Fashion’s impact: Adidas ends partnership with Ye following anti-Sematic commentary. Image credit Getty.
Note from Re-Model Universe Founder, Jo Pretyman
I first met former white supremist, now Peace worker, Arno Michaelis in 2019 via a series of 5am skype calls when I was working on a consultancy for the Department of Home Affairs. I was curating an event for youth leaders in fighting racial driven violent extremism in Australia and was looking for a keynote speaker, a ‘former’ (violent extremist). At the time I’d never really heard of CVE (Countering Violent Extremism). Whilst I had a long history in working towards racial inclusion, it had never been at this very pointy end. The minute Arno & I started talking, we immediately connected and that connection deepened about 15 minutes into the conversation when he told me that a large part of his reformation was through the Chicago rave culture (from 14 years of age, rave counterculture was my obsession). Since then we have stayed connected and continued to share thoughts and insights on the power of creativity, food, community and eastern philosophy in breaking down racial barriers. Simple, universal concepts that work.
When I reached out to Arno recently to let him know I was launching Re-Model Universe with a mission of mobilising the fashion and music industries to realise the potential of their campaign platforms to shape a peaceful world, it happened to be the week of the Ye x Adidas Anti-Semitism disaster. Arno had penned this opinion piece and I’m so grateful he’s allowed me to share it with you as my first guest blog post for #nomoreviolence. I look forward to continuing to share more of Arno’s incredible insights and work on reformation with you over the lifelong mission that is, #nomoreviolence.
Peace worker and former white supremist, Arno Michaelis. Image credit Sydney Morning Herald.
A note to Ye from Arno.
The swastika tattoo was strategically placed on the middle finger of my right hand. That way, I could flip-off anyone who had a problem with me being a neo-Nazi skinhead, before closing my fist to hit them.
I squandered seven years of my life like that before leaving hate groups in 1994. Miserable years that included two suicide attempts. The more I hated, the more miserable I became.
I was unfortunately fairly successful as a neo-Nazi. The skinhead gang I had a hand in founding rapidly grew to international scale. The hate-metal band I bellowed for sold over 20,000 records by 1994, and is still popular with haters today. I was consumed with a mission to cultivate hate. Looking back, I now understand that what I was really doing was cultivating irresponsibility along with the hate, which of course further diminished the quality of my life. A cycle of irresponsibility, self-induced trauma, and hate.
I would have never admitted to my misery. The hate was a mask I hid behind, rather than face my vulnerabilities. Hate towards Jews. Hate towards anyone who didn’t look like me. Hate towards those who did look like me, but didn’t think like me. It’s now plain as day that I hated myself. Terrified to look inward at the trauma that spawned the self-loathing, I radiated hate outward. Underneath all the chest-pounding and the swastikas, I was a pathetic, miserable coward.
As misery does indeed love company, I excelled at foisting anti-Semitism upon others looking for someone to blame for their problems. In the process of recruiting the Joe Pissed-Off White Kid archetype, I’d go straight for their pain point, and then find a way to blame it on Jews. If Joe Pissed-Off White Kid didn’t have a job, it was plainly The Jews fault for bringing all the Mexicans here. Nevermind that there was zero valid evidence that Jews as a people had anything to do with Mexicans coming into the US, or that he didn’t actually lose a job to a Mexican person. If Joe Pissed-Off White Kid didn’t have a girlfriend (far and away the most popular lament, go figure), it was The Jews fault for putting Black athletes all over TV and magazines, corrupting the minds of White women to believe that they were the ideal man. Nevermind such a ridiculous premise, and nevermind that Joe Pissed-Off White Kid drank profusely, failed in school, and rarely showered.
I was hardly an innovator in that vile practice. For thousands of years, a diverse range of cultures and societies have blamed Jews for everything from the Black Plague, to droughts, famines, natural disasters of every sort, and COVID-19. Whether on an individual or societal level, Jews have been the go-to scapegoats for just about every problem we human beings have ever faced.
Anti-semistim comes from across the political spectrum, and from people of all backgrounds. Mega-platformed musician and entrepreneur Kanye West is the latest to get in on the action. While he should certainly be commended for being open and honest about his mental health, it’s not an excuse for the bizarre leaps of reason behind his recent attacks on Jews. One can piece together from tweets and comments that Ye blames Jews for everything from his divorce with Kim Kardashain, to every issue facing the Afro-American community. Nevermind that Jews have historically been at the forefront of the Afro-American struggle, perhaps more so than any other non-Afro-American demographic, and often at the expense of their lives.
Seeing this all too familiar failure of critical thinking unfold, I wasn’t a bit surprised when my old buddies in the neo-Nazi scene piled onto the Ye Jew-hating bandwagon. “Kanye Is Right About the Jews” has become a contemporary slogan of neo-Nazis, as recently diplayed on a banner over the 405 freeway in Los Angeles by a particularily vile group of irresponsibility merchants. And physical violence against Jews has followed closely behind the rhetoric, as it has leading up to the Holocaust and every pogrom throughout history. It was heartbreaking to hear a Jewish friend tell me that she was afraid to wear the Star of David in public, but that’s the reality far too many Jews still face. A reality further enforced upon them by Ye’s rhetoric and the neo-Nazis who cheer him on.
