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Up From Hatred

As National Spokesman for Aryan Nations, Floyd Cochran Was Committed to Hate Until He Realized That, in the Group's Final Solution, His Own Son Would Die. Adrift, Cochran Turned to His Former Enemies for Redemption.

August 10, 1997|Michael D'Antonio | Michael D'Antonio is a free-lance writer based in Miller Place, N.Y. His last article for the magazine was a defense of science

As he left Kansas City for upstate New York, Cochran told Zeskind that he wanted something more. He wanted more support, someone else to telephone when he was lonely or confused. He wanted someone to help him find a way to redeem himself. He wanted another friend. Zeskind gave him Loretta Ross' name and Cochran called her.

Others had turned to Ross for help in leaving white supremacy. She had never offered them much sympathy. "To me, anyone who wore the swastika, and he did, was the devil," she recalls. "There was no humanity underneath the uniform. In fact, I thought that people like Floyd had forfeited the right to be considered human. They were beyond being understood--or forgiven."

Cochran was different. He had the zeal of a religious convert who wanted to spread the good news. He seemed eager to do whatever Ross suggested to earn his redemption. In exchange for Ross' help, Cochran agreed to let her into his heart and mind. He answered every question she could pose about his past and his evolution as a racist. "Floyd wanted me to be part of his process of becoming a real human being," Ross explains. "He was racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and misogynistic. But I could tell that he was too smart to be like that. And I knew he could explain that world to me. Suddenly, I realized that I had been very ignorant about who these people are. Floyd could help me understand."

*

Born in 1956, Floyd Cochran grew up in upstate New York, near the town of Cortland. Rolling hills dotted with apple orchards and dairies, it is the same isolated farm country that produced Timothy McVeigh (convicted of the Oklahoma City bombing) and Jack Wycoff (a prominent white-power activist). Cochran says that his mother was jailed for armed robbery soon after he was born and that he never actually lived with her. His father, a farm worker, placed him in the state foster-care system.

As a young boy, Cochran drifted among foster families in the hill country around Cortland. He never lived more than a few miles away from his real parents, who raised other children to adulthood. "I saw them once every few months, for an afternoon," he remembers, "and even then they couldn't wait to get rid of me. Looking back, I guess I hated the wrong people. I should have hated my parents, but I guess I couldn't do that. So I just decided to hate almost everyone else in the world."

In his foster families, Cochran was exposed to a wide variety of fire-and-brimstone religion, which taught him to revere the Bible and respect a preacher's authority. He says he was physically abused by his biological father. He recalls that, at about age 8, an uncle tied him to a tree in the woods, leaving him alone for hours while men in the family did farm chores. In one foster home, he says, he was required to spend all of his time sitting quietly alone. At 6 o'clock, he was allowed to watch the news on television. Otherwise, he lived in virtual silence. Cochran doesn't tell these stories to excuse or explain his past. In fact, he believes that he was an unremarkable child until he discovered Adolf Hitler and made the Nazi dictator his hero. "I admired Hitler because he had raised himself up from nothing," Cochran explains. "He had started out like me--white trash."

As a fifth and sixth grader, Cochran read every book he could find about World War II, Nazism and the Holocaust. By junior high, he was writing reports on books about the Third Reich and research papers on Hitler's life. He told a black teacher that slavery had benefited those who were brought from Africa in chains. The reaction he got was exciting. And it taught him that words have power. "I was fascinated by Mussolini, Huey Long, George Wallace--they could use their voices to control other people."

Cochran has trouble explaining why he chose authoritarian role models. Many children are abused and neglected. Few turn to "Mein Kampf" for solace. Why did he? Cochran suspects that his early life was so tenuous that he craved order and control. And he is certain that his isolation bred a profound feeling of resentment.

In his childhood, Cochran was not in the Boys Club or Little League. No one steered him toward books on great scientists, sports figures or humanitarians. And when he began to talk about the inferiority of blacks or the evil of Jews, no one spent much time correcting him. "My neighbors made derogatory remarks about black people," he recalls. "And I heard some teachers say things about Jewish people. I just got the message that it was OK not to like these people."

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