British journalist Nick Ryan explores the sometimes frightening world of the American and European racist right.
In Into a World of Hate, British journalist Nick Ryan descends into a "heart of darkness" peopled by white supremacists. To inspect his rather disturbing subjects in their native environments, Ryan traveled to several Western European countries and the United States between 1996 and 2002, all the while interviewing members of the movement.
One part travelogue, one part memoir, Into a World of Hate, first published last year as Homeland in the United Kingdom, is a useful and colorful introduction to the international subculture of race-hate.
No sociology textbook, Ryan's volume looks at the racist right anecdotally, shunning analytics in favor of the particular. This method yields interesting details about the odd birds that inhabit this world — like the facts that British ex-neo-Nazi leader, ex-monk and ex-Satanist David Myatt has a fondness for dueling and horse-drawn farm equipment and that Arkansas-based Christian Identity ideologue Mike Hallimore had a religious epiphany while deer hunting and is prone to tearing up.
Ryan's book also gives an up-close-and-personal description of the shadowy, international network of "antifas," or anti-fascists, hooked to the British anti-racist magazine Searchlight.
Without this network's contacts, largely provided by Ryan's friend and Searchlight investigator Nick Lowles, this book would not have been possible. For the most part, it is this network's specialists that give analytical coherence to the myriad and fascinating details Ryan digs up.
Ryan spins a harrowing tale as he fretfully descends deeper and deeper into the international network inhabited by extreme nationalists, neo-Nazis and other racial extremists. Ryan's strongest reporting takes place in his own backyard and in the United States.
He spends months cultivating the leadership of the violent British group Combat-18 (C-18), drinking with them in their favorite watering holes and plying them for information. Ryan eventually attends the trial of the group's leader, Charlie Sargent, who ends up imprisoned for murder. He stays in touch with Charlie's brother Steve for a while thereafter and watches C-18 veteran Darren Wells switch sides and join Searchlight's informant network. (The information Wells provides ultimately destroys the group.)
Ryan repeatedly interviews the leader of the white supremacist British National Party (BNP), Nick Griffin, and the American-based head of the American Friends of the British National Party (AFBNP), Mark Cotterill. With Griffin's endorsement, Ryan was even allowed to move into Cotterill's Washington, D.C.-area apartment for a few weeks, learning about Cotterill's efforts to build up the AFBNP as a fundraising arm for his BNP allies.
Not long after Ryan left Cotterill's apartment, the AFBNP collapsed in the wake of an Intelligence Report exposé of the group's illegal fundraising, an implosion that reverberates in Ryan's book as it hits both sides of the "pond."
Though Ryan was able to secure interviews with most of the movement's leadership, including the elusive American anti-Semite Willis Carto, his book is missing one very important actor: William Pierce, the now deceased founder of the neo-Nazi National Alliance.
Pierce, who died unexpectedly in 2002, was a key neo-Nazi ideologue who influenced legions of followers both in the United States and abroad, predominantly through his race-hate propaganda novel, The Turner Diaries, which helped to inspire Timothy McVeigh's 1995 murder of 168 people with an ammonium nitrate bomb in Oklahoma City.
Just a few days before he was to meet with Ryan, Pierce withdrew his offer of an interview after finding out that Ryan had worked with Searchlight.
Surprisingly, Pierce's absence may actually make the work better. He still haunts every bit of the narrative as a real-life "Dr. Evil" whose novels and other writings have inspired violence from lone-wolf white supremacists in many countries. Ryan documents how Pierce inspired much European violence, including the mail bombs of Thomas Nakaba, a Danish white supremacist. It is a rare extremist indeed that Ryan meets who doesn't hold Pierce in the highest regard.
Ultimately, the absolute malignancy of Pierce and his legacy is made all the more real by hearing about him from those he "inspired" — something that Pierce's nasal, whiny voice and understated, professorial demeanor might have masked.
Ryan's reporting uncovers a remarkable diversity on the far right, from lone "nutters" to powerful political parties such as the Austrian Freedom Party, whose leader Jorg Haider eludes Ryan's repeated requests for an interview.
The sections on Germany are particularly disturbing, as they reveal a surprisingly large "nationalist" movement that includes political parties like the National Democratic Party, local "community"-based organizations such as the widespread Kameradschaften (comradeships), and even areas said to be off-limits to minorities that neo-Nazi activists call "National Liberated Zones." Ryan also includes other elements in the work, such as interviews with depressed African asylum seekers in Eastern Germany and accounts of anarchist street violence in Berlin.
At times, these other scenes add to the work, as with the asylum seekers' gripping descriptions of their well-justified fears of neo-Nazi violence. In other cases, especially Ryan's descriptions of anti-globalization protests, the connection seems rather oblique.
Ryan's book confirms the international nature of the movement, with members of American and British radical groups frequently making their way to events put on by their transatlantic allies. His reporting shows how international networks link far-right, anti-immigrant political parties in Europe — such as France's National Front, on whose ticket Jean-Marie Le Pen won some 20% of the vote in a recent presidential run-off — with white supremacist organizations like the Council of Conservative Citizens here in the United States.
As the right fractures in much of Europe, dividing into nationalist and non-nationalist factions, these connections are likely to expand. And widespread anger in Europe and some parts of the United States about immigrants and asylum-seekers seems to be adding fuel to the nationalist fires.
hese links between mobilized, extremist European political parties and our own white supremacists should give Americans pause. Europeans, of course, also have much to be concerned about from our extremists, many of whom are responsible for spreading across the Atlantic neo-Nazi propaganda that is illegal in Europe through Web sites, publishing operations and white power music.
Nick Ryan's book suffers from one annoying flaw: There's too much of the author in it. The text is overstuffed with Ryan's emotions, which quickly alternate from fearful, to cocky, and back to terrified. He writes extensively — probably too extensively — about his experiences in the Balkans, Asia and the Middle East.
Readers should buy the book for its perceptive reporting and excellent writing, but, like me, they may wish they could skip some of the life of Ryan.