Bullies: Right Wing Extremism & Zionist conspiracy theory; A personal account
This article will be brief and to the point, and will not contain a fulsome account of the topic. However, it will outline and explain, in summary, a question I often get asked:
‘what drew you to the white supremacist movement?’
I believe the answer to this is likely true for others as well, at least it seems that way.
The Back Story
When I was a boy, from I attended eleven schools across Canada prior to grade eight. I also suffered physical and sexual abuse from parents, which included multiple step dads. I was an angry child and young man, with just cause.
I struggled in school, because I never had been provided with enough stability to make friends as a result of moving around so much. One of the ways I coped with my life circumstance was that I lashed out at others, usually against people who were mean and bullies. When we would move and I attended new schools, I usually beat up the bullies and kept to myself. It got me into a lot of trouble.
The only comic book I read was The Punisher. I felt the world needed people like Frank Castle (the character known as The Punisher) because the system did not help people in trouble, in my experience. I aspired to have principles like Castle, who had lost his family to violence associated with the drug trade. This was a story that I could relate to, as I had grown up in a household filled with drug/alcohol addiction and abuse. The Punisher was my hero.
I left home at age twelve. I travelled from Toronto to BC to escape my family home. By fifteen I ended up being given a two-year juvenile detention sentence. In juvy, I also targeted bullies. I did not tolerate people abusing myself or others. I saw myself as somewhat of a vigilante at times. I took matters into my own hands and dished out street justice where I believed it was right to do so. I was angry and lacked education, and direction.
Historically, my non-aboriginal family were the abusers. My safe haven was the Indian Reserve. My kohkum’s (Cree for Grandma) house was free from drugs, booze and abuse. No one even fought at her home. Indigenous culture (law), demanded that kohkum’s space was to be given the utmost respect. She often smudged and prayed in the morning and afternoon, but never in the dark. She was also always busy cooking soup, drying meat and tanning hides. This was my safe space, but at one point kohkum left town, and my father (one of the men believed to be my father), was drinking while she was gone. He and his mates began picking on me, so I left; one of the men had beat me up because I was white. I never came back to kohkum’s house, nor did I ever tell her what happened. I felt like I was the problem, because everywhere I went, drunk men beat me up.
I sought refuge in town on an old Metis Settlement called Moccasin Flats, which was re-named Sesame Street (proper road name is Wabi Crescent). I stayed with friends. I slept in basements and yards. Our group stuck together. The white guys in town, the hockey pucks, often targeted aboriginal kids. They chased us down and beat us up. They ganged up on us. So we fought back, in numbers. We attacked seven-fold.
For awhile, it became a small town warzone, literally. We literally had giant gang fights, up to about forty people. It was a volatile environment. We won. We ruled, because we were in the right as we fought back against racism and abuse. We were self-empowered by taking the law into our own hands.
After sometime, our group’s reputation became known as a gang. We were selling drugs, set up a chop shop and other organized un-speakables. After sometime, I was sentenced to juvvy.
On the streets, it was much like my home life in some regards; either you are predator or prey. I had chosen to be a predator of sorts. I attacked people that were pedophiles, child abusers, woman beaters and ‘assholes’. I felt justified in my actions to such a point that vigilantism became my vent. In the pits and traps of my psyche, I justified my actions by seeing my role as a karma balancer; dishing out punishment upon those who targeted the vulnerable.
The white power movement
Most of my life, I was associated with friends and family who were aboriginal; primarily Cree. One of my best mates was convicted of a sexual assault charge, after that happened I distanced myself from all of my friends and family who were aboriginal. My safe spaces were all affected by abuse. I had no where to turn.
One day I met two boneheads (nazi skinheads). While I was talking with them, I saw a man walk by who I had fought with in the past. He was a known pimp, of young girls; as young as twelve. He was a gang banger. We had hurt him pretty bad in the past. His gang tried to pull off a home invasion at my apartment, but it did not work out well for them. I disarmed the one guy of a gun, and they ended up with broken bones and shot up. When I saw him walk by, as I stood there talking with these boneheads, I grabbed him and beat him until the ambulance came.
The boneheads were impressed and instantly embraced me. They gave me a sense of brotherhood, and offered me an entire library of information that explained who was to blame for the state of the world; and the state of my life.
I was not equipped to fend off the logical fallacies within the white supremacist literature that stated there was a Jewish conspiracy, which intended to control the world and destroy the white race. This half-baked conspiracy theory proclaimed Jews were the enemy of the white race due to their Zionist conspiracy that was essentially setting out to destroy the white race. Sadly, I fell for it; just as all of those in my social circle had.
