As a neo-Nazi recruiter, Tom "T.J." Leyden used a classic military tactic to woo racists. "We'd plaster schools with hate literature and let the black and Hispanic kids think that the Anglos had done it," he says. "As soon as the first white kid got beat down, every white kid feared he or she was next. We'd go on campus and protect them. It was divide and conquer."
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Leyden, now age 34, was brainwashed to espouse racial hatred during his junior high years. His parents were going through a messy divorce; he fought with others and took drugs. Campus skinheads noticed Leyden and lured him into their group. "They got me off [drugs]," he says. "I thought they were good guys."
Over the years Leyden spewed rhetoric for the Hammerskins, the White Aryan Resistance, and the Aryan Nations. But at age 30 something clicked for the father of two boys. He had imbued his kids with his beliefs.
"The Changing Face of Hate" symposium
Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County, Siemens Campus, 9901 Donna Klein Blvd., Boca Raton
Monday, September 18. Admission is free, but reservations are required. Call 561-852-3177.
"At first I was kind of proud of it," he says. "Then I started thinking about my life, my cousin who was going to spend the rest of his life in prison, and the six friends that I'd buried." The real turning point came when his three-year-old started admonishing him, says Leyden: "He would turn the TV off and say, "Daddy, you know better than that. We've been taught not to watch shows with niggers on them.'"
Leyden discovered tolerance and became a consultant for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He now speaks out against racism, a noble calling that he will take up during "The Changing Face of Hate," a forum on hate crimes and the Internet. Leyden notes that, even as the Aryan Nations organization prepares to fight in an Idaho court to retain its 20-acre compound, the Internet is making such outposts obsolete; there are more than 2800 racist Websites, he says. "You don't need the big "eat, meet, and retreat' places anymore," explains Leyden. "You can have board meetings online. Even the haters do that."