Does it matter that some believe Meeink's story is linked to the film, even if no such link can be established?

As long as bookstores are pimping the book based on this belief, I think it does. Otherwise, why even mention it?

There is another troubling aspect to Meeink's autobiography: the violence portrayed in it. The recounting of squalor and the betrayals of girlfriends and family that swirl about his alcohol and drug addictions are old hat, the stuff of countless memoirs and made-for-TV movies.

Former neo-Nazi Frank Meeink, at a recent appearance in Phoenix.
Stephen Lemons
Former neo-Nazi Frank Meeink, at a recent appearance in Phoenix.

But the violence, and the pleasure Meeink obviously took in it at the time, invite an unpleasant voyeurism. Like when he helps an accomplice pry a hammer from a victim's head or when he describes how his Strike Force would go on a tear, hunting for homeless people to stomp.

Meeink says in the book that he never killed anyone, but he mentions fellow skinheads showing up bloody, crowing that they had just stabbed someone. Another time, two skins take a homeless man underneath a boardwalk and come up later, telling Meeink they knifed him.

Though he didn't participate in those assaults, the ex-South Philly führer mentions vandalizing a black church and "jumping" a junkie and "a random queen."

"I felt like I was living A Clockwork Orange," he mentions at one point. "I loved that movie; all the skinheads did."

The book is written with a sick sense of humor and street-smart turns of phrase that keep you reading. It's earned plaudits from notables such as African-American studies professor Cornel West, authors Jerry Stahl and Elizabeth Wurtzel, and Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Meeink, now 35, is light-years away from his skinhead teens and 20s. With the help of the ADL and the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team, he founded an organization called Harmony Through Hockey, which brings kids of different colors together on the ice to teach understanding and forgiveness.

While in Phoenix for the week, he's participated with Don Logan in a presentation to high school kids on the evils of bigotry. Logan, the former director of Scottsdale's Office of Diversity and Dialogue, was seriously injured in 2004 when he opened a package bomb sent, it's believed, by neo-Nazis.

Meeink's publisher tells me that 1 percent of the net sales from Meeink's book are going to the National Association of Students Against Violence Everywhere, a non-profit that promotes civility and respect.

Moreover, Meeink continues to express regret for his past transgressions.

"I was absolutely wrong [for] treating other human beings on Earth that way," he told me. "There's no way possible I can ever take it back, except for making amends."

So why should I feel troubled by Meeink's account? After all, there's more violence in the film Inglorious Basterds, or the Showtime series The Tudors, than you'll feast upon in Meeink's book.

Perhaps it's the knowledge that hate crimes are up 30 percent in Phoenix, and the awareness of the activities of the various violent white-supremacist groups in the Valley.

It would not be difficult for me to imagine someone I know getting jumped by a Phoenix-area version of Meeink's former Strike Force, or a person I care about to have a hammer pried from his or her head after an attack by neo-Nazi goons.

Meeink agreed with me that individuals currently engaged in such activities are unlikely to be converted by his mea culpa. And I concurred with him that the best chance we may have is to intervene when people are young, before they even become involved in a gang of any sort.

But we parted ways on the how he's depicted his former pals.

"It's just like when you watch The Sopranos," he said. "You love the characters. You know their morals are screwed up. You know they're in the mob, but you still love the characters, because they're still human beings."

Except that, when dealing with Mafia tales, the source of the violence is money and power, not a racist ideology, which is far more insidious to me.

I know Meeink has encountered threats from skinheads regarding his book. But I couldn't help but tell him that if, in the memoir, he'd been pulling that hammer out of someone I loved, I didn't think I could ever forgive him.

"Then that's on you," he said. "What you think about me is none of my business. What I think of you is all my business."

Maybe, but not if you want me to buy your book. Fortunately, I got the review copy free.

HATE SQUAD SAVED

As I've written two columns arguing for the retention of the Phoenix Police Department's Career Criminal Squad, the unit that investigates and helps to secure prosecutions against violent white supremacists and other offenders, I'm happy to announce that CCS has been spared the budget ax by Phoenix City Manager David Cavazos.

Although the squad was officially disbanded as of April 5, Cavazos reversed the decision two days later because of the concerns of community activists such as Ann Malone, and organizations such as PLEA, the Phoenix police union, and the Arizona ADL.

In a conference call with Cavazos and Phoenix Assistant Chief Joe Yahner, miscommunication between the city manager and the police department reared its head.

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3 comments
R Y N O 88
R Y N O 88

Outside of my last comment; a true skinhead in the real meaning is very anti-drugs, and stays away from them and people who use. Drug users are another one of the lowest forms of life and would get the same treatment as any non white.

R Y N O 88
R Y N O 88

He traded out his people back east, worst kind of human there is. Oxygen thief!

Kerry Kenney
Kerry Kenney

I attended Frankie's talk at Changing Hands bookstore tonight and agreed with your article on the first page -- the whole American History X thing is confusing and unnecessary in a way. Frank doesn't need the movie to make him a voice worth listening too. On the second page you lost me with the judgement about violence, etc. The power of Frankie's story for me is the contribution he makes towards describing how the seeds of hatred and violence are planted in a young mind and what path they follow once planted. Frank Meeink has completed a near full circuit attitude change, beginning with accepting that another way of thinking existed and culminating in serving as a role model for deeply troubled and abused individuals. He demonstrates that personal redemption and amends are possible. Your issue with the burial a claw hammer in the head of someone you love makes it impossible for you to forgive him or buy his book is not relevant to me. I mean the claw hammer is the hate and the violence. If you are repulsed by him does that make him go away? Does that make what he has to say pointless? It is the claw hammer that gives him currency with young people. What is relevant to me is that someone as violent, abused, neglected and addicted as Frank Meeink can inspire tormented young people that they can be positive and productive. What can you do to reach out to that population? What can Frankie do? I think for the hundreds of individual acts of violence he committed he is making an active case to reach out over and over again and gentle the anger of others who might have wasted their lives on hate. I think we need Frankie's voice because he's been there. No one at Changing Hands asked Frankie if he wished his youth had been spent differently. I wonder if he would say "yes, I'm glad I was a violent Nazi skinhead because it made me the person I am today" I think he would say "I wish I had an intact family and someone that loved me and supported me so that I would have set foot on that road". I don't think he's proud. At least that is how he came across to me.Anyhow, great writing on your part I can tell Frankie made you think, I read other articles about his visit and yours was my favorite so far. Love Changing Hands, they always have the best speakers.

 
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