Former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Walter Bouman Has New Career Educating Law Enforcement about White Supremacist Groups
Walter Bouman, a retired California law enforcement officer who lectures at schools nationwide, offers tips about youth and hate.
For more than 10 years, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Walter Bouman interviewed virtually every white supremacist to come through Central Jail. After officials flagged the detainees because of tattoos or the nature of their alleged crimes, Bouman would pull each inmate aside and slowly begin a conversation. "We have all day, and I'm not leaving," he would tell his reluctant charges.
Bouman had an ability to size up and relate to these suspects and it wasn't long before many of the most hardened hate criminals began talking. Bouman's skills proved highly useful. He gave classes to the county's jail deputies and juvenile facility officers on how best to treat racist prisoners and later worked with the district attorney's office, traveling throughout the county training law enforcement officers on similar topics.
In 2000, after a 33-year career, Bouman retired. But he wasn't finished. Since then, he has developed a career educating law enforcement agencies, schools and communities about hate violence, domestic terrorism and youth. He has taught everything from hate crime investigation for members of the county sheriff's gang unit to how to deal with bullying for California's Department of Education.
Traveling around the nation, Bouman has lectured in approximately 500 school districts, for the National School Safety Center, and for the Department of Homeland Security. He is also on the advisory board of the Southern Poverty Law Center's online hate crime training program for law enforcement officers.
In an interview with the Intelligence Report, Bouman focused on youthful white supremacists.
INTELLIGENCE REPORT: How do white supremacist groups recruit the young?
WALTER BOUMAN: Their members go into schools and watch the kids. One method they employ is to go onto a campus and seek out two diverse groups, the exceptionally intelligent kids and the noticeably weak ones. As a group, young white supremacists are well rounded — you have some A students, athletes, computer geeks, and the D students. The groups are also recruiting more girls.
To build up a group, young white recruits sometimes will do something to the black students, if it's a majority white school. Wherever the black kids sit, the supremacists will put a swastika or the N-word or something offensive in a visible spot. For example, if there is a new black teacher they will put a swastika on that teacher's classroom door.
What they try to do is get the black students upset so that they'll attack some of the weaker whites. When the white students are attacked, then the racist gangs will come in and assist the weaker ones, putting them under the gang's protection.
The reason they want these weaker kids is because they are easily influenced to do something for "the cause." The groups cause trouble on campuses to see what they can get out of it and to help recruit those kids who are being picked on — when it comes to recruitment they're always looking for the kids being harassed.
IR: Have you ever made a criminal case out of a situation like this?
BOUMAN: In a middle school in Los Angeles. It happened about two years ago. There was a group of juveniles who had formed a white supremacist Skinhead group, and they decided that they wanted to get some other people to join. They didn't like the fact that the demographics around them were changing, that black students were coming to their school and that they had a new black teacher.
So as these black kids went home — in a certain direction, out of a certain gate, down certain streets — the white group was putting this racist graffiti up along the same path. It was a message of hate to the black kids.
Prosecutors got a case going against the gang — a great case, because we actually got them for a hate crime. They were only doing this where the black kids sat or walked. It was hate.
IR: You mentioned especially targeting smart kids.
BOUMAN: When you listen to leaders like Matthew Hale [the leader of the neo-Nazi World Church of the Creator, convicted this May of soliciting the murder of a federal judge], Tom Metzger [a former Klan leader and key supporter and one-time recruiter of young racist Skinheads] or David Lane [a white supremacist ideologue imprisoned for his role in the 1984 machine-gun murder of a Jewish radio talk show host in Denver], their whole thing is that they want the kids who follow them going to college.
They've tried going to colleges to recruit, but the kids there were already beyond their capacity to manipulate. Now they are going into high schools, middle schools and even some grammar schools because the smart kids there are still very open to ideological influences.
IR: Doesn't that set off alarm bells at these schools?
BOUMAN: The schools can't turn kids away just because they're racists. If they see swastikas or offensive clothing, they can make them change clothes and not allow them to put these symbols on their books. But they can't keep them from coming into school.
You can admonish them for publicly expressing slurs, but you can't keep them from talking about their beliefs in private.
IR: How does recruitment on the streets, as opposed to in the schools, work?
BOUMAN: It's the same as in the schools — hate group recruitment works best when you have the demographics of a changing community.
Recruiting often takes place much more publicly than you'd expect — and this is something that police officers can take advantage of. For example, in Orange County, for years you could go down to a local beach city and see the racist white kids sitting in a parking lot off the main street, about two blocks from the pier. A business owner allowed them to gather in the parking lot because he thought that if he didn't they would damage his building.
The police couldn't very well say, "Hey, don't let them do this." Instead, officers would go out there and get to know these kids. They didn't harass them as long as they didn't harass other people or break any laws. That way they kept them off the street. They'd gather, wearing their garb and talking about their beliefs. There'd be 20 or 30 kids, even more if outsiders were talking to them.
IR: Youth street gangs are sometimes described as alternative families for kids with dysfunctional home lives. Is that true of white supremacist youth gangs, too?
