For years, he led a notorious hate group in Middle Tennessee - attending rallies and cross burnings - but something significant happened just one month ago, and Clay Hight decided to give up that life.
What happened next, no one expected.
Just before noon on a recent Sunday at the New Life Church of God, the congregation's newest member, Clay Hight, was seeking salvation surrounded by people in a place that just weeks ago might have seemed unthinkable.
Born and raised in Maury County, at age 20, Hight followed in his parents' footsteps.
"Was there guns in it? Yes. Was there harm in it? Yes," Hight said.
Becoming active in the Ku Klux Klan, he said, gave him a sense of belonging.
"We were just taught with a lot of hate. It was mostly blacks and Jews," Hight said.
Hight believed so much in white supremacy that last year, he joined another notorious hate group - the Aryan Nation.
"After I got to hearing all this hatred talk, these white girls - can I say it, these n*****s taking all the white women away - they're killing our race," Hight said.
Quickly rising to the rank of lieutenant, he led more than 20 members in Columbia, Lewisburg and Lawrenceburg. He admits there was vandalism and harassment.
"We'd walk up, and we just didn't like a black person. Sometimes we'd walk up and start trouble with them and just start jumping on them," Hight said.
While his presence in the group was growing, so too, he says, was guilt.
Deep down, he knew what he was doing and teaching his kids was wrong.
"The hatred was controlling me. That's what bothered me the most," Hight said.
At an Aryan Nation rally a few months ago, Hight said he was confronted by a Jewish woman.
"She says, 'I've never done nothing to you, sir, but still you hate me.' And it's things like that you listen to, and it made me realize what am I doing hating someone I don't even know," Hight said.
A few weeks later, on a Saturday afternoon, Hight decided to stop by this small church in Columbia, insisting he meet the pastor.
"And he pulled me into the office and said he was mixed up in the Aryan Nation and KKK, a former lieutenant and that he wanted to be saved and give it up," said the Rev. Chris Taylor.
Pastor Taylor was doubtful, concerned someone who spent most of his life hating people suddenly had a change of heart.
"When he poured out his heart and cried out to me - to see another man cry to another man - that let's me know that he was very sincere," Taylor said.
"Nobody is making me do this. I give my life to the Lord. Everybody says, 'Why did you go to a black church?' Well, I had to know that we was no different - just only in skin color," Hight said.
The next day, Hight showed up for Sunday service, stood up and shared his past with the congregation.
"He asked them, 'Please don't judge me,' and I said, 'We're not the type of church to judge anyone for anything they do, because we all have a past.' We all come from some type of background, maybe not racism, but we've all been something in life," Taylor said.
Now, about a month after first stopping by the church, Hight and his three sons - now members at the church - are taking an important step.
"We're going to baptize him in the name of the father, the son, in our precious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," Taylor said.
Baptism, Hight believes, is symbolic of a fresh start for him and his family. It's a journey he's just beginning.
"I still have feelings of different things, but as far as the hate, I don't," Hight said.
"God is yet a redeemer, he's yet a restorer," Taylor said.
Now, the man who joined hate groups because he wanted to belong is finding he fits in best at a church called New Life, where at 51 years old he's on a path to starting one.
"It took getting on my knees, asking the Lord to come into me to and get rid of that. He can do miracles. I'm telling you, he can do miracles," Hight said.
Since leaving the hate groups and deciding to share his story, Hight said he's received death threats from a few people still in the groups. But he felt doing this interview was something he needed to do to show others a transformation like his is possible.
Copyright 2013 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.