The Year in Hate, 2002: hate takes a hit as deaths, defections, arrests and internal splits roil America's embattled white supremacist movement.
Just one year ago, America's radical right was thriving, its confidence and swagger obvious to all who looked. For the first time in its history, the country's largest neo-Nazi group was pulling in close to $1 million a year and supporting a paid national staff of 17 people. Anti-immigration fever was heating up, and hate groups around the nation were holding their most successful rallies in years. A year ago January, hundreds of white supremacists from a coalition of groups battled their enemies in the streets of Pennsylvania. By late summer, extremists had seized control of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a 32,000-member Southern heritage group.
Hate was in the headlines, and it was doing rather well.
What a difference a year has made. As the first few months of 2003 begin to unfold, the radical right is in turmoil. Starting with the July 23 death of William Pierce, founder and leader of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, white supremacists and other extremists have suffered a series of unmitigated disasters.
Splits and other internal battles have started to tear apart several groups. Defections, deportations and desperate finances are sapping the movement's lifeblood. Starting last December, a series of arrests has put key leaders behind bars, and hysteria is on the rise.
"Any one of us can be next," former Alliance attorney Victor Gerhard wrote after an FBI raid on a friend's house in Virginia. "There's no use urging everyone to stay 'legal' as that has nothing to do with what is happening. If you are a pro-White activist, you're on the list; and a P.O. box or a pseudonym will not help.
"We are all being rounded up."
Through it all, the number of hate groups operating in the United States remained essentially steady. The Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project counted 708 hate groups that were active in 2002, up almost 5% from 2001's count of 676. But the increase of 32 groups was almost entirely accounted for by improved counting techniques that uncovered more active black separatist groups — not by the appearance of new groups during the calendar year. At the same time, the number of U.S.-based hate sites on the Web rose to 443 from 405 the year before. The 9% hike was not extraordinary, roughly matching the expansion of Web sites overall.
"The number of hate groups stayed more or less steady last year," said Joe Roy, director of the Intelligence Project. "But those numbers mask an important reality — extremists in America are going through some very rough times."
The Ailing Alliance
As 2002 began, hate groups were holding rallies almost weekly, and the National Alliance was hosting particularly noticeable demonstrations in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. On Jan. 12, some 250 neo-Nazis and other white supremacists battled a like number of anarchists and other enemies in the streets of York, Pa. The Alliance was expanding its publication list, and white power music from its Resistance Records distributorship was selling briskly.
The second most important neo-Nazi group, the World Church of the Creator, was garnering headlines around the country with a series of events. Neo-Confederate groups were fighting, sometimes successfully, to get their version of Southern history accepted by schools, museums and city councils. Hate groups of all stripes were sounding increasingly anti-Semitic, as anti-Israeli feeling grew in society at large in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and in the run-up to a probable war with Iraq.
Neo-Confederate groups, in particular, seemed to be thriving. The most important coup was the summer takeover of the Sons of Confederate Veterans by a slate of extremists headed by Ron Wilson, who won election as commander in chief. In early 2003, Wilson began consolidating the takeover by purging some 350 members who opposed racism and the extremists within the SCV. Most of those kicked out were connected with a rump group called Save the SCV, which was formed last fall to battle the extremist faction.
But last July, Alliance founder William Pierce died unexpectedly from cancer. Although the 1,500-member group has so far managed to avoid dissolution, it now appears that his demise was the harbinger of a series of movement disasters.
In the wake of Pierce's death, the Intelligence Report published details of his last speech, in which the Alliance leader attacked other groups' members as "freaks and weaklings." As a result, many racist Skinheads and other extremists quit buying Resistance CDs and other products, which are the Alliance's main source of income. In addition, Alliance principal Billy Roper, a popular organizer who had reached out to Skinheads, was ejected from the group. Together, these events may be responsible for the financial problems the Alliance seems to be suffering from today.
Hits to the Resistance Records Web site have declined markedly. And the Alliance's three flagship publications — Resistance, National Vanguard and Free Speech — are all several months late. "National Vanguard Magazine and Resistance Magazine are published irregularly not for lack of writers," wrote Tim Scott, who is with the National Alliance's video production unit, "but for lack of money." "Look at the NA and all the great potential they once had," lamented John Lee, a neo-Nazi member of another hate group. "What are they doing today? ... The NA seems to be pulling inward... . [T]oo much of our 'movement' is a mess."