The movement gave me a sense of purpose. I would be able to play a role to overcome an enemy with a deliberate agenda to abuse me, and society. I became a soldier in a war against a fictional enemy. The fight, I believed, was righteous. Unfortunately I had not been equipped to identify or see through the logical fallacies, and other issues that trap people into extremist narratives.
In my mind, I was still acting as a vigilante against the darkness of a bully; it just so happened that I believed that the enemy was a religious, ethnic and racialized group that was at fault for the state of my life. I was fighting against everything I hated about my own life. I targeted the bully; rather, who I believed to be the bully. I was misled by volumes of books written by people who did not have sufficient insight or education to effectively test logic.
The movement’s literature and teachings explicitly indicated that those who were brainwashed by the Zionist conspiracy were enemies of our movement. That meant, in my mind, that normal citizens became a target in our war against the biggest bully of all bullies; the Zionists. I hurt too many people, and I believed in my heart that I was engaged in a righteous war to protect society. I was right about one thing, abuse sucks; however, it took many years to realize the logical fallacy that I became one of the abusers.
My Healing and Transformation
It took me many years to overcome my own indoctrination into the white supremacist movement. I was a true believer. I acted upon my duty as a soldier in a war against society. I recruited and taught people how to become good soldiers engaged in a racial holy war. I even recruited a Canadian bomber into the movement.
Through education and healing circles within the community, I was able to overcome and transform. I became educated, and learned what a logical fallacy was. I gained a skillset of how to test logic, and to remain teachable enough to see where I was grossly incorrect in belief structure. I also learned to accept my own nature. Lastly, I learned the value of non-violence and exercise of lawful expressions of countering bullies.
Today, one thing has not changed, I do not like bullies and abusers. In my role as an advocate and as a social worker and future lawyer, I maintain reputation with integrity that I will stand up in the face of wrong doings and speak out. I am far from perfect, but when people are abusing people, or myself, I will stand tall with my new skillset and do what is right; to the best of my ability.
I learned that fighting bullies was not necessarily the problem; bullies need to be confronted. It was how I was fighting, and the process in which I arrived to the fight, was deeply flawed. Today I do what I can to make the world a better place by adhering to principles of law and culture that both emphasize human rights.
Those who abuse children, vulnerable persons and identifiable groups are simply bullies.
(picture by Edmonton Journal ~ Canwest Media Works)
Full of anger and hatred I pounded people’s faces into the pavement with a twisted drive of relentless energy.
(picture by Peter Rudge~ DuckRabbit)
The Scars of Past that remained on my body are symbolic of the power hungry mechanism of hate that I bore in order to tunnel my inner turmoil and fear into the eyes, hearts, and centre of my victims being; until I was forced to look at my self in a spiritual reflection within my son’s eyes. The day he was born I saw a mirrored child. He was a reflection of myself. I did not want him to be raised into a world of abuse and hate.
(picture by Peter Rudge~ DuckRabbit)
After years of self-reflection, personal development through dialogical post secondary studies, Cree-Saulteaux-Sioux cultural influence, and meaningful activism through writing, intelligence sharing, protests, and media interviews I have been able to contribute to the progressive advancement of a society I was at utter war against.
This last summer I completed writing my Masters thesis that reflected on my past extremist violence and compared my personal transformation with the social change of three other former-white supremacists. I found so many more commonalities than I had anticipated. I thought I was different than everyone, boy was I wrong. I thought each story would reflect utter differences but what I found was that the four of us, in the study, were very similar. We were actually more like everyone else than I had ever anticipated, our challenges and epiphanies did not seem a far stretch from normal experiences (of course minus the extreme violence and propaganda). This retrospective perception has brought me to further consideration of who I am, at the core of my being.
A small town kid who loved going to kohkum’s house every summer. My home, Moberly Lake, had nothing but fond loving memories for me. My mom’s parents, may auntie Linda’s house, and kohkum’s place. The smell of drying moose meat, tanned hides, horses, and the autumn paths that lead to the rocky beach which was joined by a year round icy water that we swam in. My home. My boy body was a temple of happiness that could not be defeated by physical and sexual abuse when we returned each year to Moberly Lake, the safest place in the world.
Years later I returned to Moberly Lake seeking refuge. I found refuge. Kohkum gave me my own cabin after I ran away from my home in Toronto at age 12. Then I began drinking and smoking drugs. By age 14, I was on the downtown east side of Vancouver. After spending nearly two years in juvenile detention centres, from 15-17, I returned to the streets of east Vancouver. I then began scarring my body with symbols of hate. A confederate flag then a swastika; a celtic cross; another swastkia with a fist in the centre of it; then an Odal Rune. I declared war through symbology and language, as I spat at people, and engaged in acts of terror and war against the society I was born into. I engaged in acts of warfare against minorities and First Nations peoples.
