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With Hate in their Hearts:

The State of White Supremacy in the United States

July 13, 2015

The recent tragic shooting spree in June 2015 that took nine lives at Emanuel AME Church, a predominantly African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, starkly revealed the pain and suffering that someone motivated by hate can cause. The suspect in the shootings, Dylann Storm Roof, is a suspected white supremacist. The horrific incident—following earlier deadly shooting sprees by white supremacists in Kansas, Wisconsin, and elsewhere—makes understanding white supremacy in the United States a necessity.

  • White supremacist ideology in the United States today is dominated by the belief that whites are doomed to extinction by a rising tide of non-whites who are controlled and manipulated by the Jews—unless action is taken now. This core belief is exemplified by slogans such as the so-called Fourteen Words:  “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

  • During the recent surge of right-wing extremist activity in the United States that began in 2009, white supremacists did not grow appreciably in numbers, as anti-government extremists did, but existing white supremacists did become more angry and agitated, with a consequent rise of serious white supremacist violence.

  • Most white supremacists do not belong to organized hate groups, but rather participate in the white supremacist movement as unaffiliated individuals. Thus the size of the white supremacist movement is considerably greater than just the members of hate groups. Among white supremacist groups, gangs are becoming increasingly important.

  • The white supremacist movement has a number of different components, including 1) neo-Nazis; 2) racist skinheads; 3) “traditional” white supremacists; 4) Christian Identity adherents; and 5) white supremacist prison gangs. The prison gangs are growing in size, while the other four sub-movements are stagnant or in decline. In addition, there are a growing number of Odinists, or white supremacist Norse pagans. There are also “intellectual” white supremacists who seek to provide an intellectual veneer or justification for white supremacist concepts.

  • White supremacists engage in a wide variety of activities to promote their ideas and causes or to cause fear in their enemies. They also engage in an array of social activities in which white supremacists gather for food and festivities.

  • Among domestic extremist movements active in the United States, white supremacists are by far the most violent, committing about 83% of the extremist-related murders in the United States in the past 10 years and being involved in about 52% of the shootouts between extremists and police. White supremacists also regularly engage in a variety of terrorist plots, acts and conspiracies. However, white supremacists also have a high degree of involvement with traditional forms of criminal activity as well as ideologically-based criminal activity. Most of the murders committed by white supremacists are done for non-ideological reasons. However, even if such murders are ignored, white supremacists still commit the most lethal violence of any domestic extremist movement in the United States.

Introduction

In a deadly act of domestic terrorism motivated by hate, a shooter opened fire on June 17, 2015, during a prayer meeting at the Emanuel AME Church, a predominantly African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine people and wounding another before leaving the church and the carnage inside.  Police arrested a suspect in the shootings, Dylann Storm Roof, the next day. Roof has allegedly confessed to the crime.

Dylann Storm Roof, suspect in 2015 Charleston shooting spree
Dylann Storm Roof, suspect in 2015 Charleston shooting spree

As more information about Roof emerged in the following days, including a website and manifesto he apparently created, it became increasingly clear that the church shooting was an act of white supremacist violence. The manifesto described how its author self-radicalized by seeking out white supremacist websites and absorbing their messages.

The Charleston shooting—one of the worst acts of violence by domestic extremists in the past 50 years—followed another prominent white supremacist shooting the previous year, when former Klan member Frazier Glenn Miller opened fire at Jewish institutions in Overland Park, Kansas, killing three. In 2012, another white supremacist, Wade Michael Page, embarked upon a deadly massacre at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, killing six people and wounding nine more before police put a stop to his deadly rampage.

These three recent major attacks by white supremacists on three different types of religious institutions—the softest of soft targets, dedicated to peace and understanding—illustrate the grave threat posed by white supremacists in the United States. As it happens, these attacks are just a few of numerous white supremacist-related murders in the United States in recent years, not to mention countless acts of lesser violence.

In the wake of such violence, it is worth examining the state of white supremacy in the United States today—to understand its beliefs and core concepts, its current status, its organization, and its most common activities, including violent and criminal acts. One must understand a threat to successfully combat it.

White Supremacist Ideology

White supremacist event announcement for protest against alleged white genocide
White supremacist event announcement for protest against alleged “white genocide”

White supremacy is an ideology whose earliest incarnations arose in the early 1800s as a reaction by white Southerners to the emerging abolitionist movement. Over time, it evolved into a number of different forms, including religious ideologies, at times absorbing inspiration from abroad. However, generally speaking, white supremacists of whatever sort adhere to at least one of the following beliefs:  1) whites should be dominant over people of other backgrounds; 2) whites should live by themselves in a whites-only society; 3) white people have their own “culture” that is superior to other cultures; and 4) white people are genetically superior to other people. Anti-Semitism is also important for the majority of white supremacists, most of whom actually believe that Jews constitute a race of their own—a race with parasitic and evil roots.

The most common public perception of white supremacy today is based on Hollywood’s version of the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and 1960s, in which white supremacists fought to maintain white dominance in the South or in America as a whole. Today’s white supremacists, however, lost that battle long ago and have become increasingly marginalized by society and government alike.

The Fourteen Words

Over time, white supremacist ideology evolved to reflect the new social and political reality. Essentially, many white supremacists changed their frame of reference from fighting to maintain white dominance to fighting to prevent white extinction. It became increasingly a commonplace among white supremacists that whites were being drowned by a rising tide of color—controlled and manipulated by Jews.

Dylann Roof and 1488 scrawled in the sand
Dylann Roof and “1488” scrawled in the sand

This core belief was embodied in a slogan coined by a white supremacist prisoner, David Lane, while he served a de facto life sentence for crimes committed as a member of a 1980s white supremacist terrorist group known as The Order. Often referred to as the “14 Words,” the slogan states that “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”  The mantra is the most popular white supremacist catchphrase in the United States—and in many other countries. The number 14, signifying the slogan, has become a very popular white supremacist tattoo.

Some white supremacists have even symbolically incorporated the number 14 into their terrorist acts and plots. Sean Michael Gillespie, for example, firebombed an Oklahoma City synagogue in 2004 as the first of an intended 14 violent acts, a deliberate reference to the 14 Words. Gillespie was apprehended after the first act and sentenced to 39 years in prison. Among the photographs uploaded to the website attributed to Dylann Storm Roof are several with the number 1488 drawn in beach sand. The number 1488 is a common white supremacist symbol that combines a 14 Words reference with 88, alphanumeric code for “Heil Hitler.”

