Dramatizing the impact of hate

Leyden's address paints picture of life dedicated to fostering hate

Tara Clifton, Chief Reporter

In his keynote address at UniverCity Monday, Tom "T.J." Leyden, a former white supremacist, outlined his life while mired in a world of hate.

Leyden's experiences with hatred began when he was a teen-ager and grew from his interest in the punk rock scene while living in California.

Leyden said he and his friends would beat up kids who were different from them for fun.

"I was in jail so much the cops knew me by name," he said.

Leyden said he was in trouble with the law so often, he joined the Marines to escape being sent to prison.

His service was where the flames of hatred burned even hotter.

The military is a breeding ground for racists and trains possible terrorists, Leyden said.

"If anyone ever tells you that the white supremacy movement doesn't use the military as a training ground, drive out to Oklahoma City," he said.

After being discharged from the Marines for excessive drinking and fighting, Leyden began recruiting junior high school children for the Hammerskin Nation, a white supremacist group to which he belonged.

For more than 15 years Leyden worked with the group, but other forces were at work to turn him away from the hatred.

"I was very lucky because I had friends and family who forced me to look at things in my life," Leyden said.

Leyden said friends and family, including his two younger brothers, forced him to examine himself.

But for Leyden, the turning point came with the birth of his children.

"I looked for something I used to see in their eyes - look deep into their eyes - you'll see purity. They're the purest beings on earth. That's what we're supposed to be," Leyden said.

"I was looking for their purity but I couldn't find it. I stole it from them. And they've never had it since," Leyden said.

Now Leyden has turned his life around, advocating tolerance and speaking to more than 650,000 students worldwide.

Leyden has also testified in hate crime trials and released information to national, state and local law enforcement agencies that have imprisoned his former fellow skinheads.


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