VALPARAISO | His time serving in the U.S. military didn't make him a racist, T.J. Leyden said, but it made him "a better racist."
Leyden, a former neo-Nazi white supremacist, described his young life as a skinhead to students gathered Thursday at the Peace and Justice Symposium at Valparaiso University.
Leyden and his wife, Julie, are now the founders of StrHATE Talk Consulting, an organization that combats bigotry and hatred through education.
To his college audience, Leyden described a life of hatred and violence, which began when he was 15 years old. He said blacks, Hispanics and Asians were “lucky to get out of my neighborhood without being beaten.”
When he joined the Marine Corps, Leyden displayed a swastika and a copy of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" in his locker and successfully recruited more skinheads while in the service.
“I brought my racism, prejudice and bigotry with me into the U.S. military,” he said.
After showing photos of “D.C. Sniper” John Allen Muhammad, serial bomber Eric Rudolph, and Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, Leyden asked the audience: “Do you know what those men had in common?”
His answer: “They were all trained by the U.S. military. They weren’t racists when they entered the military; they were recruited by racists while in the military, then they came out and did the deeds.”
Leyden said while he already was a racist when he entered the service, the military made him “a better racist” because it taught him how to fight and how to recruit.
After his early “other than honorable” discharge because of alcoholism, he began to recruit kids as young as 12 years old. He said kids at that age and in their teen years are easy to recruit because they are “looking for a place to fit in.”
With that example, Leyden warned the audience.
“You do the same in college — you find the group you fit in with and you’re not trying to learn about others,” he said.
Leyden said racist propaganda can easily be found in video games, on the Internet, in music and on television.
“Music is the most powerful recruitment tool in the world — genocide on CD,” said Leyden. “Hitler loves iTunes.”
Leyden listed songs available on iTunes, with titles such as “Fire Up the Ovens” and “6 Million More.” He said his six-year campaign to “get Apple to stop it” failed.
“So I buy nothing Apple creates," Leyden said. "I refuse to because they know they’re selling it and their big thing is, ‘We can’t control what people are selling on iTunes.’”
Leyden said he began to question his lifestyle when he had children and his young son repeated a racial epithet.
“I realized this is who my children were going to become, and I didn’t want my boys to be like that,” he said. “My kids held a mirror up to my face that day, and I didn’t like the reflection.”