I directed my own pain and fear at those who reflected the very things I hated about myself. It took years to learn this about myself. I had great teachers though: kohkum, auntie Muriel, Pastor Ed Sukow, counsellor Darren Wilks, Neil Meyer, Chris Rosebrugh, Dave Mcdonald, former Chief Jerry Goodswimmer, Gary Moostoos, Garry Gottfriedson, Dr. Ross Hoffman, auntie Linda Nichols, cousin Josh Nichols and Elenora Joe and so many other pivotal people; of course the longer I am on this path the more people join the list of my teachers.
(picture from Global 16×9 show)
I returned to Vancouver, for the filming of the TV show 16×9, after years of needed separation from a city that I was at war with nearly two decades ago. I was only in Vancouver for a few days for the filming. I had to return several times in order to connect with the streets I was battled. I needed to move further away from my not-so-distant propensity of violence by confronting the demons that haunted me on the streets. I was homeless abused youth who sought refuge in the war mind of the white supremacist movement. In the summer of 2013 I returned to Vancouver after spending few weeks in Edmonton, Alberta.
I had gone to Edmonton as a guest speaker at the 2013 Hate2Hope rally that was organized an aboriginal youth named Chevi Rabbit. He was the target of a hate crime and has turned this horrific experience as a tool to speak against hate. I attended the speech and two of my close friends attended the rally, both Gary Moostoos and Jerry Goodswimmer. Both of these men were instrumental throughout my personal transformation from a life of hate. After the rally both Jerry and Gary agreed it may be time to consider removing my tattoos. In the past I was provided with the opportunity to have my white power tattoos removed through laser surgery. This was offered by the Canadian Jewish Congress. I did several sessions. However, between advice from my friends and the overwhelming pain and lingering healing process due to flare ups of my skin disorder I had decided to stop the laser surgery. I was still carrying my scars of past. In 2013, I was prompted to finally consider getting these tattoos either removed or covered.
While visiting Vancouver I visited my old stomping grounds. I walked down Commercial Drive as a man, not an angry and violent youth, and concluded that the tattoos I was still carrying in my skin had to be removed, or at least covered up. I walked into a convenience store to buy a bottle of water. I was wearing a t-shirt and the swastika on my forearm was visible. When I paid for my drink I twisted my forearm inwards in order to hide the offensive tattoo. The cashier lady looked at me in the eyes and smiled. When she looked down she saw the swastika on my arm.
The cashier then looked scared and did not look into my eyes again. Saddened by the fact that the swastika on my arm was still visible to everyone, I wondered what I could cover it with. I then passed a corner that I used to walk past when I was a young angry white supremacist soldier. I then reflected back in my life, to a time before my hateful days. I was just a sad and angry street kid. I remembered how much I loved a pocket watch I used to carry. I never used the pocket watch as a watch. The watch always stayed closed. I only cared about the vibration of the ticking. Each second that passed manifested with a tick.
Sometimes the click would vibrate through my pocket into my leg. When I took the pocket watch out of my pocket and carried it in my hand I could feel every passing second in the palm of my hand. When I think about walking down the street holding the pocket watch in my hand, I used to think I am seconds ahead from where I was, just moments before. When I was distraught the clicking offered me a security that I was making it through this life without exploding. The ticking-clicking sensation would distract my mind and feelings from the intrusive reminders of devastation from my childhood that still incessantly haunted me. I also felt relieved I made through another second that brought me closer to the end of my life. Each vibrating second was a moment closer to death. That brought me solace.
I recalled what it was like being a child and locked up for nearly two years. The clock in my cell would tick away no matter what happened. Even when I would beat on another kid or smash the furniture the clock always ticked when I was put into isolation. As rage poured out my eyes in violent fits of exacerbation, the clock would tick comfort until I fell asleep. I would think to myself “Why did I need to live in this world of pain?”
As I reached the crest of the hill on Commercial Drive that morning, I found my answer. I would cover the swastika on my arm with a pocket watch. The time reads 11:03 as I was born on the 11th of March. My only demand was that the person who tattoos me had to be a gentle woman. Never again would I let a man who promotes violence tattoo me.
Every tattoo on my body was etched by men filled with angered and abusive natures. But then again, the culture of North American men is built upon dominance and violence. It was finally time I let women help me heal some more. I know so many beautiful women who live compassionately and remind me why non-violence is necessary. This was my personal way to symbolically resolve a new connectivity to women, who are supportive as I walk further away from the tumultuous path of abuse.
My first cover up, the pocket watch, flew by with some nice relaxed conversation between the artist and myself. I barely felt any discomfort or pain. It was a fairly pleasurable tattoo session. That is not how I remembered tattoos. When I recall getting tattoos, years ago, I cringed at the non-stop pain. I hated pain. I hated tattoos. I hated myself.