Fortunately for me, people and experiences fell into place to lead me away from those incredibly self-destructive practices of hate and blame. Many of those people happened to be Jewish.
I grew up as a passionate and curious geek into all sorts of sports, music, literature, film, and TV. Once I assumed the white nationalist ideology as my identity, all of those things were forbidden. Virtually all culture was seen as “Jewish propaganda” meant to numb the White race to our perceived oppression. Blame, lie, fear, hate, suffer—repeat.
So when the skinhead girl who would later become the mother of my child came home from the bar she worked at telling me I needed to see a new sitcom called “Seinfeld”, the suggestion wasn’t warmly received.
I was hooked after one episode.
Ashamed for enjoying a brilliant TV show, I hid my newfound love of Jewish humor from my fellow broken blamers. My girlfriend worked on Thursday nights when Seinfeld aired, so I had to navigate the blinking 12:00 VCR thing to tape it for her, otherwise I wasn’t getting any. We couldn’t write “Seinfeld” on the spine of the tape. We would have been branded as traitors to The White Race if any of our guys saw it. So we hid our recorded Seinfeld episodes on a tape marked “Amber’s 2nd Bday Party”, knowing no one would ever ask to watch that.
Seinfeld being the pinnacle of observational humor that it is, daily giggles were evoked every time I had a bowl of soup, encountered a close-talker, low-talker, rye bread, etc, etc. And every time that happened, the inner voice that questioned the futile stupidity of my hatred would ask, “What about Jerry Seinfeld? Does he get to live in your ‘whiter and brighter world”? If so, do you think he’d be very funny while you’re killing all the other Jews?”
The only genuine answer to those questions was that I was full of shit.
Thus Seinfeld was a big part of my turnaround. A daily reminder of how stupid anti-Semistism is. But the biggest driver of the exhaustion that ultimately led me out was when people I claimed to hate treated me with kindness. People like the Jewish boss who said I was “…a good kid just going through a phase.” rather than fire me when my alcoholic high school dropout-ass wore swastika patches to work. People like a lesbian supervisor, and Afro-American and Latino co-workers who put themselves in a position of power by treating me with kindness when I least deserved it, but needed it most. Every time I faced kindness and compassion from people who had absolutely no reason to show it to me, other than the faith that there was a good person underneath the swastikas, it blew my bullshit ideology out of the water.
Years after I left what we called “The Movement”, I worked as a freelance IT Consultant. My biggest client was an independent urology practice where half of the doctors were Jewish. I worked for them for a decade before going public with my story. To a man, the Jewish doctors I worked for were some of the kindest, most compassionate, honest, and hardest-working people I had ever met. Over the years we became good friends, and since I’ve transitioned to a career of sharing my story with the world, they’ve been some of my biggest supporters.
The swastika that was on my middle finger was removed back in the late 90s. Now there is a V there, part of L O V E W I N S spanning the knuckles of both hands. A tattoo given to me by a man named Chris Buckley. After his wife Melissa sought me out in 2016, I helped Chris leave the KKK, and begin a recovery process from addiction to hate. Now Chris works full-time with Parents 4 Peace to lead others out of hate groups.
Love has won in my life, thanks to people brave enough to defy hate. Thanks to a lot of Jews who overcame thousands of years of hate and persecution to be the people I needed, when I needed them. Their evolved survival mechanisms of dedication, compassion, love, and yes, humor, lit a beacon that guided my life away from hate, as it has guided so many others to better places. As it has guided human society towards a day when all people are valued and included, in spite of the constant exclusion Jews are subjected to.
Every day I’m grateful to be free from the yoke of hate. Every day I’m grateful to the universe for putting things in place to make that happen. Every day I’m grateful to understand that the world is a much better place thanks to Jews, and thanks to everyone else I once hated. And every day I’m grateful for the chance to be accountable for the harm that I’ve done.
That gratitude drives my mission to reach those who are still infected with the misery of hate. I need them to know that there are so much better ways to live their lives. This includes Kanye West.
Ye has an incredible opportunity to change for the better right now. The massive platform he wields could just as easily be used to connect and inspire people, rather than blame and demonize them. A platform for accountability rather than blame. Should he find the courage to change course, I know from experience that it would work wonders for his mental health, and for his healing process.
All of us human beings share an innate need for love. Hate looms in wait when we can’t fulfill that need. When we hate Jews or anyone else, it destroys our capacity to love, and thus our capacity to experience the greatest aspect of human existence.
Jewish people were a driving force in helping me find the courage to face my trauma and process it in a healthy way. Let’s all follow that example and help others find that same courage.
Love the world, and it will love you back Ye.
Hit me up if you wanna talk.