Former marine sergeant Richard McKinney was physically no longer on the battlefield, but mentally he still was, and Islam was his enemy.
During his time in the military, McKinney had become desensitised to killing and started getting small teardrop-shaped tattoos on his chest for each confirmed kill. He says he saw things then that he will never discuss with anyone. “I didn’t hate Islam then, but many of the things I saw were a reason why I felt the way I did later on.”
After his time in service, back in America, he struggled to cope with what he had seen and done. McKinney turned to alcohol and hatred of Muslims. He says his hatred was so strong that he wanted all Muslims to die. “I don’t think I could have hated Muslims much more, I mean I just really had a true hatred,” he said.
“I thought that by blowing the mosque up, I would be doing something good for my country … I was messed up then.” McKinney planned to build his own bomb and plant it at his local Islamic centre. He hoped it would kill at least 200 people. He knew he would end up on death row, but didn’t care.
McKinney’s deep-seated hatred was shaken one day when he started angrily ranting about Muslims in front of his young daughter. He said he could tell his daughter was shocked by his outburst and that he could see in her eyes that she was questioning her love for him.
“Kids aren’t born with prejudice or racism or hatred,” McKinney said. “But it’s when parents get a hold of them that they start to turn and grow up to think the same ways we do. I couldn’t have that, that’s my daughter. So I wanted to find a way to face this hatred a better way.”
McKinney did turn up at his local Islamic centre, but not with a bomb. Instead, he brought questions. He was given an English translation of the Qur’an and would come back to ask about what he’d read. “There is not one time since that first day I walked into that door that anyone has treated me ill, treated me unloving, even before I became a Muslim. Very open, very friendly, considered me a brother even before I was a Muslim,” he said.
McKinney started spending hours in the mosque and just 8 weeks later he took his Shahadah (declaration of faith).
Now he encourages everyone to learn about Islam and Muslims to stop the cycle of hatred.
“I’ve done too many things. I’ve hurt a lot of people. I have to live with that, but if I can stop somebody else on the path of non-forgiveness, I want to.”