by Loretta Ross
The notion that racism is a violation of human rights is not a new one, as those who have experienced it effects would testify. The ground-breaking progress gained by the civil rights movement of the 1960s in the United States has steadily eroded over the past decade, and the issues and incidents of racism as well as anti-Semitism, homophobia, and violence against women are ones that need to be addressed with increasing urgency. While the courts are more and more frequently relying on civil rights laws to prosecute racially motivated violence, the common abuses of basic human rights are often overlooked. In fact, the encroachment of white supremacist ideologies into the social fabric of our politics, our institutions, and our laws means that intolerance is becoming the rule of the day, and the overt violation of the persons and property of individuals and groups is not only easily accepted, but part of the status quo.
America has moved into a new era of white supremacy. The new tactics used by white supremacists and far right organizations must be exposed so that we can work together to mitigate their effectiveness. The purpose of this paper is to reveal those strategies in s discussion of the ideologies and practices of white supremacists in the United States today. This includes a discussion of the relationship between three converging and ever-growing factions--the ultra-conservatives, religious fundamentalists, and the far right. In this context, racism cannot stand alone as the sole antagonist of human rights violations. The victims of white supremacist ideologies and politics include immigrants, gays and lesbians, Jews, and women, as well as people of color. This paper will make clear the connection between racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and gender discrimination, both outside and within our social structures and institutions.
When the New Hope Baptist Church in Seattle, Washington was struck by arson in the spring of 1994, it was reportedly because its minister, Rev. Robert Jeffrey, is a progressive activist in the area. Jeffrey, an African American, is involved in fighting several anti-gay initiatives in the state. He is also a sponsor of Black Dollar Days, which organizes the African American community to spend its dollars exclusively with Black businesses. Many believe the attack on his predominantly Black church was intended to drive a wedge between African American and gay and lesbian forces in the region.
At the same time, a new computer bulletin board opened up in the area. Calling itself the "Gay Agenda Resistance," the electronic network offers its subscribers tips on how to stop the gay rights movement in the Pacific Northwest. With the right passwords, it also includes tips on how to target their opponents with violence.
Is this a coincidence? Probably not. What this story illustrates is how the white supremacist movement in America has learned to shift its tactics. No longer able to rely on open racism as an effective recruiting tactic, they have now found a more socially acceptable target for hate--lesbians and gays.
Is this a new white supremacist movement? Does this mean they no longer hate people of color, Jews, feminists, immigrants, etc.? No and No. The number of hate crimes in this country is evidence that hatred still exists as a family value.
Hate groups in the mid-1990s are refocusing their energies. They are worried that they can never convince the majority of white Americans to join them in their netherworld. While many whites may share their prejudices, very few are willing to act on them by openly carrying a Klan calling card or an Uzi. This situation demands a new strategy that combines old hatreds with new rhetoric. White supremacists desperately need to reinvigorate their movement with new recruits by manipulating white fears into action.
White fears of change or difference are exploited by hate groups. At the same time, they are expanding their targets of hate. They have adopted not only homophobia as a prominent part of their new agenda, but are forcefully anti-abortion, pro-family values, and pro-American, in addition to their traditional racist and anti-Semitic beliefs. This broadening of issues and the use of conservative buzzwords have attracted the attention of whites who may not consider themselves racist, but do consider themselves patriotic Americans concerned about the moral decay of "their" country.
From the ranks of homophobes, anti-abortionists, racists, anti-Semites, and those who are simply afraid of a fast-changing world, white supremacists find willing allies in their struggle to control America's destiny. Hate groups cannot be dismissed as no more complex than the virulence of a few fringe fanatics. With the breathless way the media covers hate groups, it is sometimes easier to characterize them simply as misfits or extremists, rather than acknowledge them as part of the larger problem of widespread racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia.
When they wish, hate groups get lots of free publicity from tabloid talk shows eager to boost ratings with the winning combination of race, guns, and violence. Such hosts may hypocritically hold their noses while racists, particularly skinheads, advertise their toughness and their addresses on national TV.
In this way, many more people are exposed to their message, convinced by their passion, and seduced by their simplistic answers to complex social problems. With time and repetition, white supremacists have fused many "fringe" far right beliefs together into "acceptable" mainstream values. While hate groups have previously relied on violence, their new manipulation of ultra-conservative rhetoric has combined with this to provoke a deadly acceptance of intolerance in this country.
