Wilmington News Journal

Three years ago, Justin Boyer stood alongside two cohorts and a fascist flag on the Clinton County Courthouse square sidewalk, where he occasionally gave the Nazi salute to a police officer keeping an eye on the proceedings. But today the Lynchburg resident wants the public to know people can change, even the one-time head of an Ohio Nazi group.

Looking back, Boyer said, “I was just focused always on one thing — my race, my people. And I was never focused on anything around me, it always would be about me. And it was always the way I did things.”

He has left what participants call “the Nazi way.” A major cause for the sea change in Boyer is him listening to the speeches of then President-elect Barack Obama, America’s first African-American president.

In particular, Obama’s Election Night speech struck him, said Boyer.

“It was like something just went off in my mind. It was like, ‘Man, this guy’s right, you know.’ Time for a change,” Boyer said.

Born in Columbus 24 years ago, Boyer started down the Nazi way when he was 10, the year he read much of Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf.” The book, he said, is a major influence “if you’re racially thinking.”

He was suspended from school several days for laughing at a Jewish Holocaust survivor. Boyer also gave the survivor “a big Roman salute,” which, Boyer explains, is the famous Nazi salute.

“That’s where they got it from, the Romans,” he said.

In the past, when he walked down the street and saw certain people, for example a racially mixed couple, he said he despised them and they made him sick inside.

“Now it’s kind of beautiful,” Boyer said.

He commented he now looks at things differently — “gays, straight, whatever else” — than when he was a leader in Nazi groups.

In retrospect, it always came down to hate, he said. “People of color, different religions, just hate. And that’s all we talked about. Like everytime we do a rally, I feel so much anger and hate.”

He began to think there’s got to be a better feeling than this, “eating me up inside, destroying me and my family.”

The change, he said, felt rapid.

“Basically, it was a waking up. Like the blinders were off,” Boyer said.

He said his parents are “very happy” about his change. He said his mother said when he was 6, 7 or 8, he was a really nice kid, before he followed the Nazi way.

“She called it, I went into my darkness,” said Boyer.

He said, “If a person like me can change that’s been doing it for years and years, then a guy in prison can change that’s committed horrible crimes or whatever. Everybody can change. I don’t care who they are or what they’ve done, they can change through God or whatever they believe in.”

He’s trying to go to church again, and he’s working on a farm.

He reminds himself, “I’ve got to focus and keep on the path. I don’t want my son to grow up and get killed.”

The white supremacist tattoos from his former self remain on his body.

But beneath his skin, the sensibility is different.

“I’ll shake a black man’s hand now and I’ll socialize with anybody because it’s baggage, it pulls you down.”