The National Socialist Movement, once a forgotten bit player on the fringe of the American Radical Right, is building a juggernaut.
MAUMEE, Ohio -- At a drab motel on the outskirts of Toledo, the Nazis got ready for the big rally. Inside their $45-a-night rooms, they busily shined their tall black boots, pressed their crisp brown storm trooper uniforms, and pinned Iron Cross tacks to their clip-on ties. With Velcro, they affixed their official National Socialist Movement armbands, described in the NSM clothing catalog as "blood-red with white circle and black swastika, hand-sewn by the women of the National Socialist Movement, comes with a certificate of authenticity. $14.88."
Outside the Knight's Inn lobby, 32-year-old "Commander" Jeff Schoep, the national leader of the NSM, talked in low tones with Bill White, the neo-Nazi outfit's media front man and a slumlord financier from Roanoke, Va. Nearby, Hal Turner, a racist New Jersey radio host who publicly advocates the murder of blacks, Jews, and federal judges, nervously puffed a cigar. It was Dec. 10. Nearly two months had passed since a planned NSM march through a rough Toledo neighborhood sparked rioting that made international news. The unrest occurred after Toledo police officers hustled the neo-Nazis to safety to save them from a furious mob whose members then re-directed their anger toward the police. The Nazis had escaped without a scratch and then declared total victory as television screens across five continents showed hundreds of black youths overturning cars, looting stores, setting fire to buildings and battling with police.
"The Negro beasts proved our point for us," said Schoep.
Indeed, the NSM couldn't have paid for better publicity. Every article and broadcast named the National Socialist Movement and many quoted White decrying black street crime. The widespread coverage boosted the status of a 30-year-old hate group whose power was already surging. At the time of the Toledo riot, the NSM had just added four new units, or local chapters, in three new states.
By February, the total had risen to 59 units in 32 states as the NSM continued to salvage and reassemble the shards of America's shattered neo-Nazi movement. Its leaders are building a new hate machine fueled on bloodthirsty rhetoric, publicity stunts and big-tent recruiting.
Building a Juggernaut
For nearly three decades after it was founded in 1974, the NSM was overshadowed by the National Alliance and Aryan Nations, American's longtime leading neo-Nazi organizations, and later by the World Church of the Creator. But while those groups have largely imploded in recent years following the deaths or imprisonment of their leaders, the NSM has thrived. From a forgotten bit player on the neo-Nazi scene, it has grown into the largest and most active neo-Nazi organization in the country. In addition to starting 26 new local chapters in just over six months, the NSM recently launched its own white power music label and distribution business, NSM88 Records, and set up 88PAC ("88" is movement shorthand for "Heil Hitler"), a political action committee that's registered with the Federal Election Commission to raise money for "pro-White" politicians, including NSM candidates for president and vice-president in 2008.
In the post-National Alliance era, the NSM has also rapidly achieved a higher profile than neo-Nazi upstarts White Revolution and National Vanguard. It's done this by ramping up the frequency and aggression of its theatrical street actions and by extending a standing invitation to "all white nationalists" to join or at least to share the stage at NSM rallies. Whereas other neo-Nazi groups have cloaked themselves in intellectual pretensions, screened their members and operated in the shadows, the NSM is open to practically anyone willing to dress up in a Nazi costume and march in public screaming "n-----."
"Since [last] June -- and particularly since October -- various white organizations, from Klan klaverns [local chapters] to Aryan Nations congregations to National Vanguard, National Alliance and White Revolution, units have simply been transferring their allegiance to the NSM," White boasted in January. "Many of them admire our activism. Many of them like the fact that we are legally confronting Jews and blacks in the streets."
