Southland Is Ripe Turf for White Hate Groups : Racism: Ethnically diverse, economically depressed region is a flash point for loose-knit supremacists.
Hitler was a saint. The Holocaust never happened. Jews are the children of Satan and are destroying the United States along with other “mud people"--African-Americans, Asians, Latinos--anyone not descended from Anglo-Saxon stock.
Such are the bizarre fomentations of the shadowy, often violent world known as white supremacy.
Federal agents in Los Angeles provided a rare window on that world this month in breaking up what they described as a plot by heavily armed white supremacist skinheads to assassinate Rodney G. King, bomb a prominent black church and incite a race war.
How much of a presence do these groups have? How much of a threat do they pose?
Membership in hard-core, white racist organizations is growing in Southern California and the United States, many authorities believe, though to what extent no one knows.
Statistics suggest that racially motivated hate crimes also are on the rise, though it is uncertain how many are committed by white racist groups.
What is certain is that ethnically diverse, economically depressed Southern California has become a flash point for the white supremacy movement--a loose-knit collection of tightly wound individuals and ragtag organizations who generally believe that non-Christians, homosexuals and people of color do not belong in the United States.
“This may not be the Mecca of white separatism,” said former Ku Klux Klan leader Tom Metzger, “but it is the breeding ground.”
Metzger, a toupeed television repairman who lives in the northern San Diego County town of Fallbrook, heads the White Aryan Resistance, thought to be the largest white racist group in California and among the best organized in the nation. WAR supports itself by selling $30 subscriptions to its vitriolic monthly newsletter and claims a mailing list of about 3,000. It maintains a telephone hot line with recorded hate messages.
The group, according to authorities, has been instrumental in encouraging white racists to commit violence against non-Anglos and Jews. Metzger denies the allegation.
Various organizations that closely monitor white racist activities estimate that there are 250 to 300 skinhead and other Aryan-type groups nationwide. Among the largest are the Nebraska-based New Order, which wants to bring back Nazism; the Church of the Creator, which is headquartered in Niceville, Fla., and advocates a racial holy war; and the Aryan Nations in northern Idaho, whose members believe that computer bar codes on food packages are part of a Jewish plot to kill Christians.
Membership in these groups is estimated by private watchdog organizations to range from 10,000 to 30,000 and growing. A notable exception has been the Ku Klux Klan, whose tactics have been branded as outdated by some racist leaders, including Metzger, and whose hard-core ranks are believed to have thinned in recent years to no more than a few hundred.
“It’s very difficult to get an accurate gauge on how many people are involved because for every hard-core member of an organization, there are probably four to five sympathizers,” said Lawrence Jeffries, spokesman for the Atlanta-based Center for Democratic Renewal.
The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, widely regarded as an authoritative source on supremacist activities, estimated this month that there were no more than 50 die-hard skinheads in all of Southern California. But federal authorities disclosed recently that the Fourth Reich Skinheads, the Long Beach-based group implicated in the plot to kill King, alone may have as many as 50 members.
Three Fourth Reich Skinheads, two of them juveniles, were arrested July 15 and pipe bombs and firearms were seized. The same day, five other reputed white supremacists who were not affiliated with the skinheads were arrested on federal firearms charges. They allegedly stockpiled an array of weapons, including more than 20 British machine guns.
“Acts of violence (by) skinheads . . . have given a wake-up call to local law enforcement,” said Barry Kowalski, deputy chief of the criminal section of the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department. “Prior to this, many in law enforcement thought that this (white supremacist) phenomenon was something confined to kooks and people who were not really that dangerous.”
An Anti-Defamation League report released this month, “Young Nazi Killers, the Rising Skinhead Danger,” estimated that the number of skinheads had grown since 1985 from about 1,500 in 12 states to about 3,500 in 40 states.
Between 1987 and mid-1990, according to the ADL, skinheads were responsible for six murders nationwide. In the three years since, the report says, skinheads were responsible for at least 22 killings.
Southern California is no stranger to skinhead violence. In 1989, outside a market in La Verne, four skinheads assaulted an Iranian couple and their week-old infant, whom they assumed were Jews. The attackers received jail sentences ranging from 34 days to one year.
In 1991, 10 members of a skinhead gang were sentenced to jail and prison terms for beating a Chinese-American honor student and two of his white friends in a Fullerton park.
Until this month’s arrests, the ADL and other monitoring agencies had assumed that the skinhead phenomenon in the region was on the decline--primarily because of recent legal setbacks incurred by Metzger.
In 1990, a Portland, Ore., jury ordered Metzger and his son to pay $12.5 million for allegedly inciting the 1988 beating death of an Ethiopian man. In 1991, Metzger was convicted of unlawful assembly charges for a 1983 cross-burning in Kagel Canyon near Lake View Terrace and spent 46 days in jail.
