National Post (Latest Edition) - - CANADA - Joseph Brean

John Daly got into the neo-Nazi skin­head move­ment in the usual way. Like most re­cruits, he was a young man feeling an­gry and vul­ner­a­ble in his l i ttle home­town, Ocala, Florida, in the late 1980s.

“Get­ting to know these guys ( skin­heads) I felt like I had a sense of be­long­ing and I felt like I had peo­ple who would help pro­tect me, should I so need it, and with jocks in a small town, you need it,” he said in an interview. “More than once I had cars stop, guys get out, and just beat me up on the side of the road.... I was try­ing out the fa­cade.”

That made Daly typ­i­cal. But he is a rare out­lier for two rea­sons. The first is that he got out of or­ga­nized white supremacy clean, and now pur­sues an­tiracism ad­vo­cacy, in­clud­ing a speak­ing tour of Canada that be­gins this week in Hal­i­fax. The other, more bizarrely, is that he is de­voutly Jewish, and af­ter his re­li­gious se­cret was dis­cov­ered and his fel­low neo-Nazis al­most suc­ceeded in killing him, he moved to Is­rael, where he lives to­day in Ashkelon near the Gaza bor­der.

At first, this con­tra­dic­tion in terms — Jewish neo-Nazi — was not so glar­ingly ob­vi­ous. In fact, Daly first joined a sub­group of skin­heads who were op­posed to racism, and mo­ti­vated more by gen­er­al­ized anger, so­cial dis­con­nect and a love for drunken brawl­ing than racist ide­ol­ogy — like a clique for peo­ple who did not fit in as a rocker, a jock, or a red­neck.

He told them he was Jewish, that he was not in­ter­ested in join­ing. But then one guy lifted his shirt, showed him a tat­too of a black and white hand crack­ing a swastika in two, and said: “No, that’s cool; we’re anti- racists, man.”

“It was by him show­ing me that that I was like, all right, these guys are safe,” Daly said. There were a dozen sub­groups of skin­heads at the time, he said, in­clud­ing com­mu­nists, gays, blacks, some of them en­gaged in a blood feud with the racist skins. “The whole goal re­ally is, bot­tom line, to fight.”

It would not be the first time some­one showed him a tat­too on the down- low, like a se­cret hand­shake.

Over time, big­ger play­ers in the sub­cul­ture would come to Ocala and ex­pect Daly and his friends to “do the song and dance,” to play along in the rit­u­als of overt neo- Nazi ha­tred. Then a vi­o­lent ri­valry forced him to for­mally join the hard­core racist skin­heads, and once he did, he says he came to re­al­ize they had clos­eted sup­port­ers all around, in the po­lice force, in his neigh­bour­hood.

“I was afraid and I did not know who to turn to,” he said. “I re­mem­ber go­ing to things at the lo­cal park, and hav­ing adults walk past, lift up their sleeve and have a tat­too of a swastika, and say­ing ‘ Keep up the fight.’ And you’re like, this is a grown man with kids, out on some hol­i­day like the Fourth of July, and this is some­body who’s sup­port­ing us.”

All along, as he marched brazenly in jack­boots and shirts with im­ages of Hitler, Daly knew the peril he was in. Gang mem­ber­ship is only em­pow­er­ing un­til they turn on you. He was now an of­fi­cer of a ma­jor neo- Nazi group, and he started keep­ing a di­ary in an­tic­i­pa­tion of his own mur­der. In the interview, he re­calls the irony that, once ru­mours of his Jewish­ness got out, it was one of the an­tiracist skins who let the oth­ers know where he lived.

In the fall of 1990, se­nior mem­bers of the white su­prem­a­cist Amer­i­can Front came knock­ing at his home, and rather than let them in to see the signs of his fam­ily’s Ju­daism, or ex­pose his broth­ers to their men­ace, he went along in their car to a party at Day­tona Beach. It was a setup. They tried to get him drunk, then jumped him. He has de­scribed it as a “boot party” — a bar­rage of kicks to the body and head as they shouted “Die, Jew boy, die.” They held him un­der­wa­ter and left him for dead, ex­pect­ing to be able to claim their spi­der web tat­toos, which sig­nify mur­der.

The next morn­ing, a ranger kicked him off the beach, as­sum­ing he was drunk, and he drove him­self to hos­pi­tal. In time, some of his at­tack­ers took plea deals, but the leader, Richard My­ers, gave a Hitler sa­lute in court and was con­victed of at­tempted mur­der and other crimes.

To­day, as he starts a speak­ing tour of North Amer­ica, with a movie newly made about him called Es­cape from Room 18, Daly re­flects on the resur­gence of white na­tion­al­ism in the United States. But other than urg­ing young peo­ple to ask for help, he is re­luc­tant to draw grand po­lit­i­cal con­clu­sions from his per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences.

“There is noth­ing I can tell you now, be­cause retroac­tively go­ing back 27 years in the past, to say, OK, this is what you should have done, is im­pos­si­ble, and it’s not a way to live. I’ve come to terms with what I’ve had to go through. I’m quite happy with what I had to go through. I’ve trav­elled all over the world telling this story, and that is some­thing that is phe­nom­e­nal. I gladly would have gone down to the beach to get beaten that night had I known what would take place in the long run,” he said.

Daly speaks to var­i­ous Chabad lo­ca­tions in Ot­tawa on Fri­day, Mon­treal on Sun­day, and Toronto next Tues­day.

Af­ter his se­cret got out and fel­low neo-Nazis al­most suc­ceeded in killing him, John Daly moved from the U. S. to Is­rael. He’s spread­ing his anti-racism mes­sage across Canada this week and next.

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