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10 Real Tales Of Prejudice With Unbelievable Twists

by A.C. Grimes
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Although, in various corners of the Internet, it’s not uncommon for people to toss around terms like “racist” and “bigot” like defamatory confetti, we feel comfortable conjecturing that people’s basic notions of what prejudice is and how it manifests itself tend to follow a kind of script. People who support white supremacists are obviously white. Anti-gay crusaders are staunchly heteronormative in their speech and self-presentation. And the most virulently hateful individuals are clearly lost causes. It all sounds elementary until reality steps in and violates our expectations in some truly peculiar and thought-provoking ways.

10H.K. Edgerton Goes From NAACP President To Black Neo-Confederate

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Of all the people you might expect to see proudly brandishing a Confederate flag, a prominent member of an all-black civil rights group likely wouldn’t make the list. Yet, in January 2009, the lone figure of H.K. Edgerton, former head of the Asheville, North Carolina, NAACP, could be seen proudly bearing the banner of the Confederacy as he marched along a highway toward Washington, D.C. His mission was simple and incendiary: Edgerton wished to curry favor with the first and only person of color to be elected US president on behalf of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV).

This wasn’t a tasteless prank or a jarring performance art piece. Edgerton had supported the SCV, portraying the organization as a celebration of Southern heritage rather than the racial hatred often ascribed to it. And while there is undeniably some truth to this characterization, Edgerton made his allegiance with the more racist elements of the SCV apparent by avidly defending white supremacist members, such as attorney Kirk Lyons, who brought controversy to the SCV through his troubling statements on race and close ties to Aryan groups and the Klan. But far more troubling are Edgerton’s own personal views, particularly on slavery.

Among the most noteworthy gems in Edgerton’s jewelry box of controversial positions is the notion that Africans brought to America were better off under the “learning institution of slavery” than free on their home continent. Moreover, he depicted the relationship between slave and master as one of familial love, ignoring the racism, brutality, and abject exploitation inherent in that system. To Edgerton, American history’s dismal view of human bondage was dishonestly unflattering. Rather, in his mind, the abolishment of slavery precipitated by the Civil War denied slaves “the place of honor and dignity they earned in the South.”

The former NAACP president’s shocking evaluation of slavery made him a darling among neo-Confederate groups which are known for attracting individuals with racist and pro-segregationist views. Despite this, he has maintained that his association with the SCV was advancing the work of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., claiming that a world in which blacks embrace the Confederate flag is one where he is “free at last.” To us, that just sounds like a bad dream.

9The Men Of Hommen Protest Gay Marriage With Homoerotic Flair

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Photo credit: Jean30081992

When French President Francois Hollande officially legalized same-sex marriages in 2013, social conservatives and Christian groups erupted in vociferous protest throughout Paris. Against the backdrop of that traditionalist anger emerged Hommen, a group determined to express its disdain toward same-sex matrimony with flamboyant stunts. An all-male group that paraded shirtless through French cities while wearing masks and sometimes waving flares, Hommen voiced its smoldering dislike of gay marriage with such stunts as storming the French Open and threatening to disrupt the Tour de France. But, rather than drawing serious attention its anti-gay marriage message, Hommen was teased for its apparent homoeroticism.

It was a group of bare-chested men wearing masks and colorful pants that symbolized the perceived suppression of their views by sometimes protesting on their knees while gagged. They used the kind of tactics that open themselves up to suggestions of bondage sex and ironic comparisons to gay pride parades. Arguably amplifying the self-defeating nature of the group’s stunts was its use of language reminiscent of the gay rights movement itself.

According to the men of Hommen, “The government has gagged us, and tried to prevent us from speaking, but there is a silent majority in France who oppose gay marriage. And now that majority is emerging from its silence.” It’s not difficult to see how this language dovetails thematically with a message of a closeted group ready to step out of the shadows and fight for representation.

The irony of Hommen’s reception by the public is made all the more fitting by the fact that the group derived its style from the all-female group Femen, which had long been criticized for using bare-breasted women to protest sexism. When it was uncovered that the group was led by a domineering man, the group was seen as the embodiment of all it claimed to fight. Hommen’s tactics have also led people to refer to the group as “more gay than gay.”

Perhaps the deepest irony of all is that the public’s willingness to accept and apply crude stereotypes about sexual orientation (such as the notion of the flamboyant gay male) and gender norms (such as the notion of exposed breasts being inherently sexualized) is what made mocking these groups so easy to do in the first place.