The Alliance's troubles were only the beginning. During the same period that the group's new leader, Erich Gliebe, was struggling to avoid a schism, a wide array of other hate groups were experiencing devastating setbacks. Consider:
· On Nov. 7, British neofascist Mark Cotterill, who had worked to unite factions of the American radical right, was deported to England. Immigration and Naturalization Service officials investigated Cotterill in the wake of an Intelligence Report exposé that reported Cotterill had used his American Friends of the British National Party to raise some $85,000 for a British hate group — in contravention of a U.S. law that requires agents of foreign parties to register. Though Cotterill married an American woman last spring, he will not be eligible for reentry for 10 years.
· Former Klansman David Duke, the only figure on the American scene with stature approaching that of Pierce, returned after two years in Europe to plead guilty this December to federal charges related to his ripping off his supporters (see Insatiable). His standing in the movement has been badly damaged by revelations that the money he raised for the cause was actually blown at casino craps tables.
· The break-up of Aryan Nations, one of America's best known neo-Nazi groups until it was sued into bankruptcy by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2000, continued. In December, the aging and sickly Aryan founder, Richard Butler, named Ray Redfeairn as his heir — for the second time. After the first appointment, Redfeairn had booted Butler out of the group. But then he thought better of it, and the two made up.
Meanwhile, a small Aryan faction based in Pennsylvania and led by August Kreis continued to claim that it was the real Aryan Nations. Though Butler's faction absorbed a small Southern Klan group in early 2003, neither his Idaho-based faction nor Kreis' group appears capable of resuscitating the Aryan Nations of old, which held important annual congresses and was a key movement player.
· Butler's faction, now based in his Hayden tract home, is clearly in trouble. This February, Bradley Jenkins, who heads the new Aryan Nations Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (see Preserving Racism), pleaded for $1,700 for Butler's mortgage. "Pastor Butler stood for all of us when he was on trial," Jenkins wrote. "Now we can help give a little back. Pastor needs $1,700 before Feb. 20th or he is going to loose [sic] his home."
· The World Church of the Creator (WCOTC) has been hurt seriously by two splits, the loss of its name in a copyright lawsuit, and other legal actions against it (see Creator Crack-up). But that didn't compare to the damage caused by the arrest this January of WCOTC leader Matt Hale, who was charged with soliciting the murder of the federal judge in his copyright case. Hale could face 30 years in prison.
· In raids after Hale's arrest, authorities seized much of the racist line of goods that has sustained WCOTC financially. As a result, Hale stand-in Thomas Kroenke pleaded for money in a recent E-mail headed "BEG-A-THON," telling his comrades that WCOTC's many Web sites would be shut down if he didn't raise $600 right away.
· FBI agents this January testified about a bizarre espionage case involving the theft of top-secret U.S. military documents. An old acquaintance of well-known white supremacist attorney Kirk Lyons, the agents testified, sent a box of documents to Lyons' North Carolina organization (see Cashing in on the Confederacy); $2,000 was allegedly sent back. Lyons was not indicted, and strongly protested the way he was named, describing himself in a press release as "a loyal American."
· Immigration officials this February arrested Ernst Zundel, a notorious Holocaust denier and German citizen who lived for years in Canada, for immigration violations. Zundel had moved to Tennessee in 2001, after Canadian courts refused to grant him citizenship, and married his U.S. collaborator, Ingrid Rimland. In late February, officials deported Zundel back to Canada, which may decide to send him on to his native Germany. At the same time, the Germans issued an arrest warrant for Zundel for producing Holocaust denial material that is illegally distributed in Germany.
· Also this February, the proprietor of Stormfront, America's best-known white supremacist Web site, told backers that his site was being "relentlessly" attacked by antiracist hackers. Don Black said that the only solution was to buy more bandwidth and computer power, but that his site was already in the red. "My friends," he wrote, "we are in a crisis situation. If donations don't pick up, right now, Stormfront will soon be history. It's that bad. There is only a matter of a few weeks, if that."
