This Tattoo Shop Gives Former White Supremacists a Fresh Start

TM Garret's Erase the Hate Campaign has already helped hundreds of people leave behind their racist past

Jul 19, 2019

Tags:

Tattoo, TM Garret

Walking into the Sickside Tattoo Studio just south of Memphis, Tennessee, you wouldn’t necessarily think a whole lot of activism was taking place, but look closer, and you’ll find a mini-hub of social change. 

That’s because TM Garett and his colleagues are helping former white supremacists start over by erasing and covering up xenophobic tattoos free of charge. 

Garett is a German-born activist, who after leading a chapter of the KKK, has reformed his beliefs and actions, and now dedicates his life to helping others do the same.

His initiative, called Erase the Hate Tattoo Campaign, started just two years ago in 2017 when Garrett approached his friends at the Sickside Tattoo Studio in Horn Lake, Mississippi. His friends, Drew Darby and Jack Flores, the manager and owner of the shop, knew that Garett had been wanting to get rid of the tattoos that represented so much hate, and were happy to join the campaign. Now, two other tattoo shops have also joined - one in Jacksonville, Florida and one in Los Angeles, California. 

Over the past year alone, the team has covered up approximately 100 tattoos; most of which contain swastikas, SS bolts, portraits of Hitler, and words like “skinhead” and “Aryan.”

Garett himself got into the neo-Nazi scene through music. When he was a teenager, a friend introduced him to a skinhead rock band, which led him into more nationalist and neo-Nazi music. From there, he would start his own series of white power skinhead bands. Part of the reason that music was such a big part of his life stems back to his childhood. Garett’s father died of lung cancer when he just eight years old and his mother drank frequently; both him and his older sister were therefore shaped heavily by the music that they poured themselves into.

Garrett recalls that nationalism was “how I defined myself. That’s what gave me my identity...Later, it shifted into being that Aryan warrior that had to save the entire white race.”

Garett was active in the KKK for several years until German state surveillance began heavily cracking down on the activity. At that point, he backed away stating that “it just wasn’t worth it.”

He moved with his family to the German town of Giengen to get farther away from the white supremacy group. The turning point in his life came when Garett’s Turkish-Muslim landlord began hiring him for his computer help, and would even eventually invite him over for dinner. Garett quickly saw that the stereotypes he was taught were false and that his landlord was in fact an extremely compassionate and kind man. 

In one of his first moves to separate himself from his racist past, Garett looked for a way to cover up his skinhead tattoos but found the process to be more difficult than expected. 

He eventually divorced his wife and moved to the US. When 2016 came along and white supremacy resurged in new and violent ways, Garett knew it was time to take action and involved himself in anti-discriminatory activism. He founded the non-profit organization CHANGE (Care, Hope, Awareness, Need, Give, and Education) and began speaking publicly in churches, synagogues, mosques, and other diverse community spaces. 

Through CHANGE, Garett began his Erase the Hate Tattoo Campaign, which helps former gang members and white supremacists cover up their tattoos approximately once a week. Next, Garett hopes to connect two more tattoo shops to the campaign- one in New York City and one in Nashville, Tennessee. 

Back in Horn Lake, Mississippi, Nathan Greer walks into the parlor. He has been wanting to get rid of his swastika tattoo ever since a Jewish doctor and black nurse saved his life. 

“When I get this tattoo covered, I’ll be the happiest person in Arkansas,” he says before getting into the chair.

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HILLA BENZAKEN, CONTRIBUTOR
Hilla Benzaken is a dedicated optimist. Her happy place involves cooking, acting, gardening, and fighting for social justice. She writes about all things sustainability, innovation, and DIY.