The influence of hate groups is evident in the increase in violent hate crimes across the nation. Most are committed not by actual members of hate groups, but by freelancers trying to halt the social changes around them. Many are trying to form hate gangs of their own.
FBI statistics report that 65 percent of America's hate crimes are committed by whites against Blacks. A good portion of such hate crimes are what we call "move-in" violence, when neighborhoods, schools, churches, or jobs are finally integrated 30 years after the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Terror over the visibility of the lesbian and gay movement lies behind the numerous hate crimes against gays and lesbians (and their allies)--the fastest-growing hate crime category in the country.
Some of the haters, living on the United States' borders, are petrified at the thought that brown hordes of Mexicans, Chinese, or Haitians may swarm over them if they cease their militant rhetoric and violence toward these immigrants. If they live near Native American reservations, the aim of their violence is to challenge the few remaining treaty rights granted native peoples.
Other white supremacists want to save the white race by controlling the behavior of white women--they attack interracial couples, lesbians, and feminists. They join the anti-abortion movement, believing they can prevent white women from getting legal abortions. Racist far right organizations have been quick to glorify anti-abortion violence, making it yet another hot issue to fuel the fires of the white revolution.
There are others who want to save the environment for the white race. They have infiltrated the environmental movement, or have switched sides to join the Wise Use movement. They are frantic to exploit the earth's natural resources to accumulate wealth before that time early in the 21st-century when demographics predict that America will no longer be majority-white. In particular, many new recruits to the movement come from the Religious Right across a bridge of homophobia. Haters robed in clerical black are barely distinguishable from those hiding under white bedsheets, particularly in the eyes of their victims.
Hate groups have decided that they are no longer willing to wait for the white revolution--the violent backlash against human rights movements. They want a fast solution before, as they put it, "the white race is extinct."
Some white supremacists are opting to lead the way as a guerrilla strike force, precipitating the purification of America of all those who are not white, straight, and Christian. In a frank statement about white supremacist strategy, Aryan Nations member Louis Beam wrote:
We do not advocate segregation. That was a temporary measure that is long past. . . .Our Order intends to take part in the Physical and Spiritual Racial Purification of ALL those countries which have traditionally been considered White lands in Modern Times. . . .We intend to purge this entire land area of Every non-White person, gene, idea and influence. [Capitalization in original.]
These self-described "white separatists" believe that the United States government is controlled by a conspiratorial cabal of non-whites or Jews, or a combination of both. They seek to change this "Zionist Occupation Government" either through terror or violence, or by influencing the political mainstream. They tell their followers that crime and welfare abuse by African Americans, immigration by Mexicans and Asians, or a fictional Jewish conspiracy are responsible for a decline in the status of white people. They accuse civil rights organizations of "hating white people" and brand whites who do not support them as race traitors or self-haters.
These fanatics are terrorists who use bombs, murder, arson, and assaults in their genocidal war. Some skinheads--for example, the Fourth Reich Skins arrested a few years ago in Los Angeles or the Aryan National Front, convicted of murdering homeless people in Alabama--are in the vanguard of this street-level violence. Meanwhile, older survivalists like Randy Weaver, who was acquitted of killing a federal marshall in an Idaho firefight in 1992, are barricaded in mountain shelters with stockpiles of weapons, awaiting the final Armageddon.
Impressionable, often alienated people, both young and old, are natural recruits for this movement. They bring new energy and a willingness to display their hatred aggressively. They also expand the influence of the white supremacist movement--into the anti-abortion movement, into the anti-gay movement, into the English-only movement--opening new avenues for the expression of hate.
Other white supremacists are following a less violent strategy: exchanging bullets for ballots and running for political office. Some attempt to clone David Duke's success. With a little cosmetic surgery on the nose and resume, Duke was able to convince 55 percent of white Louisianians to vote for him when he ran for governor in 1992. Tapping into the resentment of the white backlash, Duke promoted himself as a defender of white rights and, for a brief moment, shook America out of its racial daydream.
Many observers were surprised so many whites voted for Duke since they had lied in pre-election polls. Duke set himself apart from other "klandidates" by convincing the majority of whites to act on their perceived group interests as whites--something that had not been achieved so openly since the 1980s' romance with the Reagan revolution.
