Shane Johnson, 26, was practically born into the Ku Klux Klan — and his body had the tattoos to prove it.
After growing up with pro-KKK uncles and cousins, along with a dad who served as the Imperial Nighthawk (or lead enforcer) of his local Indiana chapter, Shane’s skin was covered in racist and gang-affiliated graffiti.
Then he had a change of heart, and he wanted to make sure his exterior matched his interior.
Shane first noticed his feelings were starting to change a few years ago when he met Tiffany.
Tiffany, who Shane would eventually marry and start a family with, would ask him questions that challenged his belief system and how they didn’t match up with the man she had met and fallen in love with.
“The main one stuck in my head was, ‘Could I kill an innocent black child?'” he tells me in an email. “At the time, I answered yes to her, but in my mind, and heart, I knew the answer was no. And if the answer is no, then there is an obvious flaw with what I believe. Why do I have empathy for these people I am supposed to hate?“
White supremacy is one of the oldest skeletons in America’s closet.
And after the protests during the summer of 2017 in Charlottesville, its specter is back under the spotlight. But there are signs of change.
“We believed we were the superior race,” Shane says. “But in reality, we were just … pushing the blame of us being failures onto others.”
Once his personal awakening began, Shane and Tiffany fled his hometown to start a new life together.
Finally free of generations of hate, it would be easy for Shane to quietly move away and forever deny the shameful legacy he was born into.
Instead, knowing it could take years and thousands of dollars to cover his tattoos, Shane decided his “path of self-discovery” would involve speaking publicly about putting his racist days behind him, even if it made him a target of those still practicing hate.
“My once most-prized possession was now the biggest burden ever,” he says. “It’s my dream to travel, speaking to kids and others exposing the white power movement,” he explains, to help them move past the hate.
When Shane heard about a nonprofit group that offers to remove racist and gang tattoos for free, he connected with them.
He is now helping the company, Southside Tattoo, raise money and awareness.
“I started with his neck, replacing a swastika with roses,” Dave Cutlip, co-founder of Southside Tattoo, tells me in an interview. “There’s still a lot of work to do, but we’re hoping to just get it to where he can wear a regular shirt in public.”
Shane also was contacted by GoFundMe Studios, which produced a short film about his change of heart and public outreach efforts.
As his personal transformation continues, Shane has decided to become an activist and hopefully an inspiration for others against hate.
He’s been speaking out and appearing in local TV interviews to show that people can have a second chance at a better life if they choose to let go of their hate. In fact, he’s become the poster model for a fundraising campaign to help other people cover up their racist and gang ink.
Along with enjoying a renewed life with his wife and son, Shane is trying out other new experiences. Dave says after one of the re-inking sessions, he told Shane to try créme brûlée. When Shane marveled over it, Dave says he told him, “Dude, this is what life is!”