe I had it all backwards: maybe the kids at Pepper and Bartrum were vicious gangsters because they were black.

Looking back, I'd be lying if I said those guys from Morgantown planted a seed in me that night; the truth is they just added water, and beer, to a seed that was already inside me just waiting to grow. I had been raised to hate. I was a Catholic mulatto, a half-Mick-half-Dago who had never felt more than half-accepted anywhere in South Philly, especially not in my own home.

I didn't realize it until it started to blow, but by the summer of 1989, I had fourteen years of rage bottled up inside me about that. And I had three years of rage building up inside me from John beating me and humiliating me. I had three months of rage building up inside me from having to run through a freaking gang gauntlet to get to Pepper Middle School every day. Worst of all, I had this god-awful guilt eating away at me for leaving that kid bleeding under the toilet the day I saved my own ass and ran out of Pepper for good. I was a stick of dynamite just waiting for a match the night Bob Reynolds and Tim Kleinschmidt stomped through those patio doors.

And they were on fire. By the time I met them in the early summer of 1989, Bob Reynolds and Tim Kleinschmidt were far enough into the white supremacy movement that they just smoldered with hatred. They'd already ignited Shawn and a couple of other guys in the area. And they knew just what to do and say to spark the interest of a fourteen-year-old half-Irish, half-Italian kid from Philly whose real dad was an addict, whose step-dad was an asshole, whose mom was indifferent, whose school was a war zone, and whose only real desire was never to feel like a fucking victim again: they gave a shit about me.

The Morgantown white supremacists paid attention to me. They acted like they wanted me around. They talked to me like they actually cared about what I thought and what I could become. Then they told me I had a destiny. They told me I could become a warrior. They told me all I had to do was look in the mirror and see the truth: I was white, and that was all that mattered.

After a couple of hours with those guys, I understood why Shawn had a Confederate flag hanging in his room. And I got the connection with the Nazis, even if I still didn't know what "neo" was all about. But one thing still had me confused: the whole skinhead thing.

"So if youse guys hate blacks so much, why do youse have all this skinhead shit?" I asked.

"We are skinheads!" Bob exploded. "Real skinheads! Neo-Nazi skinheads!" He jumped to his feet and thrust his right hand toward the ceiling. "Sieg Heil!" he shouted. Shawn and Tim followed suit.

I probably would have been a little freaked out by that, if I'd been sober. In fact, if I'd been sober, I probably would have realized the thing I was about to say may have been an invitation to getting my ass kicked. But I was drunk off my ass by then, drunker than I'd ever been in my life, so the words just spewed out: "Well, then, I'm pretty damn sure the skinheads in Philly ain't Nazis. Hell, half the skinheads in Philly are black."

"Those nigger mother-fuckers are not skinheads!" Bob barked, "They're nothing but mud. They're fucking SHARPs, and so are the fucking nigger-loving race-traitors who hang out with them." He was right up in my face when he growled, "Don't you ever let me hear you call them skinheads again!"

I felt like hell when I woke up the next afternoon. My head throbbed as I tried to piece together everything that had happened the night before. The drinking, and the lecturing, had gone on almost until dawn. I only remembered bits and pieces of what Shawn and his friends had taught me, but I remembered enough to know better than to ever confuse a neo-Nazi skinhead with a Skinhead Against Racial Prejudice, a.k.a. SHARP, again in my life.

Of course, I didn't realize then that I had just survived my first night of indoctrination into the white supremacy movement. Hell, when I woke up the next day I barely remembered what the whole "movement" thing was all about. I just knew I liked hanging out with those guys, and I hoped they'd show up again.

They did. They showed up almost every night. Usually, we'd just hang out in Shawn's room drinking and talking until three or four in the morning. Sometimes, though, we'd pile into Tim's truck and meet up with some of their other friends for a party. Those Morgantown skinheads showed me some really good times the summer of 1989.

But it wasn't all about fun. The skinheads spent hours and hours nearly every night explaining these really complicated theories to me. They were really patient with me. Even when I got stuff turned around, not once that whole summer did anybody call me a "retard."

Bob and Tim began by teaching me a little bit about an idea called Identity Theology. Having been raised Catholic, I was pretty suspicious of anything religious coming out of the mouth of any dude who wasn't a priest, but I had to admit that a lot of what the skinheads said made sense, especially after they pointed out verses in the Bible that proved their points.

