Successful distribution and retail companies use messages of hate to market the accoutrements of a subculture.
Last summer, the Target department store chain announced it would yank shorts and baseball caps decorated with neo-Nazi hate symbols from its 1,100 stores. A customer in Sacramento, Joseph Rodriquez, had complained about Target-label shorts and baseball caps decorated with "88" — neo-Nazi shorthand for "HH," or "Heil Hitler." At first, Rodriquez was given the runaround from uncomprehending company personnel.
But after he carried his complaints to a Southern Poverty Law Center Web site, Tolerance.org, Target spokesperson Carolyn Booker said the items would be removed from the stores. Target's buyers had made an innocent mistake, she said: They had no idea what "Eight Eight," "Eighty Eight" or "88" meant.
When companies like Target market hate items, it usually makes the news. When people start complaining about Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi merchandise sold on online auction sites like eBay, or racist stereotypes cropping up on clothing by Abercrombie & Fitch, the controversy will almost surely land on CNBC, if not on Fox News and in The New York Times.
But beneath most people's radar screens, there lurks a thriving industry that actively markets items promoting and expressing hate — and it's anything but unintentional.
"All successful social and political movements develop these accompanying cultural items and accessories," explains Chip Berlet, senior analyst at Political Research Associates and a long-time scholar of hate culture. And the hate movement, despite being riven recently by arrests, deaths and infighting, is no exception.
"There seems to be a culture that's sustaining the movement through its current crisis," Berlet says, adding that the emerging subculture is "a sign that the movement has reached a certain level of maturity and organization."
The hate market, especially the production and sale of white supremacist "hatecore" music, is certainly a growing business. Most of the profits go back into the movement, providing major white-nationalist groups a measure of financial stability unimaginable just 10 years ago. While the total revenues of extremist distributors is unknown, National Alliance chieftain Erich Gliebe has repeatedly claimed that his neo-Nazi group pulls in more than $1 million a year from Resistance Records, its music and merchandise label. Aside from membership dues, sales of hate products comprise the main source of income for large hate groups like the Alliance.
Four years ago, an Interpol study revealed that the manufacture, distribution and sale of white-power music had become a $3.4 million-a-year criminal enterprise outside the U.S., with profit margins higher than those for the international hashish trade (the European equivalent to the U.S. marijuana trade).
Hate groups aren't the only ones profiting. Much of the merchandise they peddle is manufactured by large CD-pressing companies and apparel manufacturers, although the apparel makers typically have no idea how products like plain T-shirts are altered by white supremacists and then resold. Occasionally, manufacturers have stopped supplying their extremist clients; last year, for instance, California's Rainbo Records said it would no longer make CDs for Resistance Records because it didn't want to be publicly associated with the neo-Nazi movement.
But many other manufacturers say they can't stop the resale of their products. Deborah Moore of In the Past Toys, the Staten Island, N.Y., company that produces the lavishly detailed Hitler doll that appears on this issue's cover and at top, told the Intelligence Report that "these dolls are for World War II memorabilia [collections], not for racists."
The dolls are distributed online by Micetrap, a racist outfit that peddles hundreds of white-power CDs, flags, books and clothing items, but Moore says her company does not sell directly to the neo-Nazis. "Our dolls go only to collectibles stores," she said. "They would have had to go and buy the dolls from the stores and then resell them."
Harry Orr, who runs Buckle Shack USA in Alpharetta, Ga., said he saw nothing wrong with filling special orders from the Bayou Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Asked if he was concerned about producing Klan belt buckles, Orr responded, "In what respect?" Told that the products could be seen as promoting the Klan's racism, Orr replied, "I'm not promoting them, they're promoting me. They pay me good money to do it."
Marketing to minors?
Traditionally, the most serious worry about hate merchandise has been the role it can play in attracting rebellious, disaffected young people to the movement. "Kids love the in-your-face quality of this stuff," says Kathleen Blee, a sociology professor at the University of Pittsburgh. "I'd say it's this, rather than the racist message, that is initially attractive to many of them. Then they come to the racism after being lured by the rebelliousness."
The sense of camaraderie that comes from joining the subculture is important, says Devin Burghart, an expert on youth hate culture with the Center for New Community. "You suddenly have friends. Those friends listen to the same music, have a common dress, share a common language, hang out and party together." Ultimately, says Burghart, "White power music merchandise seeks to bridge the gap between healthy young rebellion and hardcore white supremacy."
Hate marketing has expanded far beyond the white-power music scene, and far beyond young adults. The abundance of hate items sold to adults, pre-teens and entire families is raising new concerns among extremism experts.
As with the consumer subculture built around fundamentalist Christianity — which has its own record labels, clothing lines, health-food distributors, publishers and all-purpose bookstores — the consumer counterculture of hate may serve to deepen the allegiances of true believers. "The more people adopt the symbols and items of a subculture, the more they feel bound to it," says Berlet. "That is a critical aspect of building a movement culture."
As the hate-item industry continues to expand, it's increasingly possible for adherents to put their money literally where their mouths are — buying clothing for the whole family, for example. While this white supremacist counterculture is far from complete — movement members must go outside it to meet any number of everyday needs — it is helping to build what Blee sees as "a culture-within-a-culture in which groups can maintain extreme insularity." This insularity "tends to move them to more extreme ideas and practices," says Blee.
Whatever the marketing of hate portends, it has clearly become a top priority for the leading hate groups in America, many of which are perennially strapped for cash. That trend was exemplified last year when a key neo-Nazi leader who was ejected from the powerful National Alliance went on to create a group that called itself White Revolution. Along with putting up a Web site and sponsoring rallies and protests, one of White Revolution's first steps toward viability was buying a white-supremacist publishing house, 14 Words Press, and launching a distribution company in Wilmington, N.C., called White Power Warehouse.
"We hope to become a major corporation as a means to an end — ensuring the survival of the White Race," says the home page of White Power Warehouse, where adherents can buy a full range of neo-Nazi propaganda and paraphernalia. "Your money stays within the movement and aids us in our ultimate goal. White Power!"
In our online slideshow, you'll find a selected sampling of the large range of hate merchandise now available through catalog and online sales.
As much information as was possible to ascertain has been included about each item and its distributor. Where the significance of the items isn't self-explanatory, a brief explanation of what they mean has been included. When possible, the products' countries of origin are also listed; though these distributors say they're working for the betterment of everyday Aryan Americans, most of them don't scruple to sell products made with cheap labor in China, Mexico or Sri Lanka. (A fuller coverage of these items can be found in the print magazine.)
Heidi Beirich and Laurie Wood contributed to this story.