A ‘Recovering Neo-Nazi’ shares her story—and the lessons she learned
Andrea Ramey hears with ears that recognize the undertones of Neo-Nazism … because she’s been immersed in that culture.
A self-described “recovering Neo-Nazi,” Andrea said that today she feels such shame for what she did, and is now on a mission to spread a message of love and acceptance.
Born and raised in Germany and moved to the United States in 1985, she said she’s become more vocal about her old belief system, because she sees similar belief systems rearing their ugly heads today.
Andrea remembers her family members thinking of Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler as somewhat of a hero. Her dad had a signed copy of Mein Kampf, which he planned to hand down to her, and her grandmother was proud to have shaken Hitler’s hand at one point.
“My grandmother was proud to have been there, in the Neo-Nazi scene,” Andrea recalled during a recent interview. “It didn’t necessarily sound like anything bad or horrible to me.”
As a young teen, Andrea began to seek belonging in fringe groups—punk rockers and skin heads to name a couple. One afternoon, she saw some people handing out fliers, promoting a get together of Neo-Nazis. Some of her skin head friends were there and planned to go.
Michael Kühnen was the leader of the group—one of the biggest in Germany at the time. He recruited her.
“It felt like I came home,” she said. “He was incredibly smart, brilliant, a great orator. He had served in the German Army, and to me it felt like family. What was even better was that I got to thumb my nose at my parents.”
Andrea quickly rose through the ranks of the group, becoming a leader of the Neo-Nazi women all over Europe. One of her duties: writing a monthly newsletter, in which she detailed all the ways women could support their male comrades in the movement.
“It was a culture of hatred,” she said. “Of other. Similar to what is happening now … it’s a culture of other, not of ‘us.’”
That culture, she explained, was rooted in fear: of those who look different, think differently, conduct their lives differently, and who could ultimately replace you.
“That’s where my shame comes from,” she said. “I kept propagating that.”
She remembers at one point being barricaded inside a garden shop her Neo-Nazi friends owned while police waited outside. “We had guns and baseball bats. I, at that point, felt proud to be part of that. It’s gross what it does to your psyche. The louder you can hate, the more you belong.”
Things began to change a week after Andrea announced she was going to marry an American.
“I was staying with a friend overnight and some of my ‘comrades’ showed up in the middle of the night with knives and guns.”
There was a contract out on her head.
Her neighbors called the police, and the same investigator who’d once raided her house took it upon himself to shuttle her away to safety. “The same cop who had to raid my house every so often saved my life. He kept me from getting murdered.”
Eventually she and her fiancé got married in the Netherlands. Still, her belief system persisted when she moved to the U.S. in 1985 (she spent six months in California before moving to Prescott).
Then, one day, it was as if a switch flipped.
Andrea, single at the time, was walking down the street and saw an African American man on a motorcycle. She found herself inexplicably drawn to him, even as a little voice in the back of her mind chimed in, “But he’s Black.”
She approached the man, and they had a wonderful conversation, during which she was blown away by how easy he was to talk to … how alike they were.
“In talking to him,” she said, “I was asking myself, ‘Why have you been so stupid?’”
The two of them ended up dating for some time, and eventually parted ways.
In 2002, Andrea started her own business, and accepted all clients. One of her first clients was Jewish, and all of them were nice and loving people.
“I slowly realized just how taxing and tiring hatred really is,” she said. “It takes a lot of effort to hate. It takes none to love.”
For a long time, humiliation and shame kept her from sharing her story. But, she said, “Over the past few years, I’ve become more vocal about what I used to be, because I see it rearing its ugly head again … even here. I hear with different ears.”
When she met Laurie McCampbell, she knew it was time to share her story in a new way.
Laurie, co-Executive Producer of The Honey Girl documentary (along with Rachel Basch Turet), shared with Andrea the story of Esther Basch, and set up a meeting. Andrea, Laurie, Esther, and Rachel met with Tim Harrington (who originally planned to produce the documentary but moved away). Andrea didn’t know what to expect, but it wasn’t that everyone went around the table introducing themselves.
“The moment I said, ‘This is what I am. I am a recovering Neo-Nazi,’” Andrea said, “Esther poured love all around me. She didn’t even blink an eye. It was one of the most humiliating and embarrassing moments of my life.”
For her part, Esther said, “I saw she was sorry about that. She realized what she did wrong, and that is all I needed to hear.”
She said she forgave Andrea, and would be her mother here in the United States. In that instant, Andrea was wrapped in the love of a new family—a chosen family.
And, she said, “I’m trying to make living amends on a daily basis.”
Part of that, she said, is a new desire to speak to young people and let them know that a group functioning on a belief system that promotes hate isn’t the right kind of belonging. She plans to promote love.
“I don’t think I could have untied all the love I have inside, for everybody, without going through what I did … I am living proof that you don’t have to live in hatred. My life is so much the better for it.”