Black Muslims and Al Qaeda
This litany of events, along with the arrests of an array of lesser lights and alleged criminal plotters (see The Blotter), has the radical right in a frenzy.
"It isn't being reported in the media, but there is a roundup taking place of those deemed most likely to lead insurrections against the American government in a time of civil disturbances," wrote Edgar Steele, an anti-Semitic Idaho attorney who once represented the Aryan Nations. "Suddenly, all the stops have been pulled out... . I speak for the politically incorrect among us who are being led away."
Taken together, the leading organizations that have suffered severe setbacks make up a sizeable portion of the movement. The National Alliance, David Duke's European-American Unity and Rights Organization, Matt Hale's World Church of the Creator and the two factions of Aryan Nations are composed of a total of 183 chapters — or almost 26% of the total number of U.S. hate groups operating in 2002.
Also ailing is the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which dropped in 2002 from 18 chapters to 14 and whose listing of "events" on its Web site remains blank. The so-called "bully-boy Klan" has been extremely weak since its leader, Jeff Berry, was sentenced to seven years in late 2001 for his role in holding two reporters at gunpoint. Prosecutors brought charges against him after the Southern Poverty Law Center sued on behalf of the journalists and won them a $120,000 judgment.
Racist black groups haven't suffered the same slings and arrows. But they have courted more controversy than many others on the radical right. Last summer, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan took an antiwar "peace tour" that included stops in Iraq and Libya. In October, after it came out that alleged Washington, D.C., sniper John Allen Muhammad had been a member, Farrakhan said he would not eject him unless he is proven guilty.
Another group, the New Black Panther Party, joined with other marchers calling for "Death to Israel" on the Capitol Mall in April. Panther leader Malik Zulu Shabazz, meanwhile, offered his "support" to accused Sept. 11 terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui during his trial. And another Panther leader, Quanell X of Houston, stood by former bodyguard Leon Battle after Battle and four others were charged with trying to join Al Qaeda and fight in Afghanistan.
There were some signs, however, that the Panthers had stalled. Late last year, principals of the original Black Panther Party — which, unlike the New Panthers, has no real history of racism — filed a copyright infringement suit against the new group. New Panther activity, including efforts to start chapters in three Alabama cities, fell off after the suit was filed. In October, the Panther Web page was taken down.
'There's Nobody Left'
The pall over most of the radical right also extends to "Patriot" groups, such as militias, which have been characterized less by race hatred than antigovernment ideology and anger over gun control and the Waco disaster.
As the 10th anniversary of the Feb. 28, 1993, Waco raid approached, the number of Patriot groups fell from 158 in 2001 to 143 in 2002 — the seventh consecutive annual decline reported by the Intelligence Project since 1996, when the militia movement peaked with 858 groups. At the same time, Patriot Web sites rose from 143 in 2001 to 175 last year.
Many Patriot groups simply disappeared, including the Connecticut 51st Militia, the Minnesota Militia and the Texas Unified Field Forces, often mocked by others in the movement as a "wannabe" militia. The Ohio Unorganized Militia Assistance and Advisory Committee, which had eight chapters in 2001, fell to a single chapter in 2002 — and announced that, "due to declining participation," it would be completely dissolved this Jan. 31.
Last November, United America Patriot Alliance leader Dennis Slatton called for a national meeting of militia groups; some of the responses he received said much about the state of the movement.
"There's nobody in Arizona left," said one. "Except me. Now what?"
"I tried to form a group in San Diego," lamented another. "Could not even get people to give me a call when they could not show up, let alone show up."
A symbolic moment came early this year when former Nye County, Nev., Commissioner Dick Carver died of brain cancer. Carver became an important early hero to the militia movement when, on July 4, 1994, he used a large, flag-draped bulldozer to lead armed marchers down a closed federal road in defiance of U.S. Forest Service rangers — landing him on the cover of Time magazine.
Members of the Patriot movement for years insisted that they were not racist or anti-Semitic and, indeed, those were not the predominant features of most such groups during the height of the militia movement in the 1990s. But to some extent, many of these groups simply hid their hatreds; in addition, other Patriot groups, cross-pollinated by race-based groups, have become increasingly anti-Semitic.
