Racist Skinheads, Klan Groups Up in 2002
Buoyed by rising numbers of Skinhead and Klan groups, the American radical right staged something of a comeback last year, following a tumultuous period that saw the destruction or hobbling of some of the nation's leading hate groups.
As 2003 came to an end, the number of racist Skinhead groups had doubled over the prior year. The neo-Nazi Aryan Nations, despite having lost its Idaho compound, boasted 11 new chapters. A newcomer on the scene, Arkansas-based White Revolution, had grown much more powerful and seemed poised to keep rising. Several new Klan groups had appeared, and Klan activity was significant.
At the same time, there were spectacular failures. The organization formerly known as the World Church of the Creator, for many years a leading neo-Nazi group, virtually disappeared following the jailing of its leader Matt Hale, who stands trial this spring for allegedly soliciting the murder of a federal judge.
The National Alliance, once the most important hate group in America, was reduced to about half its former size and faced criticism from a broad array of other hate groups. Its music operation, Resistance Records, suffered stiff competition from other labels.
Overall, it was a period of realignment and rebuilding. "The old organizations are dying," Craig Smith of the nazi.org Web site wrote, adding that the change was like "a lizard moulting. The older form is being destroyed and replaced."
The Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project counted 751 group chapters in 2003, up 6% from the 708 that were active the year before. Much of the gain was accounted for by improved counting of black separatist groups — groups that probably already existed in prior years.
But there were real rises in key sectors of the hate movement. Hate Web sites, meanwhile, rose from 443 in 2002 to 497 last year, a 12% increase.
"A lot has happened on the radical right in the last year," Joe Roy, director of the Intelligence Project, said. "The more professionally organized groups seemed to stumble, while a number of new groups have appeared fairly suddenly. What we are witnessing is a kind of shakeout in the world of right-wing extremism."
From the perspective of the radical right, there were some particularly bright spots. So-called "Patriot" groups — antigovernment groups like militias that are animated more by conspiracy theories than racial hatred — surged for the first time in years, jumping 20% from 143 groups in 2002 to 171 last year. (Patriot Web sites also rose, from 152 sites in 2002 to 162 last year.)
Tax protesters, separatists like the Republic of Texas group, and "sovereign citizens" who believe they are not subject to most laws, showed signs of new life. At one heavily attended Patriot event (see Talking Tough), speaker after speaker called for revolutionary violence.
Several frightening events served as a reminder that not all terrorists come from faraway places (see Terror, American Style). In Texas, a man and his common-law wife were found with an arsenal including half a million rounds of ammunition, more than 60 pipe bombs, silencers, remote-control briefcase bombs and the parts needed to make a sodium cyanide bomb capable of killing hundreds.
In South Carolina (see The Abbeville Horror), antigovernment extremists allegedly murdered two law enforcement officers in a massive shootout. A religious zealot and former Army Ranger was arrested after allegedly plotting to bomb abortion clinics, churches and gay bars. An arsonist destroyed an Indiana Holocaust memorial museum.
The Devils in the Details
In many ways, the story of the last year is most easily told in a series of snapshots detailing what's going on in major sectors or groups making up the radical right.
Neo-Nazis: The neo-Nazi category was the only one tracked by the Center that showed a decrease, and, at 32%, it was a significant one. This was attributable to the demise of the World Church of the Creator (WCOTC), the largest such group in 2002 with 88 "contact points" or chapters. But after Hale's arrest that December — he is accused of soliciting followers to murder a federal judge who ordered his group to stop using its name — the group now called The Creativity Movement began to collapse.
A likely Hale replacement, Wyoming leader Thomas Kroenke, dropped out. A second potential Hale stand-in, Illinois leader Jon Fox, seemed a likely choice — until it was revealed that Fox had agreed to testify against Hale this spring. Just six chapters, one operating under the old WCOTC name, limped into 2003.
The National Alliance, a neo-Nazi organization headquartered in West Virginia, has lost about half its membership since the July 23, 2002, death of its founder and longtime leader, William Pierce; now, there are signs that the group is stabilizing, with its losses slowing. Still, it is increasingly held in disrepute by almost every other neo-Nazi organization in America, and its current leader, Erich Gliebe, has seen no let-up in attacks on his character and management style.
The crown jewel in the Alliance, its white power music operation Resistance Records, is in a bitter battle with other racist labels including its chief competitor, Minnesota-based Panzerfaust Records. In January, Resistance was banned by other hate groups from a major racist music event in Phoenix called Aryan Fest. Over the last year, the Alliance's main activity has been distributing racist leaflets.
The Aryan Nations showed a surprising resurgence in 2003, doubling its chapters from 11 to 22 even though leader Richard Butler has lived in a suburban home in northern Idaho since a suit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center cost him his rural headquarters compound in 2000.
This expansion may have been driven, at least in part, by the 85-year-old Butler's increased presence at racist events. He traveled to a protest at the Center's offices in January 2003, a state Aryan Nations conference in Phoenix in November, and a Tennessee Klan rally this January.
At the same time, a rival split-off group by the same name, headed by ex-Butler loyalists August Kreis and Charles Juba, fell precipitously from 12 chapters to two.
Another group that came on strong in 2003 was White Revolution, the creation of former National Alliance official Billy Roper. Roper organized the rally at Center offices and a number of other events including a well-publicized protest at the Alamo in Texas. Over the year, Roper solidified alliances with groups including Resistance rival Panzerfaust Records and many Klan and Skinhead groups.
Racist Skinheads: The number of Skinhead groups more than doubled from 18 chapters (making up 11 named organizations) in 2002 to 39 chapters (22 groups) in 2003. In part, this growth seemed to result from Skinhead activity in New Jersey, where a third of the active chapters — belonging to the AC Skins, Aryan Raiders, Bergen County Hooligans, Eastern Hammerskins and Werewolf Crew #45 — are located.
But it may also be related to the increasing challenge being posed to Hammerskin Nation, a confederation of Skinhead groups that had long been the dominant force on the scene. Toward the end of 2003, Hammerskin Nation was faced with several new upstart factions in Indiana and Ohio.
Like them, the dominant Pennsylvania skin group, the Keystone State Skinheads, has said it will no longer work with the Hammerskins, in part because of a stabbing incident that soured relations between the groups.
A recent posting from a skin reflects the waning importance of the Hammerskins. "Rest assured," the skin wrote, "the days of crews submitting to their 'policing' of the skinhead sub-culture are over."
Another group, White Power Liberation Front, also appeared on the Skinhead scene last year.