Inside Skinhead

For this recovering race warrior, intolerance wears thin

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Thomas (T.J.) Leyden, whose skin was once emblazoned with 29 neo-Nazi tattoos, spent 15 years in the skinhead movement before renouncing racism and going to work as a consultant for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human-rights organization based in Los Angeles.

The Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report interviewed Leyden about his life in the movement, his analysis of what makes it tick, and the appeal of racist activity for today's youth.

What brought you into the skinhead movement?

I was hanging out in the punk rock scene in the late '70s, going to shows and slam dancing. In 1980 my parents got divorced, and I started to spend more time in the street. I was venting my frustration and anger over the divorce. I went around attacking kids, punching them and beating them up. A group of older kids who were known as skinheads saw this, and I got in with them. We didn't like people who weren't skinheads, but it wasn't really about racism yet.

In 1981 four big-time racist bands came into the movement: Skrewdriver, Skullhead, Brutal Attack, and No Remorse. We started to listen to their music, and that broke the movement into two factions, SHARPs [Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice] and the neo-Nazi skinheads. Since I lived in a very upper-middle-class, white neighborhood we decided to establish one of the first neo-Nazi gangs in Southern California.

When did you learn the ideology of racism?

After I joined the Marine Corps in 1988. They teach a philosophy that if you do something, you do it all the way, not half-assed. So since I was a racist, I started reading about Nazism, World War II, Adolf Hitler. Then I started reading about George Lincoln Rockwell [the founder of the American Nazi Party]. Maybe because he was American and a commander in the military, for me he was a better role model than Hitler. Tom Metzger [the founder of White Aryan Resistance, or WAR] was also influential for me.

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