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The Futility of Rooting Out Sin Apart from The Holy Spirit

For the last 20 years sociologist Peter Simi has spent time with and studied white supremacist groups and individuals. Many groups, such as the White Aryan Resistance, Nazi Lowriders, and Public Enemy No. 1, have allowed him as an observer into their private meetings. Simi explains how difficult it is for those leaving the groups, giving a specific example.

A young woman named Bonnie and her husband were fully indoctrinated and committed to white supremacist beliefs. In a domestic dispute unrelated to their white-power group, a relative shot their daughter. At the hospital two black doctors saved her life. This changed Bonnie and her husband, who then “tried to retrain their minds, free themselves of racist views.” They even went so far as to move to a nearby Southern California area with numerous black and Latino families.

Things became undone one day when Bonnie realized she had received the wrong order after going through a local drive-thru restaurant. The clerk refused to correct the order when she went inside. All the workers were Mexican and didn’t speak good English. Bonnie became enraged, swore at the clerk, told her to get out of her country, exclaimed “white power” and left displaying the Nazi salute.

After that eruption, Bonnie collapsed in her car outside of the restaurant, crying, asking herself why she did that. Why had she reverted to a state of hate that she had been trying to push away? It was clear to Simi that she felt shame about how she had reacted. Simi believes that for many, being part of white-power groups becomes like an addiction. Those who try to quit hating usually will relapse, because racism burrows deep into the psyche, and merely leaving the group cannot expunge it. Simi calls this ‘the hangover effect.’ He has tried to get mental health services for some white supremacists who are on the fence about leaving, or have already left, their hate groups. But few counselors will agree to take them on. Simi says their response is: ‘We’re not qualified.’


Erika Hayasaki, “Secret Life of the Professor Who Lives with Nazis” Narratively (11-7-18)

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