Thursday, January 29, 2009
Ex-skinhead depicts hunts for victims
By PHIL HELSEL
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Just a week after the nation celebrated the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and witnessed the inauguration of this country’s first African-American president, a former neo-Nazi told a crowd at Wagner College about what he called trolling for victims.
“We would go out on a hunt,” said T.J. Leyden, the ex-skinhead and organizer from California, who now recruits people to a lifestyle of tolerance and respect.
The speech, which drew more than 100 students to the Grymes Hill campus, was part of Wagner’s Agent of Change Awards held last night.
Nursing Professor Cheryl Nadeau, who created a free community health program at Clifton’s Park Hill Apartments, and senior history major Justina Licata, who is working on a thesis about Malcolm X, were honored.
Leyden was a skinhead soldier, recruiter and propagandist in Southern California for 15 years, before his then-3-year-old son used a racial slur that led to his disillusionment with the movement.
“I started thinking about what they were going to be,” he said. “I thought about the 16 times I had been arrested, the times I’d been shot at, how I was stabbed when I was 18. . . . I knew I didn’t want my kid to die for it.”
The SS bolts he’d had tattooed on his neck have been removed, and others covered up, but many more remain.
Last night, the man who once spread white power propaganda to 12-year-olds and badgered drunken teenagers to jump strangers on the street — they called it “throwing a boot party” — had a stronger message.
“Be a mentor,” Leyden said. “Help someone in this community to make the world a better place.”
While the racist skinheads are not as prevalent as they were during the movement’s heyday in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, experts say immigration issues have led to a resurgence in recent years. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates there are 98 racist skinhead organizations in the U.S.
The number could be larger, and many aren’t affiliated with any group.
Wagner student Christine Seraphin, 21, of Connecticut, said some of the images — the crossed hammers, the SS neck tattoos and white power leaflets — were hard to take.
“It kind of hurt, but to see that he changed gives hope for all of us,” said Ms. Seraphin, who is black. “It made me want to do something.”
Phil Helsel is a news reporter for the Advance. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Former neo-Nazi speaks at King commemorationJanuary 29, 2009