What many Americans fail to realize is that, increasingly, white people are being literally scared out of their wits by demagogues like Duke, who crystallize for them their fears of people of color, lesbians and gays, the government, the media, welfare mothers, immigrants, the economy, health care--and the list goes on. Instead of rejecting Duke as a fringe opportunist, they voted for him because of his well-documented racist past. He was serious about white rights; he gave them permission to practice a kinder, gentler white supremacy.
In the 1990s, the image of organized hate is rapidly changing. It is no longer the exclusive domain of white men over 30. It is becoming younger and meaner. Many people join the movement as teenagers, including a remarkable number of young women.
A kind of "Sisterhood of Hate" to procreate white supremacy has emerged. Since the mid-1980s, women have joined the racist movement in record numbers--from the White Nurses preparing for racial holy war to female skinheads producing videotapes on natural childbirth techniques. This new and dangerous increase accounts for nearly one-third of the membership of some hate groups. The increase in the number of women, coupled with a strategic thrust to reform the public image of hate groups, has expanded women's leadership.
These new recruits do not fit the stereotypical image of wives on their husbands' arms. In fact, many of them are college-educated, very sophisticated, and display skills usually found among the rarest of intellectuals in the movement.
Most Americans don't understand the pervasiveness of white supremacists and the importance of their ideology in America's self-definition. Thus, they are unaware of how this ideology has mutated over the years and now blurs the lines between organized racists and their more mainstream counterparts in the Religious Right and ultra-conservative movements.
Of particular concern in the 1990s is a continuing convergence of sections of the white supremacist movement with the radical Christian Right, as represented by Pat Robertson, and nationalist ultra-conservatives, as represented by Pat Buchanan. This alliance is between religious determinists who think that one's degree of Christianity determines one's future, economic determinists who see themselves in a war of the "haves" against the "have-nots," and biological determinists for whom race is everything. All believe they are in battle to save Western civilization (white Europeans) from the ungodly and the unfit (people of color, gays and lesbians, and Jews).
In the 1990s, their cutting edge issue has been homophobia, as anti-gay campaigns have enriched their coffers and also mobilized a conservative current in the African American community. For example, their ability to oppose allowing gays in the military transferred directly to killing or stalling President Clinton's proposals on the budget, health care reform, jobs, and economic recovery. Of the three trends, the ultra-conservatives have the best ability to mainstream their views.
They all oppose the social gains of the 1960s and they share strong elements of racism and national chauvinism that can bridge their differences. Nativist themes favoring the rights of natural born Americans to those of immigrants may widen their appeal. For example, the Rev. Billy McCormack, who campaigned for David Duke in the early 1990s and was prominent in the 1992 Republican National Convention, is now the Louisiana state chair of Robertson's Christian Coalition.
This trend, which the Center for Democratic Renewal (CDR) first noticed in the Duke campaigns, has continued around a series of issues: gay rights, crime and welfare reform, immigration, English-only, America First nationalism, opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement, and even Holocaust denial. Now, election campaigns featuring isolationist and nationalist themes and ultra-Christianity are an opportunity for rapprochement for all sectors of the right wing. They can march back to the center of power sharing a very big tent. No Special Rights and No Political Correctness campaigns have their origins in the white supremacist belief that white supremacy is right for America.
The fact that race relations in the United States are usually presented as a Black/white model disguises the complexity of color, the brutality of class, and the importance of religion and sexual identity in the construction and practice of white supremacy. This simplistic model, which fails to convey many of the important aspects of white supremacy, cannot specifically explain how white supremacy influences American culture and politics.
White supremacy is an ideology that manipulates US politics and affects all relations in American society. It is sustained by rigid ideological categories. The construction of racial categories, although varying greatly over time, has always been based on the economic, social, and political aspirations of people of European descent. Throughout European history, racial definitions have been based on lineage, phrenological characteristics, skin hue, and religion. This system was institutionalized in America through systematic violence, distorted Christianity, and dubious science.
The concept of a white race aggressively struggling against all others to maintain its presumed purity is an expression of the European model of white supremacy, based not necessarily on skin color, but on social stratifications and values assigned by the dominant group.
These categories and values--a series of immunities, privileges, rights, and assumptions that became the foundation for ideological whiteness--are not entirely dependent on skin color or even class status. The creation of racial categories, including "whiteness," affects identity construction and social relationships. Because white supremacy springs from the identity crisis of European nationalism, it is not surprising that it replicates similar identity crises among its victims. Thus, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism, and nativism are interdependent in the practice of white supremacy. Other components are national chauvinism and religious fundamentalism.
