This is a story you may know, but it’s worth remembering the details of how a young Philadelphia man can learn to hate. This is an American story — of race and hatred.
Frank Meeink grew up scraping the asphalt of South Philly’s streets with his hockey stick. At 10, he played half-ball and street hockey on Fourth Street every day. But home was full of hate and fear; his stepfather beat him constantly and called him “prisoner of war.”
“He set it to where I was a violent person,” Meeink said. “I was angry inside.”
When his stepfather kicked him out of his house, Meeink ended up with relatives on a farm in Lancaster County. His cousin, who had a Confederate flag in his bedroom, introduced him to a group of skinheads; they talked for hours about blacks, Latinos and Jews.
They told the youth his destiny was to be a white warrior.
But all that mattered to Meeink was that these older guys were taking an interest in him.
“There was no secret indoctrination, I didn’t have to give blood over a Nazi flag,” he said.
One night the skinheads shaved his head, and, the next day, they give him a pair of Doc Martens. They went to a concert where the skinheads held a man and told Meeink to kick him. He did.
“They added water to a seed inside me,” Meeink said. “I had been raised to hate.”
He was 14 and a neo-Nazi skinhead. For the first time, he said, “I felt like I mattered.”
By the time he was 16, Meeink had a swastika tattoo on his neck, “Sieg Heil” inked into his head and “skinhead” spelled out on his knuckles. Leading white supremacists in four states, he took part in brutal attacks.
Asked about the details, he said only , “I was a monster.”
For kidnapping and beating a man, he was sent to prison.
There, Meeink had to live with his white supremacist beliefs and his reality. He was in tight quarters with blacks and Latinos — the very people he hated. He began to realize that the young black men his age loved to joke around and play sports — just like he did.
“They were funny, Dave Chappelle didn’t have nothing on them;” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I still hung with my Aryans and did my Aryan thing, but they were terrible at football. So I asked the blacks if could play with them.”
He became friends with his black and Latino teammates.
However, it “was not some great ‘kumbaya’ moment,” he said. “I did not think I was changing.”
But belief-by-belief, step-by-step, Meeink let his hatreds go. That raw and stunning story is told in “Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead,” which details how he left the white supremacist movement.
As he started over, he founded a group called Harmony Through Hockey with help from the Philadelphia Flyers. Now, he coaches ice hockey teams and speaks on racial tolerance around the country.