Far-Right Recruiting Drive

A range of racist and anti-immigrant groups are trying to turn the Sept. 11 terror attacks into a marketing tool.

Mother Jones/November 26, 2001
By Yigal Schleifer

The most recent book from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke has been available since the beginning of this year, but only in Russian, Romanian and Serbian. That will soon change. Convinced that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have created a ripe market, Duke is rushing to provide an English version for sale on his website.

"It's being released prematurely, absolutely in response to September 11 and the overwhelming demand for it," says Vincent Breeding, Duke's press secretary.

The demand for Duke's tome, "Jewish Supremacism: My Awakening on the Jewish Question," may not be "overwhelming," but his eagerness to benefit from the Sept. 11 attacks does appear to be part of a growing pattern. Experts and movement members alike agree that many of America's tiny but energetic far-right groups are seizing on the terror attacks to boost recruitment and help spread their messages of hate.

"Their information campaign is being stepped up, not only stepped up but altered to use the Sept. 11 attacks as a lever to change people's opinion in order to get them to come aboard," says Mark Pitcavage, national director of fact-finding for the Anti-Defamation League, a New York-based organization which monitors the activity of hate groups.

In the days after the attacks in New York and Washington, hate groups attempted to take advantage of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment. Members of the World Church of the Creator, an Illinois-based white supremacist group, sought new recruits at a demonstration in the Chicago suburb of Bridgeview at which police prevented a crowd of several hundred from attacking a local mosque.

Matthew Hale, the 30-year-old leader of the World Church of the Creator, said his group has increased its activities since the attacks. The group has passed out fliers -- one entitled "Stop non-White Immigration," the other "Let's Stop Being Human Shields for Israel" -- in several cities in addition to Chicago.

"It is true that a lot of people are not ready at this time to accept the idea of repatriating the other races, although that is still our aim," says Hale. "But we definitely feel that things are moving a lot more in that direction since September 11."

Hale's World Church isn't alone. The day after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the neo-Nazi National Alliance cancelled an anti-immigration rally in Georgia to instead organize a demonstration in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington.

"Like any pre-revolutionary organization throughout history, we must survive and adapt to rapidly evolving realities in the world around us," wrote one of the group's leaders in an e-mail to activists announcing the change.

Meanwhile, Michael Hill, president of the ultra-conservative League of the South, posted a broadside on the group's website saying that the attacks "spring from an 'open borders' policy that has for the past four decades encouraged massive Third World immigration and thus cultural destabilization."

Experts say extremist groups such as the League of the South and the World Church still boast relatively few members, their popular momentum having peaked in the mid 90's after the federal government's ill-fated sieges at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Montana. With their social relevance dwindling, a rightward shift in the national debate over immigration policies bodes well for the right-wing groups.

That shift could be especially beneficial for less-extreme groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which has long advocated such policies as the reduction of legal immigration, the close monitoring of visa holders in the US, and the use of national identity cards.

"I think a lot of the ideas that they have been pushing for a long time are now being looked at seriously," says Michael Fix, director of immigration studies at the Urban Institute. Indeed, in recent weeks Bush administration officials have called for tightening controls on issuing visas to citizens of Arab countries, the Department of Justice has launched a campaign to interview thousands of people from Arab and Islamic countries in the US on various kinds of visas, and a Republican member of the House of Representatives has called for a federal commission to look into issuing national identity cards.

Eric Ward, executive director of the Northwest Coalition for Human Dignity, a Seattle-based organization that tracks hate groups, says a restrictive shift in US immigration policy alone would be a major victory for anti-immigrant groups.

"The goal is to try and impact national policy and prepare to have a debate within America of who is an American and what America will look like," Ward says.

Towards that end, groups like the National Alliance and the Council of Conservative Citizens, a national white-power group which counts nearly 30 Mississippi state legislators among its members and which has hosted both Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and Georgia congressman Bob Barr at its meetings, are toning down their rhetoric. That change does not mean that the hate groups have moderated their views, however.

"Our people are becoming more radical, but they're becoming more smart," says Tom Metzger, the 63-year-old founder of the hate group White Aryan Resistance, who is considered one of the patriarchs of the racist right.

Devin Burghart of the Chicago-based Center for New Community, which tracks white nationalist activity in the Midwest, says the hate groups had already changed tactics.

"They're focused on building a base, building a constituency, and you can't do that when you're blowing stuff up. That's the lesson they learned from the militia movement," says Burghart. The lesson they are learning from the Sept. 11 attacks, it seems, is that building a constituency can be easier when someone else is blowing things up.

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