A prominent British white supremacist, Kevin Wilshaw, made waves Tuesday when he renounced his past affiliations and admitted that he was a gay man of Jewish ancestry. Here are five things you need to know about Wilshaw:
1. He was an active white supremacist for 40 years.
Wilshaw, 58, told Channel 4 that he had been attracted to Nazism since the age of 11. At age 18 he joined Britain’s far-right National Front, rising to become a party organizer only two years later. He said he joined because he didn’t have many friends.
“Even though you end up being a group of people that through their own extreme views are cut off from society, you do have a sense of comradeship in that you’re a member of a group that’s being attacked by other people,” he explained. He was arrested in the 1990s for vandalizing a mosque.
2. He was still active this year.
Wilshaw was arrested earlier this year and charged with online race hatred (he is currently out on bail). He was referred to the British government’s deradicalization program, which is called Prevent and was originally designed to deter young Muslims from terrorism and extremism.
3. He has surprising family ties.
Wilshaw has Jewish relatives on his mother’s side; his mother’s maiden name was Benjamin, and she once screamed at him that the people he was associating with would have killed her in the Holocaust. Despite this, his application form for the National Front stated his hatred of the Jews.
Wilshaw’s sister married a Muslim man and converted to Islam; Wilshaw says that he has a good relationship with her and her children.
4. A lightbulb went off when hatred was directed at him.
Wilshaw was long able to quell the cognitive dissonance of associating with violent homophobes when he himself was gay — until he was personally subjected to homophobia.
“It’s a terribly selfish thing to say, but it’s true. I saw people being abused, shouted at, spat at in the street. It’s not until it’s directed at you that you suddenly realize that what you’re doing is wrong,” he said.
5. Now he wants to “do some damage.”
Wilshaw says that he is going to try to make amends. “I feel appallingly guilty, I really do feel guilty,” he said. “This is also a barrier between me having a relationship with my own family. I want to get rid of it, it’s too much of a weight.
“I want to do some damage to the people who are propagating this kind of rubbish. I want to hurt them, I want to show what it’s like to actually live a lie and be on the receiving end of this sort of propaganda. I want to actually hurt them.”
But he is also concerned about how to fill the time he once spent being a neo-Nazi. “I am going to find it difficult, granted, to fill a void that has occupied my life since childhood,” he said.