Recovering Skinhead Frank Meeink On Transforming Fear Through Empathy – Episode 54

Today’s episode features my good friend, Frank Meeink, a former neo-Nazi whose story is often rumored to be the inspiration for the movie American History X. I met Frank when he and I both served on the board of directors for a non-profit organization called Life After Hate where we traveled to California together to raise awareness and funds to support programs countering violent extremism.

This topic may seem like a departure from our other episodes. However, in light of the recent bullying stories including two teenage suicides, the current controversy in the NFL, and increasing aggressive behavior in online business today, this message couldn’t be more timely and relevant.

(Note: We had a little blip on Google Hangouts On Air from video track time 11:49 to 12:35. What I asked Frank after the video went out was “How did you take your life experience and infuse those lessons learned into the work you do today?” Frank replied that he dedicates his work to give talks to juvenile detention centers, schools and youth programs.)


Watch the show (uncensored & unedited)

Share Some Shut Up Love –> People want to give you a chance, I promise you. – @FrankieMeeink #shutupshow (click to tweet)

Fun Facts:

  • Frank interviewed with Katie Couric (when she still had a mullet) on Hard Copy telling his transformation story, which is often rumored to be the inspiration for American History X.
  • Frank has been on the national lecture circuit for a decade, speaking to various groups on the topic of racial diversity and acceptance.
  • Frank runs a multi-racial hockey league for kids called Harmony through Hockey.
  • Frank has worked as director of fan development for American Hockey League teams.
  • Frank and Berni were both on the board of directors for Life After Hate, a non-profit founded in Milwaukee, dedicated to helping communities and organizations develop solutions to counter violent extremism.
  • After the Sikh Temple shooting in Milwaukee in 2012, Frank was interviewed on Hardball by Chris Matthews to represent Life After Hate and shed light on influences in the neo-Nazi culture that may have led to the mass shooting.
  • Frank has acted alongside Adrien Brody, Forest Whitaker, and Clifton Collins Jr. in the 2010 independent thriller The Experiment.

Defining Shut Up Moment:

ON BEING BORN INTO FEAR: I grew up in really, tough Irish Catholic neighborhood in South Philadelphia. I was full of fear. I was full of Catholic guilt. When I stubbed my toe, my grandmother would tell me God was punishing me because he knew I was going to do something bad. There was always this predestined, “I’m not good enough.”  I remember also being on welfare as a kid. Back in my day, they used to give us booklets of food stamps. When you have to go to store in a local corner deli in your neighborhood with food stamps is one of the most embarrassing things in your life. When you have to pull out that booklet of neon-colored money that screams “Look at me I’m the poorest, freakin’ kid in the neighborhood,” right when you do it, who comes in the store every time? The hottest girl in the neighborhood.

ON BEING INITIATED INTO FEAR: My cousin was involved in this little hate group called the neo-Nazi skinheads. One night while we were coming out of a club, one of the guys with a mullet came out. I had hair, but I was standing with all these skinheads and one of them said, “Let’s go talk to this guy.” We went over to go talk to this guy we were trying to beat up earlier and my skinhead friend said, “Hey buddy, you’ve got something to say to us now?” And this guy was like “No. I have nothing to say to you.” And I could see it. Fear. He had fear in his eyes and I loved it. Up until that point–and I know it’s sick and demented and it’s wrong, but look I was a 14-year-old kid who feared everything in my life–I was a fear-filled human being. I was afraid of home. I was afraid of my parents. I was afraid of my school. I was afraid I was not gonna have enough food to eat today. And now someone fears me? Man, loved it. That was my first initiation into fear. When I look back on my life, my whole life was driven by fear.

ON OVERCOMING FEAR OF MEN: I couldn’t diagnose myself as a fear-ridden kid. I just had a really screwed up life at the time. That’s the same thing bullies are addicted to. What that did to me when I joined the skinhead group, I had the right to hate. To fast forward, I grow through the skinhead years, I become a brutal human being. I’m fist-fighting all the time beating up other groups of people. They are beating us up. I’ll tell you one thing I knew even throughout my life up until I got to the penitentiary, I knew I was fearful of men. Maybe because my step dad. I was a 17-year-old kid who got put in an adult maximum-security prison. I was such a horrible human being that they charged me as an adult. That’s where I came to this conclusion that I was not fearful of men anymore. I had kinda grown in there because I was around other men who I had held my own with. One of the first weeks I got out of the penitentiary, I went back to Philly. My step father was drunk and he tried to start a fight me only he didn’t know I was different now. Some of the greatest punches I’ve ever thrown in my life was on that night.

Shut Up Tips:

That’s why bullies bully. They want to see that fear. They want to see you cry. – Frank

I don’t have parents like normal people have parents. – Frank

People want to give you a chance, I promise you. – Frank

The more you put out there, the more you try, the more things are going to happen for you. – Frank

I was a drunk from the door. I’m from an Irish Catholic neighborhood in Philly. We drink. My biggest fear is to slip back into that. – Frank

Wanna see the real-life walking dead? Walk back to my old neighborhood. They’re doing the same thing now they were doing 20 years ago. – Frank

I don’t have much fear of being successful. Its trial by error. It’s my errors that picked me up and made me do better. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like failing. It’s not enjoyable to always stub your toe. I stick with it. – Frank

I don’t talk about us all loving each other for our differences. We don’t do that as human beings. We might admire or like them. We don’t love them for our differences. What do we love each other for? If I’m standing at a college and I ask, ‘Who’s father is an alcoholic?’, you see two hands go up. These guys have instant feelings for each other and are now friends for life. I did that test and this white kid and black kid both shared their story with each other, where they never did up until that point, and now they both had empathy for each other. – Frank

Frank Recommends:

Frank has been on the national lecture circuit for a decade, speaking to various groups on the topic of racial diversity and acceptance. To bring Frank to your school or event, contact him here.

Find Frank:

Frank’s web site is

Tweet with Frank at @FrankieMeeink

Frank’s Facebook page is RecoveringFrankMeeink

Find out where you can get Frank’s book: Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead: The Frank Meeink Story as Told to Jody M. Roy, Ph.D.