Everything they said was basically the opposite of everything I'd ever been taught at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, but it was all right there in the Bible when the skinheads showed me where to look. The twelve tribes of Israel were the ancestors of today's Europeans. They were, truly, the children of God, the humans created in His image through the lineage of Adam. The other races were the bloodlines produced by Eve's carnal sin with the serpent; they were the descendents of Cain, the literal son of Satan. The skinheads assured me the pure aryan blood of the twelve tribes, God's blood, was coursing through the veins of every white person in the world, including mine. They told me it was a sin against God for whites to desecrate His sacred bloodline by race-mixing with the sons and daughters of Satan.

"Why didn't I learn this at mass?" I asked, holding the Bible in my hands.

"God chose you to know now," Tim reverently explained. "The question you should be asking is, 'what am I going to do now that I know?'"

I wasn't completely sure, but I knew I had to do something. Whenever the skinheads talked about Identity, I felt like I was being called to join God's army. It was my duty as an aryan, as a child of God, to fight against the forces of Satan.

And those forces were freaking enormous, according to my new friends. The skinheads told me that even though it looked like the black, Asian, and Hispanic "mud" were the ones taking over the world, it was really the Jews who threatened aryan survival.

"The Jews are Satan's generals, man," Tim told me. "The fucking Jews call the shots for all the mud. They fucking control everything, the cops, the government, the media. It's all ZOG."

"ZOG?" I asked.

"The Zionist Occupational Government," Tim explained.

Then Bob warned me, "ZOG's everywhere, Frankie. And most whites have totally fallen for it. Most whites are too fucking blind to realize they're helping set up their own genocide."

Tim nodded his head in agreement. "You're one of the lucky ones, Frankie. Now you know what's really going on."

I grew up on the mean streets of South Philly; I was a hard sell even when I was only fourteen. I asked those skinheads about a million questions that summer, and they had an answer for every one of them. I tried my best to trip them up, to show them up, to prove them wrong, but I couldn't. After a while, I just gave myself over to them.

The minute I did, everything in the whole world started making sense to me, even the hell of the first fourteen years of my life. ZOG had all but destroyed the white working class in America, stealing their jobs through Affirmative Action and their rightful place in society through Civil Rights laws. In the name of "liberalism," ZOG forced working-class whites to live amid "mud," who brought gangs and drugs into what had been moral neighborhoods. ZOG had humiliated men like my father so much that they turned to dope to escape their pain, and men like my step-father so much that they unleashed their rage on innocent children. Worst of all, the Jews who controlled Hollywood were brainwashing whites to think "race-mixing" was cool.

Remember that movie, Field of Dreams: "If you build it, they will come"? Well, if you believe it, the evidence will come.

By July, I believed it, and suddenly everywhere I looked I found proof of everything the skinheads were teaching me. The more proof I uncovered, the harder I believed. And the harder I believed, the more I wanted to follow the skinheads into battle.

The problem was there wasn't really anybody to battle in the middle of bum-fuck-nowhere Pennsylvania. Hell, by virtue of being full-Italian, Uncle Nick was the closest thing to a minority within ten miles of the farm. The Morgantown skinheads spent a lot of time that summer talking about jumping some black kid in Lancaster, but they never actually did it. That whole summer, they never laid so much as one finger on a minority.

Instead, they laid into what they called "long-hairs," better known to the rest of the world as skaters. To this day, I'm not sure the Morgantown skinheads ever actually realized I was a skater, or maybe they did, and they just overlooked it because I was Shawn's cousin. They gave me a lot of crap about how long my hair was, but that was the extent of it, at least with me.

"Long-hairs" who weren't related to Shawn suffered a far worse fate. The rural skinheads were absolutely convinced that all long-hairs were ZOG dupes. I swear, if Jesse Helms himself had skipped a couple of barber appointments, those farm boys would have thought he was a Jewish communist. Granted, the long-hairs in Lancaster County were liberal, compared to their Amish neighbors, but they weren't exactly anarchist punks by South Street standards. That didn't matter to the skinheads, though; by the time I met them, they had declared war on the long-hairs of Lancaster County.

