After a tumultuous year, U.S. hate groups stage something of a comeback in 2003.
Buoyed by rising numbers of Skinhead and Klan groups, the American radical right staged something of a comeback last year, following a tumultuous period that saw the destruction or hobbling of some of the nation's leading hate groups.
As 2003 came to an end, the number of racist Skinhead groups had doubled over the prior year. The neo-Nazi Aryan Nations, despite having lost its Idaho compound, boasted 11 new chapters. A newcomer on the scene, Arkansas-based White Revolution, had grown much more powerful and seemed poised to keep rising. Several new Klan groups had appeared, and Klan activity was significant.
At the same time, there were spectacular failures. The organization formerly known as the World Church of the Creator, for many years a leading neo-Nazi group, virtually disappeared following the jailing of its leader Matt Hale, who stands trial this spring for allegedly soliciting the murder of a federal judge.
The National Alliance, once the most important hate group in America, was reduced to about half its former size and faced criticism from a broad array of other hate groups. Its music operation, Resistance Records, suffered stiff competition from other labels.
Overall, it was a period of realignment and rebuilding. "The old organizations are dying," Craig Smith of the nazi.org Web site wrote, adding that the change was like "a lizard moulting. The older form is being destroyed and replaced."
The Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project counted 751 group chapters in 2003, up 6% from the 708 that were active the year before. Much of the gain was accounted for by improved counting of black separatist groups — groups that probably already existed in prior years.
But there were real rises in key sectors of the hate movement. Hate Web sites, meanwhile, rose from 443 in 2002 to 497 last year, a 12% increase.
"A lot has happened on the radical right in the last year," Joe Roy, director of the Intelligence Project, said. "The more professionally organized groups seemed to stumble, while a number of new groups have appeared fairly suddenly. What we are witnessing is a kind of shakeout in the world of right-wing extremism."
From the perspective of the radical right, there were some particularly bright spots. So-called "Patriot" groups — antigovernment groups like militias that are animated more by conspiracy theories than racial hatred — surged for the first time in years, jumping 20% from 143 groups in 2002 to 171 last year. (Patriot Web sites also rose, from 152 sites in 2002 to 162 last year.)
Tax protesters, separatists like the Republic of Texas group, and "sovereign citizens" who believe they are not subject to most laws, showed signs of new life. At one heavily attended Patriot event (see Talking Tough), speaker after speaker called for revolutionary violence.
Several frightening events served as a reminder that not all terrorists come from faraway places (see Terror, American Style). In Texas, a man and his common-law wife were found with an arsenal including half a million rounds of ammunition, more than 60 pipe bombs, silencers, remote-control briefcase bombs and the parts needed to make a sodium cyanide bomb capable of killing hundreds.
In South Carolina (see The Abbeville Horror), antigovernment extremists allegedly murdered two law enforcement officers in a massive shootout. A religious zealot and former Army Ranger was arrested after allegedly plotting to bomb abortion clinics, churches and gay bars. An arsonist destroyed an Indiana Holocaust memorial museum.
The Devils in the Details
In many ways, the story of the last year is most easily told in a series of snapshots detailing what's going on in major sectors or groups making up the radical right.
Neo-Nazis: The neo-Nazi category was the only one tracked by the Center that showed a decrease, and, at 32%, it was a significant one. This was attributable to the demise of the World Church of the Creator (WCOTC), the largest such group in 2002 with 88 "contact points" or chapters. But after Hale's arrest that December — he is accused of soliciting followers to murder a federal judge who ordered his group to stop using its name — the group now called The Creativity Movement began to collapse.
A likely Hale replacement, Wyoming leader Thomas Kroenke, dropped out. A second potential Hale stand-in, Illinois leader Jon Fox, seemed a likely choice — until it was revealed that Fox had agreed to testify against Hale this spring. Just six chapters, one operating under the old WCOTC name, limped into 2003.
