The count of active hate groups in the U.S. hits 474 in 1997, a 20% increase over the previous year.
The number of hate groups operating in the United States rose significantly in 1997, a year in which the organizations wielded increasing influence in mainstream society through the Internet and racist rock. The Intelligence Project documented 474 hate groups and group chapters involved in racist behavior last year.
That reflected a real rise of some 20 percent over 1996.
With hate sites proliferating on the Internet (see 163 and Counting ...) and the increasing popularity of slickly produced, white power rock 'n' roll music (see Resisting Arrest), racist organizers are reaching young people around the country like never before. And their new recruits are not limited to white, working-class teenagers — increasingly, youths from upper-middle-class homes are joining up.
"The tentacles of the hate movement are reaching places where they've never been before," says Joe Roy, director of the Intelligence Project. "Mainstream America is being targeted in a way that this country hasn't seen in decades."
Of the 474 groups counted, 127 were Klan organizations and their chapters; 100 were neo-Nazi; 42 were Skinhead; 81 were Christian Identity, a racist religion; 12 were black separatist; and 112 followed a hodgepodge of hate-based doctrines and ideologies.
Underlying much of the racist movement are white supremacist, millennial religions like Christian Identity (see Identity Crisis), which identifies whites as the Bible's chosen people and Jews as Satanic. There are an estimated 50,000 Identity followers in North America, and the theology is spreading.
Another growing religion in racist circles is Asatrú, which revives a pantheon of pagan Norse gods. Some 15 percent of adherents are hardcore racists who mythologize their European roots.
Some other key points about hate groups emerged last year.
Klan Groups Expanding
· After years of decline, the Klan picked up steam. The Indiana-based American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan exploded from one chapter in 1996 to 12 in 1997. The group held rallies in scores of cities and recruited heavily, even in schools. The American Knights is remarkable for its crude racism and threats. North Carolina leader Robert Moore threatened to massacre counterdemonstrators and innocent bystanders if a single rock was thrown at rallying Klansmen.
· Another Klan group, an offshoot of Thom Robb's Knights of the Ku Klux Klan that goes by the same name, mushroomed. From two chapters in 1996, it grew to 17 chapters in 15 states. But its growth was not nearly as visible as that of the headline-making American Knights.
Robb's original group, which in the past produced such Klan stars as David Duke, continued a long, slow decline, losing another chapter last year.
· The National Association for the Advancement of White People, started by Duke in 1978, claimed to quadruple in size, from 18 chapters in 1996 to 79 last year. The NAAWP shares many racist and anti-Semitic doctrines with the Klan but eschews its rituals.
· The recently created World Church of the Creator, a neo-Nazi group, more than doubled in size. Under the leadership of Matt Hale, a law student in Illinois, WCOTC grew from 14 chapters in 1996 to 33 chapters last year.
· The country's leading neo-Nazi group, the National Alliance, opened several new chapters in 1997, bringing the total to 22 chapters in 14 states. The West Virginia-based group is led by William Pierce, author of The Turner Diaries, which may have been used as a blueprint for the Oklahoma City bombing.
· Another key player in the neo-Nazi movement, the Aryan Nations, lost much influence during the year. Headed by the aging and frail Richard Butler, Idaho-based Aryan Nations lost more than half its chapters in 1997, retaining just 13.
· Racist Skinheads remained strong after recovering from a law enforcement crackdown in the early 1990s. They burst into public view in Denver last November, when one Skinhead murdered a police officer and another, days later, killed a black man standing at a bus stop.
Skinhead activity also picked up last year in Los Angeles and several cities in Oregon (see A Skinhead's Story).
"We've seen a resurgence of activity along the I-5 corridor, from Vancouver [British Columbia] to Eugene [Ore.], and in northern Idaho," said Bill Wassmuth, executive director for the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, a human rights groups. "There's also been Skinhead infiltration into the schools in Salem."
The Year 2000 Adds to Frenzy
One factor driving today's hate groups is the approaching millennium.
"There are a growing number of apocalyptic thinkers," says Jack Levin, an expert on hate groups at Boston's Northeastern University, "and the problem is they're creating their own apocalypse. Some are committing suicide, and others are blowing up federal buildings or trying to initiate a race war that will lead to apocalypse."
Despite the growing number of hate groups documented by the Intelligence Project, experts generally are less worried about statistics than impact.
"Thirty years ago, hate groups couldn't inflict the damage they can now, because they've gone high-tech," says Levin. "And extremists today are more dangerous. They're using more bombs and explosives. The body count is higher."