Sometimes when you are alone in life a group can become family, and if they are into hate, the hate gets into you. That’s how Jonathan Strayn recalls getting into the skinheads and the Aryan Brotherhood. “I didn’t have a strong family connection. [The skinheads] were there all the time. They’d answer the phone and let you come over and hang around. It was something I was longing for. The not good relations with my family pushed me into looking for connection. It went from there, hanging around. I had never believed [in hate], but after four months hanging around them with the conspiracies they are shooting out, it takes hold of you. From there it was drugs, violence and race…”
The indoctrination was relentless warnings, ‘Don’t go to this part of town.’ ‘Stay away from those people.’ ‘All of them are bad.’ Us/them, to show a huge difference between us. They showed me more about what they are into, explaining tattoos. It went from there. They asked me if I wanted to get involved. I started watching documentaries and stuff like that. They keep talking and I started, eventually, wearing boots and braces.”
When I ask Jonathan if he was looking for belonging, he says, “Yes, that was the driving force—belonging, when I didn’t feel like I belonged in a family. My crazy hair, tattoos, and piercings—I had an identity, but I didn’t have anything to belong to. I gravitated toward people I didn’t even like. It’s crazy. It’s wild how quick things can change, how fast you can have a completely different mindset, just a few months. How fast you can be radicalized.”
The skinheads appeared committed to one another, had each others’ backs. “We would fight, never turn anything down. We didn’t look for people to attack. We weren’t as militant as some. Mostly random people, a lot of bar fights…” They were also looking to kick off a race war, just like Dylann Roof when he shot up a Black church or Brenton Tarrant as he carried out a mass killing in a Christchurch mosque.
“Rahowa [racial holy war], they one hundred percent want it. They are waiting for the day it finally happens and they can create war.” Jonathan recalls their training, “You do your daily training. You train anytime you can with whatever weapons you can get. You always carry weapons. You are always supposed to be prepared if you are needed, if it kicks off. You always have your boots on, as they say.”
“They were hoping for either separation from everyone else or complete annihilation of everyone else. They want to be separate and never any contact with people who look different than they do or believe different than they do. It’s all-out war, kill or be killed. These people are violent and dangerous and very radical. [My opinion now is,] if you are a racist, you are a terrorist because you have no other goal than to terrorize other people because they are not like you.”
In terms of creed, Jonathan was being fed racist and antisemitic beliefs that were contradictory. “A lot of them were into the Creator church,” Jonathan explains referring to a group who are against Christianity and followed a creed proclaiming whatever is good for the white race is good]. Others were following Christian identity, a belief system which distorts Christian scriptures to claim that only whites are human, Jews are the spawn of Satan and colored people are basically animals. “[They were into] Jesus and race. I’d say no Jesus is Jewish, I’m not going to listen to that. I didn’t get down with the whole racial holy war. I didn’t find it to be holy. Jesus was Jewish. I couldn’t see how they’d follow a Jewish guy if they were racists.”
Jonathan had already rebelled against his conservative Christian upbringing by becoming a Satanist. He explains, “[I was] a Satanist because Satan doesn’t like [Jesus] either. Satanism was a big part of my life for a really big time,” he continues. “It started from my childhood, with the punishment and Jesus at the same time, that probably pushed me there. It was a way for me to have something that was a religion that was super far away from what my parents had, and subconsciously to make them very angry. It was very much (filled with hate). My satanism was really anti-Christian, very angry. I don’t believe in Satan as a literal being now, but in the past, he was everything. Someone I never had, a father figure to me, because I didn’t have one. The one I had was aggressive with Jesus. I just got shoved in that direction. I loved the way people reacted when I told them I was a Satanist and I practiced witchcraft.”
Jonathan explains his hatred for Jews stemmed from Satanism and of course was fueled by the hate groups. “It all lined up with Satanism, anti-Jews. It’s all hate, it all goes together.” The skinheads “would say the Jews are in control of the media, in control of the government, in control of all the banks.”
Jonathan now feels the group was using him. “They can used you as a foot soldier. They want other people into it to be part of their group. Their numbers are small. They believe if you are white, you should one hundred percent stand up for white folks, and be racist.”
Jonathan’s disillusionment grew over time. “It was a culmination of a lot of different things. I didn’t grow up like that. Just trying to look at the humanity in everything instead of looking through race or religion. We are all alive here, an energy thing. I started seeing things they were doing that I didn’t agree with, messing with other white people, just weaker white guys, that really bothered me, if it’s we are all in this together, you are letting the weaker guys out to dry, that was a real inflection point, that what I was doing was not the best thing, I wasn’t raised to be like that. My Mom and Dad weren’t like that. It was a turning point, a point of moving on, closure to this season in my life.
Jonathan walked away from hate but he’s still got the markings on his body. “It’s been years now since I was into it. It’s so sad for me, I’ve changed everything, but I still have the outward appearance of what I was. I can’t take my shirt off anywhere. I was one of them at one point. It’s something hard to continuously deal with. That’s why I want these tattoos gone, covered up. It’s the last push to erase it,” Jonathan explains. Yet even with tattoo removal he knows he will always live with his past. “It’s always going to be there. I’m glad I have the experience now to know better.”
About the belonging and sense of family white supremacists offer, Jonathan explains what he learned, “It’s a false hope and a false sense of security. They come to you with these big open eyes and say it’s all about love, but it’s not. Only for one side, and only for one portion of the world we live in. It’s sad and it was empty.”
“The only thing they did was tore me down, isolated me from anyone I knew or loved. I got into way more violent altercations because I was hanging out with them.” Jonathan thought they would protect him, but now realizes, “Look, you are still alone even though they are around.”
“It’s totally not worth it [to join],” Jonathan warns. “If I could say anything, it would be run, as far away as you can from anyone talking hate. It will destroy you within six months and you’ll be a completely different person, and you won’t like who you are. You will change from the inside. Your morals fly out the window. You will follow a new moral code, brainwashing yourself and then it’s too late because you‘ve changed the whole way you look at things. “
Jonathan thinks the rise in white supremacy right now is due to online recruitment. stating, “The Internet is at fault.”
He now feels joining a hate movement was like catching a contagious disease, and his vulnerability was a need to belong. “I’d do whatever I can to help stop the spread of this disease, because it is a disease, a contagious disease.”
If you need help exiting hate you can contact people who care here.