The State of Hate: Organized Hate Groups in the United States
Although only a minority of hate crimes are committed by members of organized hate groups, these individuals perpetrate some of the most brutal hate crimes and set the stage for other copycat crimes by individuals not associated in any way with these groups. In addition, members of hate groups may engage in a wide array of other criminal acts, ranging from white collar crimes to crimes of violence, including terrorism.
In the United States, white supremacists remain the most numerous type of hate group. As of August 2004, the United States had hundreds of white supremacist groups with tens of thousands of members. Many more white supremacists are associates without being formal members, and many others sympathize with such groups and their agenda. There are several hundred thousand white supremacists in the United States.
White supremacist ideology in the 21st century is different than its counterpart half a century ago. Through the civil rights era, the explicit goal of white supremacists was to maintain the dominance of whites in America. However, as years passed, white supremacists realized their views were those of a shrinking minority, and that increasingly, government, law enforcement, and the communities in which they lived opposed their goals.
From the 1970s forward, white supremacist ideology changed to reflect these conditions. The concept of "white separatism" arose, whereby many white supremacists conceded that whites could no longer dominate all of America and instead focused on various plans to create "white homelands."
White supremacist ideology evolved into a defensive, desperate ideology that claims the white race is in peril of extinction. This viewpoint was crystallized in the "14 Words," a popular slogan coined by imprisoned white supremacist David Lane: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children." White supremacists believe that the future of the white race itself is in doubt, about to fall prey to a "rising tide of color" controlled and manipulated by Jews. These beliefs enable them to rationalize taking even violent or extreme actions, if it will help "save" the white race.
Today there are six major categories of white supremacists in the United States: 1) "traditional" white supremacist groups; 2) Christian Identity groups; 3) Neo-Nazi groups; 4) racist skinhead groups; 5) racist prison gangs; and 6) border vigilante groups.
"Traditional" White Supremacist Groups
"Traditional" white supremacist groups reflect the oldest racist traditions in the United States; they are more likely to emphasize hatred of African Americans and immigrants, although they are also often anti-Semitic.
"Traditional" groups are dominated by the Ku Klux Klan, still the most numerous hate group in America. There is no one Klan, but rather almost 50 separate Klan organizations around the country, most located in the South and Midwest. The most influential Klan groups include the Kentucky-based Imperial Klans of America, the Arkansas-based Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Indiana-based National Knights, and the Pennsylvania-based Keystone Knights. However, the real strength of the Klan lies in smaller groups such as the Ohio-based Mystic Knights or the Florida-based ORION Knights.
Klan-associated criminal acts, including acts of terrorism, remain common. Recently, Klan leaders have been convicted on weapons and explosives charges related to alleged plots to destroy abortion clinics and local government offices. However, the Klan has also been associated with several high-profile hate crimes in recent years. In 2003, for example, individuals associated with the Imperial Klans of America pleaded guilty to civil rights charges in Kentucky for a campaign of harassment, intimidation, and assaults against an African-American family. The same year, five members of the American Invisible Empire of the Ku Klux Klan were convicted in federal court in Louisiana on conspiracy and intimidation charges for burning a cross at an African-American residence.
The most significant non-Klan "traditional" white supremacist group is the Missouri-headquartered Council of Conservative Citizens, with thousands of members. Also noteworthy is the European-American Unity and Rights Association (EURO), led by ex-Klansman David Duke, who was released from prison in April 2004 after serving a 15-month sentence for tax and mail fraud.
Christian Identity Groups
Christian Identity is a religious sect whose adherents believe that white Europeans are descended from the "Lost Tribes" of ancient Israel; many believe that Jews are descended from Satan and that nonwhites are soulless "mud peoples." Although numbering only 25,000 to 40,000 adherents, Identity is disproportionately influential, and its adherents can be found in every category of hate group, as well as in many anti-government extremist groups.
Important Identity groups include the Colorado-based Scriptures for America, the Idaho-based America's Promise Ministries, the Montana-based Church of True Israel, the Virginia Christian Israelites, and the Oklahoma-based commune, Elohim City. There are also Identity Klans, as well as Identity neo-Nazi groups.
Many Identity adherents are reclusive, but their numbers can be substantial. In 2003-2004, for example, Identity minister Pete Peters drew audiences in the hundreds at venues around the country. A 2004 Identity event in Branson, Mo., attracted 500 adherents. In July 2004, three different Identity groups held events in the Pacific Northwest on the same weekend.
The association of Identity with criminal activity remains high and often under-appreciated. A crime by an Aryan Nations member is more likely to be reported than a neo-Nazi incident, even though Aryan Nations is also an Identity group. One well-known Identity adherent, Eric Rudolph, will face trial in Alabama in late 2004 or early 2005. He has been charged with a series of bombings targeting gay bars, an abortion clinic, and the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Neo-Nazis make up one of the smaller hate movements in the United States, but their adherents are among the most radical.
American neo-Nazis have suffered a number of serious disruptions since 2002. The most significant was the death that year of William Pierce, the founder of the largest neo-Nazi group in the United States, the West Virginia-headquartered National Alliance. Pierce was succeeded by the less charismatic Erich Gliebe, whose ascension to power was not universally accepted and caused defections, unrest, and mudslinging. Group membership dropped from an estimated 1,500 to 1,100, while revenue also dropped, in part because Gliebe made comments that alienated racist skinheads, whose purchases of white power music are a major source of income for the group. By 2004, however, Gliebe stabilized the National Alliance, which became particularly energetic in the distribution of racist and anti-Semitic literature around the country.
