"A true memoir from the very depth of ones soul and how forgiveness can prevail!"
Reviewed by Teresa Cross
Posted May 31, 2015
As far as memoirs go, I have to say I have just finished
the most moving and in
the end inspirational one I have ever read. ROMANTIC
VIOLENCE: MEMOIRS OF
AN AMERICAN SKINHEAD written by Christian Picciolini and
forward by the
legendary Joan Jett, showed me a world of struggles that
one man lived through
while living years of hatred and violence against
minorities. As he tells his story
of how he fell into this lifestyle and how in the end it
cost him one of the most
important things in his life that he loved.
This emotional memoir starts out with
a message from Joan Jett who, Christian Picciolini met
while his band was
opening up for her band, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.
She befriended him that
day and saw the pain in his eyes that lead to the writing
of this book. While
Picciolini opened our eyes to a world some of us might
have heard about but
never would have imagined or experienced the depths of
that kind of hate, he
also showed us a man with doubts through it all.
Christian Picciolini tells about his first encounter with
other skinheads at the
age of thirteen when he felt that his parents avoided him
and he needed
acceptance from someone, something, or some group. From
that point on he
evolved into a leader himself with the skinheads pushing
their hate and violence
on all others that were different including Jews, gays,
and blacks. He takes you
through the early years when he was bullied for being
different himself and how
he just wanted to belong. He wanted to be a part of
something big but at the
time he did not know what that would be. As his life
consisted of being involving
with a white supremacist group, his relationships suffered
leaving him with
hatred against even those he loved, his mother and father
ROMANTIC VIOLENCE: MEMOIRS OF AN AMERICAN SKINHEAD hits
emotions. A memoir about a subject so awful will leave you
inspired at the end.
Christian Picciolini opens up his heart and soul and shows
us in all his honesty
his deepest thoughts, fears, and pain. This memoir will be
one of hope, and
forgiveness like no other. ROMANTIC VIOLENCE: MEMOIRS OF
SKINHEAD by Christian Picciolini and Forward by Joan Jett
is that one soul-
searching memoir you must read this year!
At 14 years old, Christian Picciolini, a bright and well-
loved child from a good family, had been targeted and
trained to spread a violent racist agenda, quickly
ascending to a highly visible leadership position in
America's first neo-Nazi skinhead gang. Just how did this
young boy from the suburbs of Chicago, who had so much
going for him, become so lost in extremist ideologies
would horrify any decent person?
'Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead' is a
poignant and gripping cautionary tale that details
Christian's indoctrination when he was barely a teen, a
lonely outsider who, more than anything, just wanted to
belong. A fateful meeting with a charismatic man who
recognized and took advantage of Christian's deep need
connection sent the next decade of his life into a
dangerous spiral. When his mentor went to prison for a
vicious hate crime, Christian stepped forward, and at 18,
he was overseeing the most brutal extremist skinhead
across the country. From fierce street brawls to drunken
white power rallies, recruitment by foreign terrorist
dictators to riotous white power rock music, Picciolini
immersed himself in racist skinhead culture, hateful
propaganda, and violence.
Ultimately Christian began to see that his hate-filled
was built on lies. After years of battling the monster he
created, he was able to reinvent himself. Picciolini went
on to become an advocate for peace, inclusion, and racial
diversity, co-founding the nonprofit Life After Hate,
helps people disengage from hate groups and to love
themselves and accept others, regardless of skin color,
religious belief, or sexual preference.
—RIGHTS OF THE ABUSED
Jake Reilly picked me randomly that soggy April afternoon
to be the target of his malicious playground taunts,
insulting me for anything he could think of. He was the
quintessential class bully—“Goliath” as we had secretly
referred to him since the first grade—and he took great
pleasure in routinely tormenting his less fortunate
eighth grade classmates at St. Damian Elementary School.
Today, for what seemed the millionth time, he chose me.
“F**k you!” I fired off. I instantly wished I could take
back my words as I spun around straight into the puffed-
out chest of the grinning Goliath, who I realized had
just rifled the handful of frozen grapes at the back of
The whispering chatterboxes in plaid smocks and pigtails
and the skinned-knee jungle gym rats who were gathered
around various puddle clusters on the playground wasted
no time sensing the fresh blood in the water. Like hungry
sharks smelling chum, they closed in around us in a
“Oh look, isn’t Pick-my-weenie tough?” Jake snickered
while jabbing me hard in the chest with his chubby index
finger. He loved to mangle my foreign last name and never
ran out of creative ways to do so. How I longed for a
normal name like Eddie Peterson or Dan Cook or Jimmy
Mayfair. Anything but the impossible-to-say Christian
Picciolini—pronounced “Peach-o-lee-nee”—which made for
all kinds of god-awful rhyming nicknames. Pick-my-weenie.
