Target Pulls Items With Neo-Nazi Symbol, Incident Points to Larger Issue

Beneath the radar screen of mainstream society, a commercial subculture of hate is flourishing.

Last summer, the Target department store chain announced it would yank shorts and baseball caps decorated with neo-Nazi hate symbols from its 1,100 stores. A customer in Sacramento, Joseph Rodriquez, had complained about Target-label shorts and baseball caps decorated with "88" — neo-Nazi shorthand for "HH," or "Heil Hitler." At first, Rodriquez was given the runaround from uncomprehending company personnel.

But after he carried his complaints to a Southern Poverty Law Center Web site, Tolerance.org, Target spokesperson Carolyn Booker said the items would be removed from the stores. Target's buyers had made an innocent mistake, she said: They had no idea what "Eight Eight," "Eighty Eight" or "88" meant.

When companies like Target market hate items, it usually makes the news. When people start complaining about Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi merchandise sold on online auction sites like eBay, or racist stereotypes cropping up on clothing by Abercrombie & Fitch, the controversy will almost surely land on CNBC, if not on Fox News and in The New York Times.

But beneath most people's radar screens, there lurks a thriving industry that actively markets items promoting and expressing hate — and it's anything but unintentional.

"All successful social and political movements develop these accompanying cultural items and accessories," explains Chip Berlet, senior analyst at Political Research Associates and a long-time scholar of hate culture. And the hate movement, despite being riven recently by arrests, deaths and infighting, is no exception.

"There seems to be a culture that's sustaining the movement through its current crisis," Berlet says, adding that the emerging subculture is "a sign that the movement has reached a certain level of maturity and organization."

The hate market, especially the production and sale of white supremacist "hatecore" music, is certainly a growing business. Most of the profits go back into the movement, providing major white-nationalist groups a measure of financial stability unimaginable just 10 years ago. While the total revenues of extremist distributors is unknown, National Alliance chieftain Erich Gliebe has repeatedly claimed that his neo-Nazi group pulls in more than $1 million a year from Resistance Records, its music and merchandise label. Aside from membership dues, sales of hate products comprise the main source of income for large hate groups like the Alliance.

Four years ago, an Interpol study revealed that the manufacture, distribution and sale of white-power music had become a $3.4 million-a-year criminal enterprise outside the U.S., with profit margins higher than those for the international hashish trade (the European equivalent to the U.S. marijuana trade).

Hate groups aren't the only ones profiting. Much of the merchandise they peddle is manufactured by large CD-pressing companies and apparel manufacturers, although the apparel makers typically have no idea how products like plain T-shirts are altered by white supremacists and then resold. Occasionally, manufacturers have stopped supplying their extremist clients; last year, for instance, California's Rainbo Records said it would no longer make CDs for Resistance Records because it didn't want to be publicly associated with the neo-Nazi movement.

But many other manufacturers say they can't stop the resale of their products. Deborah Moore of In the Past Toys, the Staten Island, N.Y., company that produces the lavishly detailed Hitler doll that appears on this issue's cover and at top, told the Intelligence Report that "these dolls are for World War II memorabilia [collections], not for racists."

The dolls are distributed online by Micetrap, a racist outfit that peddles hundreds of white-power CDs, flags, books and clothing items, but Moore says her company does not sell directly to the neo-Nazis. "Our dolls go only to collectibles stores," she said. "They would have had to go and buy the dolls from the stores and then resell them."

Harry Orr, who runs Buckle Shack USA in Alpharetta, Ga., said he saw nothing wrong with filling special orders from the Bayou Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Asked if he was concerned about producing Klan belt buckles, Orr responded, "In what respect?" Told that the products could be seen as promoting the Klan's racism, Orr replied, "I'm not promoting them, they're promoting me. They pay me good money to do it."