I already know what you’re thinking. “Another book report, Joe? But we just got one a month ago!”
(Because reading is fundamental!)
This time’s different. Instead of ranting on a book I didn’t like, I’m going to review a book I actually enjoyed. Now, full disclosure here: the book in question, Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead came to my attention via my editor Michael Mohr. The author, Christian Picciolini, is a previous client, and when I met up with Michael in Oakland last month he told me all about the book.
(The cover. Eye-catching, no?)
At first I kind of brushed it off. I intended on getting to the book eventually, to show support, but with so many books waiting to be read, it wasn’t exactly a priority.
(I know I’ve been putting you off for months and months but I’ll get to you. I promise!)
But then Michael posted on his Facebook that Christian would be a guest on the Adam Carolla Podcast. And then I found out that Christian was also interviewed by Glenn Beck.
“Wow,” I thought, “this book is pretty legit.”
(Christian was the guest on the May 4, 2015 episode.)
(He was a guest several months before the book’s release.)
So after finishing the 1157 page meganovel 1Q84, I dove into Christian’s memoir and devoured it in three sittings. It was that good. Just like last time, I’ll post the summary of the book before getting into the review:
‘Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead’ is a poignant and gripping cautionary tale that details Christian’s indoctrination when he was barely a teen, a lonely outsider who, more than anything, just wanted to belong. A fateful meeting with a charismatic man who recognized and took advantage of Christian’s deep need for connection sent the next decade of his life into a dangerous spiral. When his mentor went to prison for a vicious hate crime, Christian stepped forward, and at 18, he was overseeing the most brutal extremist skinhead cells across the country. From fierce street brawls to drunken white power rallies, recruitment by foreign terrorist dictators to riotous white power rock music, Picciolini immersed himself in racist skinhead culture, hateful propaganda, and violence. He convinced himself that what he was doing was right…all for the sake of belonging.
Ultimately Christian began to see that his hate-filled life was built on lies. After years of battling the monster he created, he was able to reinvent himself. Picciolini went on to become an advocate for love, inclusion, and racial diversity, co-founding the nonprofit Life After Hate, which helps people disengage from hate groups and to love themselves and accept others, regardless of skin color, religious belief, or sexual preference.
After a foreword by Joan Jett (yes, that Joan Jett) Christian introduces his memoir by taking responsibility for the actions he’s taken in his past life of hate and racism, hoping that by telling his story he will extinguish the flames of the very movement he tried to fan.
The memoir begins with Christian’s childhood. The son of Italian immigrants, he grew up in Chicago as a first generation American. Like all children of parents chasing their piece of the American dream, he was left alone, rarely seeing them due to their busy work schedule.
I couldn’t understand why they wanted so badly to fit in with these people. We weren’t like them. We didn’t have money like they did. Besides, [my parents] worked such long hours every day, it wasn’t like they even had the time to enjoy it if they wanted to.
From chapter 3—Hail Victory
“These people” is in reference to the parents of the spoiled rich kids that Christian went to school with. His mom and dad had high hopes and sent him to private school because (like the immigrant stereotype) they wanted him to grow up and become a doctor.
When the time came, convinced I was naturally brilliant, my mother made sure to find a school equal to the fine mind she was certain I possessed. Early on, she decided I would become a doctor—both wealthy and respected—and searched diligently for proof she had judged correctly.
From chapter 2—Cold
But things don’t quite turn out that way. Actually, Christian’s life couldn’t have gone in a more different direction. With his parents emotionally unavailable from working their fingers to the bone running their own business and a large ego from attending a fancy school (my interpretation, at least) he entered a rebellious mindset, making him low-hanging fruit for the Nazi Skinhead movement.
Everything changed one day when Christian was hanging out in an alley passing a joint with his friend. Like a scene from an 80’s movie, a 1969 Firebird roars down the road and stops in front of them. Out steps Carmine who simultaneously berates Christian and proselytizes to him.
Barely opening his mouth, he spoke softly, with a listen-closely-now attitude. “Don’t you know that’s exactly what the capitalists and Jews want you to do, so they can keep you docile?”
From chapter 4—White Power
Even though fourteen-year-old Christian had no idea what a capitalist was, what docile meant, and wouldn’t see a Jew in person for many years, Carmine’s presence and conviction behind his words hooked him. From there he tumbled down the rabbit hole (so to speak) into the world of Neo-Nazi White Supremacy, his character transforming into an ugly monster.
It was only a matter of time before he’d attend rallies where speakers would spew the most violent, hate-filled venom, and Christian would swallow it, the speeches eroding his mind worse than a gallon of Drano.
“Our traitorous government would have you believe racial equality is advanced thinking, brothers and sisters. That all races should live in peace and harmony. …Open your eyes and refuse to be fooled. What do you see when niggers move into your neighborhood? You see drugs and crime pour into your streets, not equality. Your gutters fill with trash. The air starts smelling foul because these porch monkeys don’t do anything but sit around and smoke crack and knock up their junkie whores all day. Can’t bother to clean up.
“Only thing they’re cleaning up on is all that hard-earned money you and I pay in taxes. Living off welfare. Unemployment. First in line for every handout the government can offer. Section 8 housing. Free lunch programs at school. The only reason those little nigger babies go to school is to get those free lunches and welfare checks. All paid for by us white people. By hardworking white Americans who’d never dream of having our kids eat free meals because we take care of ourselves.
From Chapter 6—Fourteen Words
What’s ironic is that the same type of people that Christian maligned for relying on government aid and spent so much time opposing and trying to save “his people” (the whites) from didn’t seem so bad when Christian found himself in dire financial straits.
But even though Christian was hypnotized by a disgusting, violent ideology, getting out was not easy; I won’t spoil the book, but it took a long, hard road filled with obstacles to realize that love and compassion was the true way to happiness and fulfillment.
Pick this book up. Even if you’ve never had any prior interest in the Nazi Skinhead movement, just seeing how one man can pull himself out of such a dark place and become a loving husband and father is nothing short of inspiring and uplifting.
That’s all for today. Next post will be up on May 30th and in case you ever forget, be sure to check out the handy “Post Schedule” tab up at the top.
As always be sure to subscribe to this blog by email if you haven’t already, share the post with anyone who might be interested, and of course, leave a comment below sharing your thoughts…especially if you’ve read this book.
See you next time,
J. F. Seegitz