A former neo-Nazi, Tony McAleer, says he takes some “moral responsibility” for the 1998 murder of Nirmal Singh Gill, a caretaker at the Guru Nanak Sikh temple in Surrey, even though McAleer was not directly involved. In an interview with the Georgia Straight during a recent visit to the temple, McAleer said that he accepts some of the blame because he spread hatred in the past.
Gill was beaten to death in the temple’s parking lot. Five skinheads involved in the racially motivated hate crime were eventually convicted and sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison after they pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
McAleer has since become a motivational speaker for youth. At the temple, he indicated that even though he was not involved in the killing, he can’t claim “zero percent” responsibility because his racist propaganda may have been a contributing factor.
McAleer, who is writing a book, mentioned that he belonged to various white-supremacist groups, including the White Aryan Resistance Movement. He also admitted to participating in cross-burnings.
He noted that these groups’ anger is mainly directed at Jews and immigrants. “We thought they are the ones who are taking away jobs,” McAleer stated.
He added that he was motivated to join racist groups because they provided a false sense of power and security and fed his hatred of “alien others”. Now, he blames personal egos and economic hardship for the rise of racial hatred.
“We used to think that the whites are an endangered species,” McAleer revealed.
Ironically, a Jewish psychologist helped inspire him to abandon his racist ideology. McAleer said that this transformation came gradually. He also credited American History X, a 1998 film starring Edward Norton about a white racist youth who shed his hateful ideology. In addition, McAleer said his growing understanding of other cultures and religious faiths, including Hinduism and Sikhism, helped him heal. “I learned to shed my ego,” he said.
When he spoke with Indo-Canadian callers during an open-line radio show on Surrey-based Radio India, many expressed their appreciation and suggested that his story could inspire youths in their community to stay away from religious and caste-based hatred. McAleer stated that religious intolerance and casteism are as bad as racism, and that society should work together to eradicate the egotism that makes a person believe his or her group is superior.
Initially, Gill’s murder fuelled tension within the Sikh community because moderates prematurely blamed fundamentalists for the crime. Before the killing, a controversial edict had been issued by Sikh clergy in India ordering adherents to eat langar (the community meal) while sitting cross-legged on the floor instead of relying on tables and chairs. This dictate, which was in accordance with age-old traditions, led to a fight between moderates and fundamentalists in the Surrey Sikh temple.
However, following the arrests of the skinheads, Balwant Singh Gill, then the moderate president of the temple, apologized to his Sikh compatriots for jumping the gun. Recently, he told the Straight that he appreciates McAleer’s gesture. “I welcome him for his change of heart,” Gill said. “It is very encouraging.”