The Mantra

More recently, new slogans have expanded upon the concepts exemplified by the 14 Words. Perhaps the most popular has been a short essay dubbed the “Mantra,” written by a long-time white supremacist Robert Whitaker.  The essay essentially argues that there are people claiming the existence of a “RACE problem” that can only be solved if “EVERY white country and ONLY white countries… ‘assimilate,’ i.e., intermarry, with all those non-whites.”  Whitaker describes this as an “ongoing program of genocide against my race, the white race” and claims that people who claim to be anti-racist are, in fact, anti-white.

Diversity = White Genocide slogan at 2015 Aryan Nations rally
“Diversity = White Genocide” slogan at 2015 Aryan Nations rally

From the “Mantra,” Whitaker disciples—most notably Timothy “Horus the Avenger” Murdock—have derived a variety of slogans, which they plaster across the Internet, as well as on billboards, freeway overpasses and other real-world locales:  “Anti-racism is a code word for anti-white,” “Diversity is a code word for white genocide,” “Diversity means chasing down the last white person,” and others. Like the 14 Words, these slogans have spread to other countries.

Taken together, these slogans and ideas exemplify a desperate, “cornered rat” ideology that tells white supremacists that the white race is essentially doomed unless immediate action is taken. Unfortunately, this message is often interpreted as a call to violent action.

The Nature of the White Supremacist Movement

Since 2009, the extreme right in the United States has experienced a dramatic resurgence, a revival that has brought in many new recruits and created an increase in right-wing violence, especially major plots, acts, and conspiracies. Indeed, in recent years, the number of such violent acts and plots has almost matched that of the era of the Oklahoma City bombing, twenty years ago.

However, the effects of this resurgence on white supremacists have been rather mixed. The extreme right in the United States can mostly be divided into two large but only slightly overlapping spheres. In one sphere, there are several anti-government extremist movements, including the militia movement and the sovereign citizen movement. The resurgence brought these anti-government movements a large number of new adherents; it also resulted in an increase in violence and criminal activity. In part, this was due to one of the causes of the resurgence—the major recession and foreclosure crisis that hit the United States. This primarily benefited the sovereign citizen movement, which exploit economic downturns.

The white supremacist ranks, on the other hand, did not enjoy any true growth in numbers. The factor that most motivated white supremacists was the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first African-American president. As one might suspect, the election results made white supremacists very angry and helped increase their willingness to engage in violent acts. However, neither the election nor any other factor seems to have driven substantial numbers of new recruits into their ranks. The result was that, like the anti-government extremists, white supremacists increased their proclivity for violence but, unlike the anti-government extremists, they did not grow in numbers.

The lack of growth was disappointing for white supremacists, many of whom in 2009 had been excited about possibly increasing their numbers. Some had hoped to make inroads into the Tea Party, but such ventures met with little success. Others hoped to capitalize on anti-immigration sentiments, but found that people with anti-immigration views in the United States have many ways to express their sentiments, and many groups of like-minded people to join, without ever having to resort to getting involved with white supremacists. Here, too, white supremacists had relatively little success.

Organized vs. Unorganized

The reality is that the organized segments of the white supremacist movement today are, for the most part, simply not very healthy. Of the five main white supremacist movements (which will be discussed individually in the next section), four are relatively stagnant or even in decline at the moment. Only one segment of the movement—white supremacist prison gangs—has been experiencing considerable growth.  Since 2000, a number of once-prominent white supremacist groups have disintegrated or split into factions, often as long-time leaders died and were replaced by much less capable and charismatic successors. Other groups fell apart after their leaders were arrested. Today, most white supremacist groups are actually quite small.

In contrast, the unorganized segment of the white supremacist movement is much larger than the organized segment. Unaffiliated or independent white supremacists far outnumber white supremacists who belong to specific organizations. In particular, the tremendous growth of the Web has allowed many white supremacists to engage with like-minded people without actually having to join an organization. White supremacist discussion forums like Stormfront allow huge numbers of white supremacists to network and converse with each other without belonging to a group. The social networking revolution that began around 2006 amplified this trend; today, it is easy for white supremacists to connect, even on a one-to-one basis, on social media platforms like Facebook. These interactions need not be solely virtual, as on-line interactions often lead white supremacists to meet-ups and interactions in the real world. Some of the violent acts conducted or plotted by white supremacists in recent years even originated with on-line interactions.

White supremacist subcultures

In addition to the ideological ties that bind white supremacists together, there also exist a number of strong cultural elements. Racist skinheads are simply one of the major variations of skinhead subculture (there are also anti-racist skinheads and traditional skinheads). Their ideology is essentially the same as neo-Nazi ideology; what distinguishes neo-Nazis and racist skinheads from each other is primarily the skinhead subculture:  shared music, ways of dress, rituals, language, and symbols.

White supremacist prison gangs have their own strong subculture that originally evolved from behind prison walls. Men who adopt this subculture often refer to themselves as “peckerwoods,” while women identify as “featherwoods.”  Any of them might proudly recite one of the many versions of the anonymously-authored poem “Peckerwood Soldiers”:  “We’re Peckerwood Soldiers down for a cause/[state name] convicts/and solid outlaws.”  Gangs also try to emphasize group loyalty, even to the extent of describing themselves as families.

The broader white supremacy movement’s subcultural ties are weaker than those for particular segments such as skinheads and prison gangs. This is due largely to the considerable differences within the various subdivisions of the movement—but here too one can find shared symbols, rituals, and ideas.

White supremacists and gangs

One final issue regarding the state of the white supremacist movement is the rising importance of gangs. When many people think of white supremacist groups, they might think in terms of a traditional, formally-organized group, such as a Klan group or a neo-Nazi group. However, gangs are an increasingly popular alternative form of organization for white supremacists. White supremacist gangs typically combine a gang structure, subcultural elements, some degree of ideology, and often criminal activity.

White supremacist gangs, though they have some earlier antecedents, essentially date from the 1980s, when the two main types of such gangs began to emerge:  racist skinhead gangs and white supremacist prison gangs. In a few places, most notably California, white supremacist street gangs also emerged during this period. California has the most developed white supremacist gang environment and is home to each of these types of gangs, including many that combine elements from all three.

Also in California, especially southern California, can be called a “white power” subculture has emerged, particularly in lower-income white or mixed white/Hispanic neighborhoods and suburbs, in which crude white supremacist concepts are mixed with influences from a variety of other subcultures, ranging from the pot-smoking subculture to the extreme sports subculture to a few elements of California Hispanic culture. One of the most visible manifestations of this “white power” subculture has been the proliferation of so-called “peckerwood” gangs in neighborhoods in Southern California and, to a lesser extent, in northern California.

In recent years, a new type of white supremacist gang has appeared on the scene:  white supremacist biker gangs. Most of these groups have small memberships and are short-lived, but overall they are becoming more popular. One of the most active in recent years has been the Illinois-based Sadistic Souls Motorcycle Club, which is actually an offshoot of Aryan Nations. Some white supremacist prison gangs have also had biker offshoots.