After the tattoo session, I sat with my cousin Josh debriefing about how I felt relieved. He suggested I get my stomach tattoo covered asap. He recommended a reputable shop. We looked at the website and portfolios of the artists. I was excited, “shit Josh! these artists are crazy good”.
Both Josh and I were instantly impressed with Rene Botha’s art work. The website for the tattoo shop had what I would call an application process; Liquid Amber Tattoo, located in the downtown east side of Vancouver’s gas town. While surfing the website it felt right as we looked at the art. “Josh, they would want me to wait too long. I need them gone now. The website says I got to wait a year for an appointment.”
He looked at me with stern compassion, “go and tell them your story and why you want them gone, you never know.” His confidence gave me hope. Our dialogue taught me something. He loved me and only wanted the best for me. I trusted his input, as I often do. The only reason I finished my second university degree was because of Josh’s encouragement. He was the only one who believed I needed to continue with my degree. Most of my friends and families thought university was a waste of time and that I should spend my time working in the oil fields or working as a counsellor. He knew what I did not know, which was that there was a progressive education for higher learning out there that would challenge me and result in further personal growth. My education would bring me to a realization of understanding hope as a motive to contribute to social change.
I walked into Liquid Amber Tattoo. The receptionist Jessie told me that they would be booked up for months in advance and the only possibility of getting me in was if one of the guest artists could do my stomach cover up. I thanked her and emailed her my ideas for a cover up and some links of media work outlining my personal journey.
The following day Jessie contacted me to set up an appointment the day after with an artist named Rene. I met with Rene Botha and she quizzed me about my ideas for an image. I told her that I wanted a raven or a crow because of the blackbirds in east Vancouver. It is said to have the largest murder (crow population) rate in the world. At least that is the word on the street. I emphasized that the raven represents shapeshifting and transformation, but not just an individual level but also collective and cultural transformation. I learned these lessons from Cree cultural teachings. But I insisted that the image must be reflective with a horizon of the city or something. I also requested that the image does not borrow or synthesize ‘native art’ that reek of cultural appropriation. I preferred the natural representation, or close to it.
Rene spent the weekend designing my piece and emailed me a photo of the sketch the following business day.
(the image is an ambiguous and abstract interpretable piece [what is it?])
As soon as I looked at the image I was taken aback. I was more than impressed. I felt honoured that her art would be on my body. We arranged a start date for the following week. I wanted to complete the piece in one week. Rene indicated that if I was able to sit under the gun that long she would have no problem doing so. I was excited.
I wanted to have a friend of mine use my DSLR camera to record video footage and take photos to document the progress. A couple of years ago I won an award at the Weaving Words Aboriginal Storytelling Festival for a piece I wrote called Scars of Past. I wanted to develop a video piece on my tattoos and transformation. I had no video recording experience, but I was determined to find a way to make this happen. My friend was unable to come to Vancouver and operate my camera for me.
While I was in Vancouver in the summer of 2013 I connected with a filmmaker I had met three years ago at UNBC. I had just started my Masters’ in Social Work. There was a presentation that I attended on fracking, which is a natural resource extraction process. I was familiar with tracking because of two reasons. First, I had worked in the oil field many years ago as a truck driver. Second, my parents had illegal waste dumped on their property in Chetwynd, BC. It just so happened that the film, Fractured Land, was about the same territory that I was from.
During the presentation it became clear that the subject of Fractured Lands, Caleb Behn, was familiar with my personal story and my family’s experience with fracking. In fact, it was frack fluid that was dumped on my parents’ land mixed with human sewage. The illegal dump has most likely resulted in my auntie’s sickness. The day of the dump she was hospitalized due to, what I will refer to as, chemical burns in her lungs. She now has cancer and is trying to live her days in a loving and caring way. Needless to say I have a lot of anger towards the oil industry. In fact, I left the oil field because of corruption. I had exposed a case of environmental abuses that resulted in an Oklahoma based company operating in the Fort St john area being fined over $200,000. Of course that is pocket change. But for me, it was representative of my saying “fuck you” to the system that damaged my auntie, cousins, and siblings. The Fractured Land film crew was definitely doing good work.
They were interested in interviewing my aunt who now has cancer. I arranged for the film crew to speak with her. My aunt Linda is a brave mother. She is one of the strongest women from my biological family. In fact she is one of the only people from my mother’s family whom I trust and can whole heartily say I love. Many other members of the family can easily be referred to as abusive. I had chosen to not be involved with those family members.
