His message was a little frightening and enlightening at the same time.
Former Aryan Nations recruiter Floyd Cochran spoke to an auditorium filled with students at E.L. Meyers High School Wednesday.
Sponsored by B’nai B’rith Lodge and The Diversity Institute, Dallas, Cochran’s visit was designed to raise a red flag of awareness for students who could find themselves targets in the neo-nazi movement.
Cochran began his presentation with an apology.
“If my racist views have touched you in any way, I apologize up front,” Cochran told the students.
Cochran formerly was the fifth highest-ranking official with the Aryan Nations prior to his leaving in 1992. He operated around the country from the organization’s base in Idaho until it closed in 2000.
Wasting no time, the former neo-nazi jumped right into the discussion by describing his indoctrination into the cult.
“I wasn’t born a white supremacist or neo-nazi. When I was 14 years old, the Klan was in my community handing out information. They told me if I wanted to be somebody, I had to hate somebody else,” Cochran said.
The students were given an in-depth view on the tactics the Aryan Nations use to recruit young people.
“I’m going to show you a series of photographs taken throughout Pennsylvania with scenes of white supremacists and their activities. Pennsylvania ranks number four in the nation with neo-nazi and white supremacy gangs,” Cochran said.
He said there are more than 4,000 active white supremacists and their ilk operating in the commonwealth.
“Ten years ago, there were six hate groups in the state. Today, there are 40. The new headquarters for the Aryan Nations is in rural Potter County right here in Pennsylvania,” he explained.
Meyers Principal Robert Okracinski said that when he heard Cochran was planning a visit to Wilkes-Barre, he immediately requested a presentation for his school and students.
“I felt our students needed to hear this,” he said.
Cochran travels the country speaking out against hate groups through his Education & Vigilance Network based in Renovo in Clinton County.
“Young people aged 11-25 are targeted for recruitment. It is happening here just like everywhere else. If we ignore it, it won’t go away,” he said.
Cochran opened the discussion for questions that included a few about his past life and how he was recruited.
He was scheduled to speak to students at Tunkhannock Area and Dallas high schools in addition to a session at the Jewish Community Center, Wilkes-Barre.