The National Alliance, a neo-Nazi organization headquartered in West Virginia, has lost about half its membership since the July 23, 2002, death of its founder and longtime leader, William Pierce; now, there are signs that the group is stabilizing, with its losses slowing. Still, it is increasingly held in disrepute by almost every other neo-Nazi organization in America, and its current leader, Erich Gliebe, has seen no let-up in attacks on his character and management style.
The crown jewel in the Alliance, its white power music operation Resistance Records, is in a bitter battle with other racist labels including its chief competitor, Minnesota-based Panzerfaust Records. In January, Resistance was banned by other hate groups from a major racist music event in Phoenix called Aryan Fest. Over the last year, the Alliance's main activity has been distributing racist leaflets.
The Aryan Nations showed a surprising resurgence in 2003, doubling its chapters from 11 to 22 even though leader Richard Butler has lived in a suburban home in northern Idaho since a suit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center cost him his rural headquarters compound in 2000.
This expansion may have been driven, at least in part, by the 85-year-old Butler's increased presence at racist events. He traveled to a protest at the Center's offices in January 2003, a state Aryan Nations conference in Phoenix in November, and a Tennessee Klan rally this January.
At the same time, a rival split-off group by the same name, headed by ex-Butler loyalists August Kreis and Charles Juba, fell precipitously from 12 chapters to two.
Another group that came on strong in 2003 was White Revolution, the creation of former National Alliance official Billy Roper. Roper organized the rally at Center offices and a number of other events including a well-publicized protest at the Alamo in Texas. Over the year, Roper solidified alliances with groups including Resistance rival Panzerfaust Records and many Klan and Skinhead groups.
Racist Skinheads: The number of Skinhead groups more than doubled from 18 chapters (making up 11 named organizations) in 2002 to 39 chapters (22 groups) in 2003. In part, this growth seemed to result from Skinhead activity in New Jersey, where a third of the active chapters — belonging to the AC Skins, Aryan Raiders, Bergen County Hooligans, Eastern Hammerskins and Werewolf Crew #45 — are located.
But it may also be related to the increasing challenge being posed to Hammerskin Nation, a confederation of Skinhead groups that had long been the dominant force on the scene. Toward the end of 2003, Hammerskin Nation was faced with several new upstart factions in Indiana and Ohio.
Like them, the dominant Pennsylvania skin group, the Keystone State Skinheads, has said it will no longer work with the Hammerskins, in part because of a stabbing incident that soured relations between the groups.
A recent posting from a skin reflects the waning importance of the Hammerskins. "Rest assured," the skin wrote, "the days of crews submitting to their 'policing' of the skinhead sub-culture are over."
Another group, White Power Liberation Front, also appeared on the Skinhead scene last year.
Ku Klux Klan: Around the country, Klan groups, which had been relatively unimportant on the radical right, seemed to surge. There was a large number of Klan rallies, cross-burnings, and other events. And several new groups appeared on the scene.
The Orion (for "our race is our nation") Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, based in Alabama, was started in early 2003 and was highly successful in building up membership, particularly in Florida. For a time, the Orion Knights' Orlando klavern (or local chapter) was led by a woman, former paralegal Jamie Flynn, although she was replaced in November.
In North Carolina, the Cleveland Knights of the Ku Klux Klan started operations last summer with Virgil Griffin as imperial wizard, or top official. (Griffin is the former leader of the Christian Knights, which was ordered to pay $15 million in damages in a 1998 civil lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center over a South Carolina black church burned by Klansmen.) The Cleveland Knights has come on strong, holding four major rallies and absorbing another Klan group based in Tennessee.
The Georgia-based Southern White Knights, which temporarily went out of business in early 2003, was restarted last November and grew rapidly. A White Knights official in Ohio, Jeremy Parker, drew some attention when he posted pipe bomb-making instructions on the Internet in response to organizers of a Martin Luther King celebration. "Sure would hate to see anything happen," he wrote.
In Indiana, the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan gained three chapters and media attention. In Arkansas, Thom Robb's Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, one of the oldest of the nation's 45 current Klan organizations, was stirring. For the first time since 1999, non-headquarters chapters showed signs of real activity.
