A retrospective of Hate Incidents and Groups in the 1900s

The Decade in Review

The 1990s were a decade that was virtually unprecedented in the history of the American radical right. Standoffs with law enforcement officials at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and near Waco, Texas, helped to ignite the modern militia movement, while the 1995 truck bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City showed the world just how deadly convinced antigovernment zealots could be.

Hate crimes and terrorist attacks grabbed headlines like never before. The Internet became a principal venue of race hatred. Neo-Nazism, once shunned by even hard-line Klansmen as an ideology that their fathers had died fighting, became a central tenet of the white supremacist movement.

Although the extreme right had left a trail of bloodshed across the nation in the 1980s, in the 1990s the pace and severity of radical activity — and of domestic terrorist conspiracies — overshadowed the events of the previous decade.

Here is a retrospective of some of the key events of the 1990s.


1990
The 'New World Order' is Born

March 1 In the first federal civil rights prosecution of neo-Nazi Skinheads, five members of the Confederate Hammerskins are convicted in Dallas of conspiring to violate the rights of blacks, Hispanics and Jews.

Despite the convictions, this small group with others will go on to form the nucleus of Hammerskin Nation — a Skinhead coalition, with thousands of members in both the United States and abroad, that by the end of the decade will become the most far-reaching, best organized and most dangerous Skinhead group known.

April 28 As hate crimes around the nation draw increasing attention, President Bush signs into law the federal Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990, mandating that the FBI compile data collected by the states on crimes motivated by race, ethnic background, religion or sexual orientation.

But, to the dismay of many experts, the law does not require the states and law enforcement agencies to collect hate crime data. As a result of that and other problems in data collection, it will remain impossible to say definitively whether hate crimes are rising or falling.

June 14 Signaling the end of the era of the deadly Posse Comitatus, Posse "national director of counterinsurgency" James Wickstrom is convicted of plotting to distribute counterfeit bills at the 1988 Aryan World Congress, held at the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations' compound in Idaho.

The bitterly racist and anti-Semitic Posse, precursor of the 1990s militia movement, raged through the farm belt for much of the 1970s and 1980s, organizing farmers who faced a severe agricultural crisis and leaving a trail of fraud, violence and murder in its wake. In August, Wickstrom will be sentenced to three years in prison.

Aug. 9 Two Houston Skinheads are charged with murdering a 15-year-old Vietnamese youth, Hung Truong, with a group of other white youths and men.

The senseless brutality of the crime and the victim's final plea for mercy — "Please stop, I'm sorry I ever came to your country. God forgive me!" — underscore the wave of Skinhead violence that at its peak between 1988 and 1993 will leave some 35 people slain.

The number of Skinhead groups will peak in 1991, with 144 organizations detected. Born in England, the Skinhead scene — both racist and anti-racist — had first appeared here in the early 1980s.

Sept. 11 In a speech before a joint session of Congress as the Cold War comes to an end and in the midst of the Gulf crisis, President George Bush says, "Out of these troubled times ... a new world order can emerge... ."

The speech galvanizes many on the extreme right, who see it as a slip of the tongue that reveals federal officials' secret plans to create a "New World Order," or a kind of dictatorial, one-world government.

In 1991, a book by televangelist Pat Robertson, alleging a conspiracy to take over the United States, will add to these fears. The book is entitled The New World Order — a phrase that in short order will be used by virtually all radical right groups to describe their perceived enemy.

Oct. 15 Former Klansman and current Louisiana State Rep. David Duke, who epitomizes the calculated move of many white supremacists from robes to three-piece suits, loses his bid to become a U.S. senator in a Louisiana primary. But he stuns the American political establishment by garnering almost 40% of the vote — some 605,681 ballots, or fully 60% of the white vote.

The results mark the beginning of the mainstreaming of white supremacist ideology, a process that will continue and grow throughout the decade.

Oct 22 A Portland, Ore., jury orders neo-Nazi White Aryan Resistance (WAR) leader Tom Metzger, his son John, their California-based organization and two local Skinheads to pay $12.5 million to the family of an Ethiopian man murdered two years earlier.

Prior to the killing, the Metzgers had sent a recruiter to organize Portland skins as part of a national recruiting effort and to train them in WAR methods; afterward, Tom Metzger praised the killers for having done their "civic duty." The award signals the end of a period in which Tom Metzger had been a leading figure of the extreme right.

The verdict in the case, brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center, marks the largest damage award levied in a civil lawsuit to date. The young son of victim Mulugeta Seraw is the chief beneficiary.