Sikh man and former white supremacist share story of forgiveness and friendship: ‘You have to suspend your judgment’

Today, they’re travelling around North America telling their stories in the hopes of putting a human face to both sides ...

CALGARY—A former white supremacist and a Sikh man whose father was killed in a racially motivated attack formed an unlikely friendship after a tragic hate crime. Today, they’re travelling around North America telling their stories in the hopes of putting a human face to both sides of hate.

Pardeep Singh Kaleka’s father was killed on Aug. 5, 2012, at the Wisconsin Sikh temple where he was president. He was one of six people who died that day in a shooting by a white supremacist, who took his own life after the attack. The shooter was a member of the Hammerskins, a white supremacist group known for promoting and producing white power rock music, and one of the most violent such groups in the United States.

Arno Michaelis was a founding member of the Hammerskins. From an early age, he said he was full of anger, and by the time he was a young adult, he was caught in a dangerous cycle of violence, substance abuse, and hate. He began to distance himself from the movement in his mid-20s, and after the attack in 2012, he and Kaleka founded Serve 2 Unite, an international peacebuilding and educational initiative.

Two months after the attack, Kaleka reached out to Michaelis, who had renounced his former affiliations and authored a book called My Life After Hate. Kaleka wanted to try to understand the shooter’s motivation...

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Michaelis recounts his experience speaking with a friend, then a member of the KKK, and what he learned when he tried to get through to him.

“It sucks to stare my old self in the face,” he said — he recognized his friend’s anger, and felt it boiling up inside him as well. “Rather than do that, I take a breath, and I disconnect myself from him.”

Instead of giving into his friend’s violent speech, Michaelis told him he was there to try to help. At the time, “it seemed like I was talking to a wall,” he said. “A month later, he burns his Klan robe, he left the Klan.”

Michaelis said he has learned that when talking to someone like the person he used to be, it’s important to listen to them, regardless of the hostility they might show.

“You have to suspend your judgment,” Michaelis said. “Let them open up and let them talk about what they’re feeling and what they’re seeing and what they’re experiencing.”...

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