Former Neo-Nazi spreads message of tolerance, understanding

TJ Leyden still remembers the sound of a victim’s thumb bone breaking through skin’s surface. On this night, like many other night, Leyden and his friends beat up a young man in the name of white supremacy. Leyden, a former Neo-Nazi, spoke of tolerance and diversity Tuesday in the Taggart Student Center Ballroom on USU’s campus.Leyden grew up in Fontana, California, known as the headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan and birthplace of Hell’s Angels. His parents divorced in 1980, giving him plenty of unsupervised time that he spent at punk rock concerts and with his racist friends, he said. The Skinheads often congregated around the punk rock scene, Leyden said. In the mid 1980s, the Skinheads broke into two basic groups, the SHARPs and the Neo-Nazis. The SHARPs (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice) spent their time defending racial diversity, while the Neo-Nazis spent their time defending their white heritage. Leyden aligned himself with the latter. Using violence and fear, the Neo-Nazis would recruit boys starting at 12 years old. Sometimes, Leyden said they would see a white boy getting beat on by someone of a different race, come to his rescue and then use this event to get him to join. Often the saved boy would join with the White Supremacists, either from loyalty to their saviors or fear of the ramifications if they didn’t join. Violence is not the only recruiting tool used, however.Toys R Us sells Nazi action dolls, Leyden said. If a child is given a toy Nazi, plays with it and then sees a Neo-Nazi wearing the Nazi uniform years later while he’s at a skate park, he is going to be more open to talking to them and more receptive to their message, he said. There are also video games that promote White Supremacist ideas, from Nazi characters the gamer can actually play to racist plot lines.The “greatest” recruitment tool, Leyden said is music. Music gets stuck in people’s heads and can carry strong hate messages.”This is white hate and black hate. We have now set it to a 4/4 beat. We have actually put genocide on a CD,” Leyden said. Magazines and clothing companies have also seized hold of white power symbols and themes. One such magazine, called Resistance, has started using more and more sexy pictures of women on their covers in order to attract more readers. In 1995, Leyden said there was only one racist website. Now, not including social sites like Facebook, Leyden said there are more than 5,000 racist websites easily accessible to a web surfer.As a young man, Leyden joined the United States Marine Corps. in order to get away from the cops and trouble, and he brought his “racism, violence and bigotry” with him, he said. “The military taught me to be a better racist. They made me grow up. They taught me organizational skills, leadership ability, recruitment techniques; things I did not know before,” he said. Skinhead James Burmeister and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, as well as others, were recruited while on active duty in the U.S. Army, Leyden said.Many gang members end up in prison, but Leyden said the prison system fails them. Leyden said he was in and out of prison so often that the booking officers still know him by his first name. When Leyden was in prison, he said the inmates were divided and housed according to race. In the minds of the White Supremacists, this was the government’s way of saying different races can’t coexist peacefully, which reinforced white power ideals. Leyden married and had children. After hearing his 3-year-old son use hateful and racist language, Leyden said he took a hard look at himself and the group he had aligned himself with for 15 years. Not wanting his two sons he had at the time to have a harsh, violent life as he had, Leyden said he devoted to changing his ways. Since then, Leyden has immersed himself in different cultures and religions, co-authored a book called “Skinhead Confessions” and traveled spreading his message of hope and tolerance. Through his anti-hate campaign, called StrHATE Talk, he has helped 82 kids get out of white supremacy. Leyden asked audience members to do two favors for him.The first was to fight racism with thoughts, not with fists. He also advised no to counter protest at racist protests, as that could incite violence.”They’re like little kids throwing temper tantrums. Don’t give them what they want,” Leyden said. The second favor Leyden asked was that everyone be a mentor. There’s a kid in Logan who is lonely and looking for someone to pay attention, Leyden said, and either someone with the intention of helping or someone looking to recruit someone to their gang. Being a mentor helps keep kids from becoming involved with gangs and violent groups.Leyden also advised the community to get out and experience other cultures and religions so they can learn tolerance and appreciation. Catholics should go to Sunday Mormon worship and vice versa, he said. – rachel@cvdaily.com

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