Though many leading radical organizations lost their leaders in 2004, the extremist movement is still very much alive.
Some of the best known hate groups in America have lost their leaders and fallen on hard times recently. But the radical right as a whole remained remarkably steady last year, fueled by street-level activism welling up from below.
The Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project counted 762 hate groups that were active during 2004, up slightly from the 751 groups tallied the year before.
"The larger hate groups have suffered through a bad couple of years," said Joe Roy, chief investigator for the Intelligence Project. "But the white supremacist movement as a whole does not seem to have shrunk at all."
The country's leading neo-Nazi groups were in bad shape. The most important, the National Alliance, continued a spiraling descent that began with the 2002 death of its founder. The Aryan Nations, already deprived of its compound, saw its own founder die last September. And the Creativity Movement, once known as the World Church of the Creator (WCOTC), was struggling to survive after its leader was convicted last spring of soliciting the murder of a federal judge.
Each of these groups, arguably the most important hard-line organizations on the radical right, had been tightly identified with the personality and politics of its leader. Each, after losing its führer to prison or the grave, shrank rapidly but staved off complete implosion thanks to spontaneous activity from its lower ranks.
That could create problems. Ironically, as extreme as the ideology of hate group leaders is, these men often have the effect of holding their followers back. With large numbers of white supremacists and other extremists operating essentially without leaders, the danger of criminal violence is now unusually high.
At the same time, white power music labels suffered a body blow. Resistance Records, owned by the National Alliance and once the leading such distributor in the Western hemisphere, provoked complaints by failing to fulfill orders and may well be losing money. Its aggressive young competitor, Panzerfaust Records, collapsed after other neo-Nazis accused its olive-skinned founder of being of Mexican descent.
Racist Skinheads, whose numbers last crested in the late 1980s and early 1990s, were back on the street, continuing an earlier trend. Although Skinheads are notoriously difficult to count — they are migratory and often not organized into larger groups — the Project found 48 groups in 2004. That total was up from 18 groups in 2002 and 39 in 2003 — a 167% jump over the two years ending in 2004.
Much of the organized racist activity of 2004 — leafleting, rallies and counter-demonstrations — came not because of, but in spite of, the official leaders of hate groups. In a similar way, much of the movement's energy seemed concentrated in open electronic forums where leaders hold relatively little sway.
For example, the Stormfront Forum, part of a leading hate site run by former Klan leader Don Black, boasted 46,300 members as of this March. That's more than twice the 21,000 Stormfront had just 16 months earlier — and Black's senior forum moderator, James Kelso, has boasted that he expects to have 88,000 members by 2006.
The year 2004 was also marked by an upsurge in attempts to market white supremacy to the masses. Hate groups put up billboards, leafleted in huge numbers, adopted highways for cleanup, wrote letters to the editor and generally attempted to put a publicly palatable face on the movement. White power music samplers were reportedly distributed to thousands of school kids. In St. Louis, one neo-Nazi group even managed to get advertisements put up throughout the subway system.
However, the movement's electronic presence diminished somewhat. The Intelligence Project found 468 hate Web sites on the Internet that were active in 2004, down by almost 7% from the 497 hate sites counted the year before.
Here's a more detailed look at the hate movement by sectors:
The leading neo-Nazi group, the National Alliance, has lost more than half its membership and most of its paid staff since founder and long-time leader William Pierce died in July 2002. It has suffered repeated embarrassments, business problems and management failures since it was taken over by Erich Gliebe — a former boxer quite unlike Pierce, a one-time university physics professor.
Last spring, Alliance principals brought a stripper named "Ice" to what is meant to be a key event — the group's semi-annual "leadership conference." That, along with an Alliance girlie calendar featuring Ice and a number of her fellow strippers from a local men's club, created great embarrassment for Gliebe, who is supposed to be too much of a good "Aryan" for that kind of behavior.
More recently, many Alliance members were disgusted to learn that their chairman's latest girlfriend is a woman named Erika Snyder, a one-time stripper who posed for issues of Playboy in 1996 and 1997. It hasn't helped that Snyder runs the "First United Church of Adolf Hitler" Web site and apparently has racist pagan ideas that are an anathema to the more orthodox Nazis of the Alliance.
These and other problems have sparked an exodus of key players. The latest among them, membership coordinator David Pringle, left in late 2004 and was especially important. By one count, the Alliance has lost 40 key players since Pierce died.
In just the last year, unit leaders from Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Washington state have quit. One former member in Phoenix wrote in an Internet posting that the Alliance was "a dying organization that can't admit that it's going nowhere." Jasa Slovjanski's suggestion: "Take your local unit and turn it into a local activism squad and don't take orders from the no [National Office]."
Or, as Pringle put it, "In [Gliebe's] Tony Soprano version of life, what could be better than a fancy SUV, no boss, great scam and a Playboy girl?"
