In his late teens, Mike became a Nazi. Now, just six years later, he’s a supporter of Black Lives Matter, deeply concerned to think about how close he came.
When Mike looked into the eyes for a brief moment at the man who had just fallen to the ground, he knew that he was going to die. It was a hectic night in downtown Oakland, California, and the wind was strong with the sting of tear gas as he whipped the palm trees in a frenzy.
Three days after George Floyd’s murder, protests in support of Black Lives Matter broke out across the United States. Mike had been protesting with his girlfriend, but when night fell and the police started firing rubber bullets and tear gas, they decided to leave. They were walking back to their car, through streets filled with black smoke from burning garbage cans.
When they saw a white van pull up. Then they heard the shots. The truck pulled away when a man in uniform fell to the ground. Mike walked up to him, trying to remember the first aid training he had learned in the military. But a police car arrived and a nerve agent armed with a gun jumped out and ordered Mike to leave.
He later learned that Dave Patrick Underwood, a federal officer who had been guarding the courthouse, had died at the scene. Over a year later, he still haunts Mike that he couldn’t do enough to save him. By coincidence, Mike had a connection to Underwood; he had been marching that day with members of his family.
But he was also related to the man who was later charged with his murder. Steven Carillo was a sergeant at the same California Air Force base where Mike had enlisted a few years earlier. Mike had a secret. At home, in his closet there was a gray-green khaki cloth uniform with a Nazi symbol around the neck.
Like Carillo Mike had fallen into the den of extremism and had become a follower of America’s violent far right and he kept it hanging to remind him of the person he used to be, someone who wanted to go out and kill people. . In the summer before Mike’s senior year, he saw the first wave of Black Lives Matter protests sweep across America.
He had just met a new friend through an online messaging group. Paul (not his real name) invited Mike to visit his house, where he lived with his parents. It was an ordinary house on a quiet cul-de-sac in an upscale suburb of a major American city. They were meeting to “shoot some propaganda videos.