The Legit Smit: ‘I turned from hate to the Lord’ – Ridgecrest Daily Independent

Michael Smit Staff Writer

I usually don’t mention my past, but it’s something that has to be said,” Donald Baker told me as he leaned back in his bed at the Bella Sera nursing unit. “I don’t like to dwell upon the past, but what’s happening now is the same situation.”

Before I arrived, he had asked the nurses to clear a space for me to sit next to his bed. Baker is 74 years old and has Parkinson’s disease. His speaking voice is nearly a whisper. There’s not much breath behind his voice, so the words sound as if they barely make it out of his lungs and trickle past his lips.

I leaned in closer to hear what it was that needed to be said about his past. But instead of speaking, he pulled up his sleeve to reveal a small, bluish green mark. A Nazi swastika. I took out my notebook and prepared for a story.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to need that notebook before arriving at Bella Sera. Rather than tracking down an interviewee for this edition of Residents of Ridgecrest, Baker had called me.

I walked down the halls of the nursing home, looking into hospital-style rooms with white haired patients staring into empty space and I wondered if I was chasing an empty lead. This isn’t a demographic I have much experience talking to normally.

In movies, the only conversation the nursing home patients can carry is cantankerous ramblings about nothing, as if they don’t have the better part of a century’s worth of sights, thoughts, and life stored within them.

I arrived in his room to find some of those memories hanging on the wall. Among pictures of his family was a news article written about him with the headline “He Listened To Hitler — Now To God.”

Baker said he joined the American Nazi Party as a young man in the mid 1960s. He even earned what he said was their highest honor, the Bronze Medal of Adolf Hitler.

I asked how he first got involved in the American Nazi Party. He said he was in prison for stealing a car, and he had a sort of angel and demon on his shoulder.

One inmate was trying to get him to reform and come to church. He said he even joined the church for a while. He was soon transferred to a different prison where he met a bodyguard for George Lincoln Rockwell, a man the BBC called “The American Hitler.” He was the founder of the American Nazi Party.

As a young man, Baker found fraternity through hate easier than patiently reforming through love. He said he officially joined the American Nazi Party as soon as he got out of prison.

I asked Baker what drove him to join the Nazis. I was expecting a complex answer of political revolution riddled with the dogma of racial superiority. Instead, his answer was simple and direct: they hated black and Jewish people.

This was in the early 60s. The Civil Rights Movement was in full swing. School segregation had only recently ended, but other forms of segregation were still rampant through many states in the south.

Baker said he was thrown in prison again along with seven other American Nazi members after they tried to disrupt the Democratic National Convention in 1964 in Atlanta, Georgia when Lyndon B. Johnson was nominated. In the middle of the convention floor, Baker yelled out, “Only Rockwell can save this nation. Johnson has betrayed his race!”

Johnson would go on to sign the Civil Rights Act into law. Baker would be thrown in jail. Upon release, the American Nazis held a welcoming party for him and awarded him the Bronze Medal of Adolf Hitler.

He expected to feel pride when he received the award, but instead he said he felt a deep deadness. Soon after that, Baker saw a preacher on TV and remembered the man he met in prison so many years ago. He bought a Bible and began reading it again, though he had to hide the book from other American Nazi members.

Eventually, he left the American Nazi Party and joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“And this is funny,” Baker chuckled, recalling the first time he saw his genealogy report, and important practice at the LDS church. “I found out I got Native, Jewish, and German blood. I would’ve been kicked out anyway!”

Baker moved to Salt Lake City. He would later hitch hike to Bishop, then live in Trona for a while, before finally landing in Ridgecrest. He’s now an active participant with a local LDS church and says his favorite hobby is helping people. He regularly speaks with Ward 2, giving the testimony of his life’s radical changes.

“This story has to get out so people don’t fall in the trap I did,” Baker said. “I’m not saying Donald Trump started it, but the influence is there.” He doesn’t like that Trump promised in his campaign to ban Muslims, then wrote an executive order attempting to partially do so.

“Not all Muslims are terrorists,” Baker said. His history makes him worry when a politician tries to paint a wide group of people as the enemy.

He sited evidence of this influence in threats and attacks against groups of people. A Jewish cemetery vandalized, Southwest Asians shot in the United States, a mosque set on fire and more mosques threatened.

Baker worries that we could be on the brink of seeing history repeat itself. “Extremism breeds extremism,” he said.

“Extremism,” feels like a fitting word for the modern American political climate. We’ve rarely ever been so polarized over politics, as almost every national news source has pointed out. Each side demonizes the other. Fiercely loyal political teams form. There’s no good destination this road leads to.

I asked Baker what he would like to see instead. “We should treat every person like a brother,” he said.

Extremism breeds extremism, but empathy also breeds empathy. We have been a diverse nation since the very beginning, and that diversity is our greatest strength. Diversity of thought, diversity of lifestyle, diversity of color, diversity of faith.

We’ll disagree on policy from time to time, but let us learn from the past and always remember that we are brothers. What broke Baker out of his Nazi ideology is when he started listening. Listening to the pastor, listening to people of other races, listening to other ideas. So in this polarizing time, let’s stop talking sometimes and listen.

I thanked Baker for his time and walked my way back through the halls of Bella Sera, looking through the doorways at patients and wondering of the things they’ve seen. ‘I turned from hate to the Lord.’

Michael Smit is the community/education and water reporter for the Daily Independent. When not busy reporting, he writes about interesting, everyday people and their lives. Have a story or know someone, email him at

The views expressed are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the official stance of the Daily Independent.


The Legit Smit: ‘I turned from hate to the Lord’ – Ridgecrest Daily Independent

Related Post

March 11, 2017   Posted in: George Lincoln Rockwell |

Fair Use Disclaimer

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

Under the 'fair use' rule of copyright law, an author may make limited use of another author's work without asking permission. Fair use is based on the belief that the public is entitled to freely use portions of copyrighted materials for purposes of commentary and criticism. The fair use privilege is perhaps the most significant limitation on a copyright owner's exclusive rights.

Fair use as described at 17 U.S.C. Section 107:

"Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phono-records or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.

In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

  • (1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for or nonprofit educational purposes,
  • (2) the nature of the copyrighted work,
  • (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, and
  • (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work."