Problems facing the Idaho-based Aryan Nations were at least as severe, caused in large part by the refusal of its ailing leader, 86-year old Richard Butler, to relinquish the reins of power. As a result, in 2001-2003, Aryan Nations was wracked by defections and factional infighting; at one point, three separate groups simultaneously claimed its mantle. However, Butler himself remained active, traveling to hate rallies around the country and even running for mayor of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. He also found recruits to replace some of the defections and reestablished a number of Aryan Nations state chapters. But because Butler currently has no anointed successor, and has outlived two previously named successors, the long-term future of the group remains cloudy.
An equally serious problem for Aryan Nations has been frequent arrests of its members. Since 2002, seven different Aryan Nations members (many with previous convictions) have been arrested for alleged crimes ranging from weapons charges to hate crimes; four such arrests occurred in April-May 2004 alone, including an alleged firebombing of a synagogue in Oklahoma City in April 2004.
Matt Hale, the leader of a third group, the World Church of the Creator (now known as the Creativity Movement), was convicted in April 2004 for soliciting the murder of a federal judge who presided over a trademark lawsuit against the group (that it lost). The combination of the loss of the group's name and identity and Hale's incarceration resulted in its near disintegration. A few unorganized, bickering remnants remain, but what was just recently one of the most visible hate groups in the country has fallen off the public stage.
However, these disruptions have created opportunities for other neo-Nazi groups to grow. Most significant among these "up-and-comers" are the Minneapolis-headquartered National Socialist Movement, the Portland, Oregon-based Volksfront, and the Arkansas-based White Revolution.
Racist Skinhead Groups
Racist skinheads are a white supremacist component of the skinhead subculture, most of whose adherents are not racist. Quite active in the 1980s, racist skinheads spent most of the 1990s in decline.
In the 21st century, however, racist skinheads have had a resurgence, growing in numbers and organization, especially on the West and East Coasts, with a secondary resurgence in the Midwest. Although most racist skinheads remain unaffiliated, a number of new racist skinhead groups have emerged in the past few years, including the Keystone State Skinheads, the Connecticut White Wolves, the Hoosier State Skinheads, East Coast Hate Crew (New Jersey), and the Tualitan Valley Skins (Oregon). Some of these new groups have had a high association with criminal activity.
Accompanying the resurgence has been a growth in violent, skinhead-related incidents. Nowhere has this been more evident than the emergence of the assault tactic known as "curbstomping." Inspired by the 1998 movie "American History X," this tactic involves forcing the victim face down with his or her open mouth propped against a concrete curb or similar hard object, then stomping the back of the victim's head, crushing the person's jaw and skull into the curb. Serious injury or death almost always accompanies such assaults.
Curbstomping attacks are horrific. In September 2002, for example, two racist skinheads, Waylon Kennell and James Grlicky, assaulted a migrant farm worker in San Diego County, curbstomping him on a brick. The victim suffered serious injuries, including brain damage, and almost every bone in his face was fractured. Grlicky was later convicted for attempted murder, assault, battery, conspiracy, and robbery (with a hate crime enhancement), while Kennell was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and battery with serious bodily injury.
Another brutal curbstomping incident occurred in March 2003, when four racist skinheads from Tacoma, Wash., beat a homeless man to death, curbstomping him on a railroad tie, so that one of them could "earn" the right to wear red shoelaces (considered a badge of honor among some white supremacists). Three of the skinheads pleaded guilty to murder, while their ringleader, Kurtis Monschke, was convicted on aggravated murder charges and received a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole.
Racist Prison Gangs
Racist prison gangs are prison-based groups that often resemble organized crime groups more than other white supremacist groups; for many prison gangs, ideology is secondary to money and power. Such groups engage in a variety of criminal activities, including drugs, smuggling contraband, forgery, and protection rackets.
The most prominent white supremacist prison gang is the Aryan Brotherhood, active both in the federal prison system and in many state prison systems. Many racist prison gangs are regionally based. In California, for example, groups include the Nazi Low Riders, the PEN1 (for "Public Enemy Number One") Skins, and the Peckerwoods. In Utah, groups include the Silent Aryan Warriors, Soldiers of an Aryan Culture, Fourth Reich, and Krieger Verwandt.
Because they operate under conditions of extreme control, racist prison gangs are among the most organized and disciplined hate groups; they are also some of the most violent. In the past two years, more than a hundred racist prison gang members have been indicted in federal and state courts on charges ranging from racketeering to murder. Increasingly, racist prison gangs now operate "on the streets" as well as behind prison walls.
Border Vigilante Groups
The late 1990s witnessed the emergence of organizations that cloaked themselves as immigration reform groups but in fact expressed a hateful, anti-Hispanic agenda. One prominent group was American Border Patrol, based originally in California but moved to Arizona in 2002 by its founder, Glenn Spencer.
One of the most disturbing trends involving anti-immigration extremist groups has been the formation of armed vigilante border patrols. Spencer's group has focused its effort on surveillance cameras and drones. However, the Texas-based Ranch Rescue led by Jack Foote, has repeatedly engaged in armed "operations" along the borders of Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico.
Several border vigilantes have already been arrested. Ranch Rescue member Casey Nethercott was convicted in Texas on weapons charges in June 2004 after being arrested for allegedly assaulting a Salvadoran immigrant (the jury deadlocked on the aggravated assault charge for which Nethercott now awaits a second trial). Chris Simcox, head of another border vigilante group, Civil Homeland Defense, was convicted in April 2004 for carrying a concealed weapon on federal land while engaged in a vigilante patrol and giving false information to a park ranger about it.
A more recent development has been cooperation between border vigilante groups and anti-government militia groups. In 2004, for example, militia members from Missouri and Kentucky have participated in Ranch Rescue "operations" as another way to engage in paramilitary training.