It is probable that the “gang-ification” of sections of the white supremacist movement will continue to increase over time.

The Organization of the White Supremacist Movement

The white supremacist movement in the United States is an amalgamation of a variety of different types of groups, traditions, beliefs (including various religious ideologies), and subcultures. An adherence to shared white supremacist beliefs may be the only thing a 16-year-old racist skinhead from a poor neighborhood in a Texas suburb has in common with a 65-year-old small-businessman, and neo-Nazi, from Cleveland, Ohio.

Swastika Tattoo
Swastika Tattoo

Within white supremacy there are a variety of sub-movements, each of which contains its own constellation of groups and individual adherents. It is possible to belong to more than one of the sub-movements, although a few are mutually exclusive. In addition, there are some white supremacist groups that do not neatly fit within any particular area of white supremacy. One example of this is the Creativity Movement, formerly known as the World Church of the Creator, a white supremacist group that dates back to the 1970s. The Creativity Movement is a pseudo-religion, professing to be a religion for white people, though its tenets get no more sophisticated than “what is good for the white race is the ultimate good.”  It is not a racist skinhead group, but has attracted many skinheads. It is not a neo-Nazi group, though Matt Hale, its last leader (until he received a 40-year prison sentence for soliciting the murder of a federal judge), seems consciously to have emulated former neo-Nazi leader George Lincoln Rockwell. When it was convenient, adherents cooperated with a variety of other white supremacists.

Thus the white supremacist movement has a sort of perverse “diversity” of its own—though whites only, of course.

Experts differ on how to categorize the elements of the white supremacist movement, but most agree on at least five major sub-movements: 1) neo-Nazis, 2) racist skinheads, 3) “traditional” white supremacists, 4) Christian Identity, and 5) white supremacist prison gangs. In addition, many argue that Odinism (or white supremacist Norse paganism) now is significant enough to constitute a sixth major sub-movement. Finally, though they do not necessarily constitute a full-fledged movement, the so-called “intellectual” white supremacists are also worth discussing.

Neo-Nazis

Neo-Nazis comprise one of the most visible and public elements of the white supremacist movement, as well as one of the most detested. Many of today’s neo-Nazi groups trace their lineage back to the first significant neo-Nazi group in the United States, George Lincoln Rockwell’s American Nazi Party of the 1950s and 1960s. After Rockwell’s 1967 assassination, the group fractured into a variety of squabbling small neo-Nazi groups, a situation that fairly accurately describes the neo-Nazi movement today.  

Meeting hall for the American Nazi Party
Meeting hall for the American Nazi Party

The neo-Nazi movement arguably reached its peak in the 1990s, thanks to the National Alliance and its founder, former Rockwell disciple William Pierce, who penned the notorious white supremacist novel The Turner Diaries. Pierce built the National Alliance into the largest neo-Nazi group in the United States, numbering some 1,500 members at its height. The National Alliance even purchased a white power music company, Resistance Records, to increase its reach and bring in more cash.

However, the story of the neo-Nazi movement in the 21st century has largely been one of declining numbers and importance, at least in terms of organized groups. Pierce died suddenly in 2002 and his successors virtually destroyed the National Alliance, causing factionalization, mass defections, and the collapse of Resistance Records. Within the past year, a small group of former Alliance members has been trying to resurrect the group, but with little success so far.

This decline was echoed by Aryan Nations, the second most important neo-Nazi group. Defections and infighting began even before leader Richard Butler’s death in 2004 and continued long after. Today there are a variety of competing Aryan Nations factions, with Dennis McGiffen’s Illinois-based Aryan Nations Sadistic Souls competing with Morris Gullet’s Louisiana-based Church of Jesus Christ Christian for the top of the heap. Nevertheless, Aryan Nations today is much smaller than its 1990s equivalent.

Aryan Nations member at white supremacist demonstration in St. Louis
Aryan Nations member at white supremacist demonstration in St. Louis

More or less by default, the largest neo-Nazi group in the United States is the Detroit-based National Socialist Movement (NSM), with around 350 members in the entire country. Led by Jeff Schoep, the group mostly avoided the in-fighting that decimated some other neo-Nazi groups. The NSM reached a peak of activity in the mid-2000s, organizing a number of public events and rallies around the country, but its activities have tailed off somewhat more recently. NSM depends upon a core group of leaders and activists to travel to NSM events organized in different places. The group also cooperates with Klan groups and other white supremacists from time to time, although many hardcore racist skinhead groups view the NSM with disdain.

Over the years, people associated with the NSM have been involved in a moderate amount of criminal activity, but generally on their own rather than at the behest of the group. A recent gruesome example is that of Kentucky white supremacist Anthony Baumgartner, a “Stormtrooper First Class” in the NSM who in 2013 was charged with murder, along with two others, after allegedly stabbing to death a suspected drug dealer in order somehow “to get back in the race war,” then dismembering the victim’s body and leaving pieces in various places. He continues to await trial.

Members of the National Socialist Movement at 2015 rally in Toledo, Ohio
Members of the National Socialist Movement at 2015 rally in Toledo, Ohio

Other neo-Nazi groups are all much, much smaller, with membership in the dozens. They tend to be either small, isolated descendants of the American Nazi Party or short-lived new groups that form largely from splits and defections in other organizations and which tend to cannibalize similar groups for members until they too break apart.

Overall, then, the organized portion of the neo-Nazi movement has for some years been in relatively poor health. However, there still remains a large number of unaffiliated neo-Nazis in the United States, many of whom could come back “into the fold” if a group began to experience significant success.

Racist Skinheads

Racist skinheads are one of the three main branches of the skinhead subculture, along with traditional skinheads and anti-racist skinheads (the latter often called SHARPs, which stands for Skin Heads Against Racial Prejudice). Skinheads first emerged as a British working-class subculture in the late 1960s; racist skinheads materialized within the broader subculture by the late 1970s, tarnishing the reputation of all skinheads. By the 1980s, racist skinhead scenes had appeared across Western Europe and North America.

Flyer for white power music concert
Flyer for white power music concert

Racist skinheads have essentially the same beliefs as neo-Nazis; what distinguishes them is their subculture:  unique tattoos, practices such as head shaving, clothing such as suspenders and steel-toed work boots, a shared enjoyment of hate music, as well as their acceptance of hands-on violence (dramatically illustrated in the 1998 movie American History X).  

The movement as a whole is very loosely organized. At the top of the roost are several “hardcore” racist skinhead gangs that admit only members who have “prospected” with them for some time during a probationary period. These groups tend to be connected to violent criminal activity. Two of the most important are the Hammerskins, one of the longest-lived racist skinhead gangs, with concentrations in various places across the United States, and the Vinlanders Social Club, which formed in the early 2000s as a break-away Hammerskin faction and soon built up a significant track record of murder and assault. Its main areas of activity have been Arizona and the Midwest. Other similar hardcore gangs include American Front and Supreme White Alliance.