White is a crafty promoter who, along with white power shock talk radio maven Hal Turner, has proven to be quite good at generating a buzz within white supremacist circles and getting attention from the mainstream media. White is also a frequent liar who enjoys spreading outright falsehoods and half-truths about competing hate groups, their leaders and members on his rumor-mill Web site. But when it comes to the expansion of the NSM, his braggadocio is based in fact. The group of about 60 white supremacists that gathered outside the Knight's Inn for the NSM's Dec. 10 rally in Toledo was almost evenly divided between uniformed neo-Nazis and members of various other groups, including the World Church of the Creator, National Vanguard, and several Skinhead gangs. The youngest racist there was a 15-year-old member of the NSM Viking Youth Corps. "I kinda hope we get into it with the n------. I'm ready to fight if I have to," the boy said. "We're here to stand up for our rights and to show the Jews that we're not afraid of all the n------ they have mind-controlled."
A caravan of slush- and grime-coated hatchbacks, pickups, and minivans with license plates from seven states pulled into the parking lot. "If anyone has a firearm, please leave it in your room. And if anyone needs to use the bathroom, go now," White called out. "It's almost show time."
Publicity and Propaganda
The National Socialist Movement inherited its Third Reich fetish directly from the American Nazi Party, which was founded by George Lincoln Rockwell in 1959. After Rockwell was murdered in 1967, two of his chief lieutenants, Robert Brannen and Cliff Herrington, formed the National Socialist American Workers Freedom Movement in St. Paul, Minn. Herrington assumed sole leadership of the group in 1983 after Brannen's health failed. Over the next decade, the group achieved little, managing only to open a handful of chapters outside Minnesota.
Then, in 1993, Herrington and one other member of his tiny group attended a Minnesota state legislative committee meeting in full Nazi dress to protest a proposed gay-rights ordinance. A pair of anti-gay rights protesters clutching Bibles and quoting Leviticus might have been ignored by the local media. But a couple of neo-Nazis sporting swastika armbands and hailing Hitler made the evening news and the next day's front page. Capitalizing on that success, Herrington and his small but suited band of Nazis began vigorously exercising their First Amendment rights. They quickly became the most infamous public nuisance in the Twin Cities.
The year after his debut at the legislature, Herrington handed over leadership of the group to Jeff Schoep, who was then 21. Schoep had been a member since at least his late teens and Herrington, who remains active with NSM today, believed that Schoep was more capable of attracting a new generation of American neo-Nazis.
Schoep renamed the group National Socialist Movement and declared his intention to form a "United Patriot Front" by reaching out to members of the Ku Klux Klan and racist Skinhead gangs. In fact, Schoep created a special NSM Skinhead Division and began offering discounted memberships to Skinheads for just $35 a year (regular NSM dues are $120).
With the exception of a few grizzled veterans of the Rockwell era, including "Chairman" Herrington and "Colonel Wild Bill" Hoff, the membership of the NSM is generally younger than other neo-Nazi groups in the U.S., and its tactics and image since the beginning have been far more crudely aggressive. At a summer 2002 rally in Topeka, Kansas, when 21 NSM members faced off with hundreds of anti-Nazi demonstrators, Schoep waved a noose. More recently, on Martin Luther King Day 2006, members of NSM's three Ohio units protested outside a King memorial ceremony in Troy, Ohio. "They had a long-winded prayer about that filthy n----- and I kept interrupting them with loud comments about Church's Fried Chicken and how the collard greens was gettin' cold," reported NSM Ohio leader "SS" Mann Mark Martin, who recently defected to NSM from White Revolution. "Ahhh... I love free speech."
Hitler as 'Holy Father'
Like Rockwell's followers in the 1960s, NSM members slavishly worship Hitler. "We hold our Führer, the beloved Holy Father of our age Adolf Hitler, in the greatest of esteem," declares party propaganda. "A visionary in every respect, Hitler understood and knew that the future for our people looked dim if devotion and determination were not brought to bear against our Racial enemies, namely the International Jew and his Negroid minions."
The ideology of today's NSM also mirrors that of the original American Nazi Party. According to its agenda, only heterosexual "pure-blood whites" should be allowed citizenship. All others should be stripped of their civil and constitutional rights. As Schoep puts it, "The Constitution was written by white men alone. Therefore, it was intended for whites alone." The NSM further calls for the U.S. to revoke the North American Free Trade Agreement; to pull out of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund; to nationalize all corporations; to ban all "non-white" immigration; to publicly execute black, Hispanic and Jewish "criminals;" and to fund universal health care for all white citizens. "The leaders of this movement promise to work ruthlessly -- if need be to sacrifice their very lives -- to translate this program into action," Schoep has said.
