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April 13, 2006 - Image 20

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2006-04-13

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

(World

Self-Redemption

After years in the hate movement, Floyd Cochran found hope in teaching tolerance.

"People think, `They can't say
more than three or four words
without referring to a dictionary,
so we don't have to worry about
them; they're not that intelligent:"
he said. "But I wasn't illiterate. I
was ignorant."

Harry Kirsbaurn

Staff Writer

T

he light bulb turned
on in Floyd Cochran's
head in 1992, but it
wasn't instantaneous, he said. It
took four months to conclude
that everything he believed in
was wrong, and it showed how
steeped in hatred his soul had
become.
Cochran was propaganda
director of the Aryan Nations at
the time, living in the Christian
Identity movement's northern
Idaho compound.
Separated from his fam-
ily, including a son born with a
cleft palate and heart problems,
Cochran was called into Richard
Butler's office in April 1992 to
discuss his son's "imperfections"
with the white supremacist
organization's leader.
"When we take over, your
son will have to be euthanized,"
Butler calmly told Cochran.
For the next four months,
Cochran, 49, thought of his years
in the racist movement, starting
with the Ku Klux Klan. Raised
in foster homes and living in
northern New York state, he was
approached by a Klansman at the
young age of 14.
"I had never seen people
with a pointed hat or a long
white sheet before:' he told a
rapt crowd of 200 April 4 at the
Holocaust Memorial Center in
Farmington Hills. "Out of curios-
ity, I went to the Klan and got
some literature. And I wasn't
really excited in the beginning
about who to hate, but -about the
other things they said to me: 'You
know we like you Don't you want
to be somebody? Don't you want
to be a man? We're family.
"I didn't fit in to normal
society," he said. "I weighed a
little over 80 pounds. I didn't fit
that image of being macho, but
when I walked into school with
a T-shirt that said 'White Power,
people knew I was hanging out

20

April 13 e 2006

Floyd Cochran gives an interview to WXYZ-TV at the HMC as

an armed guard stands watch.

with the Klan. All of a sudden,
people feared me and I equated
that with being a man, the ability
to intimidate-people.
"It didn't take long to under-
stand that to be a man, I would
have to learn to hate people."
Many years later, Butler's
conversation stirred something •
inside Cochran and he came to a
realization.
"How, on one hand, can you
say it was wrong to want to kill
my son because of the way he
was born, but it was OK for me to
advocate killing people because
they were different than me,
without it somehow being hypo
critical?" he said.
When he approached Butler
with doubts, he was told he had
five minutes to pack and leave
the compound forever. •
"When I first left the racist
movement, I thought, `Well, now
I'm not going to heaven:" he said.
"I turned my back on God and
somehow broke that spiritual
connection. That was extremely
difficult to do."
For a while, Cochran lived

alone in a tent because he
knew no one outside hate
groups.Years later, an invita-
tion from a Catholic priest to
speak to his congregation led
the former neo-Nazi to his
current crusade of teaching
and warning people about the
hate movement.

New Face Of Hate
Serious recruitment of young
people into the hate movement
didn't begin until 10 to 13 years
ago, Cochran said. "Organized
hate groups today are using a
wide variety of ways to reach
young people, be it through the
Internet, the racist music scene or
racist video games where young
people get points for killing Jews,
black people and Hispanics."
The Christian Identity move-
ment uses religion to indoctrinate
people, he said: "Adam and Eve
were the first white people on
the planet; Jewish people are bio-
logical descendants of Satan and
should be eliminated. People of
color have no souls and therefore
are not human beings:'

But Cochran didn't always use
race or anti-Semitism to attract
people. It could be any social
issue that might be going on in a
community at a particular time.
"`I made Newsweek in 1999, .
the first time I was ever in a
national magazine, because I
used an environmental issue to
gain attention and raise recruits
for the Aryan Nation," he said.
"Back in the 1990s in the
Pacific Northwest, the govern-
ment had set aside thousands of
acres of timberland to protect
the spotted owl, and loggers were
out of work. I traveled through-
out Oregon calling it affirmative
action for a bird. I used the word
affirmative action to change it
from an. environmental issue to a
racial issue."
People also have stereotypes
of white supremacists, he said.

Fertile Ground
Another myth he dispelled is that
more hate groups exist in the
South. Michigan ranks third or
fourth in the country in numbers
of organized white supremacists,
he said."Neo-Nazis don't come
here to Michigan because they
like blue skies; they come here
because of everyday racism and
bigotry. Hate groups do not exist
in a vacuum',' he said.
"What will you do when white
'supremacists come to your neigh-
borhood?" he asked. "Will you
just choose to ignore them or will
you find ways of taking a stand?"
Cochran suggested a creative
way of standing up to hate. "I'm
not talking about confronting
them and throwing rocks at them
or beating them up," he said. "You
could have done that to me and it
wouldn't have changed my mind.
It would have validated what I
believed and I could have turned
it into myself being a victim."
He suggested educating chil-
dren about the Holocaust and
using museums like the HMC to
teach tolerance.
Carol Sofen of West Bloomfield
found the talk very interesting
— and frightening: "Hearing how
much is going on that I wasn't
aware of, and that its not going
away, and the Aryan Nations is
alive and well, and growing."
The talk was "an eye-opener,"
said Mandel Foner of West
Bloomfield. "I am encouraged. It's
difficult to deal with people who
have a closed mind – this empha-
sized it even more."
The event was sponsored
by the B'nai B'rith Great Lakes
Region Enlighten America project
and the Anti-Defamation League
Michigan Region.



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