Former neo-Nazi speaks against hate

Ada Simanduyeva

A former neo-Nazi said he wants people to learn about hate through his experiences in a speech to more than 600 people Wednesday evening at the Bell Museum.
In his speech, “Out of the Depths of Hate: Confessions of a Former neo-Nazi,” Tom “TJ” Leyden used his former lifestyle as a way to educate people about the consequences of joining hate groups.
Leyden, who used to start fights at punk-rock concerts, was jailed 12 times in five different states by the time he was 28. He now travels the country speaking to students in a very blunt and graphic manner about his experiences.
“I’m the luckiest man in the entire world,” Leyden said. “Why? Because I’m still alive. God, for some weird reason, has put a lot of obstacles in my life and made me look in different directions from time to time.”
Leyden, who once recruited Marines into the hate movement, quit in 1996 because of family reasons. His brother became a police officer, his mother was disabled and his children began showing tendencies toward hatred. Leyden now works with Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Los Angeles-based organization that fights anti-Semitism and bigotry worldwide.
“People are really interested in this topic from somebody who knows it inside out,” said Rabbi Sharon Stiefel, associate director of the Hillel Jewish Student Center, one of the event’s sponsors.
Leyden said he was influenced by the punk-rock movement during the early 1980s, which he described as being all about anarchy. He said he was recruited by older skinheads and became involved in various skinhead activities, which included beating up people simply for being different.
Ninety percent of the kids he beat up were white, Leyden said. Hate groups grew because kids were afraid of getting beaten up and were looking for protection. Race was not always a reason for hate, he said. Class and lifestyle were also reasons.
“If somebody was black, Hispanic or Asian and they got stuck in my neighborhood, they did not make it out in my neighborhood without being beaten,” Leyden said. “Why? Because we considered that to be a bonus.”
Leyden said that one of his goals is to keep kids out of the organizations that promote hatred.
“Maybe someday it could prevent violence by kids or learn how to deal with violence,” said Ryan Cox, who teaches hate issues at Minnewaska Area High School. “What these kids need are real-life experiences.”