In the second part of his report on right-wing extremism in the United States, Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center breaks down its multiple components.
The LGBT community made significant advances in 2011, with the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gay men and lesbians in the military, the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage by Americans and the legalization of such bonds in New York state. But it was precisely these advances that seemed to set off a furious rage on the religious right, with renewed efforts to ban or repeal marriage equality and what seemed to be an intensification of anti-gay propaganda in certain quarters. American Family Association official Bryan Fischer, for instance, said that “gays are Nazis”, claimed that HIV does not cause AIDS but gay men do, and, for good measure, criticized black welfare recipients who “rut like animals”. In another development, most of the religious right groups that started out opposing abortion but moved on to attacking LGBT people have recently begun to adopt anti-Muslim propaganda en masse. The gay-bashing Traditional Values Coalition, for instance, last year redesigned its website to emphasize a new section entitled “Islam vs. the Constitution”, published a report on Shariah law, and joined anti-Shariah conferences. Overall, the number of anti-gay hate groups in the United States rose markedly, going from 17 in 2010 to 27 last year.
The number of anti-Muslim groups tripled in 2011, jumping from ten groups in 2010 to 30 last year. That rapid growth in Islamophobia, marked by the vilification of Muslims by opportunistic politicians and anti-Muslim activists, began in August 2010, when controversy over a planned Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan reached a fever pitch. Things got worse later in the year, when Oklahoma residents voted to amend the state constitution to forbid the use of Islamic Shariah law in state courts – a completely unnecessary change, given that the US Constitution rules that out. The overheated atmosphere generated by these events also helped spur a 50% jump in the FBI’s count of anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2010. Then, in March 2011, US Representative Peter King (Republican, New York) held hearings on the radicalization of U.S. Muslims that seemed to intend to demonize them. At the same time, there was a swelling of truly vicious propaganda like this remarkable comment from columnist Debbie Schlussel: “They are animals, yes, but a lower form than the dog, as they won’t learn to change their behavior for a carrot or a reward.”
Black Separatist Groups
The most remarkable development among radical black groups and individuals last year was the continuing spread of so-called “sovereign citizen” ideology, a set of ideas that originated in white supremacist groups of the 1970s and 1980s but has nevertheless taken off among African Americans. Sovereigns’ conspiratorial beliefs generally include the claim that Americans are not subject to most tax and criminal laws, including statutes requiring driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations. In the case of the black adherents, who make up only a sliver of the larger sovereign citizens movement, these ideas have been melded with selective interpretations of early black nationalists like Noble Drew Ali. Black sovereigns, like white ones, have engaged in a series of criminal acts, drawing up bogus financial instruments, harassing enemies with unjustified court filings, and even illegally seizing houses they do not own. Another noteworthy development among radical black groups was the Nation of Islam’s furious defense of Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi, a sometimes Nation benefactor who was killed in the uprisings later that year. Nation leader Louis Farrakhan said that US involvement in Libya would hasten the apocalypse. Malik Zulu Shabazz, head of the New Black Panther Party, went further, calling President Obama a “nigger police chief” leading the attack on a “black man…on the run, named Qaddafi”.
Christian Identity Groups
Christian Identity, a radical theology that describes Jews as biologically descended from Satan and people of color as soulless “mud people”, has been declining in recent years, largely because its arcane, Bible-based doctrines seem to hold little interest for young racists. But last year that trend reversed itself, as a new Identity group, Crusaders for Yahweh, appeared with 30 chapters. The group is based in Chillicothe, Ohio, and led by Paul Mullet, a former member of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations (whose members generally practice Christian Identity) who left that group in 2010. That year, Mullet briefly formed an organization he called the American National Socialist Party, but he has now moved on to Crusaders for Yahweh, which appears to be tied institutionally to Aryan Nations. Also last year, Identity lost one of its best-known proponents with the death at 64 of Peter John “Pete” Peters, pastor of the LaPorte, Colorado, Church of Christ. Peters, who ran an Internet and radio ministry called Scriptures for America, had inspired extremists for some four decades.
