Hate groups grow steadily as the anti- immigration movement swells; 40% rise reported since the start of the millennium
Headliners: The National Socialist Movement's rallies, including an appearance in the liberal college town of Madison, Wis., were among the year's notable extremist events.
Energized by the rancorous national debate on immigration and increasingly successful at penetrating mainstream political discourse, the number of hate groups in America continued to grow in 2006, rising 5% over the year before to 844 groups.
That increase translated into a 40% jump in the number of groups since 2000, when there were 602 hate groups operating in America, according to research by the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Much of the expansion has been driven by hate groups' exploitation of the issue of illegal immigration, which most Americans see as a pressing concern.
Last year's hate group growth came despite continuing disarray on the neo-Nazi scene, with various relatively weak groups vying for dominance; a series of embarrassments including the arrests of two key leaders; the deaths of many stalwarts of the white supremacist old guard; signs of a splintering skinhead alliance; and the absence of any single major group working to unify the others.
At the same time that hate groups continued to proliferate, the United States has seen the breathtakingly rapid rise of a right-wing anti-immigration movement made up of groups that are xenophobic but mostly stop short of the open racial hatred espoused by hate groups. In just the last two years, some 250 new nativist organizations have sprung up, some of them armed and engaged vigilante round-ups of undocumented Latino immigrants. More and more of them have taken up the tactics of personal, in-your-face intimidation.
Most of these anti-immigration groups routinely denigrate undocumented Latinos and also popularize conspiracy theories, such as an alleged Mexican plot to annex the American Southwest, that originate in hate groups. As a result, it is no longer uncommon for these ideas and theories to make their way to radio, television or other mainstream venues. Even U.S. congressmen now bandy about unsubstantiated accusations of immigrant criminality, helping to whip up an atmosphere in which immigrants are seen as personally threatening.
"This kind of really vile propaganda begins in hate groups, makes its way out into the larger anti-immigration movement, and, before you know it, winds up in places like 'Lou Dobbs Tonight' on CNN," said Mark Potok, director of the SPLC's Intelligence Project. "This country needs a robust debate on immigration, but it does not need a debate based on racist allegations and bogus conspiracy theories."
Although the anti-immigration movement has endured several recent splits, it appears to be growing more radical overall, particularly since its supporters on the right wing of the Republican Party have grown increasingly isolated and weak as the GOP suffers from election losses and an unpopular war. That radicalization was reflected in a recent comment from Chris Simcox, a co-founder of the Minuteman Project who had been a relatively moderate voice in the nativist movement.
"Be prepared and stock up on survival supplies, you may well need them," Simcox warned movement colleagues in an E-mail early this year, as immigration legislation that could bring a guest worker program advanced. "I'm not advocating it, nor am I claiming I will participate, however, the fact remains, hundreds of thousands of Americans will consider this the final straw, violent civil disobedience will break out all over the country if this legislation gets passed."
Here's a more detailed look at several sectors of the radical right:
The Minnesota-based National Socialist Movement (NSM), with 81 chapters in 36 states, remained the largest group on the neo-Nazi scene last year and was highly active for the first half of that period. But in July, scandal hit the group in the form of reports that Chairman Cliff Herrington's wife was a practicing Satanist. Before it was over, both Herringtons had left the group, as had its energetic spokesman, Bill White of Roanoke, Va. White took several NSM members and officials with him to form the American National Socialist Workers Party. Although that group has begun to publish a magazine, thus far it has done little else.
NSM has been pushing immigration heavily, and planned to follow a rally held in Texas last fall with a "Rock Against Illegal Immigration" concert and "mass rally" scheduled for Laurens, S.C., this April. NSM leader Jeff Schoep has led several such rallies, attacking Latino immigrants for "stealing jobs" and more. The neo-Nazi National Vanguard, formed in 2005 as a split-off from the once-dominant National Alliance, had 14 chapters last year. But it was not a very active group, and last July its leader, Kevin Strom, took a leave of absence without any real explanation. That mystery was apparently resolved in January, when Strom was arrested on charges of possession of child pornography and witness tampering. It soon came to light that a prominent National Vanguard organizer outside Boston, Matthew Downing, also had been arrested, for statutory rape, just two weeks earlier.
Like the NSM, National Vanguard has concentrated heavily on the issue of immigration. On its website this spring, the group claimed that "the upsurge of anti-Third World immigration sentiment … is pushing a small but increasing number of ordinary White people into considering serious White nationalist alternatives like National Vanguard."