These categories are not inherent, natural, or biologically determined. Rather they are artificial beliefs created by social, economic, and political conditions. Such beliefs have altered the laws, language, and customs of the United States in the service of regulating social relations.
Helan Page, an African American anthropologist, defines white supremacy in the US as an "ideological, structural and historic stratification process by which the population of European descent. . .has been able to intentionally sustain, to its own best advantage, the dynamic mechanics of upward or downward mobility or fluid class status over the non-European populations (on a global scale), using skin color, gender, class or ethnicity as the main criteria" for allocating resources and making decisions.
This complex definition explains the substance of white supremacy and its ability to mutate like a virus to meet constantly changing conditions. Since neither white supremacy nor the European nationalism that is its base is recognized as an expression of group interests, it is difficult for other groups to defend themselves against it. Even many who benefit from its existence fail to recognize its current manifestation as institutionalized racism or homophobia.
These common group interests need no conscious manipulation to be expressed; they are based on color, class, sexual orientation, and Christianity. From far right groups like the Ku Klux Klan to liberals who deny the pervasiveness of anti-Black racism on the left, white supremacy privileges all people of European descent: a sort of affirmative action for whites.
The words of a few defenders of white supremacy make these common interests very clear. Thom Robb, national director of the Knights of the KKK, speaking at a 1993 Klan rally in Pulaski, Tennessee, declared: "Politicians, teachers, professors, religious leaders. . .none of them speak out for the defense of white Christian America."
Robb's speech was no more threatening than the militaristic rhetoric offered by failed presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan at the 1992 Republican National Convention: "If your leaders have lost the stomach and the will to fight, then you go out and find new leaders. . . . Our culture is superior to other cultures, superior because our religion is Christianity."
The connection between a far right marginal figure like Thom Robb and a national mainstream politician like Pat Buchanan is a shared belief in white supremacy. Robb is less successful at disguising his fundamental prejudices. While the Klan is seen as being against all who are not white, radical conservatives like Pat Buchanan or religious leaders like Pat Robertson of the Christian Coalition prefer to advocate for Western civilization and Christianity. All see themselves as threatened by a non-white, non-European-dominated future America.
White supremacist beliefs, though largely invisible to the majority of the American public, regardless of race, are at the heart of the American experience. The persistence of these beliefs suggests that the racial myths and stereotypes common to white supremacy are integral to the maintenance of the US social order.
Sometimes the tenets of white supremacist groups can be helpful when they reflect, epitomize, crystallize, or even clarify the perceptions of a predominantly white Christian society. For example, a December 1990 survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center revealed that 78 percent of non-Blacks said African Americans are more likely than whites to "prefer to live off welfare" and less likely to "prefer to be self-supporting." Such studies prove the enduring nature and widespread acceptance of white supremacist beliefs. These beliefs help to explain why the majority of white Louisianians voted for David Duke.
Each of these beliefs is a reassertion of European nationalism and its successor, American nationalism. White supremacy, assuming its own universal value and superiority, justifies the aggressive imposition of its own assumptions on other peoples and cultures. This is its response to the movements of people of color, women, lesbians and gays, and minority religions when they defend themselves against the aggression of white supremacy. Robb and Buchanan simply seek to redefine America's Manifest Destiny, to abridge its multicultural reality, and to continue the dominance of white supremacy. As Theodore Allen points out in The Invention of the White Race, "in critical times, the thrust for freedom and democracy is thwarted by the reinvention of the white race."
The invisibility of white supremacy masks how violence and the threat of violence guarantee its durability. White people assert their moral right to use violent force whenever their group interests are threatened. People of color have no equivalent moral right to defend themselves against European aggression, especially when such aggression is done in the name of "law and order."
This paradoxical belief has been a powerful weapon with which to steal and exploit land and other natural resources, to defend slavery and racism, to condemn lesbians and gays, and to deride all who are not Christian. Those who are not white or Christian are expected, at best, to merge into the dominant culture and political system, or worst, to remain invisible and not to challenge white Christian hegemony. Outsiders seeking acceptance are constantly pressured to prove themselves, to suppress their indigenous culture, and to assimilate into the "mainstream" to achieve upward mobility.
