I've just finished watching one of the most astonishing documentaries I've seen in a long time. Available on Netflix, the movie is called Erasing Hate. Bryon Widner is a young man in his 30s, who, having turned away from the skinhead and white supremacy movements, is trying to get his life back on track. What's holding him back is the considerable amount of facial tattooing he accumulated during the life, making it difficult to secure employment, or even the trust of others.
Bryon is married to Julie, whom he met while they were both in the racist movement. They've both turned away, and have left Michigan to get away from the people they once associated with, and moved to Tennessee, where Julie's father lives. Also a former member of a white supremacist movement, he has become a Christian, and Bryon and Julie and their growing family find a place there as well.
The documentary tells the story of how Bryon, thanks to the financial assistance of the Southern Poverty Law Center, begins the process of having the facial tattoos removed. The process turns out to be rather longer and more painful than anticipated, taking a course of a year and a half. During that time, Bryon recounts what drove him to the life in the first place, what it was like, and how he and others came to reject the toxic precepts. The slow fading of the tattoos, and the pain it causes Bryon, are an obvious metaphor for his own spiritual transformation. Hearing Bryon talk about the abuse he dished out over the years, it's no stretch to see his redemption coming at the cost of this literal purgatory.
What I found most surprising, and rather disturbing, is how intelligent and eloquent Bryon is. One is tempted to attribute such movements as succeeding by preying on the dullness and ignorance of some members of society. What are we left to think when listening to Bryon speak thoughtfully about his experiences and feelings pulls the plug on that assumption and empties the tub? If such notions could once have made sense, to the point of being life-guiding principles, to someone like Bryon, how much greater is the threat than we might be comfortable admitting?
Erasing Hate is an uplifting story about what's best about the United States in particular, but also of people in general. Bryon and Julie are fascinating people and this is a movie worth seeing. For what it's worth, I wish Bryon and Julie all the best.