Many racist skinhead gangs (often called “crews” if relatively small) operate on a local or regional level. Most of these are relatively small and also typically short-lived, though a few can achieve both size and longevity. Examples of these include the Keystone State Skinheads (also known as Keystone United), the Atlantic City Skins, and the Sacramento Skins, among others.

The majority of racist skinheads, however, belong to no organized group or gang at all, but are unaffiliated or independent. Often, racist skinheads in a particular locality may socialize with each other and form a local skinhead “scene” without ever formally organizing.

Though racist skinheads can participate in demonstrations and other public events, just like neo-Nazis or other white supremacists, on the whole they tend to involve themselves less with organized “political” action, spending more time socializing with other racist skinheads or being involved with activities such as hate music. There is a high association between racist skinheads and violence. Violence is widely condoned among racist skinheads, even as a recreational activity (as demonstrated by the slang term “boot party,” a reference to racist skinheads violently kicking and beating a victim).

Racist skinheads are known for hate crimes, often of the “thrill-seeking” variety, as well as similar crimes against other types of victims, such as the homeless. Since the 1980s, racist skinheads have committed a number of murders in the United States. One typical example is that of Vinlanders Social Club members Aaron Schmidt and Travis Ricci, who encountered a multi-racial couple in Phoenix in 2009. After demanding to know why the African-American man was with a white woman, they later drove past the couple while firing blasts from a shotgun,  killing the woman. In 2012, Schmidt pleaded guilty to 2nd degree murder and other charges in connection with the incident; Ricci has yet to face trial.  

An even more shocking example of racist skinhead violence is that of Wade Michael Page, a racist skinhead who played in several hate music bands and eventually became a fully-patched member of the Confederate Hammerskins. In 2012, Page attacked a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, going on a shooting rampage that left six people dead and four more injured. Page shot and killed himself after being wounded by one of the arriving police officers.

Racist skinheads are also the perpetrators in many of the white supremacist murder cases not involving firearms, often preferring to use a range of “down and dirty” weapons such as boots, beatings, blades, and blunt instruments.

The racist skinhead movement enjoyed a spurt of the growth in the mid-2000s, aided in part by the simultaneously-declining neo-Nazi movement, but that growth leveled off in the 2010s and the movement has been largely stagnant in recent years.

“Traditional” white supremacists

The category of “traditional” white supremacists refers to a collection of groups that essentially emerged from the struggle to deny African-Americans equal rights. It also refers to the many unaffiliated individuals with the same constellation of beliefs.

The Blood Drop Cross (aka Mystic Insignia of a Klansman or MIOAK)
The Blood Drop Cross (aka Mystic Insignia of a Klansman or MIOAK)

The majority of groups in this category are Ku Klux Klan groups—though often referred to as “the Ku Klux Klan,” there has not been a unitary Klan since 1944. Today, the Klan is simply a type of hate group. There are actually between 40-45 completely separate and independent Klan groups in the United States—the exact number may even vary month to month as small Klan groups form or fall apart—ranging from Klan groups that claim a presence in a number of states to tiny Klans focused on a single local area.

“Traditional” white supremacists also include a few non-Klan groups that emerge from the same tradition, with the two most significant examples from the past several decades being the Council of Conservative Citizens and the League of the South. These groups have a presence mainly in the South. Klan groups have a presence in the South as well, but they are also active in the Midwest and, to a lesser extent, in the Mid-Atlantic States. In New England and in the West, Klan groups tend to be weak, small, and short-lived.

There are a few Klan groups of long standing, such as the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, based in Arkansas, and the Mississippi White Knights, but most Klan groups are of recent vintage. In fact, about 75% of the currently active Klan groups have a start date of 2011 or later (including several recent attempts to resurrect defunct Klan groups).

The large proportion of new Klan groups does not indicate growth in the Klan—far from it. Klan groups have been in a long-term decline since the 1970s, as they lost their battle against civil rights for African-Americans. Occasionally, Klan groups may slow or even arrest that decline, such as during a surge of right-wing extremism, but then the decline will resume. The result is a collection of Klan groups that have great difficult even maintaining themselves, which is why most such groups do not last very long before fragmenting or falling apart. When new Klan groups do emerge, they tend to grow by swallowing or poaching the membership of a previous or weaker Klan group.

Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan

One of the clearest signs of Klan decline is the considerable decrease in public Klan rallies. Many Klan groups simply no longer have the membership necessary to hold public demonstrations or protests. In the 1980s, one could find without too much difficulty Klan rallies in which 200-300 members participated. By the 1990s, most Klan rallies had a couple of dozen attendees at most, though the number of rallies was still relatively high. In the 2000s, even the number of Klan rallies has greatly declined.

For perspective on just how negligible the public Klan presence has become in recent years, consider this:  In 1994, Klan groups staged 10 different rallies in the state of Ohio alone.  In 2014, 20 years later, there were only around 10 confirmed Klan rallies across the United States (Klan groups have claimed a few additional events, but no confirmation can be found that they actually took place).

In lieu of such rallies, Klan groups have changed their tactics, seeking ways to generate publicity and attention that can be accomplished with a minimum of members. The tactic chosen by two of the larger and more active Klan groups—the Traditionalist American Knights, headquartered in Missouri, and the Loyal White Knights, based in North Carolina—has been spreading Klan fliers in local neighborhoods.

Fliering is an effective tactic for these groups because it takes only a single Klan member or sympathizer to perform a distribution (which will typically target from 20 to 100 homes, or perhaps all the cars in a parking lot), but the fliers often generate considerable interest from local media, which is spread further via social media. While the fliers are often standard “recruitment” fliers (though the Klan groups do not really expect recipients to become recruits), occasionally they may target a specific issue or demographic group.

When Klan fliers are discovered, upset residents contact the media, whose subsequent news stories spread the news of the fliering far beyond the few neighborhood residents who received any hate literature. It is this publicity that is the ultimate goal for these Klan groups. To help insure they get it, some flier distributors have taken to weighing down their Klan fliers with pieces of candy or small toys. This tactic is intended to outrage parents and make them more likely to contact law enforcement or the media, the latter of which is typically the true target.

Media coverage often elicits the specter of a rising, increasingly powerful Klan. In fact, the opposite is true:  Fliers are a cheap and easy way for Klan groups to get attention—an attractive prospect for groups trying to compensate for dwindling membership and decreased clout. Since the beginning of 2013, there have been more than 120 different fliering incidents across the country, the vast majority carried out by the Traditional American Knights and the Loyal White Knights.

