It’s not that often that you get to go up to a skinhead and ask him what it is that draws him into the maelstrom of anger, intimidation and sometimes violence that is today’s white supremacy movement. But that’s just what David Lazarus, host of the Los Angeles Times’ Google hangout on Hate in America, did with TJ Leyden, longtime white supremacist activist and recruiter.
Leyden has renounced the white power movement and now lectures young people on what can seem like its dangerous allure, but Lazarus wanted to know what it was that attracted him to a world in which non-whites are not only detested, but often subjected to violence.
Leyden at first gave an easy response about recruiting on the Internet, but Lazarus wouldn’t let go. “Everyone gets exposed at different points in their life to violence, to hate, to conflict, and yet not everybody chooses to act on it,” he said. “And yet you at at least one point in your life chose to be that person. This was going to be your identity, you were going to hate people. Why? What did they ever do to you?”
You can tune in for a replay of Friday’s hangout to hear Leyden’s explanation—which interestingly, had as much to do with purported love as hate—and hear him tell about the moment when he began to turn away from his racist identity. That, for the record, was the day his 3-year-old son denounced him for allowing a television show with black people to be aired in their home.
“He said, ‘Daddy, we do not watch shows with [expletives] on in this house,” Leyden recalled.
“Now, initially, I was proud. But then I started thinking about where he was going to be 10, 15 years down the line. And I didn’t like that outcome. Basically, my son was going to become me. And if I didn’t want my son to become me, what was wrong with my entire premise in life?”
The hangout also featured an update on the fatal shooting of six Sikhs last week at a temple in Wisconsin—whose perpetrator, Wade Michael Page, had long connections to the white power music scene—and a detailed account from University of Nebraska criminology professor Pete Simi of the nearly two years he spent off and on with Page in the 1990s, much of it in Southern California.
Page said he had zeroed in on Orange County and environs for his studies “due to the concentration of these different types of groups here.”
What’s happening to lure people such as Page into the world of neo-Nazism? Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, said it’s important to remember that these days, people don’t have to officially join hate groups to become a part of their poisonous milieu—especially with so many young people drawn to the white power music scene, and to the music of bands such as Page’s End Apathy.
“You can be part of the hate movement without necessarily getting a card stamped...and paying dues,” he said. “Particularly in the Internet age, there are many people who are fellow travelers of hate group members, but not actually members of the group…Most of the stuff is done at the local level, through informal associations with peers.”