RIVES TOWNSHIP, Mich. (RNS) Two years ago, Chris Simpson led a white pride march.
Six months ago, he abandoned the white supremacy movement.
On April 15, he was baptized.
Five days later, Simpson sat in the waiting room of a skin and vein clinic, waiting to start the long and painful process of having his tattoos, most replete with Nazi or white pride iconography, removed.
"Hate will blind you to so many things. It will stop you from having so many things," Simpson said. "It consumes you."
Simpson, a 38-year-old garbageman and former Marine, said he has given up on hate. It is a decision he made for his family, for his wife Misty and his children, 9-year-old Cody, 7-year-old Kayleigh, 5-year-old Nikolaus and the 2-year-old twins, Tyrsson and Aeric.
Even without the tattoos, which sprawl down his arms and up his neck, Simpson's presence can be intimidating. At 6 feet and 245 pounds, he fills out clothing with authority. He does not think his tattoos draw notice, but they are hard to miss.
"PURE HATE," is tattooed across his knuckles. His forearms read "BLOOD" and "HONOR." There are four battle-axes in the shape of a swastika on his left shoulder with the words "Supreme White Power" over them. There are several wolf's hooks, a Nazi symbol. The iconic lightning bolts associated with Nazi Germany's Schutzstaffel, the SS, are above his right wrist. There's a Nazi war bird on his chest. There are tattoos of a Valkyrie, a Viking, and Thor with swastikas drawn in his helmet. There are 42 in all, he thinks.
Simpson was a member of Battalion 14, a white pride group with supporters in Michigan. His involvement in the white pride movement began in a place of pain, frustration, anger and confusion. On April 28, 2000, Chris and Misty Simpson lost their first child, Alexis Nicole.
Born with open spina bifida, a buildup of fluid in the brain, clubbed feet, and no intestines or stomach, Alexis lived only two and a half hours.
Recently married and struggling to scratch out a life in Danville, Va., Alexis' death sent Simpson reeling.
"I was feeling a lot of anger and hatred, and I was confused," Simpson said. "I just built up this hatred, or what I thought was hatred."
Simpson directed that hatred, with the help of a white pride group in his community, at people of other races. He believed that other races were succeeding at the expense of white people. They were driving nice cars, living in nice houses, watching nice televisions while he and Misty struggled.
The white pride movement gave Simpson a place to direct his anger and frustration. He viewed stories in the media through a white versus black lens. Increasingly, he thought whites were becoming targets. He called this a "racial awakening."
In December, fighting within the organization and what seemed like total reliance on the Simpsons to finance the group's activities, caused Chris and Misty to call it quits.
During a shopping trip to Walmart, one of his children looked down an aisle, then up at Simpson and said, "Daddy, you can't go down that aisle. There's a n__- down there."
"It was time to make a change for them," Simpson said of his children. "I don't want them following that path."
In April, Simpson stood in the baptismal pool at New Horizons Community Church. He wore a white tank top and white shorts, tattoos on full display for the congregation.
Pastor Jerry Lyon placed his hand on Simpson.
"God I know that there are things from his past life that need to be buried. And God, today we enjoy the opportunity. We take glory in that opportunity to bury that old life and to say to you God, I am a new creation in Jesus Christ," Lyon prayed.
With Simpson holding his nose, Lyon lowered him back into the water. The congregation applauded.
"Any kind of burdens I carried before, I let them go. There's no need to carry things that happen in the past," Simpson later said. "I forgave all those who have wronged me and asked for forgiveness from those that I have wronged."
Simpson's baptism came about a month after he and family watched the movie "Courageous," and decided to attend New Horizons. The movie, produced by Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., follows the lives of four police officers who excel at their jobs but flounder in the task of fatherhood.
Simpson connected with the movie, both out of his desire to be a police officer and his fatherless childhood. His father and stepfather were not part of his life. His grandfather, the man he looked to as father, died of leukemia when Simpson was 11. It was then that Simpson turned his back on God.
After watching the movie, Simpson noticed the sign out in front of New Horizons inviting people to come watch "Courageous" for free.
Within a month, he was baptized. He attends a Bible study. Prayers start meals and end days. His children, once picking up on Simpson's racism, now model his Christianity.
"When we accepted Christ, it was like this whole house was transformed," Simpson said of his family. "I'm just hoping this roller-coaster ride keeps going up."
Simpson tapped his feet and looked around the lobby of the Skin and Vein Center in Fenton. A busload of people surrounded him. They were participants in the Freedom Ink Tattoo Removal program, a free service offered by the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation to help people remove prison or gang tattoos. James Phillips, the re-entry service manager who runs the program, invited Simpson to participate.
"This is one of the vehicles that people can use to make changes in their life," Phillips said.
Tough-looking men went into an office and came out only minutes later with large bandages. Phillips told Simpson tattoos hurt more coming off than coming on.
Tattoo removal takes years. A single tattoo can take several treatments to disappear.
Simpson wanted Amy Sowers, a nurse with the clinic, to blast off all the tattoos from his arms. When she was done there, he wanted her to start on his stomach, his neck and his legs.
Sowers started on the "H" of "HATE" scrawled across the knuckles of Simpson left hand. Twenty-four seconds later, the first pass was done. The skin instantly swelled up pink.
Simpson said it felt like someone poured acid on his skin.
"I don't care if you're a Marine, that right there will break you," he said.
The disappointment on Simpson's face was obvious. Of the 42 tattoos covering his body, his first treatment targeted four. Once the swelling went down, most of those tattoos came back solid. He took delight in the few missing flecks of ink.
Simpson hopes to continue with tattoo removal this summer. His family still attends New Horizons Church, and his wife, despite a fear of water, was recently baptized. Chris and Misty Simpson started a new group aimed at helping people. It's called RAC, Random Acts of Christ.
"Well, that's a start. This is going to be a long process," he said. "But you know what? It's going to be worth it in the end."
(Aaron Aupperlee writes for Jackson Citizen Patriot in Jackson, Mich.)
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