From the age of 17 Arno Michaelis was deeply involved in the white power movement. He was a founding member of what became the largest racist skinhead organization in the world, a reverend of self-declared Racial Holy War, and lead singer of the race-metal band Centurion, selling over 20,000 CDs to racists round the world. Today he is a speaker, author of My Life After Hate and works with Serve2Unite, an organisation that engages young people of all backgrounds as peacemakers
"Three years ago, At my first ever Public Speaking engagement at The University of San Diego. I was honored to share a panel discussion with my now wonderful friend Arno, I was amazed about his story, I didn't know that such hate groups still exist and are functioning within the United State, though I was overwhelmed with all the information I learned from my experience that day, I had the understanding that Arno's soul stood as a testament that human spirit will never be squashed. I was so curious to know him more and learn more about what drives him to be in service to other every single day , I mean every single day. He is my inspiration and today I had the honor of having a conversation with him , so that he can inspire you , as he inspired me and still does!
Dydine: Would you tell me a brief story of : What was the most challenging moment in your life?
Arno:In 2012 a man who was in the white power skinhead gang I had helped to start in 1988 walked in to the SIkh Temple of WIsconsin and murdered six people, also leaving an elderly holy man in a coma and an Oak Creek police officer in the hospital recovering from 15 gunshot wounds.
Dydine: How did you face it?
Arno: As a former white supremacist who had been a peace activist for 3 years at that time, I had a lot of media attention following the shooting. My messaging was focused on compassion and forgiveness, as modeled by the Sikh community throughout the tragedy. For most of the following week, I did media appearances for 8-10 hours a day. Back then I was in the process of transition from supporting myself and my daughter as an information technology consultant to scratching out a living as an aspiring author and speaker. The media attention was the best thing that could have happened to me in that respect, but I would have happily went back to rebooting servers if it could have brought those sux people back to their loved ones. Even though I knew that my message was helping a great deal, I still felt horrible for benefiting from the atrocity that I had helped to bring about by starting the gang that the killer came from two decades earlier.
Dydine: How did you overcome it?
Arno: In October of 2012, Pardeep Kaleka reached out to me.His father Satwant Singh Kaleka was the last person murdered on August 5th, 2012, as he fought off the gunman with a butter knife, being shot five times before he fell. His bravery bought time for the police to arrive, saving the lives of the many children and elderly who hid elsewhere in the gurdwara. Pardeep asked me how someone could do something so horrible. I answered, “practice.” The shooter had practiced hate and violence for over a decade, which poisoned everything in his life and drove him to such misery that only homicide followed by suicide made sense. I shared with Pardeep how guilty I felt that I was selling books and getting booked for speaking engagements because of what happened to his community. He told me that he wanted to to never stop talking about his father and the other victims. Every time we told the story of August 5th, 2012, we inspire others to heal through kindness and compassion, and empower everyone who hears to divert people from the path of violence as I had been diverted when I left hate groups in 1994.
Dydine: What were your survival techniques?
Arno: Faith in the basic, primal goodness of existence, especially when things seem to be at their worst, along with faith that all human beings have an innate need for compassion and the ability to give compassion. The Sikhs call it “Chardhi Kala”, which translates as relentless optimism.
Dydine: What were your tools?
Arno: Meditation and mindfulness are daily assets that I use to not only overcome challenges but to also be the best person I can be.
Dydine: How did they impact your life?
Arno: 14 years after I had renounced the hate and violence I radiated outward as a white power skinhead, I was still seething with an inward hate and violence for myself. Yes, time was slowly healing. I had stopped abusing drugs and alcohol in 2004 and things got much better then. But I still beat the hell out of myself emotionally in a masochistic penance that had no chance of achieving salvation. When bad things happened to me I reasoned it was because I didn't deserve good things: I deserved to suffer and ache for the rest of my life, as those who I had beaten and terrorized still likely did. Though everyone else had forgiven me, forgiving myself was out of the question.
Until I learned to meditate. Simply focusing on my breath, the essence of life and presence, and forgiving encroaching thoughts with the same gentleness I had cradled my infant daughter with, demonstrated with crystalline clarity that forgiveness on any scale was every bit as possible.
Dydine: What Lights up your Heart?
Arno: Impermanence. Understanding that change is constant as far as any human being has ever known. Suffering is rooted in the futile denial of this truth. As experience varies from pain to pleasure, being mindful of attachment empowers the ability to engage the moment rather than fleeing the former or pursuing the latter. Practicing awareness of impermanence exercises courage, wisdom, and compassion—universal qualities of humanity.
Interdependence. Understanding cause and effect on a scale from intimate to global. A thought inspired by a friend, typed into 1s and 0s and iterated across the globe to catalyze the healing of a former stranger. Mindfulness of the impact of actions on self, others, community, society, Earth, reveals an innate gentleness that embodies strength—an innate human need for compassion along with the ability to give it.
These universal truths are illuminated for me as I study The Dharma, as they were revealed to The Buddha during his explorations. Observing and learning at every opportunity.
Integral to these meanings I have found is that there is no single means of discovering them. Respect and admiration for all human revelation of spirituality inherent in my own. Buddhism is an avenue of enlightenment—freedom from greed, fear, and ignorance—that celebrates the natural variance of life, including all the wonderful variances of human spirituality and expressions thereof.
YOU CAN FIND OUT MORE ABOUT Aaron on his Social Media Platform:
About the Author: Still in her 20's, Rwandan genocide survivor Dydine Umunyana is the author of Embracing Survival: Genocide and War through the Eyes of a Child. She is the founder of Umbrella Press, a multi-media publishing venture dedicated to giving a voice to the voiceless. Dydine was appointed a youth peace Ambassador in 2013 for the Aegis Trust, an organization dedicated to the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities worldwide. Subsequently, in 2015, she became a Global Mentor for Peace at Serve 2 Unite, an organization that cultivates peace through creative service learning and global engagement. Dydine is committed to establishing a dialogue between people to help them understand their shared histories and cultural differences. Through her writing, public lectures and filmmaking, Dydine’s goal is to pierce the wall of silence that still pervades much of our society.