The National Alliance continued its long decline into irrelevance. Although it still claimed 12 chapters last year, it was hardly visible on the white supremacist scene — "essentially dead," in the words of long-time Alliance-basher Bill White. The nadir came in June, when Alliance Chairman Shaun Walker was arrested in Utah and charged with federal civil rights violations in two attacks on non-white bar patrons in 2002 and 2003. Another Alliance member was also arrested. Former chair Erich Gliebe, demoted in 2005, was returned to the Alliance's top post.
Aryan Nations, still recovering from a devastating lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2000, grew by six chapters to 20, partly by reaching out to racist skinheads and, especially, Klan members. In October, it managed to draw some 150 people to its 25th Aryan Nations World Congress in Laurens, S.C. But by this February, a split developed over how much to emphasize racist Christian Identity theology, and a splinter group, United Church of Yhwh, broke away.
KU KLUX KLAN
The Klan, composed of 34 named groups with a total 164 chapters, was down by 15 chapters last year. But that dip came after years of growth, from 110 chapters in 2000 to 179 in 2005. Still, that steep five-year rise, some 63%, probably came more in the number of chapters than in actual Klansmen. There are likely between 6,000 and 8,000 Klansmen in all 34 Klan groups combined.
The Kentucky-based Imperial Klans of America (IKA), the largest Klan group in 2005, dropped by almost half to 23 chapters last year. It fell behind the Illinois-based Brotherhood of Klans (BOK), which had 30 chapters in 2006. Imperial Wizard Dale Fox died in November, but was quickly replaced by Jeremy Parker.
Both Klan groups, like most others, have concentrated heavily on immigration. A recent IKA pamphlet said that the huge pro-immigrant marches held last year showed that American cities are "terrorized by hateful, racist illegal aliens marching under a foreign flag." Not to be outdone, the BOK website, under the headline "REMEMBER THE ALAMO!" announced this winter that it was time for white Americans "to declare war on these illegal Mexicans."
Last fall, two IKA members were indicted for allegedly beating a teenage boy they believed was Latino at a county fair. This February, immediately after Jarred Hensley and Andrew Watkins were sentenced to three years in prison because of the assault, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a civil lawsuit against them.
During the first half of 2006, the Vinlanders Social Club, a Midwestern coalition of racist skinhead crews, made a remarkable bid for power on the larger skinhead scene, challenging the Hammerskin Nation that had once been the unquestioned dominant force in that world. The Vinlanders, a group that includes crews from Ohio, Indiana and elsewhere, were admired for their cohesiveness and defiance toward the Hammerskins, who are widely seen by other racist skinheads as elitist and overbearing.
But as the year wore on, there were rumblings of internal divisions. Still, it came as a surprise when, as 2007 began, the group announced that it planned "to separate [itself] from the racist movement," which it characterized as rife with "paid informants, social outcasts, and general losers in life." It's not clear what that meant, however, as the Vinlanders also said they would keep operating their Council of 28, an umbrella leadership group that also includes Klansmen and neo-Nazis.
In California, meanwhile, David Lynch, who in the mid-1980s established a skinhead group called American Front, brought that group back to life in late 2005 and 2006. He has also reconnected with Richie Myers, a violent Florida skinhead who served a prison term for nearly drowning a fellow skinhead who was secretly Jewish. Lynch also runs the Sacto Skins, based in Sacramento, Calif., and has ties to international groups.
The principal neo-Confederate organization, the League of the South, grew slightly to 103 chapters. But the group did not seem to be very active beyond Internet postings and the third, failed attempt to hold a Southern National Congress (apparently the group couldn't muster sufficient interest).
At the same time, the league, which has described slavery as "God-ordained" and seeks a return to European "hegemony" in a newly seceded South, has forged two interesting new alliances. In South Carolina, it works closely with Christian Exodus, a group that is trying to get right-wing Christians from other states to move there in a bid to take over political power. In Vermont, the league participated in a "North American Secessionist Convention" in Burlington last fall. Most of the other attendees represented left-wing groups, like the Second Vermont Republic (SVR). Not long after the convention, an SVR leader publicly offered up a Southern revisionist account of Lincoln.
The Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a group directly descended from the old segregationist White Citizens Councils that has claimed as many as 15,000 members, announced last year that it was making non-white immigration its top priority. At the same time, it adopted a new "statement of principles" at its June convention that described the United States as "a European country" and opposed "all efforts to mix the races" — remarkable statements for a group that only a few years ago claimed to be non-racist.
Last fall, the CCC's Michigan chapter head, the Rev. John Raternik, allied with Ward Connerly, a well-known black conservative, to back a state refendum to ban affirmative action. Connerly rejected calls to denounce the CCC, which has referred to blacks as "a retrograde species of humanity." The ban passed.
Heidi Beirich, Michelle Bramblett, Angela Freeman, Anthony Griggs, Janet Smith and Laurie Wood contributed to this report.