Anyone who lived through the punk scene of the late 80s/early 90s probably remembers the nazi punks. Devolved from their enlighten anti-racist skinhead brethren, these boneheads made a game out of showing up at punk or industrial gigs and starting fights in the mosh pit. They’d strut, arms linked, down Yonge Street to stand outside gay bars threatening patrons with violence (incidentally, no matter how tough of a nazi skinhead you think you are, that 6’4″ drag queen is probably a better street fighter than you’ll ever be). I knew (and punched) a fair number of nazi punks in my time, but from the perspective of supporting friends who were gay or people of colour, I never really grasped what made these jerks such angry racists.
Turns out… not much.
Tony McAleer had a good childhood; supportive parents, private schools, trips abroad. But because his father was vaguely neglectful (and I’m not judging here, really, but McAleer’s teenage reaction to his doctor father’s absences seem out of line given how bad his life really wasn’t), he became an angry youth who found friendship and support within a music scene that morphed at some point to make hate its main focus. From there he moved further into the white supremacist movement, becoming the face and spokesperson for many organizations both in Canada and the US.
Self-awareness, and becoming a father, eventually made him rethink his life choices, doing a full 180 over the course of a few years to become a spokesperson against racism and white supremacy.
McAleer maps out his life, detailing how his involvement with various white power organizations affected his family life and his legal and work life. The writing is sharp and concise, although the minutiae of both the anti- and pro-racism groups he works with makes the book drag in places. The Cure For Hate offers an inside look at how organizations ran, recruited and fought legal battles.
What McAleer has left out, I assume intentionally, is his personal opinions on the groups he targeted, as well as any rationale to support those opinions… or why they changed. I can see that this might make for a loaded work and take away from the point of the book, but the explanation of being “angry” is not sufficient. At no point does he explain why he and his compatriots hated Jews, blacks, gays, and others. There is no attempt at offering insight as to why white supremacists consider themselves better than people from other races. There’s also no real explanation of the turn-around. He details the process — meditation, therapy, slowly moving away from the people whose values he shared — but he never tells the reader why, and that seems intentional. As someone who has spent stupid amounts of time arguing with (former) punk friends who suddenly starting spouting white power rhetoric, I can confidently say that people want the “why”. Specifically, we want an answer that offers some semblance of logic, even if that doesn’t actually exist. And when someone does a full reversal, we want to know why again; what changed, what are the specifics of your opinion now and what was the process to make that opinion change.
The Cure For Hate offers a very detailed depiction of the white power movement in North America; how it functioned and recruited. What it doesn’t offer is any real insight as to what makes these folks so hateful in the first place and why that hate is directed at specific groups. It does offer some hope however — if someone as high-ranking as McAleer could throw off the constraints of his hate and anger and learn to accept and respect people he formerly thought of as unworthy, maybe there’s hope for others of his ilk.