Vancouver antiracist educator Tony McAleer is astonishingly transparent about his past life as a neo-Nazi activist.
In his new memoir, The Cure for Hate: A Former White Supremacist’s Journey From Violent Extremism to Radical Compassion, he describes attending the Aryan Nations World Congress of 1988, which took place at the racist group’s compound in Idaho.
“There were various members of Klans (contrary to popular belief, the Ku Klux Klan is not a large solitary force but has splintered into dozens of regional and sometimes competing groups of different sizes) and old-school Nazis from the days of George Lincoln Rockwell’s American Nazi Party, founded in 1959, wearing brown shirts and swastika armbands,” McAleer writes. “Every major white supremacist faction was represented, but at this Congress, skinheads were present in large numbers for the first time. There was even a group of Christian Identity skinheads from Las Vegas accompanied by sisters and girlfriends who all had blonde hair and brown Nazi uniforms—they were euphemistically referred to as the Brown Skirts.”
How did McAleer, a Catholic-school-educated son of a psychiatrist from Dunbar, end up in a place like this?
It started with the beatings he received in school at the hands of the Christian Brothers, as well as the Saturday detentions.
He took great satisfaction in refusing to buckle under all the discipline, with a level of defiance that he writes was off the charts. As a teen, he began listening to racist music and hanging out with skinheads in East Van, and by Grade 12 he was learning about the history of the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, and the Second World War.
“What started as being provocative—wearing buttons and pins with swastikas and other white supremacist symbols—led people to start challenging my beliefs,” he reveals.
Whereas his friends relied on violence and intimidation, McAleer’s weapons of choice were his intellect and his gift of the gab.
He founded Canadian Liberty Net, a telephone service that engaged in Holocaust denial, blaming people of colour for causing crimes, and endorsing violence. In this remarkably frank memoir, McAleer confesses to embracing and excelling at being an asshole.
“I wish I could say that my daughter’s birth meant the end of my involvement with skinheads, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists, but it didn’t happen that way,” he writes. “I had too much personal and social capital invested in my identity to let it go. My trajectory deeper into the world of white supremacy had too much momentum.”
But eventually, after his son was born, he began turning things around—but only after suffering a brutal beating by two members of the skinhead band Odin’s Law in his living room.
“The idea that my son had watched me get my teeth knocked in had planted a seed of doubt and disillusionment in me.”
He separated from the mother of his children, who moved to Australia, and he became a full-time single parent.
The deepening bond with his kids led McAleer to disengage from the movement, but it wasn’t until he saw the film American History X, starring Edward Norton as a neo-Nazi, that he took more dramatic steps to heal himself. With the help of a Jewish psychiatrist, McAleer shed his old self and embarked on a new mission: to prevent other kids from becoming racist monsters.
In 2011, he cofounded Life After Hate, which practises radical compassion in trying to encourage people to exit the movement.
“The moment when I received radical compassion from my mentor Dov marked the beginning of an incredible journey deep into the darkest reaches of my subconscious towards the fear, towards the wounds, towards the pain that had cast their shadows across my life until then, the pain that I had been running away from my entire life,” he writes.
As part of his transformation, he's visited Auschwitz, spoke in synagogues, and learned how to forgive major figures in his life, including the mother of his children and his philandering father.
“I clearly wasn’t the only kid who grew up with adultery in the home or was beaten at Catholic school,” he notes in the book. “This isn’t an excuse but rather the foundation for understanding and healing.”