TM Garret, now 44, was radicalized as a teen in Germany and his experience runs the gamut, including being a skinhead, Ku Klux Klan leader and white supremacist until he changed in 2002. Now, as a social activist and healer, Garret represents the Simon Wiesenthal Center, among other organizations, to speak at colleges or other sites where anti-Semitism is a topic. The news shakes and horrifies us with the current barrage of anti-Semitic attacks, most recently grabbing headlines with a dramatic increase in New York.
Three Chabad centers are bringing this timely topic to Atlanta next week. Hear Garret’s personal and very timely story “Life After Hate: The Neo-Nazi Who Became a Peace Activist” 7:30 p.m. Jan. 13 at Chabad Intown’s Intown Jewish Academy, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 14 at Chabad of North Fulton, and 8 p.m. Jan. 15 at Chabad of Cobb.
“The horrific acts of violence against Jews and others that we are experiencing are a stark reminder of the dangers of hate — in whatever form it may take, said Rabbi Ari Sollish, founder and director of Intown Jewish Academy. “Our world is so divided; we desperately need messages of love, tolerance and unity. TM is a living example of how a human being can transform from utter hate to unconditional love. His story is inspirational and, above all, hopeful. This is a story we all need to hear.”
Garret said, “Our black and white polarized political climate has got it all wrong. The gray area is gone. We need to be listening, not fighting.” Garret’s lecture will detail how he was radicalized and what changed him. He believes that spewing hate back is not the answer. “The extreme left and right have us living in our own bubbles. Hatred today is popular, and it’s expressed more. Social media helped divide the country, so we feel we have to pick one side.”
Garret often has spoken on college campuses after a hate incident: Ohio State, Harvard, Vanderbilt universities, and others, including law schools. Some are surprised by his light-handedness. He believes that students should experience legal consequences for hate acts; but he advocates withholding social consequences. “People make mistakes and if they learn to understand what they did wrong, they should be forgiven. Often, they don’t realize the history or full impact of an evil symbol, or they could be acting out to get attention. I believe in second chances.” Holocaust survivors are decreasing in numbers and are less able to travel and tell their stories, so people like Garret are in a position to take over this role.
He thinks that the extreme right and left got many beliefs wrong. On the left, he said some Jews think the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions propaganda movement is solely anti-Israel, not anti-Semitic. “If they did their homework, they would see that its founders are virulent anti-Semites,” he said.
“Conversely, sometimes we have to admit bad groups can be right. In the 80s, the KKK predicted that some major cities would lose their white majority by 2020. And they are right, but so what? I call it ‘German angst.’ The Klan was right about some things,” he added.
Garret was initially radicalized by “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” anti-Semitic document and fell for the “Jews will take over the world” evil notion. We’ve heard the reasons for anti-Semitism before: Jews were accused of killing Jesus, they resisted and would not convert to Christianity, and they were criticized for being in the money business. “Believe it or not, the kindness of a Muslim, whom I thought I should hate, turned me around with unconditional love. The best counter is to do what the haters do not expect,” Garret said.
He also has a program for free tattoo removal for those with hate designs. Garret helps people who want to get out of bad groups including jihadis and gang members. While he has been in the recording and film industry, he is now in the pyro technical business. You might find him on New Year’s Eve heading up a fireworks show.