“Hey, Josh,” rasped the voice on the other line. “There’s a party tonight. At my place. Why don’t you swing by?”
What Josh had no way of knowing at the time was that there was no party. In just a few moments, as he’d walk through the entrance to that apartment, he would be kidnapped, tortured and put up for ransom by Frank Meeink, one of the most feared names in skinhead circles at the time.
What Frank had no way of knowing at the time is that by kidnapping Josh, the leader of a rival skinhead gang, he would set things in motion for a wild ride down an unexpected path that would, over the years, lead him to forever terminate his association with the neo-Nazi movement, begin to fight hate and eventually bring about the discovery that he himself is Jewish.
A Dark Dawn
For Frank Bertone Meeink, growing up in South Philadelphia wasn’t easy. An abusive, alcoholic father would be replaced by an alcoholic abusive stepfather, along with an apathetic mother. Frank grew up exposed to the gang violence that came along with the turf wars between the neighborhood’s Irish and Italian hoodlums, never feeling he had the protection of the adults in his life.
The only way to survive hate, he figured from a very young age, was by becoming a better hater and becoming a grown-up quickly. In this climate, it did not take much for the seeds of hate already planted within Frank’s soul to flourish. And at his uncles’ farm near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the conditions were just right.
“When I was a kid, my uncles would use expressions like ‘Don’t Jew me,’ meaning, don’t cheat me, or ‘Someone tried to Jew me today,’” Frank recalls. “I never understood that, though. When I would hear jokes about Jews and money, everyone around me would laugh, but I wouldn’t because I didn’t know anything about it.
“Later on, I went to my uncle and asked, ‘What does that mean?’ And he said, ‘You’ll get it when you’re older.’”
One day, when he was 14 years old, something clicked.
“I was at my first neo-Nazi meeting and one of the guys started talking about how the Jews secretly run the Federal Reserve and siphon money from there to support Israel. In that moment I had no idea what the Federal Reserve was, but when he said that, it unlocked the joke. It unlocked the power of having heard people say, ‘Don’t Jew me.’ Until that time I never understood what that meant.”
All at once, Frank felt like a grown-up. Like one of them. Like he belonged. Somewhere. Finally.
“At that moment, I felt like I must be older—I got the joke, so I’m older now. I wanted to know what the adults in my life knew.”
Frank took an interest in white pride, believing whites to be supreme over all other races. It was in this setting that Frank felt safe for the first time.
“My parents were drug addicts who broke up soon after I was born. I never really saw much hope anywhere. The way I saw the world back then was with fear; I was scared when I was a kid. There were times when I didn’t know where my next meal would come from or who would be taking care of me. My view of the world became that I had to get mine whenever and wherever I could—I had to get mine before you get yours. I felt that no one would give me anything, and I had to take what I could.”
Spending his formative years in the presence of hate has made Frank, now 43, quite the expert.
“It always starts with fear,” he tells me, when I ask what’s the biggest common denominator between all these haters.