Suck-my-weenie. Lick-my-weenie. Basically, anything-
“You gonna sic your greasy Blue Island dago friends on
me?” he mocked, making fun of the largely Italian
neighborhood just outside of Chicago where my parents had
moved us from before landing in this suburban hellhole of
Oak Forest, Illinois. “After school, cheese dick, I’m
kicking your slimy Eye-talian ass back to the ghetto
where you belong.”
Jake didn’t flinch at calling another student an “ass
face” or a “dick with ears” whenever he felt like it. And
he never lied about delivering a beating. But no one had
ever dared challenge him with a “f**k you” before. Even
if it had escaped my mouth by regrettable accident. I was
a dead man, and everyone knew it. Certainly was nice of
him to suggest I had friends, though.
“And if you don’t show up again this time, pussy,” he
sneered, reeling me in close by my hood strings, “I’ll
f**king kill you.”
Throughout eight years of elementary school I’d managed
to invent enough excuses to avoid getting physically
rearranged by Jake. But before I could muster a lie good
enough for me to skip out on this particular jam, word
spread faster than Nutella on warm toast. And by the time
the final recess bell rang, everybody knew about the
Except for the adults, of course. They were never there
when you needed them. I prayed one of the teachers—or the
principal herself—would catch wind of the fight and put
an end to it, but my prayers went unanswered.
Doom loomed over me. Jake Reilly was much bigger—thick
and tall and strong—and he’d surely have his cronies
behind him. I’d be in it alone. I didn’t have any friends
in Oak Forest, or even Blue Island for that matter, to
back me up. Other than the few moves I picked up when I
watched Rocky beat up Mr. T in the movies, or how Rowdy
Roddy Piper smashed Hulk Hogan over the head with a steel
chair on TV wrestling,
I had no clue how to fight or defend myself. But I
couldn’t back down now. Not this time. Not with four
years of Goliath-dominated high school and an endless
supply of ridicule on the horizon. Running away and being
forever branded a “pussy” would be infinitely worse than
Hoping that more time meant I might be able to come up
with a believable last-minute excuse to not show up and
get my ass kicked, I took the longer route home after the
final class bell rang. No such luck. All I could think
about was how to convince my parents to let me transfer
schools by tomorrow so I wouldn’t have to deal with the
mockery that was sure to be heaped on me by my classmates
the next morning. But my parents weren’t home.
I changed out of my light blue school uniform and navy
slacks, grabbed my Santa Cruz skateboard, and
apprehensively rode the six blocks to the park where the
fight was to happen. I knew the entire eighth grade class
would be there to witness my slaughter. People had even
placed bets, and proclaimed the loser—who everybody fully
expected to be me—would have to pay the winner ten bucks.
The moment this fight was over, I’d be ruined forever.
Beaten. Stigmatized and forgotten. Cast atop the growing
heap of junior high nobodies who’d already been
humiliated by Goliath. I couldn’t care less about where
I’d get the money to pay off the stupid bet, knowing I
could easily swipe that from my grandmother’s purse
without her knowledge. But I also knew that once I was
dispatched into nothingness, there was no coming back. No
one ever recovered from that.
As I rode up, I spied the giant lumbering confidently
among the large group that had gathered like buzzards
anticipating a fresh roadkill buffet. Attempting to
steady my shaking knees, trying to keep my fear under
wraps, I stepped off my board and struggled to take in my
final gulps of air. Wiping away the nervous sweat that
was already trickling down my brow, I thought one last
time about running away. Maybe being exiled from the
ranks of St. Damian’s lower order wouldn’t be worse than
getting my face pounded by this massive beast.
As I retreated backwards, planting my foot back onto my
skateboard deck and turning to push off with my unsteady
leg, some of the more spiteful onlookers suddenly broke
into a clamor: “Pick-my-weenie! Pick-my-weenie! Pick-my-
weenie!” Sensing my dread, the whole crowd turned against
I felt myself becoming dizzy and detaching from reality—
fading into the ether—as I inhaled another series of
quick, shallow breaths to try to calm my nerves. I turned
toward my tormentor to accept my fate, just as a colossal
wad of spit flew through the air and landed with a wet
gooey thwack dead on my cheek.
Hushed silence. Except for Jake, whose loud, guttural
snort only meant that another loogie was imminent.
Anxious panic flushed through me, and before I could wipe
his spit from my face, another glob of thick yellow
phlegm struck me in the chest like a sniper’s bullet and
slowly dribbled down my turquoise Ocean Pacific T-shirt.
