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 that mindset.

“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 about it.”

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 else?

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 moment.”

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 Aryan Nations.

“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 tremendously.”

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 accepted.”