This was evidenced last year, when several major Patriot publications began publishing anti-Semitic screeds. Among other developments, Paul Hall, owner of the anti-Semitic Jubilee newspaper, bought the popular Patriot publication Media Bypass. Not long after, the magazine published an article by neo-Nazi leader Erich Gliebe.
Another indication of the same trend came with the secret initiation of the brother of Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols into the anti-Semitic theology of Christian Identity. The Intelligence Report revealed that James Nichols had taken the "soldier's ransom" oath to a religion that promises to eliminate Jews and others at an Oct. 5 ceremony in the back of a furniture store in rural Michigan. Attending with Nichols were some of the country's most rabid neo-Nazi leaders.
"The Jew's God is Satan," one of them said. "Let them be blotted out of the book of the living."
The apparent crackdown on hate groups this year has heightened paranoia in the already paranoid world of the radical right. After Ernst Zundel's arrest, a "snitch list" was circulated on the Internet that accused a long list of white supremacist figures — virtually every leader of note — of being agents or informers.
The arrests also produced fury. In January, federal prosecutor Michael Chertoff, who heads the Justice Department's Criminal Division, was singled out on the Internet as the main architect of the raids. One posting in a "racialist forum" on the Net gave a detailed history of Chertoff, including photos of and information about Chertoff's wife and young daughter. The posting informed readers where the girl attends school.
Unfortunately, this kind of reaction is not unexpected. Although the rash of arrests and other problems are clearly hurting the extreme right, experts worry that they may also provoke a violent backlash. In the past, major setbacks to hate groups have spurred some members to lash out, occasionally with extreme violence.
'The Last Roundup'
A few sectors of the radical right seemed to thrive. In particular, the world of academic racists — those who promote racial theories of intelligence and a return to the once discredited "science" of eugenics, or "race betterment" — is doing well. The Pioneer Fund, which funds such studies, has received new infusions of cash in the last two years.
Funding is also up for the New Century Foundation, which publishes the eugenicist American Renaissance magazine, whose circulation has now reached 6,000. The magazine's editor, Jared Taylor, has recently appeared on "The Donahue Show," in FrontPage Magazine and even on Black Entertainment Television.
Academic racists also added a new and important organization to their ranks. The Charles Martel Society, with its journal Occidental Quarterly, has an editorial board stacked with leaders of anti-immigrant organizations and hate groups like Taylor's New Century Foundation and the Council of Conservative Citizens. The society, which plans research on how government programs negatively affect white families, is partly funded by William Regnery II, heir to a publishing fortune.
In addition, anti-immigrant groups have benefited tremendously from worries about foreign terrorism that have some Americans wanting to shut down national borders. Several major vigilante groups are currently operating in Southeast Arizona, where they have participated in roundups of illegal migrants (see Open Season). The activities of these groups, as well as the recent murders of a number of Mexicans as they tried to cross the U.S. border, have many officials deeply worried.
Neo-Confederate groups, too, have been doing well, despite a small drop in their numbers. The takeover of the SCV was surely the plume in this sector's hat. But neo-Confederates also were particularly pleased with the election of Sonny Perdue as Georgia governor over incumbent Roy Barnes, who analysts said lost last year's election because of his opposition to the Confederate battle flag.
The League of the South hate group, which lost members in 2001 after president Michael Hill described the Sept. 11 attacks as a fruit of multiculturalism, is now leading an effort to create a new group out of the remnants of the Southern Party. The party collapsed into factions last year as the result of political infighting.
Another group that may become an important player is White Revolution, the organization formed by Billy Roper after he was ejected from the National Alliance. This Jan. 25, Roper managed to bring 66 white supremacists to a rally in front of the Southern Poverty Law Center (see related story, Preserving Racism). Although many of those demonstrators traveled long distances, Roper had hoped to get far more.
All in all, the last year has not been a good one for the radical right. Edgar Steele, in a February essay entitled "The Last Roundup," captured the desperate and angry mood of the movement well. "The time has come for every single American to speak out in protest," Steele wrote. "Trust me, this is our last chance."