Klan groups are not the only “traditional” white supremacist groups that have declined. The two major non-Klan groups, the Council of Conservative Citizens and the League of South, have also suffered a loss of membership. In the 1990s, the Council was prominent enough to attract attention from mainstream conservative politicians. Haley Barbour, while a candidate for governor of Mississippi, spoke at one of the group’s meetings, as did Mike Huckabee when he was lieutenant governor of Arkansas.  In 1992, Mississippi Senator Trent Lott delivered a speech at the group’s annual conference, while in 1998, Georgia Representative Bob Barr spoke to the organization. The appearances of Barr and Lott before the group prompted a scandal in 1998 when revealed.

Because of the scandal, GOP chair Jim Nicholson, calling the group racist, instructed all Republican candidates and public officials to sever ties with the Council.  Even then, not all politicians rushed to distance themselves from the group.  At the time, then-Mississippi Governor Kirk Fordice told a Washington Post reporter that “There are some very good people in there with some very good ideas.  All this stuff about them being racist, that’s hearsay, as far as I’m concerned.”   However, during the 2000s, the Council’s decline ended many of its remaining relationships with local politicians:  if an area had no Council chapter, then local politicians simply had no opportunity for interaction. Today, the Council does not even bother to list local chapters on its website—presumably because it has an embarrassingly small number to list.

Nevertheless, despite its small size, the Council of Conservative Citizens still has had the ability to spew hate and to influence would-be white supremacists, an effect demonstrated in June 2015 when the manifesto attributed to Dylann Storm Roof credited the Council as a major influence.

Earl P. Holt III, the current president of the Council of Conservative Citizens
Earl P. Holt III, the current president of the Council of Conservative Citizens

The League of the South, a racist neo-Confederate group that has called for secession, has also lost ground, though perhaps less so than the Council. The League has reacted in part by becoming more radical and more openly racist. By 2011, League president Michael Hill, once a college history professor, was urging followers to arm themselves and “join the resistance.”  In May 2015, Hill declared his determination to participate in a race war if “negroes,” egged on by the “largely Jewish-Progressive owned media,” engaged in “black rage.” Hill warned that “if negroes think a ‘race war’ in modern America would be to their advantage, they had better prepare themselves for a very rude awakening.” On June 1, Hill openly declared that “our Southern forebears” who opposed civil rights for African-Americans “were right.”  That same month, a League of the South protest in northern Kentucky was joined by members of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement.

As the League has become more openly racist, its membership has also changed somewhat, attracting a larger proportion of younger members, some of whom have organized or participated in League of the South demonstrations and events. For example, the League has organized around 25 demonstrations in the last three years, an increase from previous years. It has also tried to exploit the immigration issue as a way to build support, using terms such as “Southern Demographic Displacement.”

Like neo-Nazis, “traditional” white supremacists are much diminished, though for different reasons. Moreover, it seems unlikely that the “traditionals” will be able to arrest this mostly downward trend, although groups like the League of the South may have more relative success than Klan groups. Whereas in the 1960s, in many parts of the country Klan groups were almost the only option for would-be white supremacists, today they are just one of many options—and are sometimes considered outdated or obsolete. Meanwhile, the rise of white supremacist prison gangs in the South and Midwest has the potential to cut into the population base from which Klan groups derive their membership. The long-term prospects are not very bright for the Klan and its like-minded extremists.

Christian Identity

Christian Identity is a religious sect whose roots extend back well into the 19th century. It is a modern racist and anti-Semitic variation on British-Israelism, an older faith whose central tenet is that Europeans, or people of European extraction, are actually descended from the so-called “Lost Tribes” of ancient Israel, scattered after invasions of the region by Hittites, Assyrians and Babylonians.

By the mid-20th century, some adherents of British Israelism began to adopt racist and anti-Semitic interpretations of scripture; these ideas evolved into what is now called Christian Identity. One central tenet is the belief that non-whites were created by God not at the time that God made “man,” but rather when he created the “beasts of the field.”  Christian Identity adherents often refer to non-whites as “mud peoples.”  Additionally, many Christian Identity believers contend that Jews are actually descended from Satan through a sexual liaison between Eve and the serpent. Sometimes people refer to Christian Identity as “fundamentalist,” but it is not.

As pioneers such as Wesley Swift spread these hateful beliefs, Christian Identity became firmly entrenched in the extreme right in the United States. In fact, many of the major conspiracies and violent acts by right-wing extremists in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s can be attributed in whole or in part to adherents of Christian Identity, including shooting sprees, bombings and bomb plots, and armed robberies. Christian Identity mingled with neo-Nazis, through groups such as Aryan Nations; it appealed to many racist skinheads; and it took root in a number of Klan groups, some of which became exclusively Christian Identity in nature.

During the surge of right-wing extremism in the 1990s, a number of Christian Identity leaders, including Richard Butler, Pete Peters and Mark Thomas, riled up their followers and stoked their anger. In 1990, for example, Richard Kelly Hoskins published Vigilantes of Christendom:  The Story of the Phineas Priesthood, which used a novel interpretation of an obscure passage in the Old Testament to describe a self-appointed priesthood of white warriors who violently attacked God’s enemies—as identified by Identity adherents. Hoskins inspired a number of white supremacists in the 1990s, including the so-called “Spokane Bank Bandits,” a group of white supremacists who committed armed robberies and bombings in the Pacific Northwest, as well as Buford Furrow, an Aryan Nations member who in 1999 mounted a shooting attack on a Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles and also killed a Filipino-American postal carrier.

As the right-wing passions of the 1990s ebbed, however, so too did the fervor that had gripped the Christian Identity movement during that period. A number of once-prominent Identity leaders died in the 2000s—among them Butler, Peters, Neumann Britton, and Earl Jones, while others became inactive through advanced age or imprisonment (in the case of Thomas). The result was that, in the 2000s, many Christian Identity adherents retreated back into reclusiveness.

The available evidence suggests that Christian Identity has been stagnant for some years, neither appreciably increasing nor decreasing in size. In 2015, ADL has identified nearly 100 different Christian Identity groups, and around 120 Christian Identity preachers, active in the United States. Christian Identity adherents are spread so thinly around the country that actual, physical churches are relatively rare; the Internet has been a boon to Identity adherents, replacing earlier methods of disseminating Identity ideas, such as shortwave radio programs and cassette tape ministries.

Though far less active than they were in the 1990s, Christian Identity adherents in the 2000s have nevertheless engaged in violent acts from time to time, from firebombing synagogues to torching mosques. The most highly-publicized recent act of Christian Identity-related violence occurred in late 2014, when Larry Steven McQuilliams opened fire in the early morning hours in downtown Austin, Texas, firing more than 100 rounds at targets ranging from the Mexican consulate to the headquarters of the Austin Police Department. He had also tried to burn down the consulate building. An Austin police officer shot and killed McQuilliams, possibly saving many lives in the process. During the subsequent investigation, a copy of Vigilantes of Christendom was found in McQuilliams’ vehicle, as well as a hand-written note in which McQuilliams declared himself a “high priest” of the Phineas Priesthood.