At the end of 2004, an Alliance executive committee of five — Kevin Strom, Rich Lindstrom, Charles Ellis, Robert Pate and Roger Williams — was created in an apparent attempt to stop the exodus that is bleeding the group of men and funds.
The Creativity Movement has been in sorry straits since January 2003, when its "Pontifex Maximus," Matt Hale, was arrested and charged with soliciting the murder of U.S. District Court Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow. Lefkow had presided over a copyright trial in which the World Church of the Creator lost the right to use its long-time name.
From 88 chapters in 2002, the group fell to just five chapters the following year. But then, despite Hale's conviction last year, the organization claimed to have come back with a surprising 16 chapters active in 2004.
Most of these chapters appear to be very small, and some do not recognize other chapters as part of the Creativity Movement. Very little activity has come from any of them, and, despite the apparent ascension of Florida leader Adam Jacobs to acting national boss, they are clearly acting without real central direction.
In any event, Jacobs' arrest in March 2005 reinforced the group's reputation for thuggery. Jacobs was charged with savagely beating fellow "Creator" Anthony L. Williams over a period of 11 hours because he suspected Williams was a snitch.
Aryan Nations had been in trouble since 2000, when it was forced to sell off its Idaho compound after losing a civil suit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Still, there were signs that it might rebound in 2003, when it doubled its active chapters to 22. But in the months after Butler, 85, died last Sept. 8, Aryan Nations officials said that the total number of chapters had dropped to 15.
After Butler's death, Aryan Nations formed a committee to lead it and moved its "world headquarters" to Lincoln, Ala., where a member of the committee lived. Many of its members now appear to be Southerners, meaning many of its Pacific Northwest members have likely drifted away.
At the same time, a splinter group, headed by August Kreis, who took over from Charles Juba in early 2005, is claiming to be the "real" Aryan Nations. It is based in Sebring, Fla.
Kreis has distinguished himself by reaching out to radical Muslims, although there is no evidence of real cooperation between them. "I offer my most sincere best-wishes to those who wage holy Jihad against ... the West. I send a message of thanks and well-wishes to methods and works of groups on the Islamic front against the jew [sic] such as Al-Qaeda and Sheik Usama Bin Laden," he wrote.
Another large neo-Nazi group, the National Socialist Movement, grabbed media attention with rallies in Raleigh, N.C., Lincoln, Neb., and, especially, last September in Valley Forge, Pa., where 100 racists rallied on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.
But the publicity wasn't all well received — on the day of the Valley Forge protest, the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis-St. Paul, where NSM leader Jeff Schoep is based, ran a lengthy story on Schoep's criminal past. The story detailed petty crimes including aiding and abetting a burglary that was committed while the children of Schoep's then-girlfriend waited for the couple in a getaway car.
David Duke, the most prominent surviving neo-Nazi on the scene, emerged from prison last spring after serving more than a year for ripping off fellow white supremacists with bogus mail appeals. Duke is the nominal head of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), but EURO appears to be a paper tiger that engages in little real activism.
Duke and several of those close to him have become increasingly friendly with key neo-Nazis in the National Alliance.
Ku Klux Klan
Last year was a period of flux and realignment for America’s Klan groups, which together probably comprise fewer than 7,000 people, making the Klan a relatively small part of the white supremacist world. More than 50 Klan chapters disappeared, but others arose to take their place, resulting in an overall gain of five Klan chapters for a total of 163. The Imperial Klans of America, based in Dawson Springs, Ky., and boasting 34 chapters, remained the largest of some 34 competing Klan groups. The Southern White Knights rose and fell, ending 2004 with 16 active chapters. The Brotherhood of Klans, based in Prospect Heights, Ill., spurted from four chapters to 17 and bought property in Henderson, Tenn.
Several Klan groups, including the Orion Knights, based in Alabama, the Texas Knights, and the once-powerful American Knights seemed to disappear. The latter group’s leader, Jeff Berry, was released from prison in late 2004 after serving time in connection with detaining a news crew at gunpoint, but he has apparently failed to bring his Indiana-based group back to life. In addition, the once-numerous dedicated Klan message boards and Internet forums have dwindled to just four.
The neo-Nazi Skinhead scene continued to grow, with at least 48 chapters of 28 named groups, up 23% from the 39 chapters of 22 groups counted in 2003. Skinhead Web sites also rose, from 23 in 2003 to 26 last year.
Like several other areas of the white supremacist world, Skinheads seemed to be operating increasingly independently, often running in relatively small crews apparently not affiliated with larger organizations. Even many chapters of very well established groups like the Hammerskins seemed to be acting on their own.