“What’s wrong, dick breath,” Reilly jeered, pudgy arms
crossed over his chest, “are ya chicken? Bawk, bawk.” The
crowd formed a wall around us. “Suck-my-weenie ain’t got
no balls,” he proclaimed. A shock of laughter broke out
from the enclosing group of spectators.
Jesus Christ. This kid was big. Goliath was growing twice
as big as he stood before me, while I shrunk smaller and
smaller. This is suicide, I thought. He took a step
towards me and spat a third time at the ground near my
feet as if to mark the spot of my execution.
As the grip of the taunting mob tightened around us, we
circled each other, the requisite trash talk spewing from
the ogre’s crooked smile. Jake was name-calling. I was
stalling. My swollen, purple eye from last week—the one
I’d gotten when three black kids from Blue Island jumped
me and stole my bike—was finally beginning to heal, and I
didn’t want to have to explain a fresh one to my parents.
Terror overtook me and I could barely hear the crowd’s
increasingly muffled chants over my own fearful thoughts
and the dull, echoing crackle of crisp leaves under my
“Quit being a faggot, like your pussy hairdresser dad,
and stand still so I can friggin’ kill you!” Jake made a
beeline towards me. The tendons in my arms tightened.
Pulsed. My mind spun with fear, becoming further detached
from my surroundings. My heart thumped out of my chest.
Out of sheer despair, I summoned the nerve to step in
with him and throw the first punch. Kill or be killed.
What more could I lose? At least I’d go to my death
valiantly. My baby brother, Buddy, would be proud that I
wasn’t a complete coward. I shut my eyes and tensed my
sweaty right hand, pulled it back and swung wildly,
Jake went down.
My first instinct was to bolt, but my legs weren’t
From the sudden jumble of gasps and groans behind me, I
made out the frenzied voice of Jake’s goon Kyle McKinney
yelling, “Hit him! Hit him!” But Jake stayed put on the
ground, confused, whimpering, covering his bleeding nose.
“Hit him again!” his pal shouted. Shocked, I realized he
actually wanted me to beat up his best friend. Could it
be? Was everyone as sick of Goliath’s bullying as I was?
Or was it that the rush of fighting was so intoxicating
even his most loyal subjects savored the blood and
violence over their friendship?
I shook the thought out of my head and fell hard on that
bastard Jake Reilly with eight solid years of Catholic
school retribution on my mind. Adrenaline pumping, I
pinned him down with my knees, pulled back my fists, and
slammed them into his face again. And again. And again.
Sobbing, he cried, “Stop! Stop! I quit! Just stop! You
win.” Streams of tears turned into crimson rivers flowing
down his bruised cheeks.
I rose to my feet and wiped my bloodied, swollen knuckles
across my T-shirt. “You owe me ten bucks” was all I could
mutter through a mouth that was absent of any saliva. I
turned to leave, though my wobbly legs were barely able
to carry me, and I thought I might pass out right there
in front of the whole stunned eighth grade class.
Just then, my oxygen-deprived lungs remembered to
breathe. I inhaled deeply as the faint sounds of hooting
and hollering slowly became audible and then filled my
The giant lay defeated before me.
The next morning, my classmates swarmed around me the
moment I got to school. My once nonexistent stature had
grown to epic proportions overnight: I’d become a Bully
Slayer. Even the cool kids who’d ignored me for the last
eight years looked up to me because I’d taken down one of
their own. Not to mention I was ten bucks richer.
I was drunk with my newfound significance. Suddenly, I
wasn’t the weird Italian kid who spent all his
afterschool free time with his elderly grandparents in
their Blue Island “ghetto” instead of the stale upper-
middle-class confines of this Oak Forest suburbia. For a
brief moment, I wasn’t the little boy with the peculiar
mom and dad who couldn’t speak proper English. Who owned
a beauty shop and brought their kid sloppy lunches in
oil-stained paper sacks.
No, I was the tough kid. The most dangerous kid in
school, in fact. In all of Oak Forest even. And if Oak
Forest had been any closer than the twenty miles away it
was from downtown Chicago, then perhaps the mayor would
have even thrown a parade down State Street in my honor.
During my first period math class, I flexed my fists,
silently studying them, trying to take in the reality
that these two balled-up, bruised hands were my ticket to
respect and power. My baby brother wouldn’t be the only
kid who looked up to me anymore. I took this lesson to
heart, absorbing it in every fiber of every muscle and
organ in my body.
It would end up serving me well in the years to come when
I’d help build one of America’s most violent homegrown
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