Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Former white supremacist's hateful past inspires message of peace

NEW PORT RICHEY — TJ Leyden's words are offensive, his stories sickening, but his message is clear: Fight hate using your brain.

During his sometimes shocking two-hour presentation Thursday night at Pasco-Hernando Community College, Leyden spoke about his painful 15-year past as a white supremacist, neo-Nazi skinhead.

He spoke fast, and his sharp, raspy voice seemed to fit the abrasive material he was presenting. If one didn't know how his story turned out, it seemed the complete antithesis to the message of Peace Week, going on now at PHCC.

Leyden kept the audience's attention with graphic, R-rated stories about his violent life. He was drawn into the skinhead movement in southern California as teenager who vented his rage over his parents' divorce by slam-dancing and fighting at weekend concerts. He enlisted in the U.S. Marines, where he said he kept a swastika flag and Hitler poster in his military locker and passed out booklets to recruit other soldiers while the military turned a blind eye.

"The military made me a better racist," he said, adding that the discipline, weapons training and other racists he met there helped further his cause.

On Thursday, he displayed pictures of the tattoos running up and down his arms and across his neck and back, some removed and some still there: swastikas, "skin head" and other recognizable words and symbols of hate, intolerance and anti-Semitism.

He played samples of racist heavy metal music and showed pictures from violent, "white power movement" video games targeting children.

He showed pictures of various types of Confederate flags, which he said continue to be an outward display of racism and bigotry.

He spoke about his time in prison, saying the prison system is set up to promote separatism, keeping the different races apart.

But then, about 90 minutes into his presentation, his tone changed.

He told the audience he began rethinking everything one day after watching cartoons with his sons. During an episode of Gullah Gullah Island, a children's show that has black characters, his 3-year-old said: "Turn it off, no n----- watching in this house."

Leyden recalled putting his feet on the coffee table and sitting back like a proud father. But then he started thinking about his sons' futures, what they were going to do and who they'd be like.

Suddenly it hit him: "If I didn't want my children to be me — what was wrong with me?"

"My kids kicked my head so hard that morning the lights came on … and there was no one around to clean up the dust," he said.

Leyden started to talk to people of other races, asking lots of questions.

"I did a lot of soul searching, father to father," he said. Then he realized, "I've got to pick: I'm in or I'm out."

Soon after, his mother sent him to the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, an organization that promotes tolerance through education about racism and the Holocaust. He was very reluctant to go and went with an attitude. He took a few boxes of hate paraphernalia, fliers, letters, posters and other propaganda from his car and left it there. A couple of the rabbis called and invited him to come back, and suddenly, he found himself completely on the other side of hate.

For six years he helped the center learn more about his former life, and traveled around the country educating others.

In 2000, he started his own company called StrHATE Talk Consulting and continues spreading his message online, in print and during presentations like the one Thursday night.

Leyden has trained members of the military, law enforcement and FBI, and has spoken to more than 800,000 students around the country.

The PHCC audience members peppered him afterward with questions, and he told them nothing was off limits. He admitted to receiving death threats, and he showed images from white supremacist websites where he's now demonized.

PHCC student activities coordinator Jessica White brought her two teenage sons, students at River Ridge High School, to hear Leyden speak.

"You can envision how this happens all over America," she said. "It's a perfect fit for Peace Week, to see the opposite of peace and know what we're up against."

Leyden pointed out to the audience that when people laugh at someone's racist joke, like they often did during his talk, that "laughter is passive acceptance," and silence to things like bullying is part of spreading the disease of intolerance.

He urged people to become activists. Find people with "deep pockets" to help get the message out. Become a mentor for troubled children.

"Please, find that lost kid," he said. "If you don't, someone like me will."

>>Peace week at phcc

Events that celebrate peace

Peace Week runs through Wednesday with events at all four campuses of Pasco-Hernando Community College. Upcoming events include:

• Peace Week Community Festival, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today in the quad in front of the library and Performing Arts Center at the New Port Richey campus. American Indian performances, an exhibit and displays of peace-themed high school art projects as well as rhythms by the Giving Tree Music Circle. People may create ceramic peace tiles, friendship bracelets, wish bottles and tie-dye shirts.

Twelve Angry Jurors, 7 p.m. today at the Performing Arts Center, New Port Richey campus.

• Laughter in Peace Tour, 7:15 p.m. Monday at the Performing Arts Center, New Port Richey. A humorous rabbi and a Muslim comedian use jokes to bridge religious divides.

• "Surviving Auschwitz and the Mengele Experiments," 7:15 p.m. Tuesday at the Performing Arts Center in New Port Richey. Presentation by Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor.

For information, including a full list of Peace Week events, visit

Former white supremacist's hateful past inspires message of peace 11/05/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 5, 2010 9:05pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Suspect arrested in fatal shooting of Virginia special agent


    RICHMOND, Va. — A Virginia State Police special agent died Saturday after being shot by a man sitting in a car in Richmond, police said. The shooting suspect fled on foot, sparking an overnight manhunt that ended with the man's arrest about an hour after the agent's death.

    This image provided by the Virginia State Police shows law enforcement investigating the scene of a shooting early Saturday in Richmond, Va.   Special Agent Michael T. Walter, a Virginia State Police special agent died Saturday after being shot by a man sitting in a car in Richmond, police said. The shooting suspect fled on foot, sparking an overnight manhunt that ended with the man's arrest about an hour after the agent's death. Virginia State Police said in an emailed statement that Travis A. Ball of Richmond is being held without bond on charges that include malicious wounding and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. (Virginia State Police via AP)
  2. Mayor Rick Kriseman says St. Petersburg mayoral election is about going forward, not back


    ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman christened his campaign office Friday evening by telling his supporters that the mayoral election was about moving forward, not backward.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman says mayoral election is about inclusiveness Friday at campaign office rally
  3. Forecast: Lots of sunshine, low humidity to start Memorial Day weekend


    The start of your long Memorial Day weekend is all sunshine this Saturday, according to WTSP 10Weather meteorologist Rick Kearbey.

    WTSP seven-day forecast on May 27, 2017.
  4. For starters: Rays at Twins, looking for another with Odorizzi starting


    UPDATE, 12:45: Cash said Robertson was taking better swings Friday and so he wanted to move him up today, liking the idea of having three straight right-handers vs. a LHP they don't know much about. ... Souza was still smiling this morning about his failed dive attempt last night, and the reaction it got. .. The …

  5. Global computer outage grounds British flights


    LONDON — British Airways canceled all flights from London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports Saturday as a global IT failure caused severe disruption for travelers on a busy holiday weekend.

    British Airways planes are parked at Heathrow Airport in January. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, file)