While Schoep may have been working ruthlessly to promote the NSM, he was otherwise unemployed and committing a string of the sort of petty crimes he typically ascribes to blacks, according to Minnesota court records. In 1998, for example, Schoep was arrested for helping the mother of his daughter steal $4,000 in computer equipment. He later pleaded guilty and got off with probation, but not before the sentencing judge pointed out Schoep's obvious hypocrisy. The NSM, she said, "does not condone fathering children around the countryside and taking no financial responsibility. And it does not condone the commission of crimes. I also know that your organization believes that there are various minority groups in this country who do that on a regular basis."
On the March
Fortunately for Schoep, the National Socialist Movement's standards are less rigorous than Hitler's. "If the NSM existed during the actual Third Reich, Adolf Hitler would probably have purged most members," former NSM National Officer Jacques Pluss wrote in January in his essay, "Now It Can Be Told: Why I Pretended to Be a Neo-Nazi." In that essay, Pluss, a former Fairleigh Dickinson University history professor who was fired when his membership in the NSM was made public, claimed that he had joined the Nazis -- and become a leading spokesmen for their views -- only to better research a book on "the wacky White power movement." Pluss, who had hosted the weekly NSM radio show, "White Viewpoint," also called the NSM a bunch of "fraudulent thugs." He said he'd joined the NSM in February 2005 because it was "the most flashy neo-Nazi group I could find."
At that time, the NSM was on a roll. It had recently absorbed the Tualatin Valley Skins, a Portland, Ore., Skinhead gang, appointed a national director of its new women's division, and intensified its outreach to the Ku Klux Klan groups.
Photos taken at a Cleveland Knights KKK leadership conference in South Carolina in April 2005 show uniformed NSM Nazis socializing with robed and hooded Klansmen. That year, Schoep also crisscrossed the country giving speeches at racist Skinhead music festivals including a George Lincoln Rockwell memorial concert put on by the Keystone State Skinheads in Pennsylvania, where he railed against blacks, Jews, and the "brown pestilence" of Mexican and Central American immigrants.
Like other white supremacist groups, the NSM has tapped into the rising tide of anti-immigration sentiment in America. But where other groups advocate the mass deportation of Hispanics, the NSM pretty plainly advocates their mass murder. One NSM Web site features a short piece of fiction called "Taco Down," which is about "Holy Aryan Warriors" secretly massacring Mexican immigrants in the desert. "As the alien maggots shuffled closer to the watering station, I instinctively flipped the safety off my camouflaged sniper rifle," the story reads in part. "The invading brownskins were mere roaches, sub-human pests, and we the exterminators."
The NSM held nine anti-immigration rallies in the first nine months of 2005, beginning in March outside a Home Depot day laborer site in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and ending with a "pro-white march" in September in Elizabeth, N.C., where one NSM member was arrested for illegally carrying a concealed handgun. Photos from that rally show eight Nazis standing in a circle around a Confederate war memorial, seig-heiling the statue.
Elizabeth got off easy. Oftentimes when the NSM comes to town, its presence drains a city's coffers. Lincoln, Neb., Police Chief Tom Casady was criticized in July 2004 for spending about $50,000 on extra security and police overtime to keep the peace at an NSM rally and counter-demonstration. But Casady looked like a wizard after the rioting in Toledo last October, which cost nearly a million dollars in property damage.
When the NSM returned to Ohio in December, police agencies had transformed downtown Toledo into a militarized zone. Police snipers were stationed on rooftops, helicopters whirred overhead, and a heavily armored tactical vehicle typically used for busting into methamphetamine labs chugged around City Hall on streets lined with SWAT teams, mounted police and riot squads. More than 700 officers from 15 law enforcement agencies were deployed. The overtime pay for the Toledo Police Department alone was later reported to have cost the city $300,000, or roughly $5,000 per Nazi.