A new faction of the Hammerskins, the Northwest Hammerskins, appeared on the scene, holding a “Martyr’s Day” event in Whidbey Island, Wash., last December to honor Bob Mathews, a terrorist killed in a 1984 shootout with the FBI. Another relatively new group, the Tualatin Valley Skins, based in Portland, Ore., got much public attention, partly due to its leafleting and cable television shows. At the same time, however, its leader, who goes by the name of Jim Ramm, was outed by a local newspaper early this year as actually being named Matthew Ernest Ramsey.
New Jersey remained something of a hotbed of Skinhead activity, with active crews of Eastern Hammerskins, AC Skins, Bergen County Hooligans and Trenton State Skinheads. Another group, the Florida-based Hated, added chapters in New Jersey. And, this March, eight members of the East Coast Hate Crew, headquartered in Ocean County, N.J., were arrested in connection with several hate crimes.
In Texas, a new group called TCB (Taking Care of Business) Hate Crew formed in the Dallas area in early 2004, adding chapters in Chicago and St. Louis later in the year. Its national leader is Del O’Connor, a British citizen formerly associated with the ultra-violent Combat 18 organization in that country. In a profile on the Internet, O’Connor says his hobbies are “guns, guns and more guns.”
The leading neo-Confederate group, the League of the South (LOS), continued to show signs of increasing radicalization. Last year, after the Intelligence Report revealed that Florida LOS official Michael Tubbs had served time for his role in a terrorist plot, some LOS officials suggested that Tubbs was a liability. LOS boss Michael Hill, however, deemed Tubbs “a reformed man.”
More importantly, Hill, who has repeatedly told anyone who would listen that his group is not racist, explicitly endorsed white racialism by publicly backing something called “kinism” at the September convention of the Virginia LOS. This ideology, derived from the word “kin” and elaborated at a Web site for The Kinist Institute, calls for laws against racial intermarriage, ending all non-white immigration, expelling all “aliens” (“to include all Jews and Arabs”), and restricting the right to vote to white, landholding men aged 21 or older.
Many of the LOS’ harder-line views on race are detailed at a Web site run by Virginia leader Harry Seabrook. “The non-white immigration invasion is the ‘Final Solution’ for the ‘white’ problem of the South,” the site argues. “Whites face genocide. We believe the Kinism statement proposes a biblical solution for all races. If whites die out, the South will no longer exist.”
The other major drama in the neo-Confederate world came in a Southern heritage group, the 30,000-plus-member Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV). For more that two years, an internal civil war has been raging in that group as extremists, led since last August by SCV Commander in Chief Denne Sweeney, sought to take it over. That battle between moderates (“grannies”) and radicals (“lunatics”) came to a head this January, when Sweeney suspended three moderate members of the SCV’s general executive council. After the three sued, a court barred Sweeney from the council and reinstated the three. A later ruling reinstated Sweeney, but forbade him to suspend any council members until the case is resolved.
As the case progressed, it became apparent that the SCV was in danger of falling apart. Many moderate members have left and formed alternative groups they call Robert E. Lee Societies. At the same time, several new radical SCV camps (or local units) have been chartered in a bid to boost radical voting strength.
Although it’s unclear which faction will win, the power of the racist radicals was reflected in the recent posting by SCV official Jim McManus of an “Apology to the Black Race” on the SCV Dispatch, a Web E-group to which most SCV members belong. The “apology,” versions of which have also appeared on Klan and other hate sites, was a stridently racist attack on blacks and an affirmation of white superiority.
Meanwhile, Kirk Lyons, a white supremacist attorney who has fought many of the radicals’ legal battles, found he was hardly alone after suggesting in an E-mail that Klansmen should not be barred from the SCV. In fact, not long after his remarks were publicized by the Report, Lyons’ opinion was backed by Charles Lunsford, leader of the supposedly non-racist Heritage Preservation Association.
The leading Holocaust denial outfit, the Institute for Historical Review (IHR), seemed to be in trouble. It recently suspended its Journal for Historical Review due to lack of “money and staff,” according to the group’s Web site. At the same time, IHR has not put on a major conference since 2002.
IHR also has apparently abandoned attempts to keep its ties to neo-Nazism private. Its Web site now openly references the neo-Nazi National Alliance, and the Alliance’s Kevin Strom recently interviewed an IHR principal on his radio show. In addition, in February 2004, the Alliance and IHR teamed up to salvage a Holocaust denial conference that almost failed after a Sacramento hotel refused to host it.
America’s other major Holocaust denial organization, Willis Carto’s Barnes Review, also failed to hold its annual conference last year. Carto has been in a legal battle with IHR principals for years, and it has apparently caused his publication real trouble. Still, The Barnes Review did manage to come up with a headline that surely took the prize for audaciousness: “Hitler as Nobel Peace Prize Winner.”
Heidi Beirich, Michelle Bramblett, Nia Hightower and Laurie Wood contributed to this report.