A retrospective of Hate Incidents and Groups in the 1900s

The Decade in Review

1998
In Jasper, a Hate Crime Shocks the Nation

Mid-January The American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a group that has exploded in size since its 1995 formation, draws national publicity when counter-demonstrators riot in Memphis, Tenn.

The American Knights, which specializes in provoking confrontations and reaping the benefits of the resulting publicity, is led mainly by criminals, including national leader Jeff Berry, who has history of arrests for violence and has been convicted for, among other things, the home improvement rip-off of an elderly Indiana neighbor.

This group leads a resurgence of the Klan, which has been declining for some 20 years.

Jan. 29 An off-duty police officer is killed and a nurse is critically injured when a nail-packed bomb explodes outside a Birmingham, Ala., abortion clinic.

A witness spots a man running from the scene and removing a wig, and gets his license number — a tag that leads authorities to Eric Robert Rudolph in North Carolina.

Eventually, Rudolph will be charged with this bombing and others at the Atlanta Olympics, another abortion clinic and a lesbian bar. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that Rudolph is an adherent of the racist Christian Identity religion and a follower of the late Identity leader Nord Davis Jr. Rudolph typifies the "lone wolf" attacker who is growing more common in the late 1990s.

Despite a massive search, Rudolph will remain free — or dead — at the end of the decade.

Feb. 23 Three men with links to a Klan group are arrested near East St. Louis, Ill., in connection with an alleged plot to bomb state capitol buildings, strike at post offices and communications systems, poison the water supplies of major cities, blow up the Southern Poverty Law Center and assassinate Center co-founder Morris Dees and a federal judge.

Eventually, six members of The New Order — named after a terrorist group of the 1980s — are convicted or plead guilty to weapons or conspiracy charges. The case reflects the continuing acceleration of the pace and severity of radical right violence.

March 18 Three members of the North American Militia in Michigan are arrested on firearms charges after conspiring to kill federal agents and to bomb federal buildings, a Kalamazoo television station and an interstate highway exchange.

Leader Ken Carter, a self-described member of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations, told an undercover agent that the group planned three to four days of chaos aimed at provoking a national insurrection against the government. In 1999, the men are sentenced to terms of up to 55 years.

May Matthew Hale, who in 1995 resuscitated Ben Klassen's moribund Church of the Creator as the World Church of the Creator, graduates from Southern Illinois University School of Law.

After passing the state bar exam later in the year, the neo-Nazi Hale is denied a law license by officials who find that his "character and fitness" are deficient.

In the next two years, Hale will lose all his state appeals of the decision, leaving only the federal courts as an appeal venue. But he does reap a publicity bonanza.

May 29 Three antigovernment extremists, after stealing a water truck for reasons that are unclear, allegedly murder a police officer near Cortez, Colo. Officials describe the heavily armed men as survivalists who had readied desert bunkers for "the end of the world."

Six days after making their getaway into the high desert, one of them wounds another officer before killing himself. The remains of a second suspect will be found in Utah in October 1999, while the third man, Jason McVean, will remain missing.

June 7 In a hate crime that grabs the attention of the world, a black man in Jasper, Texas, is chained by his ankles to the back of a pickup truck and dragged for several miles before his head is torn from his body.

Eventually convicted in the murder of James Byrd Jr. are three white supremacists, two of them hardened by stints in prison and planning to form a hate group of their own. Two are eventually sentenced to death and the third to life in prison.

Amid much soul-searching, race relations in Jasper clearly improve.

July 24 In the largest judgment against a hate group to date, the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, state leader Horace King and other Klansmen are ordered to pay a total of $37.8 million for the burning of a black South Carolina church in a case brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Macedonia Baptist Church was one of many black churches burned in 1995 during an apparent rash of arsons. The verdict marks the demise of the Christian Knights, a group that long was known as the "marchingest Klan."

Oct. 6 Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, is left to die after being brutally beaten and strung up on a lonely fence outside Laramie.

Like the Jasper case, the killing draws enormous publicity. It also sparks renewed efforts to make Montana the 42nd state with a hate crime law — efforts that will ultimately fail.

The case highlights rising reports of hate crimes around college campuses, a trend that will accelerate through the end of the decade. Shepard's two killers, homophobic youths from the tough side of town, are spared the death penalty after Shepard's parents ask that they be given life instead.

Oct. 23 Firing through a kitchen window, a sniper murders abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian in front of his wife and children near Buffalo, N.Y.

Within weeks, federal officials announce that they are hunting longtime anti-abortion activist James "Atomic Dog" Kopp, who some investigators believe may have fled to Mexico.

Kopp — who earlier had been lauded by his nickname by the anonymous authors of the violently worded "Army of God" anti-abortion manual — will remain at large at the end of the decade.

December Former Klansman David Duke publishes his 736-page autobiography My Awakening. The book is remarkable for its unrepentant racism and anti-Semitism — and for the foreword contributed by Glayde Whitney, a tenured Florida State University professor who calls it an "academically excellent work" that has the potential to "change the very course of history."

Whitney's unblushing remarks highlight an evident upsurge in academic racism that is also apparent in the renewed popularity of race-based IQ studies and eugenics.

Dec. 18 In the aftermath of a report released today by the Southern Poverty Law Center, controversy erupts over the allegedly "mainstream," 15,000-member Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) and its ties to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.

The report describes the CCC, whose members include many southern politicians, as a racist group that is directly descended from the White Citizens Councils of the 1950s and 1960s.

Dec. 30 A county grand jury orchestrated by conspiracy-minded former Oklahoma State Rep. Charles Key and another man finds that there is no evidence of a larger conspiracy in the Oklahoma City bombing. Key immediately denounces the findings.