by Dan Gibson
It's Monday morning, so perhaps your perspective on the world might not be at its most positive right now, but the AP ran a two part story [1, 2] over the weekend about Bryon Widner, a former skinhead who turned his life around and chose to painfully remove his facial tattoos as part of the process.
For 16 years, Widner was a glowering, strutting, menacing vessel of hate - an "enforcer" for some of America's most notorious and violent racist skinhead groups.
Hellbent on destruction, he was living to die, though even during the bloodiest beat-downs he knew he was unlikely to lose his life as a warrior in the glorious race war promoted by the white power movement.
"It was more likely to be a bullet through the head," he says, grimly.
By the time he was 30, Widner had spent a total of four years in jail, accused of murder and other charges, though he was never convicted of a major crime. Victim intimidation, he says, took care of that.
And then he met Julie Larsen.
Like Widner, Larsen's arms and legs were covered with neo-Nazi symbols - iron crosses, a Totenkopf skull, axes crossed into a swastika, the Nazi salute "sieg heil." She posted regularly on the Internet forum, Stormfront. Its motto: "White Pride, World Wide."
...But by her 30s, the single mother of four was questioning her racist beliefs. She grew tired of telling her children they couldn't watch certain Walt Disney movies because Hollywood was controlled by Jews, or listen to rap music, or eat Chinese or Mexican food. After struggling to put an abusive marriage to a skinhead behind her, she yearned for something simpler.
"I just wanted a normal family life," she said.
And to his great surprise, Widner discovered that was what he wanted, too.
But leaving a life of hate would not be easy when it was all that he had known. And when his past was tattooed all over his face.