Tony McAleer, who came from a middle-class upbringing in British Columbia, channelled his rage into first joining skinhead groups and later recruiting for neo-Nazi groups including the White Aryan Reistance. Of this passage from his book The Cure for Hate: A Former White Supremacist’s Journey from Violent Extremism to Radical Compassion, McAleer writes:
The ego was in full control, and my life was full of conflict — conflict with my parents, my girlfriend, society in general, and most of all myself. In that world of conflict, there was negativity and judgment everywhere — to Jews, immigrants and women. The irony is that out of that world of ideology and violence that was also so filled with misogyny, that the catalyst that sparked the re-awakening of my heart, my return to humanity and feeling, was holding my daughter.
The transformation that occurred over the next several years wasn’t a quick one, but it started in that delivery room.
A few months after I returned to Vancouver from my trip to visit with the Aryan Nations skinheads in Alberta, the phone rang. It was Dan Sims asking if I could host two skinhead girls who were going to be out in Vancouver for a couple weeks. That was the thing about the skinhead scene in North America — with a phone call you could arrange for a place to stay in just about every city on the continent, and Vancouver was no different.
Ten days later, Michelle and her friend arrived. While I did my best to be a good host, they did their best to be great guests, and several times I found myself coming home to cupboards and a fridge stuffed with food and a couple flats of beer. Truly, a match made in heaven. It didn’t take long for Michelle and I to become an item. At the end of the two weeks, she stayed and her friend went home.
My mother took an instant dislike to Michelle. I remember driving my mother to the airport for work one afternoon when she gave me the beak. “The beak” was my mother’s nickname, as she would peck at me when I was a child in a cross between nagging and a dressing-down from a proper English school headmistress with the values of a bygone era.
“I don’t like her. She’s going to get pregnant on you and ruin your life,” she said in her middle-class English accent. “You are a fool because you don’t even see it.” Finally, she concluded, with great emphasis, “Make sure you use protection.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve got it all covered,” I replied confidently.
I grew up without sisters and went to an all-boys Catholic school — what could possibly go wrong? When Michelle told me she was infertile, I thought I’d hit the jackpot, but in reality, I was like a lamb being led to the slaughter. Or this is how I viewed the situation when I was still a frightened little boy who was unable to take responsibility for anything and harboured a deep anger that I directed towards Michelle and, later, women in general.
After about three months, the honeymoon phase of the relationship started to wear off, and we were fighting worse than Sammi and Ronnie, the notorious on-again, off-again couple from the reality TV show “Jersey Shore.” After we broke up for the third time that week, Michelle uttered the words that no 22-year-old boy (God knows I wasn’t a man at this age) wants to hear: “I’m pregnant.”
I was stunned, like I had been psychologically punched in the gut, and was at a loss for words. My mind was racing, searching for any possible angle to get out of this.
Panicked, I ran to the nearest pharmacy, where I purchased a pregnancy test. I waited impatiently while Michelle went to the bathroom. After a couple minutes, she emerged and handed me the test: positive. It must be faulty, I thought, and I raced back to the store to pick up another one kit. After another wait — the same result: positive. I went back to the store several more times to buy different brands, to no avail. I was thinking, hoping, praying that they were somehow faulty.
I wanted so badly for the tests to be wrong, but knowing that Michelle was pregnant, there was no other option but to have the baby if I was serious about saving the white race. This was the white supremacist ideology, going back to the Fourteen Words about securing the existence of white people and a future for white children.
The belief was that the Jews were behind abortion in a conspiracy to kill off white babies, and with a declining birth rate among white people, having babies was imperative to further the white race and ensure its continued survival.
This narrative also reflects the inherent misogyny of white supremacist ideology in the way it places women on a pedestal while at the same time dehumanizing them by valuing them only for their ability to bear and raise children.
The role of women in the movement was very specific. They were worshipped for their ability to have babies but in a very patronizing way in which they were treated like second-class citizens.
The only women that were genuinely respected were the ones who could fight, and they were recognized and valued for their toughness, for their capacity for violence, not for their humanity.
