Neo-Nazi Groups Use Traditional Folk Music Festivals to Recruit Radicals
Aryan Family Values
Not every event built along the lines of Gliebe's cultural festivals is really intended to bring whites of all stripes into the movement. Such was the case with the 2nd Annual Folk Fest, an event put on last March in West Palm Beach, Fla., by neo-Nazi Steven Watt, a principal of the tiny South Florida Aryan Alliance. Aiding Watt was Alex Hassinger, editor of Nordland, formerly Aryan Loyalist Magazine.
The come-on was straightforward enough: "Celebrate your rich European heritage with us!" the organizers wrote several E-groups. "We will feature European music, food and drink." Included, along with a playground and crayons for the kids, would be a "hammer-lifting competition" and a live bagpiper, they promised.
But it was hardly a family-friendly recruiting event.
Walking up to the Osceola Pavilion of West Palm Beach's Okeehelee State Park, the first thing a visitor noticed were the police cruisers and photographers circling the site. Flags representing some 50 European countries fluttered in the breeze — along with Confederate battle flags, flags, a banner bearing the insignia of the neofascist German NPD party, and another saying "Friends of Germany."
The crowd was fairly frightening. Neo-Nazi Skinheads and others from the South Florida Aryan Alliance, the World Church of the Creator, the Orion Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the Imperial Klans of America attended — about 40 large, tough-looking men, accompanied by a handful of women who huddled together with half a dozen kids at a picnic table.
At one point, when a news photographer tried to approach, he was surrounded by menacing Skinheads, and Watt seized his flash unit. Only when the photographer complained to police was Watt forced to return it.
A little later, a young man named Jason, from Daytona Beach, gave an extremely aggressive, red-faced speech, shouting about the importance of Darwin, being strong, killing off the weak, and taking on the Jews immediately. At the end, he led a series of Nazi salutes in which the crowd enthusiastically joined.
On sale in the pavilion was an array of hard-line materials: books by former Klansman David Duke and Richard Kelly Hoskins, an ideologue of the virulently anti-Semitic Christian Identity theology; CDs of violent white power music; copies of a White Aryan Resistance newsletter; and issues of Thule: A Prisoner's Journal, with profits going to imprisoned members of the terrorist group The Order.
It was clear that outsiders were not welcome. But that is not to say that the event served no purpose — on the contrary, for some it was an affirming moment in a movement that has not had much to boast about recently. Several people discussed the sorry state of white supremacy in the United States, but said they had been pulled back into the movement by the promise of "family events" like this one. One person expressed dismay at the drunkenness and disorganization of earlier meetings.
Several participants paid homage to William Pierce, saying the late Alliance leader had been a great man with important ideas about celebrating European culture in a family-friendly way. But they were far less sure about Erich Gliebe, who has been widely criticized from within the Alliance and the movement generally.
Ultimately, several speakers talked about celebrating "white" culture. And a man who identified himself as Steve Geller proposed organizing several cultural groups — German-American, Celtic-American and Scandinavian-American, among others — that would each create their own folk festivals. Somehow, these groups would be knit into what Geller termed the "Congress of a Celtic Land."
To Steven Watt, it was all an unmitigated success: "The event was a family event and seeing the smiling faces of the children as they played in the playground next door just helped bring home why we are fighting the fight we are — in order to give them a good White world when it is their time to pick up the torch."
The Culture Wars
It is not clear how effective the strategy of using "culture" to approach and entice ethnic whites is for the radical right. But what does seem clear is that up until recently, extremist recruiting tactics have targeted rebellious youths and people who already hold relatively similar views. Rarely has a strategy come to the fore that aims directly at everyday, working white people.
Pierce and Gliebe's cultural festivals try to do that work. And if Pierce was even close to correct in his estimates — if Alliance workers have been able to sign up almost 10% of those who attend — then the technique must be judged a success.
Plainly, other groups have taken an interest. A number of neo-Confederates, including one-time League of the South director Grady McWhiney, have taken their own message — that the American South is fundamentally an "Anglo-Celtic" land — to the Scottish Highland Games that are popular around the United States.
That very unsophisticated and thuggish groups like the South Florida Aryan Alliance are trying to emulate the technique shows that to many, it appears to have great promise. Just this June, talk of a summer 2004 European heritage rally in Washington began.
But to Peter Haworth, it all remains something of a mystery. "The whole thing was extremely uncomfortable and scary," he recalled. "I never could understand exactly why they wanted a Celtic band. I guess it's because we're white."
Stephen Stuebner, a free-lance writer based in Idaho, contributed to this story.