White Supremacist Prison Gangs

Of the five main white supremacist sub-movements, white supremacist prison gangs are the only groups to have exhibited undeniable growth in recent years, becoming an increasingly dangerous problem in many areas of the United States.

Earl P. Holt III, the current president of the Council of Conservative Citizens
Members of the Alabama-based Southern Brotherhood white supremacist prison gang

The first such gang to emerge was the Aryan Brotherhood, formed in the California state prison system in the 1960s, eventually expanding to the Federal Bureau of Prisons system, too. However, it was the emergence of a variety of similar gangs in other states beginning in the 1980s (often as state prison systems ended earlier practices of segregating prisoners by race) that truly caused a movement to form. By the 1990s, some of these gangs had become active on the streets as well as behind bars.

Today, a network of white supremacist prison gangs extends across much of the United States, fueled by the significant prison population as well as by the methamphetamine epidemic (many of these gangs both deal in and use meth). The Anti-Defamation League has identified more than 100 of these gangs across the country, with names such as the Southern Brotherhood, the Saxon Knights, the New Aryan Empire, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, the Aryan Circle, the Unforgiven, the European Kindred, the Indiana Aryan Brotherhood, and Peckerwood Midwest, among others.  A number of white supremacist prison gangs have adopted a name incorporating the phrase “Aryan Brotherhood,” but these are all distinct and independent groups, not associated—even as “chapters”—with the original Aryan Brotherhood.

Not only are these gangs now common, but they have other characteristics that make them particularly worrisome. First, many of them are quite large in size. The Aryan Circle, based in Texas, but with a growing presence in a variety of other states, has well over 1,500 members. Their rival, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, is even larger, with possibly over 2,000 members. Even in tiny New Hampshire, the Brothers of White Warriors have over 150 members. In comparison, the largest neo-Nazi group in the United States, the National Socialist Movement, has only around 350 members.

Second, though termed “prison gangs,” because most formed and all are active in prisons, many of these gangs are just as, if not more, active on the streets as behind bars. In most states, the average time a felon spends in prison is around two to three years, so many incarcerated members quickly return to the streets. Some of these gangs now recruit on the streets as well.

A third major characteristic of white supremacist prison gangs is that most of them engage in organized crime. Indeed, that is the major preoccupation of many of them and ideological white supremacy usually takes a back seat—sometimes a distant back seat—to contraband, drugs, robberies, identity theft and other forms of traditional crime.  Many gang members are more crude racists than the fully formed extremists one would tend to see in a neo-Nazi group or a Klan group. Yet white supremacist prison gangs combine the criminal knowhow of organized crime with the ideological hatred of white supremacy and some individual members of such gangs are quite ideological. Moreover, while the majority of the criminal activity, both in and out of prisons, continues to be traditional rather than hate-based crime, nevertheless a significant minority of hate-based crime does flow from these members of these groups, including assaults, arsons, and murders.

No matter what activity these gangs engage in, violence is almost sure to follow. White supremacist prison gangs are among the most violent extremist groups in the United States. No extremist group—of whatever stripe—has committed more murders in recent years than the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT). Anti-Defamation League records indicate that at least 32 murders have been committed by ABT members or associates since 2000—and the true number is probably considerably higher, as many murders that occur behind prison walls do not get reported by the media. Over 40% of these murders are essentially “internal killings,” in which ABT members kill fellow gang members or associates, typically because they suspect the victim has become an informant or has broken gang rules. Around 10% of the killings could be categorized as hate-related.

The street presence of white supremacist prison gangs is enhanced by the growth of the Internet, especially social networking sites, which allow members of such gangs to interact and network with each other, even when scattered across a state or several states. Through contraband cell phones smuggled into prisons, even some incarcerated gang members have their own social networking profiles; others may have profiles maintained by wives or girlfriends. The Internet has also allowed prison gang members to reach out to and interact with other types of white supremacists, something that was not as common in pre-Internet days. This in turn has helped lead to the increased politicization of some white supremacist gang members and the spreading of white supremacist ideas and beliefs further among gang membership. The White Knights of America, a prison gang based in Texas and Arizona, now even has its own website, a site that, at first glance, looks identical to many neo-Nazi or other white supremacist sites.

Other white supremacists

A variety of other white supremacists exist, but two types in particular are worth mentioning:  Odinists and “intellectual” white supremacists.

Odinism is a fringe religious sect that takes its beliefs from the ancient Norse pagan religions of pre-Christian Europe. This Norse revival, which basically dates back to the 1970s, has grown considerably in the 21st century. The most common version of Norse revivalism is usually called Ásatrú. Ásatrú is not, in itself, a racist religion, though some white supremacists consider themselves Ásatrúists. However, most white supremacists gravitate towards the more explicitly racial form of Ásatrú that has come to be known as Odinism (sometimes Wotanism). Odinism, which appeals to some white supremacists as a “warrior religion,” is often described as a racial religion for people of European descent (it is often described as “racialist,” “tribal,” or “folkish”). Although it is possible that some non-white supremacists might describe themselves as “Odinist,” more and more it is Odinism that is associated with the racist segment of the Norse revival.

Odinists have revived many of the spiritual practices of pre-Christian Nordic pagans and attempt to derive modern lessons from old texts such as the Edda. However, for many white supremacists it is the symbology and iconography of Odinism that resonate more than specific theological points; for quite a few adherents, actual religious knowledge might be very shallow indeed.

Odinism can be found among neo-Nazis and racist skinheads, but “traditional” white supremacists and, not surprisingly, Christian Identity adherents typically reject it. It has become most popular among white supremacist inmates, both prison gang members and other incarcerated white supremacists, and it is among the prison population that the religion has spread the furthest. There are, in addition, dedicated Odinist groups, but even most of these have either a connection to prison or have many members who are former inmates.

Odinism is growing and likely soon will be widespread enough to list as a separate white supremacist movement, just as Christian Identity is.

Also significant, though not really a movement, are what might be described as “intellectual” white supremacists. These tend to be individual white supremacist writers or publishers rather than group-oriented white supremacists; their main goal is to try to provide some sort of intellectual veneer or justification for white supremacist concepts. Some may focus on the supposed intellectual superiority of whites over many other races, while many attempt to propagate their ideas among more mainstream conservatives, often substituting words such as “race” with more palatable alternatives such as “culture,” as in “Western culture.”