Looking back, I see that the heavy misogyny embedded in the ideology resulted in dysfunctional romantic relationships between people who didn’t know how to have a positive connection with themselves or with others. My own relationship was filled with verbal and emotional abuse flowing in both directions. We became targets for each other’s anger and pain, and our relationship mirrored so many of those around us.
As the months went on, Michelle was able to conceal the pregnancy with the help of a baggy sweatshirt the odd time that we went to family dinners (which wasn’t often, as my family wasn’t speaking to me because of their rejection of my white supremacist activities) for holidays like Christmas and Easter, when we had to pretend to play happy family. We were sweating for fear of getting found out.
There was no rush to tell my mom because that would have only invited severe beaking, so we delayed breaking the news as long as possible. Eventually, however, we couldn’t put it off any longer.
Nervously, I dialed my parents’ number, hoping with each ring that no one would pick up, but by the fourth ring, my mom answered.
“Mom, I’ve got something to tell you,” I said.
“Oh no! What now?” she said, as I could feel her bracing for bad news, which was typical with my phone calls.
“It’s Michelle. She’s pregnant.”
I could hear, my mom starting to lose it, and then her full-force beaking took effect: “You idiot, I told you she would get pregnant! F—ing idiot, you’ve ruined your life!”
I heard the receiver of the wall-mounted kitchen phone fall and start banging against the wall as my mom walked across the floor in her high heels, cursing. To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever heard so much profanity come out of the mouth of a proper middle-aged Englishwoman.
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To be fair, she was probably cursing because she knew how much work this child was going to be for her, given the current state of my life. I was in no position to be a responsible father and family man.
Then my dad picked up the handset. “Tony, what’s your mother all upset about?”
“It’s Michelle. She’s pregnant.”
He paused. “Are you sure?”
“Oh yeah, I’m sure,” I said, as I thought about the size of her belly.
“How far along is she?” he asked. It was the doctor in him.
“Seven and a half.”
“Seven and a half months, and you didn’t tell us?”
To which I sheepishly replied, “No, no, no, not seven and a half months. Seven and a half minutes. The contractions are seven and a half minutes apart. I’m calling from St. Paul’s Hospital!”
Within an hour my parents would be grandparents, and there would be no more beak. At least not about this.
What happened next was extraordinary. Not more than 20 minutes later, I was in the delivery room with Michelle, amid all the chaos, screaming, and profanity normally associated with your average childbirth, trying to make sense of it all and feeling as useful as a spare tool. As Michelle’s huffing and puffing and grunting reached a crescendo, I could see a baby start to emerge.
I watched as the nurses stepped in to finish the process, cutting the umbilical cord, and wrapping the baby. And then a nurse turned and handed the baby to me.
She was a beautiful little girl. I took her into my hands and looked down at her as she waved her tiny clenched fists in the air with her eyes closed and scrunched her face as if she were trying to come to terms with her change in environs.
I was terrified when the nurse handed her to me, afraid I was going to do something wrong, worried about not knowing how to hold her properly, as she was so tiny, fragile and delicate. But as I marvelled at the little human being squirming in my hands, she opened her eyes.
At that moment, knowing that my face was the first picture her brain was going to take, I connected to another human being for the first time since … I couldn’t remember when. We were bonded. I felt a tingle start at the top of my scalp, travel down my body, and move out of my feet and into the floor. It was an intense sensation. I only knew one thing: that moment had changed me.
I didn’t know how or in what way, but I left that delivery room a different person than the one who had entered it.
I wish I could say that my daughter’s birth meant the end of my involvement with skinheads, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists, but it didn’t happen that way. I had too much personal and social capital invested in my identity to let it go. My trajectory deeper into the world of white supremacy had too much momentum.
So although something in me started to shift the day my daughter was born, I was still 100 per cent dedicated to the white supremacist cause. I continued my path seeking purpose and attention, as well as my transition from skinhead in a bomber jacket and Doc Marten boots to political leader in a suit and tie.