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Neo-Nazi Remorse? Ex-Skinhead Frank Meeink Says He Has It, and the Career Criminal Squad is Saved

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When I spoke to Meeink by phone before he arrived in Phoenix this week, he seemed to hedge.

"There's a coincidence, and I'll leave it at that," he said of any similarities to his autobiography and the film. "I don't know. Who knows? It is what it is."

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

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.

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.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons