Former neo-Nazi urges students, community to turn away from hate

PLATTSBURGH The Oxford English Dictionary defines hate as denoting hostile actions motivated by intense dislike or prejudice. For 15 years, this word defined Tom T.J. Leyden. Leyden spoke to hundreds of students and community members Sept. 25 at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, to discuss his life as a former neo-Nazi. Until he was a teenager, Leyden lived in Fontana, Calif. Now let me give you a little background on this town. Fontana is known for two things its the headquarters of the Southern California Ku Klux Klan and its the birthplace of the Hells Angels Biker Gang, explained Leyden. Swept up into the neo-Nazi way of life in the late 1980s, Leyden began to cover himself in Nazi symbol tattoos, including swastikas. Although admittedly racist, Leyden and other gang members would often attack white people. We did the same thing that every gang does. We preyed on the kids we knew best ... 90 percent of all of my victims in my lifetime, may have been the white kids from my surrounding neighborhoods, Leyden explained. Of course, Leyden and his gang were much harder on other races. If somebody was black, hispanic or Asian, and ever crossed my neighborhood, they were lucky if they made it out of my neighborhood, he said. Leyden eventually joined the United States Marine Corps, where he spent time handing out books such as The Turner Diaries, a novel written by William Luther Pierce, a white supremacist leader of The National Alliance, a radical political organization. It depicts a violent revolution in the U.S. that leads to the overthrow of the government and the extermination of non-whites and Jews. I didnt know this, but the exact same time Im passing out The Turner Diaries to the U.S. Marine Corps theres another young man passing out that book to the United States Army Marine Corps, explained Leyden. His name happened to be Timothy McVeigh, the man responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. His base commander and my base commander considered this to be a passive and okay act. Eventually, Leyden married a woman who had the same ideals as him and they had two children. One of the plans to expand the neo-Nazi movement is to raise children to be the second-generation of neo-Nazis. Leyden also spent his time recruiting people as young as 12 into the movement, as they could mold their minds, he explained. The course of Leydens life changed one day when he was watching television with his 1-year-old son. The show had a black man in it, which angered Leydens 3-year-old son who used a racial epithet to describe him. Leyden was excited at first that his children had already formed the same beliefs he had, but then he began to think of their futures. My feet came off the coffee table, I sat at the edge of the couch and I started thinking of who they were, said Leyden. At that time in my life I had been arrested 16 times, Id been stabbed once, Id been shot at more times than I really care to count. I asked myself a question that day, Leyden continued. Was I going to sacrifice my children for that belief? The weird thing was the answer that came into my head was no. Over the next 18 months, Leyden worked to get out of the neo-Nazi movement. He became an active member of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an organization dedicated to repairing the world. Today, Leyden travels across the world giving lectures about his life and how he works to eliminate hate. In Leydens final words of his lecture in Plattsburgh, he urged the audience to fight racism where it really hurts the most. Where its institutionalized. Where its getting ingrained into our society. Next thing, become a positive mentor ... Help this world stop creating people like me. For more information on Leyden, visit his Web site at www.strhatetalk.com.

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