As a neo Nazi, T.J. Leyden was no foot soldier.
He rose in the ranks of the movement, becoming a top recruiter both while in the military and as a civilian.
These days however, the cause Leyden champions couldn’t be more different than one he espoused in his old life. All along Leyden said he was a family man. With a wife and five kids, Leyden began seeing his other neo-Nazi friends arrested and knew he didn’t want that path for his kids.
He left his wife and with three of his kids, went back to live with his mom.
Debriefed at the Simon Wiesenthal Museum in Los Angeles, he went on to become a spokesman for tolerance and against racial and ethnic hatred.
Now, he travels around the United States, lecturing at colleges, law enforcement agencies, the FBI and the military.
Leyden told his story at the University of Pittsburgh last week in a program sponsored by the Hillel Jewish University Center, titled “Turning Away from Hate.”
Leyden riveted his audience with his blow-by-blow account of his life as a white supremacist, and the violent world of The Separatist Movement.
“The movement has grown vastly in the last decade,” Leyden said. “In 1995 there were 256 hate groups in the US. Today there are 950.”
Pennsylvania had 33 hate groups last year; this year, there are 37.
Leyden includes not just white supremacist groups in his numbers, but black supremacists, Muslim extremists — the whole spectrum. The dominant group in Pennsylvania is The Keystone State Skinheads. The group is active in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Scranton and other areas throughout the state.
Their plan: to recruit, organize and join.
“They recruit kids through music,” Leyden said. “Until last month you could download white supremacy music on Amazon for $1 a hit. You can still download it for free anywhere else. They pass it out at the schools.”
As a parent you have to be very alert. He suggests that parents listen to the bands whose music their kids are downloading. For example Schoolyard, Street Driver and Bound For Glory are white supremacy bands.
They even have ethnic cleansing video games. In one such game, the player kills one race, then another, and another, until finally he kills the Chasidic Jew in the middle to win.
YouTube has 3,000 to 4,000 racist videos, according to Leyden. He said YouTube would take a video down if proved racist, but it isn’t foolproof.
“YouTube took down all the Muslim Extremists, but not the Nazis,” he said, “don’t ask me why.”
He showed slides of “Aryan wear” (hate clothing). Boots with Swastikas on the bottom make imprints in snow and mud. On freshly poured concrete, the imprints are permanent.
Nazi dolls are sold online and even in some toy stores. “How cool is it if you’re 9 years old and you’ve been playing with these dolls for a few years and somebody walks up to you dressed just like your dolls?” asked Leyden. “It makes you want to join in,” he said.
The growing white supremacy movement has surely come to the attention of law enforcement in Allegheny County. Lance Vohn, deputy warden of operations at the Allegheny County Jail said he has seen that reflected in the transient population incarcerated there.
As for the Jewish population in the jail, “There is a large Jewish population in Allegheny County but a very small one in the jails,” Vohn said. “The Jewish community takes care of its people. It’s good stuff. They’re good people.”
(Dev Meyers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)