Years before Damien Patton became the CEO of Banjo, the startup darling as a teen was affiliated with the Dixie Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the tech blog OneZero first reported.
As part of Patton’s previously hidden past, the tech entrepreneur and US Navy veteran was 17 years old and behind the wheel of a car as his passenger shot up the outside of the West End synagogue in a Nashville, Tennessee, suburb in 1990, according to the report. No one was injured during the incident.
“We believe that the Blacks and the Jews are taking over America, and it’s our job to take America back for the White race,” Patton testified at a trial for others involved in the incident.
“We were out there on the streets causing problems and making the headlines in the news where the older groups like the Klan wasn’t really ever heard of anymore,” he added in his testimony. “And we were going out and causing the problems now.”
Patton said in a statement that he no longer holds those views and feels “extreme remorse for” his young adulthood.
“[Thirty-two] years ago I was a lost, scared, and vulnerable child. I won’t go into detail, but the reasons I left home at such a young age are unfortunately not unique; I suffered abuse in every form,” Patton said.
“I did terrible things and said despicable and hateful things, including to my own Jewish mother, that today I find indefensibly wrong, and feel extreme remorse for. I have spent most of my adult lifetime working to make amends for this shameful period in my life.”
Patton’s dark history had largely been concealed thanks to misspellings of his first name in court filings related to the synagogue shooting — meaning his name would have not appeared in any document searches, OneZero reported.
The revelations prompted Utah’s attorney general to suspend a $20.7 million contract Banjo had held with the state, allowing it to operate a massive surveillance system to aid police officers, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
The contract gave the company access to state traffic and public safety cameras. In turn, Banjo provides law enforcement with alerts based on social media posts as they pour in from events like crime scenes, fires or other public incidents of interest to police.
“Neither the attorney general nor anyone in the Attorney General’s Office were aware of these affiliations or actions,” said Richard Piatt, spokesman for Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes. “They are indefensible. He has said so himself.”
Patton said he was “taken in” by white supremacist groups during a dark and “desperate” time in his youth after he dropped out of school and “lived on the streets.”
“Over the course of a few years, I did many things as part of those groups that I am profoundly ashamed of and sorry about,” Patton continued in his statement.
Patton credited the joining the Navy for “turn[ing] my life around” and has gone to therapy to try and grapple with his hate as a young man — though OneZero pointed out that Patton testified that he still associated with the groups while he was undergoing training in Virginia.
“One thing I have done, through therapy and outreach, I have learned to forgive that 15-year-old boy who, despite the absence of ideological hate, was lured into a dark and evil world,” Patton said. “For all of those I have hurt, and that this revelation will hurt, I’m sorry. No apology will undo what I have done.”