About mid-way through the summer, the skinheads took me along with them to a concert in the city of Lancaster. They knew some other skinhead crews from up around Allentown were coming in for the night, so they warned me to stick really close to them.

"They'll think you're a long-hair," Shawn explained, "So we're going to have to keep an eye on you."

The club was packed by the time we arrived. There were a lot of long-hairs there, but I noticed right off the bat that they all were crowded up against the back wall. As we made our way into the crowd, I saw why: the mosh pit at the base of the stage was teaming with skinheads, all thrashing in time to the music and slamming themselves into each other. I'd seen mosh pits in action before in some of the clubs on South Street, but never anything like this. There must have been thirty or forty skinheads in the pit that night. It was a blood orgy of the brotherhood.

"You'll be safe up here," Bob Reynolds said as he grabbed me under my arm pits and hoisted me onto his shoulders. "Whatever you do, don't fall off me, 'cause they'll kill you with that damn hair of yours."

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" I screamed over the roar of the music.

"You see anybody in there bigger than me?" he asked.

He had a point. Bob Reynolds was a huge guy. And in that pit, being the biggest guy with a shaved head meant acceptance, even if you did have a long-hair riding on your shoulders.

I have no idea how many mosh pits I've been in in my life, hundreds at least, but none ever compared to being up on Bob's shoulders in that pit of skinheads in Lancaster. Every skinhead in the pit, and every long-hair along the back wall, was just staring at me, wondering, "Who is that kid? Who's the long-hair with his own skinhead bodyguard?" I felt like some kind of celebrity, and I felt totally safe up on my perch.

Maybe seeing me floating above the crowd is what inspired another long-hair to brave the pit. Maybe seeing me riding high on Bob's shoulders is what kept the other skinheads from attacking that long-hair the very second he stepped inside the circle. Bob saw him before I did. He nudged my leg to get my attention, then pointed across the floor. The other skinheads had moved away from the kid like he was a toxic spill, and they were all looking to Bob for some kind of signal.

I nearly lost my balance when Bob took off across the floor. He rammed into the kid from behind, caught him by the hair, then spun him around to face us. Bob wrapped both his enormous paws around the long-hair's neck and held him firmly in place. The kid looked like he was going to shit his pants on the spot.

"Kick him, Frankie," Bob ordered.

It was my moment of truth: was I a long-hair, or was I a skinhead? Everyone in that club was watching me. I felt like everyone in the whole fucking world was watching me.

I drove my foot directly into the center of the kid's face. Blood sprayed from his broken nose. Bob released the kid's neck; the long-hair's body slumped to the floor. Every skinhead in the mosh pit smiled at me. Then, without saying a word, they fell back into formation, swirling around the pit like a bunch of bald, brawny dervishes. I swirled right along with them for hours.

A few nights later, the Morgantown crew gathered in Shawn's bedroom. They each took a turn with a pair of electric clippers until my head was shaved clean. Tim Kleinschmidt presented me with an old pair of his Doc Marten combat boots. He explained that they were laced in red to symbolize both the sacred aryan blood in my veins and the ZOG-blood I had spilled in the Lancaster mosh pit.

I was fourteen years old, and I was a neo-Nazi skinhead. For the first time in my whole freaking life, I felt like I mattered.

Just Another Problem is the story of the life of Frank Meeink as he told it to Jody Roy over the course of nearly three years. Although Roy confirmed most of the events of Meeink's life, not all events could be confirmed. The story in this book is told from Frank's perspective and, thus, reflects Frank's personal opinions and individual perceptions of particular events.

Out of necessity, the dialogue in the manuscript was recreated to give life to the book. While no person can remember each word from every conversation in their life, Meeink and others Roy interviewed provided their best recollections of conversations. Roy used their memories, and their distinctive dialects, as models for the dialogue in the text.

To the extent possible, names and identifying characteristics of most of the people Frank Meeink has known in his life have been changed to protect their privacy. Actual names of white supremacists are used only for recognized group leaders who chose to make their identity known publicly between the years 1988 and 1994.

Excerpted from Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead by Meeink Copyright 2010 by Frank Meenik. Excerpted by permission of Hawthorne Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead

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by Frank Meeink, Jody M. Roy and Elizabeth Wurtzel

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Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead
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