Former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Walter Bouman Has New Career Educating Law Enforcement about White Supremacist Groups

A retired California cop who lectures at schools nationwide offers tips about youth and hate

IR: Are young people who join or flirt with these groups really driven by hate? Or is there something else going on?

BOUMAN: In part, it's an excuse for their failures — "I don't like minorities because they're taking my job," that sort of thing.

Would these kids be working anyway? Probably not. It's an excuse for why they haven't made it in life. I think it's a defense — they don't feel good about themselves. When they become part of the "white race," it gives them something to live for.

When you talk to them in jail, it's about the jobs, the neighborhood changing, schools changing. They're lazy. Some of them are actually academically smart, but when it comes to life, they're dumb.

It's also about belonging with some of these kids — their parents are neither authoritative or nurturing. The parents are not there to help them understand or protect them. Look at the boys at Columbine [High School in Colorado, where two students killed 12 students and a teacher before killing themselves]. They're not totally involved in their kids' lives.

Many of these kids share a common lament, "My parents don't care, they don't do anything for me, they're never there." Many of these parents have never showed guidance, love, respect. Riccio did. And he did it his way with white supremacy.

IR: What's the most important message that you're trying to reach other law enforcement officers with?

BOUMAN: What we promote is community awareness, understanding the pain and suffering of the community — not just the individual who was victimized, but also the relatives, the family members, the neighbors. When you have a hate crime, it doesn't just affect the person who is directly victimized.

We tell law enforcement that when you arrest these white supremacists, you're not just taking a crook off the street, you're saving a community. You're bringing people who didn't trust the system back into the fold.

I ask them, would you rather take a car thief off the street over a man who's been hurting people emotionally and physically? Here you have a violent felony versus a car theft felony. I try to convince them that hate crime prevention maximizes their time.

We're marketing anti-hate behavior not only to law enforcement, but also to schools and the greater community. We encourage officers to share what they learn with the people they serve.

IR: What is it like for people who try to leave the movement? Is it easy to get out?

BOUMAN: Look at [former racist Skinhead] T.J. Leyden and [former Aryan Nations official] Floyd Cochran. [Editor's note: Both men have engaged in antiracist work for years since leaving the movement.] Their experience is so invaluable. But once they went public, they became targets. These groups will kill you for talking.

That's one of the rules of white supremacy. These white supremacists are terrorists. They use fear to make their enemy or their targets more afraid or weaker. Hate has become their life.

IR: Do you have any final thoughts?

BOUMAN: Complacency will allow people with hate-based philosophies to flourish and thrive. Hate starts at home. Prevention and eradication work hand-in-hand.

School administrators must use their power and say, "You may do that at home, but you're not going to do it here." Fear of parental backlash sometimes causes school administrators to hesitate in acting swiftly and authoritatively to defuse a potentially explosive situation.

The Supreme Court of the United States has said these types of dangerous situations are important issues. They gave the schools the power to control these types of situations on their campuses through case decisions. By law, school administrators can dictate what is said and done on their campuses.

We tend to let things happen and then wonder why they happened. Hate doesn't go away unless you make it go away.