8A Homophobic Killer Becomes The First UK Prisoner To Have A Same-Sex Marriage

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Over the course of his life, Marc Goodwin of Blackpool, England, has had two major claims to infamy. The first is as a harbinger of wanton violence and homophobia. In 2007, a belligerent Goodwin led two other men to a notorious gay meeting spot with “gay bashing” on his mind. The trio descended on three gay men in a violent flurry and beat 57-year-old Malcolm Benfold to death. Goodwin was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the death. Eight years later, Goodwin’s second claim to infamy came when he became the first UK prisoner to engage in a same-sex marriage. His husband? A prisoner also doing time for murdering a gay man.

The second killer in question was Mikhail Gallatinov. In 1997, he was convicted for the strangling death of 28-year-old Adrian Kaminsky, whom Gallatinov murdered in anger over a previous sexual encounter he had with the man. Gallantinov is believed to have met Goodwin in the prison library at HMP Full Sutton, an encounter which seems to have resulted in an unlikely romance and an infinitely unlikelier marriage that took place in March 2015.

Their union was met with morbid fascination by the media and understandable upset by some of the family members of their victims. The father of Malcolm Benfold, noting Goodwin’s approaching parole hearing, even skeptically suggested that the matrimonial murders were using a cheap ploy to secure early release. Whatever the pair’s actual motives, there’s a glaring incongruity in the fact that just one year after same-sex marriage became legal in much of the UK, two of the most prominent figures to benefit from that change were individuals best known for murdering gay men.

7The Family Of A Homophobic Man Is Rescued By The Gay Neighbors He Harassed

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In 2005, Bryn and James Tudor became the first same-sex couple in Birmingham, England, to have a civil partnership. Two years later, the pair relocated to Shirley where their hopes of acceptance hit an ugly stumbling block in the form of an intolerant neighbor. That neighbor, Baljit Koonar, would harass the couple for three miserable years despite being forced to sign a “Good Neighbor” agreement in 2008. Over the course of constant homophobic jeers, Bryn Tudor grew extremely depressed, and the couple contemplated leaving their home. Luckily for Koonar, they didn’t.

In 2010, the Tudors were set to take Koonar to court and hopefully put an end to his die-hard harassment. Just days before his hearing, Koonar and his family were awakened by the unwelcome sights and smells of their burning house. Koonar, along with his mother, wife, and children, faced a dire situation. Apparently unable to leave, the family gathered on the roof of their home to escape the flames. As all of this transpired, James Tudor was awakened by lung-assaulting smoke, and it wasn’t long before he and his husband Bryn detected the source.

The Tudors sprang into action, obtaining ladders with the help of another neighbor. Without hesitation, the couple who had been subjected to years of mental anguish by Baljit Koonar helped him and his entire family down from their burning house and invited them into their own home for hot chocolate. Not long after the rescue, Koonar had his day in court whereupon he was ordered to pay the couple £150 in compensation and an additional £150. We’d like to think that by this point, he’d finally learned his lesson.

6Neo-Nazi Spouses Convert To Orthodox Judaism

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It was a classic story gone haywire. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl grow up together, fall in love, and become hardcore neo-Nazis. In a nutshell, that was the love story of Ola and Pawel, a pair of former Polish skinheads who met as children, married at 18, and became enmeshed in a pervasive culture of anti-Semitism. For years, they detested Jews, and Pawel even physically abused them. But their ingrained intolerance was one day undercut by biological reality: Pawel and Ola were secretly Jewish.

For years, the couple hated in total ignorance of their heritage until Ola’s mother made the shocking revelation. Incredulous, Ola traced her lineage at the Jewish Historical Institute, where she discovered that all along she was actually the very thing she’d grown up hating. She then discovered that her husband was secretly Jewish. Suddenly, the couple was gripped by an identity crisis, now realizing the incompatibility of their beliefs with the truth. In their desperation, Pawel and Ola sought the tutelage of a man who would have inspired the utmost disgust in them before their discovery: Poland’s chief rabbi Michael Schudrich. Schudrich welcomed the pair and was happy to mentor them. Over time the couple converted from virulent neo-Nazism to Orthodox Judaism, even becoming active within the Jewish community.

While Pawel and Ola’s story is remarkable, even more striking is the very real potential for countless other Pawels and Olas scattered throughout Poland. As it turns out, the pair’s ancestry was intentionally hidden. A country subjected to toxic anti-Semitic Nazi and Stalinist regimes in succession, Poland fostered an unbearably hostile atmosphere for Jews that made hiding their identity a bleak necessity. As a result, many Polish skinheads may actually be the unknowing descendants of persecuted Jews.

