Film Review: New Documentary on Hate Revealing

White racial extremists are certain that “their” culture is under attack and has to be defended with guns. “If there is going to be any salvation of our culture, white European culture, violence is guaranteed because they’re not listening,” says long-time neo-Nazi and White Aryan Resistance leader Tom Metzger. I am not quite sure what Metzger is talking about — salvation for European culture in the United States? What exactly is “white culture”? But as Mariah Wilson’s new documentary “Revealing Hate” shows, racial extremists are typically better at advocating and committing violence than coherently explaining their irrational views.

Wilson’s well-constructed film provides a comprehensive introduction to the American white supremacist movement, examining its roots, its current state and a number of its individual voices. Broken into eight chapters, Metzger and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project Director Mark Potok (who edits this blog) supply the bulk of the commentary. (Full disclosure: One of the chapters focuses on the work of the Intelligence Project.) Metzger offers analysis from the point of view of a racial extremist on the various incidents and people in the film, and Potok is his counterpoint, providing his expertise on hate groups.

Metzger is the most intriguing of Wilson’s interview subjects. While his motivations behind wanting to stop the supposed dilution of the white race are hard to understand — he claims that he became a white supremacist not because of any incident with a minority, but because he “observed” African Americans while in the Army — he is capable of remarkable insight. He is dismissive of the rabblerousing rallies and marches that neo-Nazis like to hold, noting the irony of how reliant these supposed revolutionaries are on the government for the protection of their First Amendment rights — they have to be bused to their rallies from a secret location, escorted by police, placed behind chain fences, and so on. The rallies, as seen in the documentary, are a strange circus of swastikas, 1940s Nazi paraphernalia, sieg-heiling young men, American flags and speeches about being “willing to kill to get back my white America.” Are these American flag-waving neo-Nazis unaware that the United States went to war against the Third Reich?

It’s easy to discount the threat of racial extremists after watching groups like these make a mockery of themselves, so Wilson smartly confronts viewers with the full savagery these people are capable of by focusing on one of the more infamous incidents of extremist violence in America. In 1979, a group of Communist Workers Party members held a “Death to the Klan” rally in Greensboro, N.C. As the rally began, Klan members rolled up in their cars, removed guns from the trunks and opened fire on the protesters, killing five of them. Four local news stations were present to tape the rally and captured the massacre in shocking detail. The first time I watched it I thought it might be a reenactment because the images were so vivid (no shaky, out-of-focus camera work here). Wilson could have chosen to interview people about a more recent crime perpetrated by extremists, such as the 2009 murder of a guard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., but there is no footage of that attack and a verbal description of what happened beggars the impact of actually seeing Klan members engage in murder.

The white supremacists Wilson examines all have the same broad goal: saving white culture. That goal may be abstract, but the supremacists are action-oriented. Metzger tells racist skinheads to grow their hair out and “get a good education. Get into army, police, anywhere you can get power. … Wait for the big war — like Timothy McVeigh, multiplied by 10,000.” Naturally, he realizes that if you are serious about promoting violence, it is best to keep your head down. (Metzger probably learned that lesson after the SPLC won a $12.5 million civil judgment against him for having helped incite a racially motivated murder). The supremacists all seem to agree that violence will be a component of the white restoration and that people like McVeigh are heroes. But Metzger thinks in more insidious and practical terms.

As Potok notes, the Klan once had tremendous influence among politicians and other authorities. In the film, the famous retired Klan investigator Stetson Kennedy recounts how a Klan official gave him a deathbed account of inducting President Warren Harding into the Klan in a ceremony inside the White House. Today, Metzger and others like him may be having more success than we think at influencing young white supremacists to go underground and seize power. In recent years, for example, fairly large numbers of neo-Nazis and so-called “ghost skins” (skinheads who have grown their hair and, essentially, gone undercover) have entered the military to gain military skills for later action. (The SPLC produced major reports on this phenomenon, ultimately resulting in a change of Pentagon policy meant to keep such extremists out.)  The threat is no longer just lone wolves like Timothy McVeigh committing domestic terrorism, but Manchurian candidates who can influence public policy and upend our laws without having to fire a shot.

“Revealing Hate” is well worth watching, as the couple of film festival awards it’s already landed suggest. It has not been shown as of yet on national television, but it continues to receive film festival and local TV screenings and is likely to get more — upcoming dates and locations are available at the film’s site. A DVD of the film, available here, also goes on sale beginning Tuesday.