The first day went well. I was at the shop for ten hours. I sat under the gun for seven and a half hours. After the first day I felt as if I had been run over by a truck. I felt completely broken. I walked out of the shop, got in my car, and drove away. I was driving down East Hastings leaving the city to go to my cousins house. This was the same road that I took my first time I went downtown Vancouver.
At age fourteen I hitchhiked from northern BC to Vancouver. I continued thumbing it from the highway down Hastings. I was not familiar with the community.I was not aware of all of the prostitution and drugs. I was oblivious. I was a child. The man who picked me up wanted me to suck his dick. I was confused. He saw my confusion. He looked at me and said “you really have no idea about this area, do you?”
I explained it was my first time in the city. He told me to never hitchhike there unless I was working. “ohhh! no I do not have a job. I left home.”
The john shook his head and explained to me that I had a lot to learn and to be careful or someone was going to hurt me. I am grateful he was empathetic and compassionate. In hindsight, my first trip to Vancouver was a blessing. I was definitely out of my league.
Twenty five years after my first trip of hitchhiking down Hastings while being mistaken for a male prostitute, I was recalling these events. I reflected on why I left home i.e. physical abuse, sexual abuse, and verbal abuse. I curiously wondered why anybody would treat a child the way my parents did. I wondered why nobody came to save me. I wondered why teachers, social workers, and police blamed me for my families’ problems. They blamed the victim. I thought about the racism I was taught. My mind was consumed with flashes of all of the people I had hurt. I was overwhelmed with sadness for all the pain I caused. I did not want to finish the tattoo process because I did not want to feel pain anymore, but I knew I had to get through it. The least I could do was to go through a bit of pain in order to stop offending people with my tattoos. I felt shattered and broken from all the pain I had experienced. My eyes filled with tears.
I choked them back and felt my rage creep in. I wanted to stop the car and smash the windows in my vehicle. I wanted to kill someone. I felt like I wanted to kill myself. I was sick of the world. Then I told myself to “stop!”
I pulled my car over. I was feet away from a spot where I had once beaten a black man into unconsciousness. My eyes streamed out tears. I did not want to be angry. I embraced my sadness. I embraced the questions of why I was so angry. I embraced the fact that I have transformed my identity and built a new life. I felt the compassion of people involved in my healing journey. Rene and the film crew came to mind. I decided in that moment that I would see these people as my family. That they were my mainstays. My rocks. I decided that I would allow them to be there for me on this journey. My body was hurting, and it was self-inflicted. I had to focus on the end result. I would get rid of these hateful symbols that restrict my ability to swim with my kids and that I will no longer offend people if I am shirtless. I found strength in my sadness and vulnerability.
I went to my cousin’s house and both he and his wife were there for me. I got a hug. I got to talk and share what was going on for me. I was heard!…finally after all of these years people would hear me. My cousin reminded me that these filmmakers and others believe in me; and that he believes in me. I continued to cry, but I was ok. A friend once said to me “maybe you’re not falling apart, maybe you’re falling together.”
The First Session Set
(*day one @ 7.5 hrs.)
My first day of tattooing lasted all day long. I was at shop ten hours. I was booked in for four days straight. After day one we realized I would not be able to complete the tattoo in one week like I had originally hoped. I rested after the first day. I was sore as hell. But i looked forward to being tattooed by one of the most impressive people I have met, Rene Botha. Not only has she been a cultural edge walker, but she was absolutely beautiful both inside and out. It made going back to the shop so much easier.
(back to back ~ day 2 @ 4 hours)
After day two I could not last more than four hours. I had passed out twice, which I did not tell the tattoo artist. I was afraid this would damage our relationship. My mind felt overloaded. I was consumed with physical pain.
The Second Session Set
I was still in Vancouver. I was crashing at my cousins and sleeping in my van from time to time. I came back to the tattoo shop partially healed and ready to experience more physical pain, reluctantly.
(day 3 @ 4.5 hours)
I came back six days later to do two more back to back sessions. I was still raw and sore.
(day 4 @ 4 hours)
After this session I was ready to get out of the shop and never return. As the tattoo gun got close to my arm pit it triggered a memory from fifteen years before. I recalled when one of my uncles had attacked me. He rammed his thumb nail into my arm pit leaving bruising from his huge hands that gripped my entire chest muscle. He pinned me against the wall while holding me by two of my pressure points and banging my body on the solid brick wall. I had no choice but to either find a way to fight back or to be beaten. I overcame incredible pain in my armpit and punched him straight in the face. He dropped me. I was free. I then stepped forward and combination punched him in the face until he was unconscious then I jumped on top of his limp body and continued beating his face until my step-dad and cousin pulled me off. He was left with a swollen face and six boxer cuts from my knuckles. As the tattoo needles went near my armpit tears streamed down my face. I felt a pity for my past self. I grew up in a violent home. I grew up being that violence and abuse were the most solid resolve to conflict. I felt grateful to be a different man today.