White supremacist beliefs are perpetuated through a series of social conventions irrespective of political boundaries. Organized white supremacy makes prevailing attitudes of prejudice appear moderate and reasonable: it normalizes everyday injustice. For example, a 1993 study commissioned by the National Science Foundation found that racist attitudes and stereotypes are rampant among whites, regardless of political affiliation. For example, 51 percent of the respondents who identified themselves as conservatives said they think African Americans are "aggressive and violent." For those who identified themselves as liberals, 45 percent felt that Blacks had those attributes. Furthermore, Blacks are "irresponsible" according to 21 percent of the conservatives and 17 percent of the liberals studied.
Excessive tolerance of white supremacist activities threatens the culture of pluralism and impairs the practice of democracy in America. White supremacists are America's deepest nig htmlare because they attack not only individuals, but they assault the legitimacy of our democratic process itself. Their ideology seeks to overturn civil and human rights achieved through open debate and free elections, one of the cornerstones of democracy.
Because the percentage of whites who actually belong to white supremacist groups is small, there is a general tendency to underestimate their influence. What is really significant is not the number of people actually belonging to hate groups, but the number who endorse their messages. Once known primarily for their criminal activities, racists have demonstrated a catalytic effect by tapping into the prejudices of the white majority.
Recent polls by the National Opinion Research Center reveal that 13 percent of whites in America have anti-Semitic beliefs; another 25 percent are racist. This noticeably impacts public policy concerning central issues of racism, poverty, crime, reproductive rights, civil rights for gays and lesbians, the environment, and more.
Most white supremacists in America believe that the United States is a "Christian" nation, with a special relationship between religion and the rule of law. Because racists give themselves divine permission from God to hate, they often don't see that their actions are driven by hate; they claim to "just love God and the white race." If they are religious, they distort Biblical passages to justify their bigotry. A popular religion called Christian Identity provides a theological bond across organizational lines. Identity churches are ministered by charismatic leaders who promote racial intolerance and religious division. Even for those who are not religious, "racist" to them means being racially conscious and seeing the world through a prism of inescapable biological determinism with different races having different pre-ordained destinies.
Only about 25,000 Americans are hardcore ideological activists for the white supremacist movement, a tiny fraction of the white population. They are organized into approximately 300 different organizations. No two groups are exactly alike, ranging from seemingly innocuous religious sects or tax protesters to openly militant, even violent, neo-Nazi skinheads and Ku Klux Klan Klaverns. The basic underpinnings of these organizations may be rooted in religion; they may be paramilitary, or survivalists, or anarchists. Currently, Klan groups are on the decline while more Hitler-inspired groups, like the National Alliance and the Church of the Creator, are growing in number and influence. Swastikas and Uzis are replacing hoods and crosses.
Each group is working to create a society totally dominated by whites by excluding and denying the rights of non-whites, Jews, gays and lesbians, and by subjugating women. The movement's links are global, from the pro-apartheid movement in South Africa and the neo-fascists in Germany to robed Klansmen in the deep South.
Some 150,000 to 200,000 people subscribe to racist publications, attend their marches and rallies, and donate money. Approximately 100 hate-lines are in operation, with recorded messages that propagandize the caller with hate-motivated speeches and publicize upcoming meetings and rallies. Because of their increasingly sophisticated use of the media and electronic technology, there are 150 independent racist radio and television shows that air weekly and reach millions of sympathizers. This estimate does not include commercially-backed broadcasters like Rush Limbaugh who also spew racist vitriol, or the countless mainstream talks shows that regularly feature racists during ratings week sensationalism.
In the 1960s, the Ku Klux Klan was the most infamous of the organized hate groups with an estimated 40,000 members in 1965. But by the end of the 1970s, the majority of white supremacists belonged to organizations other than the Klan. They had evolved from loosely structured fraternal organizations into highly developed paramilitary groups with extensive survivalist training camps, often funded by proceeds from counterfeit money and bank and armored car robberies. In the 1990s, they have transformed themselves from a violent vanguard into a sophisticated political movement with a significant constituency.
Although the Ku Klux Klan is the most notorious, hate groups come in many forms. For example, they organize as religious cults, most predominantly along the Christian Identity model, which asserts that: (1) white people are the original Lost Tribes of Israel; (2) Jews are descendants of Satan; and (3) African Americans and other people of color are pre-Adamic, or beasts created by God before He created Adam, the first white man. Christian Identity followers feel they can attack and murder Jews and people of color without contradicting their religious convictions because they have been told by their leaders that people of color and Jews have no souls.