These white supremacists often hold conferences that bring together various ideologues from Europe and America to attack multiculturalism, diversity, and non-white immigration. They also bemoan the lack of “racial consciousness” of whites and promote the concept of a white or European-American identity. They see themselves as the vanguard that will usher in a new era of white consciousness through intellectual reasoning presented at conferences, publications and “think tanks.”

Prominent white supremacists of this sort include Jared Taylor, publisher of American Renaissance, a former print magazine that is now Internet-based; Richard Spencer, head of the National Policy Institute; and Paul Gottfried, founder of the H. L. Mencken Club. A number of prominent members of the American Freedom Party, a white supremacist group, could also fit into this category.

Proponents of this aspect of white supremacy often refer to themselves as the “Alternative Right,” and have counterparts in Europe who may use similar terms such as “New Right” or “Identitaires.”  Indeed, transatlantic connections are important for many such “intellectual” white supremacists, who frequently travel to Europe to meet with like-minded people on the continent. In 2014-2015, for example, American “intellectual” white supremacists have travelled to conferences in Hungary and in Russia, where they mingled with members of extreme-right parties ranging from Greece’s Golden Dawn to Italy’s Forza Nuova. A number of them have embraced Russian president Vladimir Putin and the hard-edged nationalism that he represents, as a model for Western Europe and North America.

White Supremacists in Action: From Protests to Criminal Activity

White supremacists, particularly those in the organized portions of the white supremacist movement, engage in a wide variety of activities. These range from protests and demonstrations against things or people they dislike, to attempts to spread their messages and even recruit new adherents, to networking and social events. In addition, white supremacists from both the organized and unorganized sections of the white supremacist movement may engage in criminal activity that can range from minor hate crimes to major plots or acts of terrorism, as well as a wide range of non-ideological criminal activity as well.

Public and private white supremacist events

As a fringe movement deeply discontented with the status quo in the United States, white supremacists frequently mobilize—though typically only in small numbers—to protest things to which they are opposed, from specific events or government decisions to entire races or communities. They may also hold events to commemorate things they hold dear, or to share ideas and concepts.

A few recent examples of these sorts of activities illustrate some of the public events that white supremacists hold across the United States:

  • Harrison, Arkansas, June 2015:  Demonstration by Arkansas League of the South members over the “genocidal attack on the Southern people and their symbols,” part of the “deliberate cultural and ethnic cleansing of White, Christian Southerners.”  Essentially, a response to calls for the removal of Confederate flags in the wake of the Charleston shootings.

  • Olympia, Washington, May 2015:  A small group of white supremacists, organized by a local Christian Identity adherent, showed up to protest a “Black Lives Matter” demonstration against local police, precipitating a physical clash between the two groups.

  • Southern California, May 2015:  White supremacists from a number of groups joined for a “David Lane Memorial,” commemorating the member of the terrorist group known as The Order who later coined the “Fourteen Words” slogan.

  • St. Louis, Missouri, April 2015:  Aryan Nations members and other white supremacists organized a “Free Gary Yarbrough” demonstration. Gary Yarbrough is a member of the 1980s white supremacist terrorist group called The Order and considered by white supremacists to be a “political prisoner” and martyr to the white supremacist cause.

  • Montgomery Bell State Park, Tennessee, April 2015:  Jared Taylor held his 13th annual American Renaissance conference, attracting over 200 white supremacists from across the country to hear various American and European white supremacist speakers.

  • Toledo, Ohio, April 2015: Over a two-day span in mid-April, members of the National Socialist Movement staged a “national meeting” on private property in the Toledo area, then the next afternoon held a public rally in downtown Toledo to promote white supremacy.

  • Maysville, Kentucky, April 2015:  Around 10 members of the small Trinity White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan staged a demonstration in Maysville, Kentucky, and in two other nearby towns, before holding a cross burning on private property.

In addition to public events, white supremacists frequently organize barbecues, parties, hate music concerts, and other social gatherings for themselves and like-minded people. The following examples from recent months illustrate this type of activity:

  • Central California, June 2015:  Camp Camradery [sic], a campout and recreational event for white supremacists organized by the California Skinheads and Golden State Skinheads, complete with white power music, a schedule of speakers, and events such as “axe throwing.”

  • Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, June 2015:  The annual summer barbecue for the Keystone State Skinheads, aka Keystone United, with around 40 attendees.

  • Kentucky, May 2015:  About a dozen members of the National Socialist Movement engaged in clean-up work on an Adopt-a-Highway section (a frequent neo-Nazi and Klan publicity tactic), then attended a barbecue and “meet n greet.”

  • Athens, Kentucky, May 2015:  Members of two Klan groups, the Confederate White Knights and the Kentucky White Knights, organized a “good old fashioned Klan rally” on private property.

  • Riverside, Alabama, May 2015:  The Southern Brotherhood, a large white supremacist prison gang, held its “20th Anniversary Bash,” complete with raffle and “strongman competition.”

  • Paris, Tennessee, April 2015: Members of the Supreme White Alliance, a racist skinhead group, held a cookout and cross-burning on private property for a handful of members.

White supremacist criminal activity

Unfortunately, white supremacists do not always limit themselves to protests and barbecues, but instead choose to engage in criminal activity, often of the most violent sort, from hate crimes murders to acts of terrorism. This report has already alluded to a number of such acts, including the attacks in Charleston, Overland Park, Oak Creek, and Austin, among others. Sadly, those acts are hardly alone. White supremacists are the single greatest source of extremist-related violence in the United States, surpassing right-wing anti-government extremists, domestic Islamic extremists, and left-wing extremists and anarchists.

Indeed, one need only look at extremist-related murders to see how large the white supremacist movement looms in the landscape of extremist violence in the United States. The Anti-Defamation League maintains a database of murders and killings that have some sort of extremist connection (of any kind).  Although the data, which goes back decades, undercounts the true number of such killings, it represents a minimum figure that allows some basic quantification.

Preliminarily, ADL data for the past 10 years—from July 2005 through June 2015—indicate at least 279 murders occurred in the United States with some sort of extremist connection. Of these killings, 260 (or 93%) are related to one form or another of right-wing extremism. However, of those right-wing-related murders, 215 (or 83%) are connected to white supremacists (77% of all murders). In other words, the vast majority of extremist-related murders in the United States are committed by people with ties to the white supremacist movement.

The data also reveal a surprising aspect of white supremacist violence. If one takes the 215 killings related to white supremacy and analyzes them for the role that white supremacist ideology may have played in the killings, a surprising fact emerges. Of the 215 murders, only 63 were deaths in which white supremacist ideology played a primary or secondary role. The other 152 killings (71% of the total) were committed for non-ideological reasons.