The Third Session Set
While I was in Vancouver I found out there were some issues with my thesis committee. I had to return to Prince George in order to ensure the issues were dealt with in a timely fashion. I returned to Prince George in September, 2013. Earlier that year in April, I had sold my home because I was informed I would defend my thesis by September 1st, 2013. That did not happen. I then had to move back to Prince George, after a summer of living in my 1978 VW Van I enjoyed the summer mountain biking; now it was time to go north and deal with university politics.
I had to fly from Prince George to Vancouver for each session. The plan that was proposed by Rene was to do two separate four hour sessions back-to-back during each trip. The running joke amongst the staff team at Liquid Amber Tattoo and the film crew was that I had a low threshold for pain. “Not so tough now eh?”
I explained I was never tough. The only reason I could fight is because I was willing to bite, stab, poke eyes, or anything else I needed to do to control a fight. I was good at fighting in order to avoid getting hit. I did not target weak people; that is not to say I never hit anyone who was not vulnerable, because I did. I did not shy away from fighting five guys at a time who had weapons, and equally so, I did not shy away from hitting nearly anyone who made me angry. I was never physically strong. I am a small man, and when I was violent I was an even smaller person. This tattoo process has literally brought me to my knees. I had cried. I had given up. But I kept showing up. I did what I had to do. I wanted to do this to avoid hurting others and to offer my children an opportunity to enjoy me without these racist scars from my past.
I arrived in Vancouver and we began more sessions while filming.
(Adam filming tattoo)
(day 5 @ 4hours)
The second day was brutal. I could not stand the pain. I was unable to last the full four hours. We were able to get a small section on the belly done. Rene was more than accommodating. I left the session and walked straight to my hotel room and cried myself to sleep. I was sick of the physical pain. But even more than the stress of the physical pain, I felt completely alone. I just wanted to have somebody with me.
(day 6 @ 2.5 hours)
This last session was intense but short. It took a lot out of me. I had to quit, there was no possible way I could have lasted the full four hours. The back to back days were too much on this trip.
The Fourth Session Set
This trip was my favourite trip. I drove down with a dear friend. We had met through her family. I love her parents, and they love me. It felt like everything just fit. All of us agreed with that. I felt like I belonged in their family. After meeting their daughter who was the same age as me, I felt absolutely blessed. She is a hilarious writer with a smile that cannot be replaced. She drove down to Vancouver with me. We laughed and had a blast. Until we got to the city. It became clear to her how difficult the tattooing process was for me.
Rene’s plan for the seventh session was to re-do the ink on the sun. Again I was triggered to remember some past violence. This time I was getting flashes of past physical violence perpetrated by my second step-dad. When I was eleven years old I started getting my ass kicked hard by him. Those ass kickings left bruises all over my body including my ribs and face. The sun brought those memories back, perhaps I had some more ‘personal-shit’ to work through. At least this time I had “her” beautiful embrace.
(day 7 @ 3 hours)
(my favourite photo)
The gal I started seeing had a cousin who lived in Vancouver. Her cousin was out of town and invited us to use their condo for a couple days. The picture below is my old stomping grounds. I worked at two bars in the buildings below around 1995. I was a violent racist skinhead. Now nearly two decades later, I was looking down at my past as I was looking towards my future. It was surreal. On the street below I had committed countless hate crimes. Her cousins’ husband was a man who left the racist skinhead network many years ago. We had past mutual acquaintances. Here I was in a condo with another person who understood me, as we looked down towards my old stomping grounds. I was getting rid of my hateful scars. I had her arms wrapped around me as she murmured “I love you.”
(day 8 @ 3 hours)
The next day, I got more done. Again, I could not last the full four hours. I was able to make three hours though. I knew that I had her embrace. That night we went to her friends for a dinner party. I was pretty silent and not thinking right. My mind was trying to be where I physically was, but I kept zipping back to my childhood. Each twinge of pain on my chest exacerbated my social skills. I sat in a room full of her friends. Inside I felt less than. I felt like I did not belong. Here I was, a former Nazi skinhead, with a loving woman. I was unable reconcile how I got to where I am in life. Completing my second university degree and abandoning a life of violent extremism. On the drive back to her cousins condo I exposed my raw thinking. Thoughts I maybe should have kept to myself. My triggered negative thinking became apparent. I was in midst of physical pain, intrusive memories of abuse, and a thesis supervisor who was inconsistent and irrational. Everything seemed to be coming down hard on my mind and heart. I silently cried myself to sleep with her wrapped around me.
The Fifth Session Set
In January 2014 I had the fifth session. I flew down to Vancouver…alone!
