After Thriving in 2001, Radical Right is in Turmoil

Just one year ago, America's radical right was thriving, its confidence and swagger obvious to all who looked. For the first time in its history, the country's largest neo-Nazi group was pulling in close to $1 million a year and supporting a paid national staff of 17 people. Anti-immigration fever was heating up, and hate groups around the nation were holding their most successful rallies in years. A year ago January, hundreds of white supremacists from a coalition of groups battled their enemies in the streets of Pennsylvania. By late summer, extremists had seized control of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a 32,000-member Southern heritage group.

Hate was in the headlines, and it was doing rather well.

What a difference a year has made. As the first few months of 2003 begin to unfold, the radical right is in turmoil. Starting with the July 23 death of William Pierce, founder and leader of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, white supremacists and other extremists have suffered a series of unmitigated disasters.

Splits and other internal battles have started to tear apart several groups. Defections, deportations and desperate finances are sapping the movement's lifeblood. Starting last December, a series of arrests has put key leaders behind bars, and hysteria is on the rise.

"Any one of us can be next," former Alliance attorney Victor Gerhard wrote after an FBI raid on a friend's house in Virginia. "There's no use urging everyone to stay 'legal' as that has nothing to do with what is happening. If you are a pro-White activist, you're on the list; and a P.O. box or a pseudonym will not help.

"We are all being rounded up."

Through it all, the number of hate groups operating in the United States remained essentially steady. The Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project counted 708 hate groups that were active in 2002, up almost 5% from 2001's count of 676. But the increase of 32 groups was almost entirely accounted for by improved counting techniques that uncovered more active black separatist groups — not by the appearance of new groups during the calendar year. At the same time, the number of U.S.-based hate sites on the Web rose to 443 from 405 the year before. The 9% hike was not extraordinary, roughly matching the expansion of Web sites overall.

"The number of hate groups stayed more or less steady last year," said Joe Roy, director of the Intelligence Project. "But those numbers mask an important reality — extremists in America are going through some very rough times."

The Ailing Alliance
As 2002 began, hate groups were holding rallies almost weekly, and the National Alliance was hosting particularly noticeable demonstrations in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. On Jan. 12, some 250 neo-Nazis and other white supremacists battled a like number of anarchists and other enemies in the streets of York, Pa. The Alliance was expanding its publication list, and white power music from its Resistance Records distributorship was selling briskly.

The second most important neo-Nazi group, the World Church of the Creator, was garnering headlines around the country with a series of events. Neo-Confederate groups were fighting, sometimes successfully, to get their version of Southern history accepted by schools, museums and city councils. Hate groups of all stripes were sounding increasingly anti-Semitic, as anti-Israeli feeling grew in society at large in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and in the run-up to a probable war with Iraq.

Neo-Confederate groups, in particular, seemed to be thriving. The most important coup was the summer takeover of the Sons of Confederate Veterans by a slate of extremists headed by Ron Wilson, who won election as commander in chief. In early 2003, Wilson began consolidating the takeover by purging some 350 members who opposed racism and the extremists within the SCV. Most of those kicked out were connected with a rump group called Save the SCV, which was formed last fall to battle the extremist faction.

But last July, Alliance founder William Pierce died unexpectedly from cancer. Although the 1,500-member group has so far managed to avoid dissolution, it now appears that his demise was the harbinger of a series of movement disasters.

In the wake of Pierce's death, the Intelligence Report published details of his last speech, in which the Alliance leader attacked other groups' members as "freaks and weaklings." As a result, many racist Skinheads and other extremists quit buying Resistance CDs and other products, which are the Alliance's main source of income. In addition, Alliance principal Billy Roper, a popular organizer who had reached out to Skinheads, was ejected from the group. Together, these events may be responsible for the financial problems the Alliance seems to be suffering from today.

Hits to the Resistance Records Web site have declined markedly. And the Alliance's three flagship publications — Resistance, National Vanguard and Free Speech — are all several months late. "National Vanguard Magazine and Resistance Magazine are published irregularly not for lack of writers," wrote Tim Scott, who is with the National Alliance's video production unit, "but for lack of money." "Look at the NA and all the great potential they once had," lamented John Lee, a neo-Nazi member of another hate group. "What are they doing today? ... The NA seems to be pulling inward... . [T]oo much of our 'movement' is a mess."