Memoir

I Was a Black Nazi Skinhead

When I went to prison I was black. By the time I got out 11 years later I was crazy, fascist and white.

I Was a Black Nazi Skinhead

A framed photo of American fascist Francis Parker Yockey glared down at me from a wall in my two-room studio in Boston’s North End. Next to me was a 50-pound bag of ammonium nitrate and other materials that I planned to make into package bombs and hand deliver to the offices of a short list of organizations I felt were at war with my culture.

Below me was the naked, athletic body of my 21-year-old comrade in arms. We’d just had sex, and I was as consumed by the tattoo covering her back as I was with the girl herself. Four black hatchets, bound together at the handles, formed the most beautifully rendered swastika I’d ever seen.

I hadn’t told her I was black. In a few months, though, she would learn my secret — along with the rest of the world — and I would begin my trip out of the most batshit-crazy ideological corner anyone has ever painted themselves into.

I’m 46 percent African, 41 percent European and 13 percent American Indian, according to the DNA test I took a few years ago. I’m black, but sometimes I use the term “beige.” Growing up in a bougie suburb of D.C., I hadn’t faced the kind of bare-knuckled racism that a beige person might’ve faced elsewhere. No one ever burned a cross on our lawn or tried to stuff me into an oven. Still, it wasn’t perfect, and being one of only a few African-Americans in my overwhelmingly white community had meant friction with other kids my age that my (white) mother wasn’t well-equipped to handle without my (black) father around after their divorce. So she stuck me in a series of institutions, beginning at age 10 and on and off through age 17.

As a teenager, I was drawn to the unedited energy of the D.C. punk rock scene. I went to my first show at 14 and was never the same. I became a skinhead, but not a neo-Nazi. My homies were black, brown and white. Most of our activities revolved around girls, beer and shows. We hated frat boys.

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The author (top left) and his friends from the punk scene, 1989.

In 1989, I was in New York City for a show and got into a fight with a cab driver on the way home. I was falsely accused of hitting him in the head with a lug wrench. Though three of my friends were with me and testified as to what happened, after a sham trial I got convicted anyhow and went up north to the state system with a three-year bid. Rikers Island had been a lot of drama, but up north the shit was on 10 at all times. Blood, guts, hate. And you didn’t have the option to abstain. You went with the flow or you got ground under someone’s boots.

Everything in prison is about some racial shit. For me, this was a problem, because I wasn’t about anything racial.

On the first day, a kid asked me, “What nationality are you?”

“I’m black and white,” I said.

“You can’t be both.”

At the time, I thought he was insane, but he understood prison culture. Everyone there is on a side, and if you don’t pick one, then it’ll be picked for you. In my case, you can’t necessarily tell what side I’m on at first glance. Could be black, Hispanic or white. And so it began.

The only tribe I’d ever identified with was the punk rock scene. The few kids up north I had punk rock in common with also happened to be white, and soon I was the half-white kid who hung out with the whites. I’d been mistaken for Italian in New York and New Jersey before, and I’d always corrected whoever said it. I had read about Creoles, who must have looked like me, and I thought about how nice it must have been to live somewhere where everyone around you wouldn’t question what you are, because you’re all the same thing. Here, in prison, I was accepted as white, and as time went on, I seemed unable or unwilling to correct anyone on it, thinking it would complicate things. I was tired of the ambiguities my appearance presented and decided I wouldn’t tell anyone anymore about “my dark side.” If W.E.B. Du Bois could call himself black, then I could be white. Fuck it.

Over time, my three-year bid turned into 11, mostly for fighting. I started reading a lot about race and theory, embracing neo-fascist literature, Odinism, and the writings of Yockey to the point that I no longer felt like I was from Maryland, but rather from Europe, from Hyperborea — the mythological Indo-European place of giants “from beyond the North Wind.”

