Jeff Schoep didn’t set out to become a neo-Nazi. “Nobody wakes up and says I am going to be a bad guy,” he said.

Schoep was the keynote speaker at an anti-hate forum held at PS 99 in Kew Gardens on Wednesday, May 24.

Schoep’s great-uncle was a Prussian General during World War II. He surrendered, along with the German Army, at Stalingrad on August 23, 1942. He didn’t come home from Soviet prison camps until the late 1950s-early 1960s. Schoep’s grandfather and other great-uncles served in the Wehrmacht, Germany’s Infantry.

“My trajectory into Neo-Nazism started with that historical fascination with my grandfather.” Schoep read one White Supremacist book “and then I sought out the movement. And then I learned hate and racism after I joined,” at age 18, in 1992. He also liked their military pageantry.

Jeff Schoep and Garth Marchant

Schoep was inundated with neo-Nazi friends, speakers, music, radio stations, publications, and podcasts. It was even his livelihood. Schoep was the “Commander” (leader) of the largest neo-Nazi organization in America at the time, “The National Socialist Movement (NSM),” with thousands of members.

Distrust, fear, lack of education, and exposure to other cultures contributed to his hate.

Schoep “started doubting things” in 2016. He also began “seeing the humanity in the people I once vilified.” He started “talking with people of other cultures and races.” He began to see the hurt he was causing.

Schoep’s mother was a lawyer who was elected judge in Minnesota. The Governor normally just signs off on this. Due to her son’s involvement with White Supremacy, the Governor refused to appoint his mother. “So, my poor choices, the hate and vitriol that I was spewing, destroyed my mother’s career.”

Jeff’s father worked in manufacturing underclothes. His middle-class family “did not teach me to hate.” “My family was desperately trying to get me out for years and years.” Even Schoep’s grandfather, who was in the German Army, “tried to get me out.”

“I traumatized my children, as well.” A SWAT team kicked in the doors of his home during a no-knock warrant around four in the morning. With assault rifles and flashlights, “the children got to see their mother and me taken out in handcuffs.”

“The final straw for me,” was meeting Deeyah Khan, a Norwegian Muslim filming the movie, “White Right: Meeting the Enemy.”

She showed a picture of herself at six years old at an anti-White-Supremacy rally with her father. “She didn’t tell me I was wrong,” although wrong he was.

“She said, ‘The ideology you stand for, you’re fighting for, caused a little girl to feel less safe, to feel pain, to feel unloved.’” “I could see her pain,” Schoep said, “and it cracked, it broke something inside, it broke my heart.”

Melinda Katz

Facts and arguing with extremists don’t work because they believe in “Confirmation Bias.” Whatever one says just fits one’s narrative.

“Transformative change comes through empathy, kindness, and compassion. No one leaves hate by being punched in the face.” “Violence begets violence. Hate begets hate,” said Schoep, who finally left “The Movement” in 2019.

Schoep still receives death threats and hateful messages but wants “to engage with people going the wrong path.” That includes gangs, bad friends, and Left-Wing and Right-Wing extremist groups.

Schoep created Beyond Barriers USA to help people leave extremist organizations. Schoep spoke at ten school assemblies and three community events during his five days in New York City.

“Hate crimes don’t begin with violence, [they] begin with words,” said Emily Thompson, Research Associate and Director of Combat Hate at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Young people mostly get their words and ideas from social media. “This was particularly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

Pretty much all students say they have seen hate online. With their Digital Empowerment Workshops, the Wiesenthal Center teaches young people not to share or post “racist jokes, hateful memes, or video games that promote bias and stereotyping, targeting minority communities,” said Thompson.

“TikTok is absolutely the worst.” “Once you get started on extremism with TikTok, it will take you down a rabbit hole faster than any other site online. Unfortunately, Twitter does very similar things,” said Rick Eaton, senior researcher at The Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Every year, the Center produces a report card (see photo) on extremism and hate online. The Big Six tech companies are rated, but so is the Russian website, It is the 20th most trafficked website in the world, with many users from the West. “We see a lot of hate; you see a lot of terrorism.”

The Wiesenthal Center’s report card informs educators and law enforcement what to watch out for and what new sites are coming up.

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz thanked the New York State Senate, including Leroy Comrie, for sponsoring legislation so a person arrested for a hate crime for the first time “can go through the system” – not a desk appearance ticket but a full arrest. It “gives us a lot of control as they have been moved forward in those prosecutions.”

Leroy Comrie

New York State Senator Leroy Comrie said, “The uptick in hate crimes and the expressions of intolerance are abhorrent. We have to do more. We have to do more forums like this.” If any community is attacked, “We have an obligation to speak up and condemn these actions wherever we see them.”

“Many times, these transgressions are underreported. We must never give up our collective effort to be a voice for all and protect and defend one another.”

Youth programming, cultural spaces, mental health counseling, and communities having “opportunities to share their experiences” are needed, said Comrie.

Rabbi Mayer Waxman, Executive Director of the Queens Jewish Community Council, quoted Simon Wiesenthal: “We need partners. We cannot fight against the neo-Nazis alone. We need friends. We can win them by telling them their history, by talking about the others, the millions of people other than the Jews whom the Nazis killed. The Holocaust began with the Jews. But it did not end with the Jews.”

Waxman also quoted Wiesenthal, saying, “The schools would fail through their silence, the Church through its forgiveness, and the home through the denial and silence of the parents. The new generation has to hear what the older generation refuses to tell it.”

Waxman said this event was empowering, and educational. “It is about communities banding together, and it highlights the government support there is against hate – support from our legislators.”

Garth Marchant is an African American Lubavitch male who works at Rabbi Menachem Schneerson’s gravesite, “The Ohel.” He attended the forum, saying how many Lubavitchers walk and park in Cambria Heights to visit “The Ohel” but none have ever been attacked. It’s because of communication between the local community (and their elected officials) and the Lubavitch community, Marchant said.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Queens Jewish Community Council, and many elected officials sponsored the event.

By David Schneier