A mother's love story
By Ellen Snortland 05/10/2012
Happy Mother’s Day! We celebrate mothers only once a year in what frequently amounts to a “lip service” event, as we often fail to acknowledge the life-changing power of family and love. “Erasing Hate,” a documentary about a neo-Nazi skinhead who transformed his life, is a powerful reminder and tribute to love, family and partnership.
In 2011, the PW featured my friend and fellow Pasadenan Bill Brummel’s documentary “Erasing Hate.” This column is a follow-up to his must-see film. Right now Brummel is raising money to take back the ownership of “Erasing Hate” from a major cable network which aired it, but had to cut it to a TV format length of 44 minutes. Bill wants to make it available in a feature-length version of 92 minutes for wide release. Go to erasinghatethemovie.com to add your help. Every dollar counts.
“Erasing Hate” follows an unlikely hero’s journey, although it’s really the journey of a couple. This heroic couple, Bryan and Julie Widner, defected from a cult of radical skinheads, the slang term for neo-Nazi groups of men and women dedicated to white supremacy. Klan-affiliated groups still hide beneath hoods, but not the skinheads. They practice in-your-face visibility. The footage of these groups is terrifying. You can almost smell the booze and sweat emanating from the pores of these lost and vicious souls. The women are there, too — with their kids — participating in hate rallies.
Julie has truly been the instigator of transformation all along, and it’s doubtful that Bryan would have survived, literally, without her. Bryan’s self-acknowledged trajectory would have landed him six feet under or behind bars, most likely both.
But here’s where the power of family and love comes in. Julie’s little girl wanted her picture taken with Bryan at a white power rally. That’s how Julie and Bryan met. After an intensive phone romance, they married.
The rest of the movie … well, you gotta see it. Let’s just say that Bryan’s journey includes the removal of his numerous, highly offensive facial tattoos so that he could get a job and blend into regular society. The Chinese saying, “A tiger never changes its stripes,” gets blown out of the truism water in “Erasing Hate,” where Bryan’s “stripes” are removed to reveal the gentler cat underneath.
One always sees life and movies through their own particular worldview. I’m currently studying to be a certified conversation leader for Caring Economics through the Center for Partnership Studies created by Dr. Riane Eisler. Briefly, my ally and friend Dr. Eisler, author of “The Chalice and the Blade,” and more recently “The Real Wealth of Nations,” trains committed citizens to literally help shift the current conversations we have about economics from a top-down domination system — characterized most dramatically by the über-capitalist Third Reich fascism and the cruel, murderous socialist extreme of the former Soviets — to seeing the possibility of creating family-friendly systems of finance and governance. The Nordic countries are the closest to demonstrating what we call “caring economics,” where the usually invisible tasks often performed by women are valued and supported by liberals and conservatives alike. In other words, the arts, education, health care, music, caring for the young, families and elderly are values that are validated by funding and not merely given lip service. By extension, they value the time that fathers spend as well.
At this point, you would rightly be saying, “What the heck does THAT have to do with the transformation of a skinhead?”
I saw “Erasing Hate” as evidence of the potential for individuals inculcated in domination ethics to transform to a partnership/caring way of life. Bryan literally abandoned violence for love of family. I’ve repeatedly witnessed that same dramatic transformation within the Landmark Education Forum, but rarely have I ever witnessed such a dramatic shift in a film, documentary or otherwise.
Skinhead groups are based in mutual hatred of “the other” and have pacts to kill, maim or wreak havoc on innocents if they are the “wrong” skin color or religion. While they purportedly worship and vow to protect motherhood, they are full of contradictions. The white supremacists, while touting the superiority of Aryan women, actually “own” women and children because in a domination society, all men are superior to women. It was Julie’s realization, since she was a mother of a 14-year-old girl, that the people on the group of skinheads she belonged to were absolute criminal hypocrites. She discovered that members were gang-raping underage girls at a rally. It was then that she decided to escape.
You’d think that a white supremacist group would applaud a couple making a new white family. No, no, no. When the couple said they were leaving to prepare for the arrival of their new son, the group declared war on them.
Be very grateful that it’s possible to transform hatred. The Norwegians are now trying Anders Behring Breivik, a white nationalist extremist who killed 77 innocents, mostly kids, during his rampage. The threat of right wing neo-Nazi groups is there. Let’s get “Erasing Hate” shown to more people, so we don’t create more American Breiviks.
I am grateful for the courage of Julie and Bryan Widner (and “Erasing Hate”) who made their commitment to motherhood vanquish their love of the “The Fatherland.”
Ellen is a writing coach in Altadena. Contact her at snortland.com.