Perhaps more than ever before, neo-Nazis have taken a spotlight. Because of the alt-right (Nazis and white supremacists), we’ve seen a more active Nazi party in the United States than perhaps ever before. That’s a bit of a misnomer, however, as they’ve never been inactive, they just haven’t had a spotlight. I have, or had, a friend, Robert Freeman, who repeatedly told me the stupidity and inanity of his life story.
Rob grew up in gang territory, and his story of becoming a Nazi has a lot less to do with outward racism or identification with the ideals of Hitler and genocide and a lot more to do with the typical methods of indoctrination by any gang. They convince kids that they need them, for friendship, for family, for protection — for any litany of reasons that are textbook manipulation. Rob lived in a predominantly black area, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when there was an honest war on the streets. This is reality I’m talking about, not Tupac and Biggie spitting verses at one another across coasts. This was blood on the streets, it’s-too-dangerous-to-walk-home-alone kind of stuff. Rob was white in a predominantly black neighborhood ruled by gangs. There was only one white gang, and really there still is only one white gang: neo-Nazi.
Nazis recruited Rob the same way the Crips, Bloods, or Latin Kings recruited. They found vulnerable, scared kids and convinced them that they needed these people. How else would they make it home from school without getting hurt? How else would they find protection and family in a life without parents that are around in a neighborhood where they’d be attacked for just being white? It’s almost easy to see why a young, uneducated, scared kid might say yes.
Now I feel like I need to be completely crystal clear here: I’m not excusing my friend. In fact, when I met him, we weren’t friends. Everything he represented was everything I abhorred, he was a friend of a friend who hung out at the NWA Mall, the only time I’d be forced to interact with him is when we’d go outside from (actual) Mallratting for a smoke break. Because I was 16 and a badass. Salem menthol, you know it.
About a year after I met him, Rob had a major change of heart. He attributed it to living here more than anything else. Living outside the gang territories of the ’90s did wonders for his built-in prejudices, and he soon realized how incredibly stupid the entire credo of Nazism was. Rob was what they called a legacy, meaning his grandfather had served in the German military during World War II. He was an actual Nazi by blood.
Now, when I met Rob, and when we were friends, I was deep into punk rock, which anyone familiar with should recognize as being the literal opposite of Nazism or fascism in general. Anarchy was the rule of the day for punk rock, the thought of something like a government dictating and trying to control my every move was and is a literal nightmare.
The thing I learned from him and, vicariously, through his experience with actual neo-Nazis, was that very few of the dudes involved knew what they were involved in. It was and is a gang. Not only that, but about the most ignorant gang in a world of sixth-grade dropouts and drug dealings. It’s an alternate universe where “Jews rule everything” and “blacks are systematically pushing whites out of their place.” In short, it’s beyond nonsensical and ignorant, and speak to any former neo-Nazi and they’ll absolutely tell you the same story. It’s a story of indoctrination, of “catching them young,” of appealing to fear and prejudice at an age before those things can be accurately quantified in a human being. In short, it is total, Scientologist-style bullshit.
Again, I’m not making excuses for him, nor would he make excuses for himself. He knew where he stood, he knew how horrible the things he did and the beliefs he had were. There is no actual, or in anyway logical reason, for Nazis to be Nazis. The belief in inferior races or that one brand of blood can be above another, when scientifically there is just as much a chance of a Norwegian’s DNA matching up with the DNA of someone from Uganda, is just — I mean, do I really need to say it? It’s asinine. Stupid. Ignorance at its very grandest, Liberace-esque displays of pointlessness.
I know for a fact that Rob wouldn’t be the first or last person to tell you all this, coming from the life he lived. But he’s the person I know that’s been through this, so I chose to tell his story. If, by any small chance, he’s out there and he reads this, please find me again. We have just so much to catch up on.