During the xmas holidays I struggled in a way I have not struggled for many years. I have not allowed myself to enter a relationship because of the way I had handled being emotionally hurt in the past. It seems that when I am emotionally hurt I withdraw, isolate, and internally beat the shit out of my own spirit. Then I am left trying reconcile my intrusive demons. I wish this was not my struggle, but it would be untruthful to present it as anything else but…
Over the holidays I was under a deliberate attack by my children’s mother and her new found love, my cousin. This dynamic has impacted my relationship with my children. These social attacks force me to re-visit old feelings of childhood abuse. At the same time I was dealing with a delay in my graduate studies. My thesis process was put on hold for more than seven months while having to pay tuition. I was in limbo without any movement. I was so frustrated I nearly quit school. I was dealing with these life situations and facing my normal holiday demons that were also compounded with the intrusive triggers onset by the physical pain of the tattoo process.
I am surprised I actually made it through the xmas holidays as well as I did. I remembered one thing, no matter how bad shit feels, I am doing a lot better than I did when I lived on the streets. However, my demons impacted this new found relationship. It definitely took it’s toll on her. It seems my demons instigated and summoned her dragon that then set my world on fire. She had to separate herself. I accepted this.
I had no choice but to accept and sit still for weeks. I sat still during the holidays in -30 degrees Celsius winter. Isolated and alone…looking forward to only one thing…having this tattoo completed. No matter how much pain was coming I was willing to make it through this. If nothing else, I would ensure I made it through the tattoo process. I was not completely alone. I had my cousin, my auntie, my friends from UNBC First Nations Centre, and new friends I continue to make…but friends and family cannot fill this kind of absence. I am faced with having to let go, not only of the person I got so comfortable with so fast, but also the idea that I fit within their family. Saddened, I continue to walk my path and face my demons.
Much like the tattoo process I had to feel the pain and go through it. I now know that the best way to to take pain, is to taste the pain. To embrace the pain. To lay back and breath, then when it becomes unbearable and my limit is reached, take a break. Then come back another day and taste the pain.
I made it through four hours. Progress!
(day 9 @ 4 hours)
Finally the old swastika was concealed. Now for the following day. The belly button area hurt real bad.
The last official session! The only thing left was one more trip to do four hours of touch ups. When I returned home I was waiting for the final touch up session I had another film project I was working with. DuckRabbit is a film company from London, UK. They were contracted through the Kanishka Project that is coordinated by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.I was invited into the film series as a member of a steering committee. I was then approached to be a subject of one of the films. This counter violent extremist film series is to be shown in public schools all over Canada. Working with DuckRabbit reminded me that my story is important and I must keep pushing forward. I had also made some headway with my thesis committee. Things were looking up a bit more…although I still feel an vacancy in my heart.
The Sixth & Final Session Set
Two weeks before the final touch ups on my new ink, my daughter Madisson phoned me. She was laughing her ass off. She said she was at home showing her boyfriend family photos. She came across a picture of me (shirtless) and my two daughters when they were young. Apparently her boyfriend was shocked, and rightfully so.
I was disheartened by the imprint I left in my kids’ minds. I polluted them when they were young. I corrupted them; but I have also taught them people can change. I have kept this tattoo cover up process a secret from my kids. The reason for keeping it a secret was in hopes that when I see them next I would take them to the beach and take off my shirt and see their expression. But after my daughter sent me this picture of me with two of my daughters I felt obligated to tell her…but I did wait till the day after my last session.
During the last session me and Rene shared some laughs. She may have even been happier than I was to finish the piece. She designed the piece. It is her art. Plus, when I reflect on my low pain tolerance, I think I was probably a challenging client. I winced and cringed. At least thats how I feel…perhaps I am a little hard on myself though.
(day 11 @ 3.5 hours)
This is the final product!
Post Tattoo Session
About three years ago my friend Rhonda Lee McIsaac challenged me to a bet. I do not recall the bet, but I know I lost. I owed her. The agreement was that one day if/when I cover up my stomach swastika tattoo that I would send her a specific picture. She always loved the above picture of me when she saw it posted on my Facebook account. I promised to send her a picture of me flexing my muscles, like I did when I was goofing around at Moberley Lake as a kid.
So…even if I look like a fool…here you go RLM.
I do risk a lot posting these goofy pictures, and my vulnerable truth, but here is the thing…this tattoo is more than about erasing hate. It is about reconnecting to the child I once was, the boy who was beaten and abused. I am allowing myself to share with my friends and the world the declaration of my vulnerability. I know how to love well. I know how to be loved. In moments it can be a very difficult state of being, especially when faced with demons…but I am doing it.