5A Group Of Malaysians Embraces Neo-Nazism

Neo-Nazis Protest Outside Skokie Holocaust Museum Dedication
When Germany dealt a crushing 7–1 defeat to Brazil during the 2014 World Cup semifinals, the country’s impressive victory was briefly eclipsed by an uncomfortable congratulatory tweet from Malaysian MP Bung Moktar Radin, “WELL DONE..BRAVO…LONG LIVE HITLER.” Malaysia’s mortified Prime Minister Najib Razak quickly chimed in to disown the MP’s unsavory message, asserting that Bung “does not speak for Malaysia or ordinary Malaysians, who understand Europe’s tragic past, and respect its modern unity.” But we suspect a certain subset of the population would have disagreed with the prime minister if asked, instead regarding the horrific ideology of the Third Reich as a source of inspiration and solidarity. We’re referring of course to Malaysian Neo-Nazis.

Had they lived under Hitler’s regime, they would have been targeted for extermination due to their starkly non-Aryan features and lineage. Nonetheless, Malaysia’s neo-Nazis wear swastikas, listen to Nazi rock bands, and salute the Fuehrer. They are also staunchly anti-Semitic and driven by concerns of racial purity much like the Nazis of old. But instead of valuing white skin, blue eyes, and blond hair, they hold the Malay race above all others. And their goal, rather than world domination, is to stem the flow of immigrants into Malaysia.

For the southeast Asian Nazi collective, transplants from China, India, Burma, and elsewhere have precipitated an increase in violent crime and social unrest. In the face of what’s seen as an ineffectual government, the group has attempted to make its presence felt. According to Malaysian neo-Nazis interviewed by Vice Magazine, they politely warn immigrants against causing “trouble,” only resorting to more extreme means if they aren’t heeded. They distinguish themselves from more militant European versions in that they don’t view violence against non-Malay people as warranted unless they pose a danger to the Malay race. Of course, when one’s entire outlook is premised on fear and racial homogeneity, what exactly that could mean is unsettlingly vague.

4A White Supremacist’s Racial Revelation Leads To Harassment From Other White Supremacists

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Photo credit: Andrew Filer

The concept of race seems forever trapped in biological and perceptual fuzziness. On one hand, people tend to focus on race as a marker of genetic lineage. On the other hand, many people have no clue what their family tree looks like and use “race” as a catchall term for people with a certain skin complexion and certain facial features. Either way, it takes the closed-minded misapprehensions of racism to obsess over these details, let alone use them as the basis for evaluating others. It takes the mind of a man like Craig Cobb, whose fixation on whiteness held ironic consequences for him.

An outspoken white supremacist wanted by Canadian authorities for promoting racial hatred, Cobb first came to prominence in the US when the media discovered he was trying to erect a white supremacist mecca in the town of Leith, North Dakota. Through the process of buying up lots and houses to be occupied by fellow white nationalists, he hoped to accumulate enough political influence and power to rename the town Cobbsville and reserve it for people of his bigoted ilk. But those plans hit an awkward roadblock when the cocky hatemonger agreed to have the racial composition of his DNA analyzed on the Trisha Goddard Show. Much to his surprise, DNA testing showed him to be 14 percent sub-Saharan African, exposing both Cobb’s blatant ignorance about his own background and the absurdity of his mission to form an “all-white” town.

From there, things spiraled into a public catastrophe for the embarrassed racist. Despite exhibiting no changes in his avowed prejudice, Cobb faced race-based harassment from other white supremacists that no longer deemed him fit to join them at the table of racial intolerance. After his home was vandalized with racist graffiti, Cobb went on an armed patrol of Leith, leading to his arrest. In court he was convicted of terrorizing Leith’s residents and forced to return the properties he had amassed, putting the kibosh on his Cobbsville project.

3Leo Felton Hides His Mixed-Race Background To Become A White Supremacist

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Photo credit: Leo Oladimu

In 2003, the American Journal of Public Health released a study indicating that children who identify with multiple races struggle to forge stable identities and are at a higher risk of developing behavioral problems than their single-race peers. Months earlier in that same year, the New York Times published an article which illustrated the study’s point in a spectacularly bizarre fashion. The subject of the Times piece was Leo Felton who, like Craig Cobb, entertained fantasies of erecting an autonomous white state. But Felton, the son of a white former nun and a black architect, had no illusions about his diverse racial background. Rather, he simply hid it from the white supremacists he aligned with.

Felton’s road to racism was paved with familial upheaval, social rejection, and directionless rage. His parents divorced when he was young, leaving him to be raised by his mother who subsequently came out as a lesbian. Felton constantly found himself as the butt of ridicule due to his mother’s same-sex relationships, his biracialism, and his father’s absence. He often responded to social slights with extreme malice, growing into a rage-filled adult. In 1989, this rage translated into jail time when he assaulted a taxi driver. Felton was incarcerated and would serve additional time for stabbing two inmates.