Another significant religious cult is the Church of the Creator, founded in 1973. Its members believe they are engaged in a racial holy war (RAHOWA) between the "pure" Aryan race and the "mud races." Adherents are frequently in the headlines for their violence. In 1993, members were arrested by the FBI as part of the Fourth Reich Skinheads who attempted to bomb First AME Church in Los Angeles and assassinate LA motorist Rodney King. Members have also been arrested in numerous murders, violent assaults, and bank robberies across the nation. They believe that they can precipitate the race war by provoking a violent response with attacks upon Jews and people of color.
The Aryan Nations in Idaho has been one of the umbrella organizations seeking to unite various Klan and neo-Nazi groups. Members spread across the country attend annual celebrations of Hitler's birthday at the Idaho encampment in April. In 1979, founder Richard Butler convened the first Aryan Nations World Congress on his property and attracted Klan and neo-Nazi leaders from the US, Canada, and Europe, who gathered to exchange ideas and strategies. This annual summer event has led to greater cooperation among a wide variety of groups.
There are at least 26 different Ku Klux Klan groups in the United States, most of them concentrated in the South. The largest and fastest-growing is the Knights of the KKK, headquartered in Harrison, Arkansas, under the leadership of Thom Robb. The Knights recently held rallies in Wisconsin, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Robb's Knights were the first group to recruit skinheads into their ranks, and he has been quick to put promising young leaders like Shawn Slater in Colorado into the national spotlight. It is the most Nazi-esque of the Klans, maintaining strong ties to Richard Butler's Aryan Nations in Idaho.
Robb's group, originally founded by David Duke in the 1970s, has moved into national Klan leadership because of the dissolution of the Invisible Empire Knights of the KKK in 1993. The Invisible Empire's national leader, J. W. Farrands of Gulf, North Carolina, recently lost in a suit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) against the Invisible Empire for the violent attacks in 1987 on civil rights marchers in Forsyth County, Georgia. Farrands was ordered by the court to pay $37,500 in damages to the plaintiffs in the class action suit. The settlement with the SPLC prohibits use of the Invisible Empire's name or the publication of their newspaper, The Klansman. Farrands has reorganized his forces under a new name, the Unified Knights of the KKK, to continue their racist activities.
It is typical for the 1990s Klan, reeling from criminal convictions, to publicly disavow violence while secretly encouraging its followers to commit hate crimes under the cover of darkness. However, they are still known for their "Knight Riders" and the Klan calling cards used to terrorize people the Klan dislikes.
The Holocaust-denial movement is the clearest expression of the anti-Semitic nature of white supremacy. Various institutions within the white supremacist movement are revising the history of Nazi Germany, claiming that the Holocaust against the Jews either did not happen or was greatly exaggerated.
The most sophisticated of these institutions is the Institute for Historical Review (IHR) in California. Founded by longtime racist and anti-Semite Willis Carto, the IHR offers hatred with an intellectual gloss. Although the IHR is currently beset by internal power struggles between founder Carto and Institute staff, it still remains the source of much of the anti-Semitic literature in the hate movement.
Carto also founded the Liberty Lobby in the 1950s, and in 1974 began publishing The Spotlight, a weekly tabloid with approximately 100,000 paid subscribers. In 1984, he started the Populist Party, which ran David Duke for US President in 1988.
The most violent wing of the white supremacist movement is the growing neo-Nazi skinhead movement, of which there are about 3,500 members in the United States. They openly worship Hitler and many young people, with ages from 13 to 25, are inducted into their ranks after committing a hate crime as part of the gang initiation. Their youthful appearance is rapidly changing the face of hate. Girls are rapidly rising into skinhead leadership.
Skinhead groups have developed their own leadership and appeal, distinct from adult Klan and neo-Nazi groups. Skinheads have committed over 25 murders and have expanded into 40 states. Most of their victims are African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, gays and lesbians, and the homeless. The typical skinhead assault begins with liquor, drugs, and hate. Skinheads are the "urban guerrillas" of the hate movement.
More seasoned adults have abandoned open violence to sanitize their public images. Such adults recruit and encourage young people to commit criminal activities, just as older drug dealers use young kids to push drugs. Unfortunately, this means that hate crimes committed by juveniles are often seen as mere pranks, not the serious assaults on liberty and freedom that they really are. This tactic also frequently allows the adult leaders to escape punishment. For example, the FBI learned of the assassination plots planned by the Fourth Reich Skinheads by monitoring the phone lines of Tom Metzger, leader of White Aryan Resistance (WAR) in California.
