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Hate Groups Drop in 1999, Numbers May Be Deceiving

In 1999, as many hate groups consolidate and others mainstream their message, a new kind of extremism is taking shape.

Just as the business world was characterized by giant mergers and Internet start-up companies in 1999, so was the world of hate.

Across the board of the radical right, smaller groups disbanded or joined larger organizations. At the same time, more and more haters went on-line with their message, reaching out electronically to an audience of millions.

In its annual count, the Intelligence Project found that the number of hate sites on the Internet in early 2000 rose to 305 from 254 a year earlier. It also found that the number of hate groups operating in the United States dropped by about 15% in 1999 — a decrease of 80 groups from 537 in 1998 to 457 last year.

But the reported decline in groups may be deceiving. Among the reasons:

· The Internet. To be included in the Intelligence Project group count, hate groups had to engage in racist behavior such as crimes, marches, rallies, speeches, leafleting or publishing literature — more than merely putting up Web pages.

But many individual white supremacists have retreated to the Internet — increasing their propaganda reach but diminishing the numbers of people actively engaged in the movement in other ways.

The Web sites are included in the count of hate sites; however, they are not included in the group count regardless of how they portrayed themselves unless they also engaged in racist behavior beyond the world of cyberspace.

Two major studies have shown that heavy Internet users tend to withdraw from social interaction. That appears to be true of many haters as well.

The number of such individuals is growing. In 1998, 95 of the 254 hate Web sites were not affiliated with hate groups active beyond cyberspace — 37% of the total. In 1999, the number of unaffiliated sites swelled by 50% to 143 — 47% of the 305 hate sites that the Intelligence Project counted in early 2000.

· Consolidation. Several of the largest hate groups swelled as they absorbed members of smaller ones, accounting for part of the overall decline.

An analysis of the numbers shows that in 1997, hate group chapters were evenly split between large organizations (more than five chapters) and small ones. But by 1999, for every group chapter in a smaller organization, there were more than two in large groups.

In other words, large groups are getting larger as many small ones disappear.

· Mainstreaming. Many of the key issues of the radical right — especially those related to race — have been siphoned off by more "respectable" groups.

Immigration, affirmative action, race-based IQ theories, black crime and similar matters are key issues for groups like the racist Council of Conservative Citizens, an outfit that includes many southern lawmakers. Neo-Confederate groups have also taken up the same kinds of concerns. Race science is more prevalent on college campuses.

As a result, many racists — like some who back Pat Buchanan's bid for the Reform Party's presidential nomination — are finding "safe havens" in groups that are not blatantly racist, thus drawing down explicitly hateful groups.

The Strong Grow Stronger
Of these factors, consolidation may be the most ominous.

Historically, skin crews have been fiercely independent, small groups — just 16% were part of large organizations in 1997. In 1999, 80% were. Hammerskin Nation — the largest coalition of neo-Nazi Skinheads in the world — absorbed a slew of smaller Skinhead groups, adding about 70% more chapters in 1999.

At the same time, the Skinhead movement — far more mature than the days when rebellious but ideologically unsophisticated teens formed its bulk — is producing more political violence than it has in years.

The case of the neo-Nazi National Alliance — a group headed by William Pierce, the author of the race war novel used as a blueprint for the Oklahoma City bombing — is also instructive. The Alliance actually lost three chapters in 1999, but the number of its members skyrocketed by half, to about 1,500.

There are numerous other cases as well. One chapter of the neo-Nazi American Nationalist Party informed Michigan police in July that its members were disbanding and joining the National Alliance. In New Jersey, Klansman Joseph Bednarsky Jr., once state leader of the Confederate Knights of the KKK, took his followers into the Alabama-based America's Invisible Empire Knights of the KKK.

"The situation's deeply worrying," said Joe Roy, director of the Intelligence Project. "Many of the less active and isolated smaller groups have joined forces with much more serious players. There is strong evidence that far more people are now in really hard-line groups like the National Alliance and Hammerskin Nation."

Still, some of the decline in hate groups is probably real.

California neo-Nazi leader Tom Metzger recently put it like this: "All membership organizations are [currently] either treading water or losing ground. ... Many [members] will turn informant, rationalizing that we barbarians have just gone too far. ... [But] the Iron Heel has prepared the stage. Now is the time for the actors to take their places. ... I have confidence there is enough collective hate lurking in the breasts of our race to pull it off one more time for the Gipper."

New Politics and New Religions
The decline may be clearest in the case of Christian Identity, an anti-Semitic theology that for decades has been a central factor in the white supremacist world. Today, Identity is seen by more and more young racists as passé, an overly Christian cosmology that requires long hours of study and is not exciting. In a number of cases, aging Identity pastors died or retired. Although three new Identity ministries were identified in 1999, another 19 disappeared — an overall loss of 16 groups.

The lessening attraction of Identity is reflected in attendance at key conferences as well. In 1995 and 1996, between 500 and 600 people attended the Identity "Super Conference" in Missouri; by last year, that number had fallen to about 75. Jubilation, another key Identity gathering, drew more than 400 people in 1996. Just 60 attended in 1998, and the national conference was not even held in 1999.

Religions like Odinism and Asatrú — neo-Pagan, nature-based theologies — seem to be the wave of the future, particularly among the young. Their impact is being widely felt in the prison system, where such theologies thrive. Even some older leaders have converted. Long-time Alabama Klansman and four-time felon Bill Riccio, for instance, became an Odinist after his last stay in prison.

As the new millennium dawned, it appeared that the shape of hate was changing in other ways as well. During the 1990s, radical groups keyed in on such issues as race, guns, immigration, abortion, homosexuality and the power of the federal government (see also retrospective of the decade, Bombs, Bullets, Bodies).

Now, at least some sectors of the extreme right are focusing on issues that also are of interest to the traditional left: the environment, animal rights and, above all, the specter of growing economic globalism (see 'Neither Left Nor Right'). Both left and right fear the global power of what extremists call the "New World Order."

"The New American Patriot will be neither left nor right, just a freeman fighting for liberty," Louis Beam, a key white supremacist ideologue, predicted in January.

"New alliances will form between those who have in the past thought of themselves as 'right-wingers,' conservatives and patriots, with those who have thought of themselves as 'left-wingers,' progressives, or just 'liberal.'"

Much of this bodes poorly for the future.

To William Pierce, who acquired white power music label Resistance Records last year, the coming years look rosy. "The whole climate for our revolution has shifted toward more favorable conditions," Pierce wrote in December, seeking to explain a 1999 growth rate 20 times his average for the preceding four years.

"I believe that the conditions which have made our people angry enough in 1999 to overcome their fear will continue and intensify in 2000 and the years ahead. ... We are a long way from exhausting our pool of potential recruits."