In prison, Felton encountered a harsh, racially segregated world. Whites were the numerical minority and thus vulnerable targets for the larger black faction. Felton, who commiserated with white inmates more easily, began to detest black prisoners and eventually black people in general. In order to fit in with the white supremacists, he denied his biracial roots, instead claiming to be three-quarters Italian and one-quarter English. This lie allowed him to make deep and varied connections with Aryan hate groups across multiple prison transfers.

By the time Felton was finally released, he was a ticking time bomb of white supremacist anguish itching to be detonated. He devised terrorist plots, including a plan to blow up the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. However, his evil scheming abruptly ended when he and a fellow white supremacist were arrested for robbing a bank. Felton was handed a 27-year prison sentence and left to continue struggling with his identity and reevaluating the destructive course his life took.

2A Muslim Campaigns To Spare The Life Of The White Supremacist Who Tried To Murder Him

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In the days following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the US was still reeling from the sheer scale of death and calculated mayhem it witnessed. Millions of Americans banded together to keep themselves from falling apart. But, for others, a thick, suffocating pall of anger and Islamophobia threatened to suffocate their better nature. Among those driven to darker mental places was Mark Anthony Stroman. A stonecutter by profession and a self-admitted white supremacist, Stroman made it his personal mission to avenge American deaths at the expense of individuals he believed to be Muslims. Over the course of several weeks, he shot three people, two of whom died.

The lone survivor of Stroman’s murderous spree was Rais Bhuiyan, a Bangladesh-born Muslim working at a Texas service station. On September 21, 2001, Stroman entered Bhuiyan’s place of work and shot him in the face at point-blank range. Miraculously, he survived, but not without tremendous agony and strife. He was left partially blinded in his right eye and had to spend months treating his wounds with physicians’ medical samples due to lack of health care. Nonetheless, when Stroman was sentenced to death for murdering Vasudev Patel, Bhuiyan mounted an effort to save his would-be killer’s life.

Bhuiyan’s remarkable magnanimity was grounded in his faith and desire to walk in Stroman’s shoes. He acutely understood how pervasive Stroman’s violent urges were in post-9/11 America, even remarking in an interview, “He said he did this as an act of war and a lot of Americans wanted to do it but he had the courage to do it.” In his mind, executing Stroman would fix nothing while leaving widespread, anti-Muslim animus intact. So Bhuiyan started a website, spoke with state officials, and petitioned to save Stroman’s life.

Stroman was so deeply touched that he renounced his white supremacist ways, succumbing to his untapped potential for tolerance. But just as Stroman failed in his attempt to end Bhuiyan’s life, Bhuiyan failed to save Stroman’s. In July 2011, he was executed.

1Bitter Enemies From The Lebanese Civil War Learn Tolerance From Those They Hated

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Prior to the 1970s, the country of Lebanon enjoyed a period of relative amity between its large Muslim and Christian populations which held an equal share of political power after the country gained independence from France. But demographic shifts caused by a rapidly growing Muslim population strained that calm coexistence, and this problem was gravely exacerbated by a string of violent attacks traded between Christians and Muslims. Lebanon collapsed into a ghastly civil war from 1975–1990. Among the combatants were Mohieddine Mustapha Chehab, who fought on behalf of a Sunni Muslim militia, and Assaad Chaftari, a senior intelligence official and artillery commander for a Christian militia. Despite being zealously devoted to the other’s destruction in battle, after the war the two men would ultimately join forces thanks to a series of unforeseen circumstances that changed their worldviews.

Once the fighting stopped, Chaftari became something of a pariah among fellow Christians after a rival Christian group expelled his wartime militia. His wife, in the meantime, had begun attending meetings intended to bridge the gap between Christians and Muslims, which the rejected Chaftari eventually joined. Over time, Chaftari learned to appreciate followers of the Islamic faith on a human level rather than demonizing them as a monolithic enemy. Chehab’s epiphany, by contrast, came as the ironic result of his own attempts to justify hating Christians. After the fighting ceased, Cheab repeatedly entered Christian neighborhoods hoping to encounter intolerant, mean-spirited people. But he rarely found what he was looking for.

Realizing the error of their former prejudices, the former warriors were now ready to lead others to the light. So Chehab and Chaftari, two men who once orchestrated untold grisly deaths in hatred of the other’s faith, began visiting elementary schools together in hopes of showing children a better, more tolerant way to coexist. Even after unspeakable bloodshed, their ability and willingness to find humanity in a perceived enemy persevered over hatred.

fact checked by Jamie Frater