Former white supremacist 'monster' shares story with N.S. students

With a body inked from face to feet, with tattoos such as swastikas proclaiming his hatred of others, Roberts was a menacing presence. Now he talks to students about the harm of white supremacist gangs.

'It wasn't until I stopped fighting myself that things started changing,' says Mike (Bull) Roberts

Mike (Bull) Roberts is a former white supremacist gang member who is speaking about his experiences in a number of Nova Scotia high schools this week. (Facebook)

Mike (Bull) Roberts grew up in "hell on earth" in a small Newfoundland town, emerging from a childhood of physical and sexual abuse and extreme bullying to become a white supremacist gang member.

With a body inked from face to feet, with tattoos such as swastikas proclaiming his hatred of others, Roberts was a menacing presence, both on the street and in prison where he frequently ended up.

After 20 years of living a life of violence fuelled by his childhood experiences, Roberts had to make a decision whether to continue in a life of organized crime and near-certain assassination, or find a way to live without the shackles of anger and hatred.

Ten years later, the former self-proclaimed "monster" now works with his former foes, the RCMP, and travels to schools to tell his story of escaping his white supremacist gang lifestyle, the journey he took to re-educate himself and how he became free of the anger and bitterness that brought him so low.

This week, Roberts is touring southwest Nova Scotia, where he's talking to high school students. He was brought there as part of a joint effort by the RCMP Foundation, the Shelburne County RCMP Street Crime Enforcement Unit and Community Aboriginal Diversity Policing Services.

Roberts says the ideology behind racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan often resonates with individuals who have a lot of inner rage and fear. (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Roberts said the small Newfoundland town where he was raised "was a very closed community. There was a lot of bullying, in a small town and I was a small kid. There was a lot of sexual abuse."

He said he was the victim of a number of older boys who beat him, tortured him and demanded sexual favours.

"It was hell on earth growing up and no one to reach out to."

Roberts was taken from his family's home and put into foster care. It wasn't a success, he says. In the foster home, his feelings of anger came out.

"By the time I was 16, I was a full-blown drug addict, full-blown alcoholic. I started self-mutilating."

Winnipeg police display guns, drugs and other items seized during a seven-month investigation into the drug trade in western Manitoba, where gang activity has been a concern. (Steve Lambert/Canadian Press)

When his foster parents couldn't deal with Roberts, he ended up in institutions.

"They put me in a boys' home. The boys' home couldn't handle me. I ended up smashing some guy's head in with a fire extinguisher. At 16, they brought in a criminal psychologist. At 16, I was deemed criminally insane. I was put on a forensic unit in a mental institution.

"At 120 pounds soaking wet, I was doing time with serial rapists, axe murderers.… That's where my life started out."

It was there Roberts began his indoctrination into racism.

In prison culture, "You stick with your own. In that culture, it was a bunch of white boys taking care of each other, then some skinheads would get in and that ideology started feeding in," he recalls.

A white supremacist poster found on campus at Brandon University in Manitoba. (Submitted by Jenna English )

A lack of education or support from other sources led Roberts to embrace that racist ideology. He got swastika tattoos.

"It put fear into people and gave me the control I wanted."

Roberts said he grew more powerful in gang life with a white supremacist organization. Most of his cronies were not aware Roberts had a black brother and a black sister.

"So I actually wasn't raised to be ignorant. I think I just hated everybody, I was fighting the world."

That is his main message to young people.

"I tell the kids, it wasn't until I stopped fighting myself that things started changing."

'My own crew tried to have me killed'

Roberts says his gang ties began unravelling when the criminal organization he belonged to took over the drug trade in Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories, and as far north as Nunavut. He found himself back in jail, and when he got out on bail, he became "extremely paranoid."

"I decided to leave my penthouse and move into the country, on a farm where I could see the cops or my enemies coming from a mile in any direction."

One day, a couple of guys from his crew came to talk business.

"One … puts a gun to my head. One guy comes up behind the lilac bushes and cracks me in the back of the neck. I'm on the ground and my own crew tried to have me killed."

Once he realized there was no loyalty there, Roberts knew he had to change his life.

"Now, I'm a man of faith. I'm a Christian. And that is what changed my life. It's been 10 years now."

'I made my own decisions'

His racist views were one of the first things that left him. Roberts said he is puzzled by the rise in white nationalism in Western countries.

"It makes no sense. I only fed into because of the prison culture I was in. I don't believe in white nationalism. I don't believe in any of that stuff."

During the past week, he acknowledged that some young people shy away from him, intimidated by his appearance and reputation, he said. Others are attracted to his message.

And Roberts says he has been contacted by kids going through sexual abuse and bullying.

His advice: "I tell them I can be there to talk to them on Skype or FaceTime, but you need to go to somebody. You need to go to your principal or your teacher. I have RCMP officers with me all week, you know, they're not bad guys. They're there to protect you and help you and stuff."

Roberts said he's been able to talk to bullies as well over the last week.

"If I can give you pause to think, if you think you are some cool kid going around beating on this one, picking on this one … maybe you'll give it a second thought, knowing what it turned me into. I was a 120-pound weakling that turned into a monster."

But he says he takes responsibility for the wrongs he has done.

"I made my own decisions, too."

Tattoos tell a cautionary tale

Roberts says he's had some of his tattoos covered over, but his skin still tells the story of his past. He says the tattoos can provide a valuable opening for discussion and education.

"Now I look at them as a testimony, just another scar or whatever. So I could be sitting in Tim Hortons somewhere and some kid will come up and ask me about my tattoos and the swastikas and I can educate them."

He said when he rejected his white supremacist views, he went on a journey to re-educate himself. That has been ongoing over the past decade.

"I toured Europe. I went to the gas chambers and the death camps. I went to where they had the trials for the war criminals. I have spoken in synagogues and apologized to Holocaust survivors and I have gone and I've worked in the slums of Africa and different things like that," he said.

"All that ideology amounts to nothing. It is all fake. It is just an ideology. It is based on nothing. It is your own hate, your own anger, trying to fit in and find acceptance."

He has high praise for law enforcement these days.

"If you had told me 10 years ago I would be partnering with police, I would have laughed at you. This has turned out to be one of the best partnerships I've had.

"I appreciate the opportunity to share my faith, my experiences, strengths and hope with others and hopefully, it will have some kind of impact."

With files from Portia Clark