Ex-racist now sends message of unity

May 13, 1997


Staff Writer

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Floyd Cochron, once a rising star in the white supremacist movement, has spent the last five years on a self-imposed journey of atonement, apologizing for his past hatred of minorities and Jews and railing against racism with the same fervor that he once embraced it.

Ever since his change of heart in 1992, Cochron, 40, has been preaching his love and unity and warning of the growing strength of hate groups across the country.

"I just couldn't say I was sorry," he said. "I had to atone, take responsibility on a very personal level and to start seeing people as human beings."


He said the white supremacy movement in Pennsylvania, especially in the central part of the state and as close as nearby Adams County, "is gaining a foothold. It's an inescapable fact that white supremacy groups have shifted from the South to the Northeast."

Cochron, of Potter County in Northcentral Pennsylvania, said there have been as many as 48 incidents of white supremacy activities in Pennsylvania, a claim that was supported by Pennsylvania State Trooper Ed Asbury, who spoke to the teachers after Cochron finished. Asbury said there has been a "sprinkling" of incidents in Franklin County.

Those include the marking up of some churches and the discovery of some Waynesboro youths with Ku Klux Klan paraphernalia, Asbury said.

Cochron is speaking this week to students and faculty at Greencastle-Antrim High School.

He spoke Monday night to members of the Congregation Sons of Israel, a synagogue in Chambersburg, Pa.

"I used to make hate sound palatable," Cochron told an assembly of about 40 Greencastle-Antrim High School teachers. He said he had been a racist since he was 14, was an admirer of Adolf Hitler and once was arrested for threatening to burn a synagogue.

In 1990, he joined the Church of Jesus Christ Christian/Aryan Nations, a white supremacist group in Idaho that combines Nazi ideas with a racist brand of biblical fundamentalism known as Christian Identity. He said he was a youth recruiter and the fifth-ranking member of the organization.

Cochron said he was interviewed as an avowed racist on Jerry Springer's nationally televised talk show.

Cochron said he was active until July 1992, when an incident involving one of his superiors turned his mind against the movement overnight.

Cochron has two sons, ages 8 and 11. One some was born with a cleft palate, a condition his superior claimed made the boy a "genetic defect," he said. "When he told me I would have to kill my son, a light came on in my head," Cochron said.

He said he began to think how wrong he had been, that he had been saying the same kinds of things about other people.

Cochron moved to Potter County and joined the Unity Coalition, an anti-hate group. He started speaking to anyone who would listen. Since 1993, he has given more than 450 talks to schools, colleges, churches, civic and military groups.

Since then he has taken his anti-racist message to a number of talk shows, has been interviewed by people such as Oprah Winfrey, and has appeared on "Good Morning America."

Cochron said he won't write a book about his experiences because it wouldn't be right to capitalize on his experiences.

He said he has been threatened by members of some of the groups he once supported.

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