Skip to main content Accessibility
The Intelligence Report is the SPLC's award-winning magazine. Subscribe here for a print copy.

American Extremists Find Delight in September11th Attacks

In 2001, the number of hate groups rose by 12% as the Sept. 11 attacks revealed the Nazi features of contemporary extremism.

While the carnage of Sept. 11 left most Americans shocked, angry and more tightly knit as a nation, the reaction of much of the American radical right was markedly different. For many American extremists, it boiled down to one simple emotion: pure delight.

In a year that saw significant growth in U.S. hate groups, the most remarkable moment of all came in the immediate aftermath of the September terrorist attacks.

Figure after figure rose to applaud the murder of more than 3,000 of their countrymen, revealing as never before the militantly anti-American and pro-Nazi features of contemporary right-wing extremism.

"Twenty-five years ago, your typical white supremacist wrapped himself in the flag and spoke about '100% Americanism,' " said Joe Roy, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project. "Today, that same extremist is burning the flag."

The extremists' message — that the United States has become the spearhead of globalization and multiculturalism — has fueled the rise of ethnic nationalism and the growth of hate groups in recent years.

In its annual count, the Intelligence Project found that the number of hate groups operating in the United States jumped by almost 12% in 2001, the second such increase in as many years.

The latest increase, from 602 in 2000 to 676 last year, was almost entirely accounted for by upticks in the number of neo-Nazi and softer-line neo-Confederate groups.

Although these groups differ greatly, both see multiculturalism as undermining white society — and both have benefited from sympathy for that message in today's globalizing world.

For the neo-Nazis, the "international Jew" represents all that threatens ethnically pure nations.

In the words of William Pierce, leader of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, the September terrorists "had been pushed into a corner by the U.S. government acting on behalf of the Jews."

For the neo-Confederates, the enemy is non-white immigration and the ideology of multiculturalism.

In the words of Michael Hill, leader of the League of the South, the massacre was the result of "massive Third World immigration" and "a regime committed to multiculturalism and diversity."

Hill was not the only one to attack non-white immigration. Anti-immigrant hate group leaders like Glenn Spencer of the Voice of Citizens Together (see "Blood on the Border," Spring 2001 issue, Intelligence Report) called for the immediate repatriation of all non-citizens.

At the same time, in one of the most dramatic and violent rashes of hate crime in recent memory, hundreds of Americans attacked Muslims, Arabs and others suspected of being in the same ethnic or religious group as the terrorists (see "Raging Against the Other," Winter 2001 issue, Intelligence Report).

At least six people are believed to have been killed (see The Forgotten).

Connecting Up
The September attacks threw light on another aspect of the radical right — the developing axis between neo-Nazis in North America and Europe and Islamic extremists in the Middle East and elsewhere (see The Swastika and the Crescent).

Although neo-Nazis have long despised Arabs and Muslims, the two groups have increasingly been working together against common enemies.

American neo-Nazis also have been increasingly working with their neofascist counterparts in Europe.

That connection was illustrated dramatically last year when the activities of a group called the American Friends of the British National Party, which was raising funds for its British parent in apparent contravention of American and British law, came to light. (After an exposé was published in the Intelligence Report ["Hands Across the Water," Fall 2001 issue], the AFBNP imploded.)

Overall, a thickening web of connections links extremists throughout the West.

This drawing together of different types of extremists also occurred within the American radical right last year. Abandoning old rivalries and inter-group hatreds, neo-Nazis, racist Skinheads and others flocked to NordicFest last May in Powderly, Ky., even though that event was hosted by the Imperial Klans of America, now the nation's largest Klan group.

A similarly mixed crowd went to Hammerfest, a major concert held in October in Bremen, Ga., even though its Hammerskin hosts used to limit attendance to Skinheads.

More significantly, white supremacists from a variety of groups joined in two public rallies outside the German Embassy in Washington, D.C., held to protest the revocation of parole for a German neo-Nazi.

At two more rallies, held later in the year in front of the nearby Israeli Embassy, members of the National Alliance, the World Church of the Creator (WCOTC) and several other neo-Nazi groups jointly protested against Israel.

These events are important. They reflect efforts to build a revolutionary coalition despite ideological and personal differences. And they show that the National Alliance, America's premier neo-Nazi group and one not historically given to the camera, is seeking a new public face.

The new unity that had been built on the radical right last year was vividly on display this January.

In racially troubled York, Pa., as many as 250 members of an array of neo-Nazi and other groups — including the Alliance, WCOTC, the Hammerskins and the Aryan Nations — gathered to give speeches and to engage in street battles with hundreds of "anti-racists."

The conflict, which resulted in some 25 arrests, most of them of anti-racists, may qualify as one of the most significant neo-Nazi events in years.

Nazifying the Right
The radical right also continued longstanding efforts last year to reach out to a larger audience. The number of hate sites on the World Wide Web rose in 2001 to 405 from 366 in 2000 — a 10% increase, a figure in line with the jump in hate groups.

At the same time, the radical right was increasingly using another medium capable of reaching far larger audiences than the Net — shortwave radio.

Hate programming on that medium last year reached an astounding 1,100 hours a month, according to Costa Rica-based Radio for Peace International (see "From America, With Hate," Fall 2001 issue, Intelligence Report).

There were a number of other noteworthy developments last year:

  • Ministries of the Christian Identity theology — which maintains that whites are the real chosen people of the Bible and Jews are biologically Satanic — held steady at a little over 30 groups despite the loss of several major Identity figures last year.

  • Those who died included Robert Millar, patriarch of Oklahoma's Elohim City compound; Neuman Britton, heir apparent of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations group; and Earl Jones, pastor of the comparatively soft-line Christian Crusade for Truth.

  • In addition, Vincent Bertollini, co-creator of the Identity outfit known as 11th Hour Remnant Messenger, fled Sandpoint, Idaho, after failing to show up in court on a drunk driving charge. His partner, Carl Story, left town mysteriously soon after.

  • Several neo-Nazis from the National Alliance and others were embroiled in criminal violence. Long-time Alliance member Eric Hanson died in a June gun battle with Illinois police who were trying to arrest him for illegal weapons possession.

  • Pennsylvania Alliance members Keith Carney and Dell Smith were arrested in Philadelphia and charged with ethnic intimidation in November.

  • The following month, a neo-Nazi Skinhead who had recently joined an Alliance protest faced arson and bomb charges after a homemade pipe bomb exploded in his Maryland home.

  • Also in December, Charles Cornelius was arrested in New Haven, Conn., after police found an arsenal, including hand grenades, and WCOTC literature in his home.

  • And early this year, Nashville resident Michael Edward Smith was hit with weapons and other charges after police found him allegedly pointing a rifle at a local synagogue. He had Alliance and other hate group literature.

Overall, 2001 was a year that saw the expansion and solidification of America's hate movement. New alliances were in the offing, and formerly secretive figures went public as they leafleted, held rallies and joined other groups in a variety of political projects. Unity was clearly a goal for many groups and their leaders.

Across the board, there seemed to be a hardening — a Nazification — of the ideology of right-wing revolutionary groups.