TM Garret, a former neo-Nazi, came to the University of Nevada, Reno to discuss his journey from hate to peace activism on Thursday, March 5 in collaboration with Jewish sorority Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi, Hillel of Northern Nevada and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Garrett was born and raised in a small, conservative town called Mosbach in Germany. He began by describing how, he was searching for an identity as a child and was bullied in school. When Garret was 13, he learned about Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust in school.
At age 15, a classmate gave him a cassette tape of neo-Nazi Skinhead music, which contained racist and homophobic lyrics. Two years later, he was recruited to a Neo-Nazi organization and became a white supremacist.
Eventually, he became a singer and songwriter for a neo-Nazi band, where he realized he wanted to “save” the white race from immigrants and people of color.
He said becoming a Nazi gave him a sense of belonging and a place in the world.
Garret described the feeling as wanting to be a superhero to protect his people, and “prevent Jews from taking over the world.”
Eventually, Garret became a prominent leader of the European Ku Klux Klan but left once he started to have doubts about the movement.
He mentioned how he had to throw everything he had believed since he was 13 away, and he needed the courage to be able to do it.
A few years later Garret moved to Memphis, where he had a chance to explore minority communities—including the Jewish community.
He was scared to admit his past as a white supremacist because he thought he would be rejected by his new acquaintances. Despite this fear, he attended Jewish holidays, including Hanukkah and Yom Kippur.
He admits that he could never walk in the shoes of minorities, but that he can support and empathize with them.
He realized that the commonalities between the races were more important than the differences, causing him to change his views.
Now, Garret lives in Mississippi with his family, where he is devoted to helping people change their lives.
Garret founded the organization C.H.A.N.G.E, which stands for Care, Hope, Awareness, Need, Give and Education. It provides community outreach programs, food drives and anti-racist and anti-violence campaigns, among other services.
He is also involved with the Erase the Hate campaign, which helps former gang and hate group members remove and cover up derogatory tattoos that could prevent them from getting jobs.
Garret emphasized that empathy and compassion can change people for the better.
Madeleine Chinery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.