Episcopal Life Convention Daily
Friday, 7 July 2000  

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Former KKK member shares compelling story of conversion

Tom Tarrants freely admits he was a racist and a terrorist. By the time he was 21 years old, he was carrying bombs for the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. It was during a bombing foray in the middle of the night he ran afoul of the law for the first time.

Tom Tarrants
Tarrants spoke Wednesday at the Denver Athletic Club to about 50 people as part of the American Anglican Council's "God's Love Changed Me'' campaign. He described a hair-raising tale of walking into a stakeout carrying a bomb made of 29 sticks of dynamite. Police wounded him in the leg as he fled, and a partner died in the gunfire. Tarrants, subsequently captured after a melee in which he shot a police officer three times in the chest, was only spared a capital murder charge because the officer survived.

Tarrants held his audience spellbound as he related a series of miraculous events he attributed to the love of God. Sentenced to 30 years in prison, he continued to immerse himself in neo-fascist political theory, reading Mein Kampf and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. He observed wryly, "I had not learned the first law of holes: when you're in one, stop digging.'' He continued to be filled with hatred toward African Americans, Jews, and "other minorities.''

After an unsuccessful escape attempt in which he was critically wounded, Tarrants experienced what he described as a "compulsion'' to read the Bible that led to his conversion. He built prison friendships with African Americans and became friends with a Jewish criminal lawyer who "hated me above anyone in the state.'' Once he was paroled because of prison overcrowding, he formed a number of friendships with African American leaders and began working toward racial reconciliation.

When asked his method of reconciliation, Tarrants said that he "tells [his] story.'' He and an African American partner, John Perkins, who "hated whites because of abuse as much as I hated blacks'' emphasize the importance of "building bridges,'' calling them "bridges across racial and cultural lines.'' The two men emphasizd that God "must be at the center of it,'' because "these things don't change readily otherwise.''

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