Recovery from Hatred
Christian James was once interviewed for an article in Salon Magazine
entitled, “Nazi Family Values: Chewing the fat with a
white-supremacist mom and her 6-year-old daughter at an Idaho
barbecue.” Christian was married to leader Richard Butler’s right-hand
man and lived on the Aryan Nations compound in Hayden, Idaho. She
helped organize swastika-waving rallies through downtown Coeur d’Alene
and taught her young daughter the Nazi salute. When a lawsuit
bankrupted the Aryan Nations, Christian and her family moved into a
homeless shelter in Bonners Ferry. Later, the buildings on the
compound, including the home where they had lived, were burned and
bulldozed to create a peace park.
That was in 1999. Fast forward 13 years to September 2012.
Divorced, struggling with addiction, fresh out of jail and homeless,
Christian came to the UGM Center for Women & Children shortly after it
opened. She wanted to make a new life for herself and regain custody
of her daughters, but her numerous attempts had ended in failure.
All the hate Christian had directed outward as a member of
the Aryan Nations was also directed inward.
“When I first got here I would always hang my head, and I
would look at the floor. I didn’t know really where I was going or
what I wanted to do.”
The message of grace was a confusing one for Christian.
She had become a skinhead at 16, married her husband at 18, had her
first child and moved to the Aryan Nations compound in her early
twenties. For 18 years, she had practiced and espoused a religion that
was supposedly based on the Bible but was the very antithesis of
grace. “It was the only religion I’d ever known, and it was founded on
so much hatred.”
Based on a belief in their own superiority, the Aryan
Nations required its members to prove their value. “Nothing I did was
right. As a woman, I was to be in subjection. As a mother, I was to
take care of the household completely. You have to measure up. You
have to have this many babies. They took certain pieces from the Bible
and twisted them…Like I said, there was just so much hatred.
Everything stems off of that. And when you’re in a violent subculture
you’re violent in your home. You get in that mindset, and you stay in
“It almost broke me I don’t know how many times. When
you’re in that little bubble, it fuels your hatred ‘cause you’re mad
Coming into the Center, Christian was skeptical, to say
the least. “I came in with a ginormous chip on my shoulder. How can
you say I’m loved? How can you like me when I haven’t done anything to
show you?” She judged the smiles and expressions of concern from staff
and volunteers as fake. She didn’t like herself. How could anyone
During her early days, she used her appearance as a
cover-up so that she could keep her true self hidden. “I used to wear
wigs and dress up and do my hair, so I didn’t have to be who I was at
The self-hatred and the skepticism didn’t go away easily
or quickly. It took what UGM Recovery staff refer to as “the divine
attributes of change: grace, truth and time.” Grace reflected through
the consistent love and patience of staff, volunteers and other
residents. Truth based on Scripture about our personal worth and God’s
forgiveness. And time – that’s why UGM’s Recovery programs are not 30,
60 or 90 days.
Grace plus truth, over time, changed Christian.
“Knowing that I’m loved and forgiven has healed years and
years of pain.”
A significant part of Christian’s recovery came through
her business practicum. When she and Tiffany Riddle, UGM Vocational
Advancement Director, discussed possible placements, the Human Rights
Education Institute rose to the surface. HREI was created with funds
resulting from a lawsuit against and the eventual bankruptcy of the
“I started working for the exact people that I was
opposing. I actually had to face the people who sued me, and they
brought me flowers, they gave me hugs, they told me on a daily basis
how beautiful my smile was.
“Before, I thought they were just as hard as the haters
were, but they’re not. I thought they hate us because we hate them.
It’s not like that. They loved me, knowing who I was, knowing my past,
and my heart is forever grateful…The hatred’s gone. Even my worst
enemy right now, I pray for at night.
“The Bible I read now is all about love. Love your
neighbor. Love your brother. Love your enemy.”
Christian worked under Kelly Schumacker at HREI, and the
two became friends. They worked side-by-side to combat racism through
education, and Kelly witnessed the changes in Christian.
“She faced her fears. She assumed people would hate her, but she
discovered that wasn’t the case. She thought you couldn’t put things
behind you, but she learned that she could. She got a whole different
picture of Coeur d’Alene as a beautiful, generous place. When she
started, she had a hard time looking people in the eye, but by the
end, she was greeting them at the door. Her self-confidence grew
Christian sees her practicum experience as the capstone of her
recovery: “It’s that final God piece where you know what you’ve been
doing has led to this moment your whole life. I am loved and