Neo-Confederates: The major drama in the world of neo-Confederate activism took place within the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), a 32,000-member southern heritage group whose national leadership is controlled by racist extremists. A pitched battle between moderates and radicals was shaping up as 2004 began, with two moderates planning to challenge Ron Wilson, the SCV's commander in chief, in elections at the SCV convention this July.
The League of the South, in most ways the leader of the neo-Confederate movement, was less active in 2003 than in prior years. But leader Michael Hill has announced plans for a "Southern National Congress" to be held in Montgomery, Ala., next October. Hill, whose speeches have increasingly emphasized revolution and race, hopes to launch a Southern political movement — something he has tried before, but that collapsed when various internal factions began squabbling.
Steve Wilkins, a founding league director who recently became a "senior adviser" to the board, has increasingly been pushing a radical theology along with a far-right Idaho pastor (see Taliban on the Palouse?). This theology, emphasizing religious government and a defense of the antebellum South, has swept the neo-Confederate world and also reached many Christian private schools and homeschoolers.
Other: This category includes a hodge-podge of groups espousing hateful doctrines that do not fit neatly into other areas.
The largest of these groups, the 15,000-member, white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), continued to drift further and further to the right. In the last year, its Web site began to call for readers to support Ernst Zundel, a Holocaust denier who has been held pending possible deportation from Canada for a year.
It carried links to and advertisements about Christian Identity, a wildly anti-Semitic theology that describes Jews as the biological descendants of Satan. And it began to carry essays from anti-Semitic lawyer Edgar Steele and Jean-Phillippe Rushton, a Canadian race scientist who heads the racist Pioneer Foundation.
Former Klansman David Duke's European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), which has been something of a paper tiger since Duke started it up in 2000, continued to lose chapters during the year. And even the 15 chapters that remained seemed extremely low-key. The group also had organizational problems to contend with.
Last fall, Duke's hand-picked EURO leader, Bruce Breeding, quit after the Intelligence Report revealed his secret pornography empire. But EURO's fortunes could change when Duke, who has been serving a 15-month federal prison sentence for mail fraud, is released this May. A welcome-back party is planned by Duke aide Kenny Knight and others.
Holocaust denial organizations seemed to be doing well. The Institute for Historical Review, based in California, held two high-profile events last year and revamped its Web site. It also helped to fund an upcoming April denial conference in Sacramento that promises to be one of the largest such events in years.
That gathering is being hosted by Walter Mueller's European American Culture Council, which is becoming a leading Holocaust denier. Mueller, whose conference is also being funded by an Australian denial outfit, was a local CCC leader in 2000.
There was also a new addition to Holocaust denial literature last year with the inauguration of The Revisionist, published by long-time deniers Germar Rudolf, Frederick Toben and Jurgen Graf. The aim of the journal, which is based at Rudolf's home in Hastings, Tenn., will be to cover non-American Holocaust deniers.
Volksfront, a white supremacist group based in Portland, Ore., grew from five to eight chapters in 2003, spreading east to Pennsylvania and strengthening its presence in California. The group spent much of the year preparing for Aryan Fest 2004, which was held in Phoenix this January. By all accounts, the event went off well and, partly as a result, Volksfront is well-respected by other hate groups.
Black separatists: The count of racist black separatist groups went up almost 66% last year, largely driven by the addition of more than 30 additional chapters of the New Black Panther Party.
In addition, the Center began counting outlying chapters of the Georgia-based United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, a kind of cult built up around leader Dwight York, as hate groups. York was convicted last year of federal charges related to the sexual molestation of his youngest followers.
But the biggest story in this sector came from the Nation of Islam, the anti-white and anti-Semitic group led by Louis Farrakkan. The New York Times reported that key Nation leaders were controlling access to pop singer Michael Jackson, who had been charged with molesting a young boy. After the story appeared, the Nation denied involvement in Jackson's affairs.
Heidi Beirich, Michelle Bramblett, Nia Hightower and Laurie Wood contributed to this report.