Former white supremacist, neo-Nazi teaches tolerance

By Becky Reiser

A reformed neo-Nazi said that the military taught him more than just how to fight.

‘The military made me a better racist,’ said TJ Leyden, saying that it gave him the fighting skills and discipline in a talk called ‘Turning Away from Hate,’ at the Public Health building on Thursday night.

Leyden spoke of his experiences as a skinhead in California, where he decided to become one when he was a teenager exposed to punk-rock music. ‘In the ’80s, punk rock was about anarchy … about violence,’ said Leyden. Leyden described fights he was involved in as a teenager and used a slide show to depict pictures of his former friends and the racist paraphernalia he used to own.

His collection included Nazi flags, Adolf Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ and William Luther Pierce’s ‘The Turner Diaries,’ a book Leyden used to recruit white supremacists while he was in the military. Leyden estimates that there are more than 3,000 white supremacists currently fighting overseas. He also shared a list of military-trained people who committed hate crimes. All the people on the list, including the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and East Coast sniper John Allen Muhammad, were trained by the U.S. military.

Leyden also shared his tactics of recruiting teenagers aged 12 and older to join the white supremacist movement. He targeted middle and high schools, the same age group that is targeted with racist comic books and video games such as ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ and ‘Man Hunt.’

“Not all racists are rednecks in pickups and baseball bats,” he said. “Most are the opposite: educated men with ideas.”

Leyden decided to leave the white supremacist movement when his 3-year-old son used a racial slur. He said he did not want his children to grow up to become second-generation skinheads and, eventually, end up in jail.

After moving to California from Idaho in 1996, Leyden took his children and moved in with his mother, determined to leave his past behind him. The same year, Leyden’s mother suggested he get involved with the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

Since then, Leyden has traveled the country speaking out against hate. He was a keynote speaker at the first-ever White House Conference on Hate Crimes in 1997. Leyden’s advice to students is to become an ‘active anti-racist’ by speaking out against bigotry and mentoring children. The talk was sponsored by Pitt’s Jewish student organization, Hillel.

Rebecca Lustig, Hillel’s social action chair, decided to bring Leyden to speak because she believes it’s important to learn about tolerance. ‘I was looking for a program that applied to more than one group on campus,’ said Lustig.