Since I could always draw, I started tattooing myself, and then others for extra money. I found myself tattooing “White Power” onto the skin of one new homie. I had someone else ink the Nazi eagle on the back of my left forearm. It was bold, but I understood what the National Socialists had been fighting for 50 years ago. I had some qualms with it, but I believed in the laws of natural selection and felt that the West was something worth fighting for — and I didn’t care who knew it.

A recent photo of the author in prison.

By the time I got out, I was nuts. I bought into the ideal of Western culture with all the zeal of a jihadi, and I meant to give my life in its service. Now I characterize it as plantation psychosis. At the time, I called it Destiny. Someone from the National Alliance contacted me about publishing another edition of my comic book, Knight of the Cross, a story about a skinhead who does time and goes off on some terrorist shit. Then I hooked up with Thomas Struss, a friend of a guy I knew from prison, and told him I wanted to blow up the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Anti-Defamation League offices, then do a suicide mission at the Simon Wiesenthal Center or some place like that. Struss was on the same page.

A few weeks later, a cop picked me and my girlfriend up in East Boston for trying to pass a fake bill in a donut shop. I was ultimately convicted of “conspiracy to make and possess a destructive device, counterfeiting, and possession of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence,” but at the time I felt like I was really on trial for my beliefs. In the complaint, they made a big deal out of mentioning two Nazi flags a friend-turned-witness had taken from our apartment. I tried appealing the 27-year sentence, to no avail.

I hate the government, but I don’t hate them for having intervened against me 17 years ago. Much of what they alleged was false, but I was out of my mind, and short of being locked up or run over by a bus, I would probably have done something awful in the name of something abominable.

When the government told the press that the neo-Nazi they’d just arrested was half-black, I cut my jugular veins with a broken razor blade in my cell in the middle of the night. Life had suddenly become more trouble than it was worth. I survived, but my detour into whiteness did not. I saw that my whole ideology — the idealized picture of the West, the neo-fascist political cause — had been a bad case of tunnel vision. I’d fucked off my whole life and hurt those closest to me for the sake of a prison-induced hallucination.

I wasn’t sure how people would accept me back in prison. I didn’t even know where to sit at lunch. Some white dudes from Boston invited me to sit with them, and everything was cool for the moment. I knew the simplest thing for me to do would be to just switch sides — that is, to just get on some black shit. To a certain extent, that’s eventually what happened but it wasn’t that easy.

I have been moved around to prisons all over the country, which means starting over, again and again. By 2008, I got all of the relevant parties on the black and white sides of the issue together in one place and tried to make my crossing back over to “the dark side” official.

“He’s your problem now,” one of the white homies said.

We all laughed, and it seemed settled. I just needed a black cell to move into and that was that. Then, on Christmas day a few years later in another joint, I was exercising in the yard with some Deadmau5 thumping in my ears when three neo-Nazis jumped me. They came at me from the front, and we fought for a few chaotic seconds before the COs came running over and sprayed us with pepper gas, cuffed us and took us to the hole. These guys somehow didn’t get the memo and didn’t want me riding with my own people.

Since then, I’ve refocused my center of gravity on the non-Western parts of my background. A patrilineal DNA test indicated my Y-chromosome descended from the Yoruba in Africa, so I legally changed my last name to reflect this. After learning about Ogun and Ifa, two Yoruba deities I identify with, I drew images of them for future tattoos to cover the half-lasered “SKINHEAD” tattoo still on my head. I’ve had to straighten out a few of my other tattoos, since some might see me and still think “Nazi.” Those who know me know I’m not. I will never repeat the mistake of investing my race or ethnicity with transcendent value.

Now Trump calls himself a nationalist. It’s hard to imagine any kind of “moderate” response to the current political moment of homicidal white racism. The anti-fascist reaction to the Trump regime’s white supremacist movement seems like a good start. As someone who has seen militant neo-fascism from within its depths, I can’t help but feel like people misunderstand the threat posed by this current iteration of organized white racism. This shit isn’t a game. These people will kill you. For my own part, if I remain in this country when I get out, I would feel compelled to help stop them.