Matt Bishop is a young man with very old eyes. Once, he was a neo-Nazi — chapter organizer of the Blood and Honor Skinheads in Arkansas — and a protege of White Revolution founder Billy Roper.
Though he admits it still calls to him, Bishop has been through with White Revolution and life as a skinhead for two years now. He’s dated black women, and made friends of Jews he used to taunt. The twin lightning bolts of the SS that once arced up his forearm have been covered by a mass of skulls. As a reminder of who he was, however, a crude swastika tattoo still lays over his heart. When he thinks back on those days — especially on the kids he recruited into the white power movement — it lays heavy. He knows from experience: while Roper’s “kinder, gentler Nazis” clean up well for the cameras, they’re still fueled by the same old hate of their sheets-and-torches forebears.
Growing up in North Little Rock, Bishop said he had a great childhood, even though he didn’t live in the best part of town. He played guitar, and had a band for awhile. When he was 14, though, a friend was killed in a car accident, a loss that left him depressed and withdrawn. Soon after, he said, the skinhead clique came calling, or maybe he sought them out. Whatever the case, it was what he needed at the time. Now that he has seen the world from the other side, through the eyes of a neo-Nazi recruiter, he knows a wounded kid like him was just what they were looking for.
“They gave me something fall back on,” Bishop said. “It caught me. I thought it was the answer to a lot of my problems. It gave me a sense of being. I felt like I was needed, like I belonged and was wanted. I just took it to the heart.”
Soon, Bishop had shaved his head, was getting arrested for petty crimes, and fighting with rival gangs. His weekend nights were often spent cruising North Little Rock’s Burns Park, looking for gay men to jump — what they called “fag bashing.”
Then, Billy Roper came to Arkansas, and gave Bishop something to aspire to.
There is still a certain kind of respect in Matt Bishop’s voice when he talks about Roper, mixed with a healthy dose of revulsion — something like a preacher reading the scripture about the craftiness of the serpent over all the beasts of the field. Bishop calls Roper “the Hitler of today,” a leader whose charisma, devotion, and media savvy have made him a man who might succeed where others have failed: in uniting the forces of hate.
From the start, he said, Roper accepted him with open arms. As one of White Revolution’s young lieutenants, Bishop was soon introduced to the bright lights of the white power movement: World Church of the Creator founder Matt Hale (currently in jail for conspiring to have a judge assassinated), Dr. William Pierce (whose book “The Turner Diaries” served as the blueprint for the bombing of Oklahoma City), and others. It was always Roper, however, who kept him in.
“He’s like a magnet,” Bishop said. “He draws you to him. It’s hard to describe. If he was here talking to you, you’d be like, ‘Man, I’m shaving my head tomorrow.’” After moving to Northwest Arkansas, Bishop started recruiting local kids, telling them about the joys of white pride, building on the feelings behind their Confederate flag T-shirts. The ones who’d be receptive were easy to spot, he said — the loners, the ones with problems. A devoted foot soldier for White Revolution, Matt Bishop was in, and it looked like he was going to stay in for the long haul.
Then two years ago, his mother was assaulted and robbed at gunpoint. The only person who came to help her was a black man. “I respect that,” Bishop said. “I really do. It made me change a lot of my ideas.” Soon after, he turned his back on Roper and White Revolution and hasn’t looked back.
Asked how he sees minorities differently now, he thinks a long time before admitting that he doesn’t know, that what he thought back then really doesn’t make sense, even to him. He’s still haunted by the kids he helped recruit, many of whom still form the backbone of Roper’s organization.
“They were so young,” he said. “They were looking for the same thing I was looking for: a sense of belonging. That’s the kind of people Billy Roper approaches — people who are depressed, who need a sense of belonging, the troubled people. You go to them and offer them so much kindness, and promise this and this to them — more than likely they fall right in.”
Though he admits that sometimes his past calls to him (especially, he said, during a recent six-month stint in the county lockup for something he won’t discuss), Bishop says he won’t go back. Little Rock is a small town, and he has planned to the letter what he’ll say if he runs into the man who recruited him: That he’s changed. That he hopes his one-time friend can, too.
Though Bishop’s revulsion-tinged respect is always there when he discusses Roper, he doesn’t hold back. The Billy Roper you see in front of cameras, he’ll tell you — well-spoken, thoughtful, careful never to use a racial slur — is all a mask, no different than the brotherly smile he put on to lure in confused kids back in his recruiting days. “On the other side of a wall, he’s no different from what I used to be,” Bishop said. “You know: ‘Fuck that nigger. Tie a 13-knot noose and let’s go hang one’… That’s the difference between the on-camera Billy and at-home Billy. He’s no different from any skinhead or white supremacist. He just sounds better on camera.”
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