Skinheads have firmly established themselves in six to eight national organizations, rather than simply as appendages of adult groups. In 1993, rather than waiting for the race war to start, they were "doing things to start the race war" according to skinheads arrested in June who attempted to bomb a predominantly Black housing project in Toledo, Ohio. On July 20, a pipe bomb was thrown through the front windows of the Tacoma, Washington, offices of the NAACP. A week later, the Sacramento, California, NAACP office was also gutted by a bomb.
While young people commit the majority of hate crimes in America, the adult leaders are forming a series of political organizations with which to spread their message of hate and bigotry. When David Duke left the Klan, he formed the National Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP) to serve as a "white civil rights organization" which would oppose integration, affirmative action, welfare, interracial marriages, and scholarship programs for minorities.
Many of the distinctions between various Klan and neo-Nazi groups have dissolved. The membership is extremely fluid: members flow in and out because of internal squabbles and leadership battles. Cross-memberships, in-depth leadership summit meetings, and the use of common periodicals are frequent, indicating considerable organizational cohesion. For example, members of WAR are featured in newspapers from the Church of the Creator; Klansmen often appear at Aryan Nations events; NAAWP activists have been seen at Klan rallies. Their primary point of disagreement is whether to fight for white supremacy through violence, politics, or both.
Just because white supremacy exists and has done so for a long time, there is no reason for its victims to accept it. This apparent tautology serves as a reminder of the distracting potential for misdirecting our focus into fighting each other rather than understanding the nature and endurance of white supremacy.
In the words of Dhoruba Bin Wahad, "We must prepare ourselves collectively to wage many struggles at once, [and] we must do so with a common sense of mission and purpose." Pride and solidarity prepare individuals to become partners in an alliance against oppression.
Coalition building requires that each group clarify its own identity apart from that created for it by white supremacy. Learning each other's history is critical to understanding why we cannot set each other's agendas.
Mutual efforts against white supremacy are not just an educational process that teaches each group about the other; this work also addresses the loss of contact and lack of trust between communities.
Oppressed groups need to have separate spaces in which to gain their self-respect, name themselves, and discover their own history. These same groups need to form coalitions with other groups in order to compare, contrast, and identify the connections among different types of white supremacist oppression.
Coalition work is not easy or comfortable; it is hard to be confronted constantly with our own and each other's bigotry which forces us to reevaluate our cherished assumptions. Despite the difficulties, coalitions provide us with a much greater potential to bring about fundamental opposition to white supremacy and advancement of our movements for human rights.
Together, we must hold, not only individuals, but governments accountable. The silence of government equals permission to hate. Local governments must be responsible for the abuse of basic human rights of its citizens. State governments must stand up against intolerance. And the federal government must be the guiding force behind the protection of human rights and human dignity in this country in which we claim that all are created equal. Local, state, and federal legislation must be enacted and enforced to protect individuals and groups from racial, religious, homophobic, and xenophobic intolerance.
The human rights community must also more thoroughly study and analyze the full extent to which white supremacist motivated human rights abuses occur in this country. The cost of racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism, and nationalism is high, not only to individuals but to whole groups of people who fall into certain "categories." Their victimization leaves them afraid in the streets, in their jobs, and even in their homes. Unable and unwilling to disguise the very essence of who they are, they face abuse ranging from mild intolerance to threat of death.
At the present time, there are not safe places for the victims of this type of violence to turn to. No homeless shelters, no women's shelters, and often even no police departments offer them support. The first step in building these resources is to recognize the magnitude of the problem so that human rights activists can come together to offer help and support to those outside the majority rule.
A concerted, prolonged effort to teach young people about the true impact of white supremacy and its prevalence in American society is fundamental to breaking the cycle. To ignore this issue is to build intolerance into the next generation. An understanding of the historical and institutional effects of racism and the other "isms" that dominate our culture and society is vital to understanding present bigotry and abuse.
When we recognize that racism, homophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia flow from the same spring, and that they permeate every aspect of the lives of all Americans, we can then take steps together to make the United States a place that respects and honors the dignity of all people.
Loretta J. Ross, a veteran civil rights and feminist organizer, is Program Research Director of the non-profit advocacy and research group the Center for Democratic Renewal (CDR), based in Atlanta, GA. © 1995, Loretta J. Ross.