These legal problems, it was believed, left the White Aryan Resistance financially strapped, hampering Metzger’s skinhead recruiting efforts.
“In the Southern California scene we have seen less activity recently, primarily because of the (Portland) judgment against Metzger,” said Tzivia Schwartz, western states counsel of the ADL. “It seemed to have died down a bit around here until these incidents (last) week.”
Metzger, in a telephone interview, said he did not try to recruit the Fourth Reich Skinheads arrested by federal agents, though he once left a message encouraging them on the group’s telephone answering machine.
Metzger acknowledged that he has urged skinheads to shed their street-tough image, let their hair grow out and “dress normally,” while maintaining their racist ideology.
“It’s no use to anyone (for) them (to be) standing around on the corner . . . getting in fights with blacks,” Metzger said. “A lot of them have integrated themselves into the business community and the military so that you don’t know they’re skinheads anymore.”
Experts across the country offer varying theories of why white youths shave their hair and don steel-toed Doc Marten boots to embrace a typical skinhead lifestyle of beer, hard rock music and “boot parties"--where roaming packs of skinheads beat and stomp minorities. Most come from dysfunctional or blue-collar families who resent their lot in life and blame minorities, experts say.
“In general, these are young people whose lives are a mess,” said Jack McDevitt, a hate crime expert at Northeastern University in Boston. “We are more likely to get struck by a comet than they are likely to join together in a big national movement. These are people who find it hard to get to work in the morning.”
Joe Roy, chief investigator for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Klanwatch project in Montgomery, Ala., said feuds and competition have prevented white racist organizations from forming nationwide coalitions. “There are a lot of groups out there,” he said, “and they can’t get their act together.”
Former Sacramento-area skinhead Gregory Withrow, 32, said he was raised in a “Nazi home” where he was taught to despise blacks. He joined the white supremacist movement in 1978, was a member of the Klan and later founded WAR’s Aryan Youth Movement. Nights, he said, were often spent on the prowl, randomly attacking non-whites, particularly Japanese tourists, with knives and baseball bats.
“The lure,” Withrow said, “is one of fear and anger--fear of losing one’s own identity or culture, anger toward other races that are encroaching on your territory, your way of life. . . . Hate and fear become a drug, an exhilarating drug.”
Withrow, a professional kick boxer, said he left the supremacist movement about five years ago after falling in love “with a good woman.” When Withrow announced his intentions, he said, six skinheads crucified him on a board with nails driven through his hands, slashed his throat with a razor and left him for dead. A black couple found him and saved his life.
Withrow declined to say where he lives today for fear of another attempt on his life. It has taken him years, he said, to truly escape the white supremacist movement. Even now, he said, racist thoughts “pop into my head and I still have to say: ‘Satan, get behind me.’ ”
The eroding economy, experts believe, is helping fuel an increase in the numbers of young people joining white racist groups, including the skinheads.
“These (hate) groups say: ‘You aren’t getting your piece of the American pie because the Jews and minorities are taking over,’ ” said Roy of Klanwatch.
Tom Martinez, 37, a white supremacist turned FBI informant, said he decided to join the Ku Klux Klan at age 19 while working at a doughnut shop.
“Nothing was going my way,” Martinez recalled. “It is very easy to start scapegoating. It’s the Jews’ fault that I don’t have a job. Or the blacks.”
Martinez became a Klu Klux Klan recruiter. He later belonged to other racist groups during the 1980s, including the American Nazi Party and an ultraviolent organization known as the Order, whose members murdered Denver radio talk show host Alan Berg in 1984 and committed a series of high-profile bank robberies.
“The groups made me feel important,” Martinez said. “It was the first time in my life I felt like I was part of something, part of a family.”
Martinez now goes to schools speaking out against racism, telling his personal story.
“The movement,” he warns, “has become more violent.”
Statistics indicate that hate crimes are increasing. But it remains unclear how much of the trend can be attributed to organized groups. Few local law enforcement agencies keep such data--and most hate crimes are never solved.
“There are definitely more recorded acts of racially motivated crime than 10 years ago,” said Kowalski of the Justice Department. “But I’m not sure if that’s because there are more such incidents, or better reporting mechanisms.”
The Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission said that the number of hate crimes climbed from 672 reports in 1991 to 736 last year. Racially motivated crimes make up more than half of the reports.
Officials said 1991 was the first time in the county that hate crimes involving physical assaults outnumbered reports of racial threats and vandalism.
The Los Angeles Police Department logged 308 hate crimes in the first six months of this year, compared to 299 in the first six months of 1992.
Of the 308 hate crimes in the city this year, most were believed to have been racially motivated. Whites were the victims in 118 racial attacks, blacks in 67, Latinos in 34, Asians in 17 and other races in three or fewer attacks.
Detective Lawrence Garrett of the LAPD’s Criminal Conspiracy Section estimated that “less than 1%" are attributable to skinheads.