Earl P. Holt III, the current president of the Council of Conservative Citizens
Confederate Flag and Noose Tattoos, common white supremacist symbols

What does this figure tell us?  First, that white supremacists can kill for many reasons, not just reasons related to their cause. It speaks to the fact that white supremacy attracts many people who have violent inclinations, inclinations that can play themselves out just as easily in non-political situations as political ones. It indicates, too, the degree to which the movement accepts violence as a solution for all sorts of perceived problems. Many of the killings are, in essence, crimes of passion, including killing spouses, girlfriends, and children, as well as murders in situations such as road rage or bar fights. An analysis of the killings also reveals the very high degree to which traditional crime is a common practice among white supremacists—and not just among members of white supremacist prison gangs. These murders include drug deals gone bad, murders committed during home invasions, and killings of suspected informants or “snitches.”

White supremacists commit non-ideological murders at a much higher rate than other extremist movements. However, even if non-ideological killings were to be removed altogether from these statistics, white supremacists would still be the most deadly type of domestic extremist in the United States, perpetrating approximately half of all the murders in which ideology played a primary or secondary motivation.

White supremacists often glorify weapons and violence
White supremacists often glorify weapons and violence

These figures are borne out by other measurements as well. For example, between 2009 and 2015, the Anti-Defamation League has identified 54 separate shooting incidents between police and extremists (of any sort) in the United States. The bulk of these involve full-fledged shootouts between police and extremists. There are also a few incidents in which extremists fired at police but police did not need to return fire in order to apprehend them, as well as a few incidents in which extremists tried to fire at police or threatened them in some other way and were then shot by police. Of these 54 incidents, 28 (or 52%) involved white supremacists.

White supremacists have also engaged in a wide variety of conspiracies, plots and terrorist acts. Some of these violent acts have already been described earlier in this report, but the true number is considerably greater, as these examples from just the past few years indicate:

  • Birmingham, Alabama, October 2013:  Federal prosecutors in Birmingham, Alabama, charged white supremacist James David Kircus with unlawful possession of an unregistered firearm and a destructive device. According to an affidavit, Kircus constructed a bomb out of automobile airbags he took from the auto shop where he worked. Co-workers said he described himself as an “Aryan” and allegedly threatened to “kill all those niggers at the half-way house by blowing them up.”  He was convicted in March 2014 and received a 10-year sentence.

  • Claxton, Georgia, June 2013:  On December 19, 2013, a federal judge in Virginia sentenced Georgia Ku Klux Klan member Michael Lee Fullmore to 52 months in prison for selling assault rifles to a convicted felon. According to evidence presented during his plea proceedings, Fullmore sold the guns in order to fund violence against minority-related targets. In June 2013, FBI agents arrested Fullmore after he told an undercover agent that he wanted to fire-bomb a local Catholic church in a Hispanic community in the Claxton, Georgia, area.

  • Denver, Colorado, March 2013:  White supremacist Evan Spencer Ebel of Denver, Colorado, shot and killed a pizza delivery driver, then used the deliveryman’s clothes as a ruse to assassinate Colorado Department of Corrections director Tom Clements. On the run, he died a few days later in a shootout with Texas law enforcement officers. Ebel was a member of the 211 Crew, a Colorado-based white supremacist prison gang.

  • Seale, Alabama, January 2013:  Self-described white supremacist Derek Mathew Shrout plotted to kill a teacher and five classmates who were African-American, and one student he believed to be gay. The plot was uncovered after a teacher at Russell County High School in Seale, Alabama, found a journal containing plans of an attack and alerted police. Investigators found bomb-making materials and weapons in Shrout’s home. In April 2014, Shrout pleaded guilty to first-degree attempted assault. A weapon of mass destruction charge was dropped. He received a sentence of two years’ probation followed by three years in prison.

  • Mendota Heights, Minnesota, April 2012:  FBI agents arrested two Minnesota white supremacists, Samuel James Johnson and Joseph Benjamin Thomas, on weapons and drug charges, respectively, in connection with what authorities said was a plot to attack the U.S. government, minorities, and “left-wing” targets. Both men were members of Johnson’s Aryan Liberation Movement and former members of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement. Johnson pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a weapon and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Thomas pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distributed methamphetamines, and received 10 years in prison.

  • Washington, Oregon, and California, September 2011:  White supremacists David Pedersen and Holly Grigsby engaged in a multi-state killing spree that resulted in four murders in three states. The couple murdered Pedersen’s father and stepmother in Washington, a white man in Oregon as part of a carjacking, and an African-American male in California as part of another carjacking. In court, Pederson said he targeted the Oregon man because he believed he was Jewish and the Californian man because he was black. After their arrest, the couple admitted they had been headed to Sacramento to find a prominent Jewish person to kill.

  • Spokane, Washington, January 2011:  In March 2011, the FBI arrested white supremacist Kevin Harpham for attempting to bomb a Spokane, Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day parade. Harpham confessed to planting a backpack along the parade route containing a pipe bomb designed to be triggered by a radio frequency system. Luckily, the bomb failed to go off. Harpham was sentenced to 32 years in prison.

  • Hardy, Arkansas, January 2011:  Racist skinheads associated with Blood & Honour Arkansas targeted the home of a bi-racial couple in Hardy, Arkansas. Jason Walter Barnwell, Gary Don Dodson, Jake Murphy, and Dustin Hammond devised a plan to use Molotov cocktails to firebomb the couples’ home during the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday. Dodson drove the group to the victims’ home, where Barnwell, Murphy, and Hammond threw the cocktails. Luckily, the couple was not injured. All four ended up pleading guilty to federal hate crimes charges; another defendant, Wendy Treybig, also a white supremacist, pleaded guilty to obstructing justice in connection with the incident.

  • Apache Junction, Arizona, January 2011:  A federal grand jury indicted white supremacist Jeffrey Harbin, who had ties to the National Socialist Movement, for possessing and transporting an explosive device. He was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty. Prosecutors in the case alleged that Harbin made the explosive devices to be used during vigilante operations on the Mexican border and designed them to cause the most carnage possible.

These examples demonstrate that, as disturbing as white supremacist propaganda and protests are, it is the violence of the movement that poses the true danger, the violence that reared its hateful head so recently in Charleston, South Carolina, at the Emanuel AME Church.

White supremacists will try to spread their message, they will try to recruit more people into the movement, and occasionally they will succeed. But it would take a major change in American attitudes—a drastic departure that would radically go against the grain of the last 150 years of American history—to make the dreams of white supremacists become reality. The movement is likely to remain on the fringe, to be opposed rather than accepted by most other Americans.

Unfortunately, the dreams of white supremacists need not come true in order for their passions to turn the lives of other Americans into nightmares. It only takes a few people with hate in their heart to wound a city or a nation. White supremacists have enough adherents for that—and more than enough hate. Because of this, every community and every institution in this country must guard against the very real threat that white supremacists still pose today.

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