You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught from year to year,
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
No one, not one single soul, was ever born into this world filled with hatred for another soul or group of souls. And yet, we live in a world filled with hatred, filled with anger, and filled with terror. Where does it come from? How does it fester? How does it propagate?
We have all, at one time or another, found ourselves hating. We hate a bully. We hate a sibling or a parent or a spouse. We hate someone in power. We hate those who have done us wrong. But the searing quality of hate causes it to most often dissipate quickly. It takes enormous energy to hate. It is a fire that requires constant fueling. Otherwise it burns itself out, consuming itself and leaving only the harmless remnants. It is not a natural state.
But for some, it becomes a very natural state. It energizes. It provides purpose and direction. It comforts and justifies. It ennobles. The cost is only humanity—the natural connection and sense of community with all other people. And for some, that cost is worth it.
I never knew TJ Leyden when he was consumed by hatred. I never knew the angry, bitter, vicious creature he had been. Even though the first time we met he was still covered in ugly, racist tattoos from his jawline to his beltline, I could only see the hurt and desperate man he had been and the courageous, noble man he was becoming. His voice and demeanor were gentle and intelligent. He spoke of his love for his mother and siblings and for his sons from whom he was separated. He spoke honestly of his guilt and shame and his struggle to move beyond them and regain his humanity. I knew he was a marked man with a price on his head, yet he showed no signs of fear or even concern. I was charmed by him. I was proud of him. And I was inspired by him.
But I was meeting him on the far side of a journey through hell. For most of his adult life, he had been a very different human being. He had submerged himself into a world in which hate and the promise of violence and destruction were supreme. He only associated with those of like mind and intent. He had removed himself from family and friends and most of decent society. He espoused hate. He organized hate. He targeted victims based on his hatred and targeted sympathizers whom he could proselytize to and convert.
The story of what turned an intelligent, happy young teenager into a neo-Nazi white supremacist is fascinating in that it was not a single catastrophic event but a series of almost imperceptible shifts of circumstance and reaction that created the ruinous path. It is amazing to understand how violence, which would normally cause reprehension, could suddenly provide sustenance. It is remarkable to be privy to a whole community in which a central philosophy of hate motivates all activity. And it is compelling to see how easily that hatred can be focused and manipulated by those who seek to profit from it.
TJ will share that journey with you. But, more important, it is the story of his reconnection to his true self and the courageous struggle to heal. It is that journey that makes TJ a hero to me. I define a hero as one who perseveres and prevails despite enormous obstacle and despair. TJ is that, and more. What he has endured, what he has faced as he has taken back his life, is more than most of us will ever confront in our lives. It therefore serves as great inspiration to me as I face the far more trivial challenges of my own life.
But that alone still might not have earned my ringing endorsement of TJ’s story. What has really become the most amazing result of his journey is his current work as a teacher and counselor. His ability to connect with young people and distraught people is profound, empowering them to take responsibility for themselves. His story has served as a great lesson for thousands of those who might have fallen victim to the same instincts that almost destroyed him. He has been saving lives for as long as I know him. He has been helping those of us who cannot comprehend it to understand what truly happens in the hearts and minds of those who hate. And with that understanding comes the ability to confront it and, hopefully, change it.
Like most of the great teachers in history, TJ has lived through a crisis of faith and has survived both enriched and inspired. And as a result, he is enriching and inspiring others. His story is not always pretty, but it is vital. This is a great cautionary tale and an epic story of how amazing the true spirit of humanity can be. It needs to be carefully taught.
TJ, I am so proud of you. You make me believe the best about our fellow men even when it is difficult to do so. So tell your children from me, their father is a giant and a hero. Thank you for the gift that lies between the covers of this book. May those who need it most find their way to it. God bless you.