Ku Klux Klan Groups
Overall, the number of Klan chapters last year fell to 152 from 221 in 2010, and the various Klan groupings were relatively quiet. But the year brought major changes in the Klan formations, with some large groups disappearing while others popped up or added large numbers of new chapters. Most notably, the second largest Klan group in America – the Marion, Ohio-based Brotherhood of Klans, with 38 chapters in almost as many states – folded when its leader, Jeremy Parker, joined the leading Aryan Nations faction. At the same time, however, the Rebel Brigade Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, based in Martinsville, Virginia, and inactive for several years, came back to life under leader Stan Martin with 19 chapters. The United Knights of Tennessee Ku Klux Klan, meanwhile, shot up from a single chapter in Morristown, Tennessee, to 19. Two others, the True Invisible Empire Knights based in Pulaski, Tennessee, and the Traditional American Knights of Potosi, Missouri, merged to form the Potosi-based True Invisible Empire Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Nativist Extremist Groups
The contemporary movement of “nativist extremist” groups – organizations that go beyond lobbying and other political activities meant to restrict immigration, and instead harass and confront individuals they suspect are undocumented immigrants – began in 2005, with the appearance of the first Minuteman groups. (The SPLC does not list nativist extremist groups as hate groups; only a handful of the most extreme anti-immigrant groups are listed that way.) For its first five years, the movement expanded rapidly, reaching a high point of 319 groups in 2010. Last year, that number plummeted by more than 40%, falling to just 184, for reasons that are both internal and external. Internally, the movement was disrupted by internecine quarrels and the negative publicity that was generated by a Minuteman leader’s murder of a Latino man and his 9-year-old daughter in Arizona, a case that resulted in the leader’s being sentenced to death last year. But what may have been even more important is the way that the movement was co-opted as state legislatures began passing draconian legislation meant to punish undocumented immigrants, effectively stealing the issue away from the nativist groups.
The neo-Confederate movement, whose heart is the Alabama-based League of the South (LOS), grew both smaller and more radical last year as its political efforts to organize a second Southern secession seemed to fall on bare ground. Founded in 1994 by former university professor Michael Hill, the LOS, which opposes racial intermarriage and seeks a society marked by “general European cultural hegemony,” had 42 chapters in 2010, but saw that number fall to 32 last year. The drop-off came as Hill’s rhetoric grew more belligerent than ever before. Last July, at his Abbeville, South Carolina, annual conference, Hill told LOS members that, “we are already at war” and, earlier, he urged them to buy AK-47s, hollow-point bullets and tools to derail trains. Some 60 people at the conference learned how to draw down on an enemy, and Hill asked in a speech, “What would it take to get you to fight?” Meanwhile, the group’s relatively strong Alabama chapter, based in Wetumpka, almost finished work on a 4,000-square-foot building that it intends to use for international conferences.
Racist Skinhead Groups
Last March, David Lynch, leader of the Sacramento, California-based American Front and one of the best-known racist skinheads on the international scene, was shot to death in his Citrus Heights home; his girlfriend was shot in the leg. Within days, police were questioning Charles Gilbert Demar III, a Lynch associate also known as “Charlie Boots” who was the lead singer of the Stormtroop 16 band, as a “person of interest”. Demar was arrested when officials found crystal methamphetamine and a meth manufacturing setup in his apartment, but at the time of writing he had not been charged in connection with Lynch’s death. Another significant event on the skinhead scene took place last June, when the decade-old Vinlanders Social Club, one of the most violent racist skinhead groups, held its first white power concert. More than 50 people came to the event in Columbus, Ohio, including Richie Meyer, president of the Confederate Hammerskins, and Forrest Fogarty, a musician and one of Meyer’s more prominent followers. Their presence and friendly association with Vinlanders at the event reflected the success of a truce between the two groups that was reached in 2007, ending what had been described as a “blood feud” between them.
White Nationalist Groups
Three large groups form the core of the white nationalist movement in the United States: the Council of Conservative Citizens, an outgrowth of the old White Citizens Councils, that fights against school integration and racial intermarriage; American Renaissance, a journal that justifies white nationalism by attacking the intelligence and mental health of black people; and the American Third Position (A3P), a racist party with electoral ambitions in many states and the nation at large. Of these, it has been A3P, which only started up in 2009, that has been growing the most rapidly. It also has attracted most of the best-known white nationalists in America to its cause. Last year, Virginia Abernethy, an emeritus professor of psychiatry and anthropology at Vanderbilt Medical School, joined the A3P board of directors, as did Tomas Sunic, an American-educated Croatian who has spoken at neo-Nazi events. Others who became A3P officials earlier include Kevin MacDonald, a deeply anti-Semitic professor at California State University, Long Beach; James Edwards, host of a racist radio show based in Memphis; Don Wassall, publisher of the anti-immigrant Nationalist Times; and Jamie Kelso, once an aide to former Klan boss David Duke. A3P is headed up by Los Angeles lawyer William Daniel Johnson, a man who once sought to deport every American with any “ascertainable trace of Negro blood.”
*[This article was originally published at the Southern Poverty Law Center.]
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