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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media


“The easiest thing for people to do is to ignore people and pretend it doesn’t exist, the hardest thing for people to do is to get up walk over introduce themselves and say hi this is who I am who are you and [start] that dialogue, because people are afraid.” -TJ Leyden on getting over the divide.

What do you get when you mix the diverse population of UMass Boston with an ex-white supremacist? The Hip Hop Initiative and the Mass Media have joined forces again to bring a speaker to campus that many in light of the freedom of speech dramas at Amherst have been hesitant to put on a podium. TJ came to speak at UMB upon recommendation and invitation from Marita Labedz Poll, Dean of Students.

TJ Leyden used to be one of the most powerful gang recruiters in the nation. His tactics included inciting race-based violence through putting white supremacy propaganda in the lockers of minorities, distributing hate-filled CDs to young punks, and causing enough trouble in neighborhoods that people would turn to the Hammerskins for protection.

According to student advisor Donna Neal, the Associate Director of Student Life, she hopes that his story would resonate with the struggles of many students to overcome the cultural segregation they experienced before coming to this campus and as they form bonds with students from other cultures.

TJ became involved in the Movement at 15 when he began attending punk shows and some local skinheads noticed his ferocity in the mosh pit. They saw in him a desirable mix of intelligence and raw anger that they wished to help him harness.

His family life growing up was shattered by his parent’s volatile marriage and his father’s drinking so he learned quickly to fend for himself. He was from an Irish Catholic family whom for generations did not believe in race mixing.

At one point, he was asked by his mother to stand up to a bully that spoke ill of her. In an excerpt in his book, it seems he is able to pinpoint, even as a youth, the feelings of power achieved through violence.

“I didn’t just do this one for my mom. I did it for me too. I was finding it made me popular in the neighborhood. Or at least no one messed with me. Most days that seemed a hell of a lot more important.”

As he grew, so did his hatred and at first his “Aryan Pride” gang was more focused on defending their neighborhoods from rival whites. One of the first things mentioned in his presentation was that “90% of my victims were white”. The targeted hatred for other groups was nothing compared to their hatred of those of their own race whom did not agree with their ideologies of separatism.

At one point in his presentation he showed an image of Neo-Nazis sitting in on a convention of followers at the Nation of Islam. According to TJ, what many fail to realize is that white separatists, black separatists, and Hispanic separatists believe in the same thing- that people should not be mixing races and have worked together in the past sharing tactics to keep hate and dehumanization of the other alive.

TJ stated that most skinheads follow an ideology that in the past has bred terrorism. For many, the vision of a purely Aryan nation is a utopia. One of the things that gave TJ his self-respect was that he was a “clean” skinhead because he did not smoke weed or use other drugs. He believed that it offended the honor of their race and made them no better than the other racial gangs he felt were united shallowly for drug money.

Many of these separatists harbor deep hatred for Jews, because they are resentful of what they see as “Judaic puppeteering” of our government. Many speak openly about their aspirations of annihilating the US government, and some like this man Mahon quoted by the Phoenix New Times saying that if “You nuke DC, you’re going to wipe out most of the politicians, plus a couple million crack-head n—–.”

This ideology of hate is deeply affecting the nation’s youth, and this is one of the key reasons TJ speaks out. He was inspired to leave the Movement when he heard his son used a derogative word at age three that could potentially get him killed someday. It bothered him deeply to realize that the life he was paving for his son was bound to handicap him with a life of trouble with the law.

“I thought about the fact that I had been arrested sixteen times. I thought about how fortunate I was not to be locked up in a federal penitentiary with the key thrown away- and I also knew the probability of my sons being that lucky was slightly less than zero. Cops were getting smarter. Hate crime bills and sentences were much harsher.”

The doubts about the Movement took about eighteen months until they boiled over. TJ was attending a weekly get together of Skins when he asked, “What happens when we’ve killed off all the Jews and the blacks and the Hispanics and it’s just us? What then?”

To this another member replied, “Sit down and shut up TJ because we’ll start with hair color next.” Again TJ tried to begin a serious discussion, but was laughed off without any real answers. It was here that he realized the deep ideology of the Movement was not a utopia, but self-destruction through ignorant hatred. Within a few days, on April 26th, 1996 he left the Movement for good.

TJ became involved with the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance upon the suggestion of his mother. The center was part of an international Jewish human rights organization and TJ came here to donate his old materials to the museum to put them to use in bringing awareness and helping to stop the Movement. What was intended to be a brief visit turned into a career of telling those at the center and all who would listen his story of how doctrines of hate can be powerful forces within society.

“The Movement wants to factionalize us against our neighbors, against our grocer, our Senator, against family members if need be. They want to force us into choosing sides, and they plan for the violence to keep people separated permanently.”

His speech at UMB emphasized one thing clearly to students– it is our duty to reach out to the youth as positive mentors, so that they do not see hate as the only way to live.

About the Contributor
Stephanie Fail served as the following positions for The Mass Media the following years Opinions Editor: 2009-2010 *Culture Shock Editor: Fall 2010 *The Culture section only lasted from 2010-2011, with Marcus Mersier taking over in Spring 2011.