We spent the following day in Adam’s film and photography studio in downtown Vancouver. We did some final interviews and photo shoot. When the shoot was over Damien and I walked down Granville Street, where I was recruited into the white supremacist movement many years ago. Damien indicated he had enough footage for a online teaser and a twenty minute documentary short film. Damien has indicated he is very interested in pursuing my story for a feature film . He wants to follow my successes. To date that includes a Bachelor degree in First Nations Studies, published writing, Masters in Social Work, and a life after hatred. After we walked and talked, we parted ways.
The Final Chapter
I sent my daughter a text picture message of my new tattoo. I had to show her, that things changed and I want her to show her boyfriend that her dad got rid of that old hate shit. My daughter responded:
“holy shit…is that a tattoo?…or marker?”
I laughed so hard. I guess it would be hard to imagine her dad without that old tattoo, especially after sixteen years. Here next responses meant the world to me. While I write this blog post I can hear her voice.
“fuuuuqqqqq…I love you.”
One thing a Cree elder taught me was not to say good bye…we should always say see you soon or that is all for now till later…
This poem narrates aspects of teachings I received from my Kohkum Virginia when I was young. She smudged the house when necessary and taught me how to do it. It took years for me to understand and appreciate what her teachings offered.
When I had to leave home at age twelve I took a greyhound across Canada. I then stayed with my moms family for a few short, but very long, months. After getting beat up by two family members, yet again, I retreated to Kohkum’s house. She walked and smudged the house. I followed her. I watched her. She tried to get me to smudge but the sweetgrass braid ember died. She indicated that in time I will be able to smudge and I should not force the embers to burn if they do not want to burn.
Kohkum then lit the braid and finished the ceremony.
Years later I after stopping drugs, alcohol, and violence my life got harder and more difficult. I fell apart. I shattered in tears for several years. Everything was a fight. No matter how hard I tried to make things work I couldn’t. Then something interesting happened.
I was getting off the LRT (subway) train in Edmonton. I found a cigar tin. It was filled with weed and cash. I took the cash. I did not know what to do with the tin. I reached out for help and called my friend Dave. I was worried I would get high. He muttered some zen sentiments and I eventually tossed the container that day.
Later as I walked home I found half of a sweet grass braid that was burnt down to short length. I tried lighting the braid. I remembered Kohkum telling me not to force the braid and if it did not want to burn let it be. Never force a braid. In frustration I explained to one of my teachers, Gary Moostoos, that I found this braid but it would not light. He explained that I should not force the braid, just as Kohkum explained decades before.
I wanted to smudge. I was gifted with sage and grand dad fungus. Gary suggested I get rid of the left over braid. I learned to smudge. I attended pipe ceremonies when invited; Lakota, Dakota, Cree, and Mowhawk. I learned a better way to connect. I began to attend sun dance sweats. I was encouraged to consider dancing. I chose not to dance. I did not feel right.
I was then introduced to prayer sweat ceremonies and doctoring lodges. Eventually I started to receive gifts. Teepees, smudges, medicines, feathers, dream catchers, choker, medicine bags, smudge dishes, and then eventually a braid of sweetgrass.
I no longer feared that braid. I understood the braid. I took the braid home. I prayed and thanked Kohkum in prayer and told myself I would follow her lessons on how to smudge my home. I lit a match after I cleared my mind and heart. I lit the braid and held the match for an extended time. Then I nursed the ember with some flicks of the wrist. Once it went out I left it. It took me months to build a relationship with the braid. Finally the braid called me and invited me to pray. I lit a match and smudged my home the way Kohkum taught me.
Once I built a relationship with myself, those around me, and my healing path I was then able to light a prayer braid. I was able to pray with the braid. Now I use the braid for the intended prayers in order to cleanse and clear just as Kohkum showed me.
Sometimes, not often, I meet a braid that does not want to be lit. I then take that braid and build a relationship with her. I then take my time and pray with her. Eventually I come back and invite the prayer braid to clear my home. I have prayed with sweetgrass braids for years now. I am sometimes invited and requested to smudge at particular ceremonies. I sometimes fear the braid will decline me, as she did for many years. This is a gift. The fear keeps me in check. I must inquire if I am living right when a braid does not glow for me. I know if a braid does not want to be lit that I should not force it by setting a blaze. I do not want to force a braid. I want to invite the prayer braid to support me and the space I am occupying in this life.
Tonight, before I clear my home I humbly remember that I should not force the braid just as I should not force a relationship with a person. People come around when they need to. This includes relationships of every kind. I sometimes forget, then I need to step back and smudge.
My Kohkum taught me well. I have not seen her for a few short years now. However her lessons are with me. This is one lesson she offered me that has effectively changed my life through healing medicine.