BOUMAN: Absolutely. Tom Metzger used to bring in kids who weren't acceptable to their families or anyone else and let them stay with him. He gave them alcohol and cigarettes, or whatever it took to get them to believe. They used to get lots of kids this way.
It's not unusual — hate groups have been doing it for years. [Long-time Alabama Klansman and four-time felon] Bill Riccio, who is back in the KKK, used to go into the streets of Birmingham, Ala., to recruit teenage Skinheads. His group [the Aryan National Front] broke up after he went to prison, but he still gets around. He had a house where all these kids met and he gave them free beer; I have a video of a young boy in the house talking about what they believe in and why white supremacy is the way to go.
Riccio used the "14 Words" [penned by David Lane] — "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children" — big time in his recruiting.
Riccio was crazy — one of his recruits even killed a homeless man. He has also worked on the West Coast. He and Metzger were teaching people here how to recruit kids. They loved runaways too. They'd pick the runaways up, give them booze and drugs and affection, and soon white supremacy became their family.
IR: Don't many young people seek out the groups themselves?
BOUMAN: Sure. Look at Benjamin Smith from the World Church of the Creator. [Editor's note: Smith, a follower and close friend of group leader Matt Hale, went on a July 1999 rampage in Illinois and Indiana that left two minorities dead and another seven wounded. Smith shot himself to death as police closed in.]
He was a college student who came to them. They didn't go to Smith. He was not happy with the world and found the group on the Internet.
IR: So is the Internet a useful youth recruiting tool for these hate groups?
BOUMAN: [Former Klan leader] Don Black, founder of Stormfront [the first major hate site on the Internet] had his son Derek, 14, put together a Web site section for kids, and he uses it to recruit little kids. Don helped Derek put these sites together when Derek was 9 years old.
When I visit schools throughout California, I find that kids are using the school's computers to access Stormfront's kid page. I talk about blocking the systems so the kids can't access it, but most libraries don't want to block it because of the threat to freedoms.
It's unbelievable where kids can go on the Internet. And they can do it anywhere. Derek Black even changed around a [commercial] video game so that users can kill blacks. They actually changed the figures to black figures.
IR: Are young people who join or flirt with these groups really driven by hate? Or is there something else going on?
BOUMAN: In part, it's an excuse for their failures — "I don't like minorities because they're taking my job," that sort of thing.
Would these kids be working anyway? Probably not. It's an excuse for why they haven't made it in life. I think it's a defense — they don't feel good about themselves. When they become part of the "white race," it gives them something to live for.
When you talk to them in jail, it's about the jobs, the neighborhood changing, schools changing. They're lazy. Some of them are actually academically smart, but when it comes to life, they're dumb.
It's also about belonging with some of these kids — their parents are neither authoritative or nurturing. The parents are not there to help them understand or protect them. Look at the boys at Columbine [High School in Colorado, where two students killed 12 students and a teacher before killing themselves]. They're not totally involved in their kids' lives.
Many of these kids share a common lament, "My parents don't care, they don't do anything for me, they're never there." Many of these parents have never showed guidance, love, respect. Riccio did. And he did it his way with white supremacy.
IR: What's the most important message that you're trying to reach other law enforcement officers with?
BOUMAN: What we promote is community awareness, understanding the pain and suffering of the community — not just the individual who was victimized, but also the relatives, the family members, the neighbors. When you have a hate crime, it doesn't just affect the person who is directly victimized.
We tell law enforcement that when you arrest these white supremacists, you're not just taking a crook off the street, you're saving a community. You're bringing people who didn't trust the system back into the fold.
I ask them, would you rather take a car thief off the street over a man who's been hurting people emotionally and physically? Here you have a violent felony versus a car theft felony. I try to convince them that hate crime prevention maximizes their time.
We're marketing anti-hate behavior not only to law enforcement, but also to schools and the greater community. We encourage officers to share what they learn with the people they serve.
IR: What is it like for people who try to leave the movement? Is it easy to get out?
BOUMAN: Look at [former racist Skinhead] T.J. Leyden and [former Aryan Nations official] Floyd Cochran. [Editor's note: Both men have engaged in antiracist work for years since leaving the movement.] Their experience is so invaluable. But once they went public, they became targets. These groups will kill you for talking.
That's one of the rules of white supremacy. These white supremacists are terrorists. They use fear to make their enemy or their targets more afraid or weaker. Hate has become their life.
IR: Do you have any final thoughts?
BOUMAN: Complacency will allow people with hate-based philosophies to flourish and thrive. Hate starts at home. Prevention and eradication work hand-in-hand.
School administrators must use their power and say, "You may do that at home, but you're not going to do it here." Fear of parental backlash sometimes causes school administrators to hesitate in acting swiftly and authoritatively to defuse a potentially explosive situation.
The Supreme Court of the United States has said these types of dangerous situations are important issues. They gave the schools the power to control these types of situations on their campuses through case decisions. By law, school administrators can dictate what is said and done on their campuses.
We tend to let things happen and then wonder why they happened. Hate doesn't go away unless you make it go away.