Secret Life of the Professor Who Lives with Nazis
Sociologist Peter Simi has spent 20 years embedding with skinheads. As hate crimes spike across America, his intimate insights are more crucial than ever.
Illustrations by Daniel Zender
The partygoers with swastikas and Iron Cross tattoos began to arrive at the ranch-style home in Costa Mesa, California, one summer evening in 2000. Pete Simi looked around the crammed living room as it quickly filled with around 50 racists clapping and swaying to the guitar and drum music of a white-power band, Hate Train, which belted out lyrics about “Aryan pride.” The color of Simi’s skin allowed him to blend in. He’s a husky guy, with sand-colored hair, who can down beer after beer without losing his faculties, a practice that gives him cred with this crowd. He caught eyes with an intoxicated skinhead, who stared at him suspiciously and then said to a friend next to him: “That’s the guy who wants to study us.”
Simi had come not as a follower of the ideology but as a sociologist seeking to understand white-power groups. It was a distinction that his hosts did not intend to let him forget. Earlier that day, an Aryan Nations member told him a story about …