End of the Rope
A cold wind blew fiercely as Hal Turner threatened to lynch blacks and Hispanics in his speech outside Toledo's City Hall. "This is a message to the criminal subculture in the black and Hispanic community: We in the white community are at the end of our rope and we're here to tell you that the end of a rope will not be a nice place to be if these problems continue. White people have a very nasty version of street justice. If these crime problems are not settled by the black and Hispanic communities, rest assured we will get our ropes and we will solve them for you."
It was big talk from a small man protected by hundreds of police officers. The 63 Nazis and other white supremacists who rallied in downtown Toledo on Dec. 10 were separated from a crowd of about 170 anti-Nazi demonstrators and 50 journalists by a four-lane street with a wide, landscaped median. Mounted police and riot squads formed impenetrable lines on both sides of the street. A four-square-block area surrounding One Government Plaza had been sealed off the night before. Anyone looking to attend the rally who was not with the NSM had to first be searched and pass through a metal detector at one of two pedestrian-only access points. Then they had to stand and be videotaped. Some officers even asked individuals to state their name to the camera before allowing them into the protest pen (see story on the legality of this practice).
Malfunctioning public address systems are as much a tradition at NSM rallies as swastika banners, and Toledo proved no exception. The PA stopped working entirely halfway through the hour-long rally (according to the NSM Web site, the batteries died from the cold; apparently, no one brought extras). Using a bullhorn, the last three speakers were impossible to hear across the street over the anti-Nazis chanting, "Die, Nazis, Die!" "Nazis suck!" and "Red rover, red rover, send Bill White on over." Police made 30 rally-related arrests that day. Several of those taken into custody were NSM sympathizers, including a woman wearing a camouflage jacket and a Santa Claus hat who was arrested after she allegedly tried to start a fight with anti-Nazis. A second Nazi sympathizer making positive comments about the NSM to a television news crew was surrounded by anti-Nazis who jeered her, spat on her, and threw horse feces in her face.
After the December rally, the Nazis celebrated at a Mexican restaurant. They celebrated free speech, free publicity, and free police protection. They toasted a future strategy based on more of the same.
Writing on the Wall
The first NSM action of 2006 took place Jan. 22 in Olympia, Wash. Sixteen white supremacists representing the NSM's newly formed Seattle unit gathered in a parking lot across the street from The Olympian newspaper to protest "White genocide through multiculturalism." They were outnumbered nearly 20 to one by counter-protesters. "The few cops soon became unable to control the commie scum," the NSM Web site reported later. "All of our people got home safely but most had to be escorted out in the back seat of police cars to keep us from defending ourselves." There were no arrests, though police briefly detained one protester for throwing glitter on the Nazis.
Later in January, the NSM announced plans to rally in Lansing, Mich., in April, and again in Olympia on July 4. On Feb. 25, the NSM was joined by members of National Vanguard, White Revolution, Aryan Nations and Hammerskin Nation for a "march against black crime" in Orlando, Fla. "The situation for white citizens in Orlando is intolerable," flyers proclaimed.
But it's the attention-grabbing antics of the NSM that some other white supremacist leaders are finding intolerable. "The NSM should not be encouraged, they should be ridiculed and ostracized," fumed White Revolution lieutenant Ben Vinyard, a former National Alliance activist apparently frustrated by his own latest group's ineffectiveness. Vinyard may also have been recalling the views of National Alliance founder William Pierce, who shortly before his death in 2002 mocked other neo-Nazis for being lowbrow, infamously branding them "freaks and weaklings."
But Vinyard and other neo-Nazis who honor Pierce's hard-line elitism seem to be fighting a losing battle against the NSM's knack for hype, its brazen image, and its unusual openness to joining forces with other racist groups. Considering the NSM's snowballing momentum, it seems the freaks and weaklings have taken over a major piece of America's white supremacist movement, at least for now.
"White Revolution really petered out about a year after it was founded," White boasted in January. "The National Alliance has already gone the same way. Those who are still hanging on affiliated with National Vanguard should see the writing on the wall, and the Klan has been in tatters for decades now. The National Socialist Movement is the future. We have the activists."