He said the relatively large number of attacks against whites this year may have resulted from racial friction in the wake of the 1992 riots. He also noted that whites tend to be more willing than minorities to report attacks to police.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department logged 15 hate crimes in its jurisdiction through mid-May. In one instance, a wooden cross with the letters “KKK” was left on the lawn of a black family’s home in Antelope Valley. In another, someone spray-painted swastikas and “Hitler’s revenge, white power” on the walls of a Catholic church in Norwalk.
The Orange County Human Relations Commission recorded an increase in reported hate crimes, from 125 in 1991 to 188 last year. African-Americans were targeted 61 times last year, Asian-Americans 41 times, gays and lesbians 25 times, Jews 19 times, Latinos 12 times, whites seven times and other groups three or fewer times.
There is no authoritative nationwide picture of hate crime trends.
The FBI since 1990 has been required by federal law to publish annual reports on hate crimes but many local and state agencies do not submit data, resulting in undercounting.
The FBI counted 4,558 hate crimes throughout the United States in 1991--but only five in California.
Of the total, 60% were racially motivated--about two-thirds were committed by whites and almost a third by blacks. The most commonly reported hate crimes were acts of intimidation and property destruction or vandalism. The report did not state how many suspects were white supremacists.
Southern California has long provided a harbor to hate groups of the white racist stripe.
During the late 1950s, former KKK organizer Wesley Swift preached fiery anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic rhetoric to his Anglo-Saxon Christian Congregation at the corner of Hollywood and Vine.
Among Swift’s believers was a Lockheed aerospace engineer named Richard Girnt Butler, who subscribed to an obscure religious doctrine known as Christian Identity.
Christian Identity holds that European Jews are descended from a warrior tribe in southern Russia whose members converted to Judaism more than a thousand years ago. Thus, according to the doctrine, the true descendants of the biblical Israelites--and God’s true chosen people--are white Christians from Northern Europe.
Butler and a handful of followers moved from California in 1974 to the Idaho Panhandle. There, amid the pines, they built a fortlike compound under the name “Church of Jesus Christ Christian,” and formed a political arm, Aryan Nations, which spawned the paramilitary Order.
Members of the Order have since been implicated in bombings, robberies and attacks on federal officers. They are convinced that America will one day be engulfed in a cataclysmic race war and advocate the creation of an independent Aryan nation in the Pacific Northwest.
Metzger and his WAR members share with Butler’s group a fundamental belief that the U.S. government is a Jewish-run front, and that ethnic minorities are ruining the country.
WAR, according to Metzger, has distanced itself from Christian Identity and begun promoting “a more nature-oriented idea"--saving the environment so that Anglos may one day enjoy a separatist state free not only of ethnic groups, but pollution.
Instead of armed confrontation to effect change, Metzger said he has begun encouraging the racists he meets to “worm your way into the system itself.” Gaining political and economic power while helping promote other whites, he explained, is the surest way to achieve the goal of an all-Aryan state.
Other prominent racists have gone even deeper into the mainstream. Consider former Klan leader-turned Louisiana state legislator David Duke, who lost a gubernatorial bid in 1991 while capturing 39% of the vote.
But even as Duke and others attempt to work within the system, Metzger speculated, random acts of violence increasingly will be carried out by whites frustrated by what they see as reverse discrimination and dwindling opportunities in the workplace.
“These are acts of desperation that will become more and more common,” Metzger said. “The government will try to stop it, but there’s no way they can.”
As momentum in the white power movement grows, he predicted, “California will be on the cutting edge.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Klanwatch project says hate crimes nationwide have increased since the group began monitoring such activities. The information is not all-inclusive because it is gleaned from newspaper accounts and other monitoring efforts.
CROSS BURNINGS VANDALISM MURDERS 1989 7 34 125 1990 20 55 77 1991 27 101 216 1992 31 117 322
In selected cities, counties and states that most reliably track hate crime statistics, such incidents increased 16.7% between 1991 and 1992. The information is standardized to count only cases based on race, national origin, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
1991 1992 New York City 525 626 Los Angeles County 670 728 Boston 218 252 Chicago 176 246 *Maryland 643 747 Minnesota 425 433 New Jersey 976 1,303 San Francisco 401 377 Florida 265 336 Connecticut 103 90 Total 4,402 5,138
Source: Brian Levin, visiting scholar, Stanford University School of Law
* Maryland is an estimate
A Landscape of Hate
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Klanwatch tracked 299 white supremacy groups around the country in 1992. Each marking denotes a group, which may have several other offshoots or chapters that are not shown on this map.
Notes: The map does not include hundreds of so-called Christian identity churches, whose members believe that white Christians in Northern Europe and America are the true Israelites.
No white supremacy groups were tracked in Alaska or Hawaii in 1992.