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Shofar FTP Archive File: people/l/leyden.thomas/press/quits-movement-081996

From Sun Aug 25 13:06:43 PDT 1996

Another bit of good news, and perhaps an inspiration for those few racists
still reading alt.politics.white-power:

"Ex-Skinhead breaks from a racist past"
San Jose Mercury News, August 19, 1996, page 3B.
Reprint of a story from the Los Angeles Times.

LOS ANGELES -- Even among his fellow skinheads, Tom Leyden stood out as an
angry warrior.

Leyden recalls prowling the streets at night, pummeling "blacks, Hispanics
and longhairs" with his steel-toed boots. In the Marines, he kept a copy
of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" next to his bunk. At home, he hung a Nazi
flag over the baby's crib.

Leyden, 30, might seem like a dubious candidate to lead a crusade against
white supremacists. But this tattooed high school dropout has broken with
his racist past and joined ranks with an unlikely ally -- the Simon
Wiesenthal Center.

It is a rare and unexpected alliance.

Leyden is the first skinhead to voluntarily lend his expertise to the
Wiesenthal Center since it opened in Los Angeles 19 years ago. Skeptical
leaders of the center -- a watchdog organization that fights anti-Semitism
and other forms of prejudice -- greeted his arrival last month with
suspicion. They wondered whether he was a spy.

But Leyden offered inside information about neo-Nazi methods: how they
recruit young members by inciting racial violence on school campuses and
by distributing music that preaches the death of Jews, blacks and other

He also discounted his disillusionment with a movement that labeled his
own mother inferior because she was handicapped. He spoke out about the
angst of watching his sons -- ages 4 and 2 -- grow up as hatemongers
saluting the Nazi and Confederate flags.

And he recounted his decision to leave his wife of six years for a chance
to redeem himself.

"I got the impression that this was a person who has had a profound change
of heart and who is willing to tell the world, 'I was wrong,'"" recalled
Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Wiesenthal Center's founder. "He is saying,
'Everything I've stood for in the last decade was for nothing.' That's
admitting to a life's mistake."

Now the Wiesenthal Center and Leyden are putting his firsthand knowledge
of neo-Nazi activities to work -- a plan that has earned Leyden a
"traitor" label among former skinhead associates.

The center has arranged for Leyden to address a national hate conference
in Miami in October. Leyden is also scheduled to speak about hate groups
in the military during an upcoming visit to Fort Bragg, the North Carolina
Army base where swastikas were found last month painted on the doors of
rooms occupied by white soldiers.

Leyden's family now fears for its safety. He said late-night callers
frequently hang up or leave obscene messages.

But Leyden refuses to let the threats scare him.

"I think Tom has already removed the tattoos inside," said Rabbi Abraham
Cooper, associate dean at the Wiesenthal Center. "He's made some really
severe errors. But he has my respect, which is the last thing I thought
I'd be saying about someone who spent years in the skinhead movement."

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