Monday, February 14, 2005

How white supremacy festers

I've been writing for some time now about how right-wing extremists -- especially white supremacists -- have been growing increasingly bolder, increasingly aggressive in their recruitment efforts. In recent weeks, this seems to be ratcheting up yet another notch.

In Calumet City, Ill., someone has been using an unusually graphic form of graffiti to inject an ugly tone of racism into local politics:
Calumet City police said that on Wednesday and Saturday of last week, someone hung a mannequin attached to a noose from a billboard on Michigan City Road just west of Burnham Avenue. The mannequin was painted black, and racial slurs were spray-painted on the billboard, NBC5's Darren Kramer reported.

Mayor Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush said her opponents have been taking unfair shots at her about race, and she thinks the hate crime was designed to hurt her. There is primary election in two weeks, and Qualkinbush said the crime had as much to do with politics as race.

"I can't tell you in most recent memory when there has ever been an incident like this and I have to be suspect of this incident two weeks before a primary election," Qualkinbush said.

It's worth noting, of course, that not everyone connects this to the political scene, but it's clear that regardless of the reason, it reflects a much more aggressive brand of white supremacy:
Cheryl Cornelius, a minister who is also running against Qualkinbush, also denied anyone from her campaign is involved. Cornelius said the incidents are part of the "systemic racism" that exists in Calumet City.

"It is not politically motivated," Cornelius said. "It's just part of the systemic racism that has taken place and that is consistent with Calumet City."

Elsewhere, the neo-Nazi National Alliance [warning: racist Web site] has announced its plans to recruit aggressively at NASCAR events this coming summer, notably the Daytona 500:
On Sunday, February 20th, shortly before the start of this year’s Daytona 500, the 200,000 fans in attendance will look up and see a small plane towing a banner that reads, "Love Your Race, visit" The Tampa Local Unit of the National Alliance is hiring the plane and will be on hand to distribute literature.

Indeed, as the same NatVan writer has noted elsewhere, a large part of NASCAR's appeal may indeed be the fact that it is almost devoid of black participants and fans:
More and more doctors, lawyers, and other professionals are attending events along with blue collar workers and "Rednecks." Regardless of their sex, income, class, or background they are all White, and they are mostly Country music or Southern Rock fans.

Many of these NASCAR fans won't watch any other sport: to them ball games are for Blacks and wimps.

NASCAR, to its credit, has been working to try change that environment, adopting a program intended to make minorities more welcome both in the stands and in the pits. Still, these efforts have been somewhat less than convincing to African Americans.

Moreover, the organization also demonstrated a remarkably thin skin when it cut off it previous funding for Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH organization when one of its officials described NASCAR as "the last bastion of white supremacy." [You can visit the Web site of the National Association of Minority Racing Fans for more on NASCAR's supposed "sensitivity."]

And so far, there's been no denunciation of the National Alliance campaign planned for the Daytona 500 -- though there is a piece about how NASCAR racing is "a sport for the average Joe" -- who, apparently from the photographic illustrations, are all white. The piece simultaneously attacks other sports -- illustrated, prominently, with photos of black athletes.

Meanwhile, in St. Louis, a white supremacist named Frank Weltner has been enjoying increasing popularity promoting racism and anti-Semitism on his show and at his Web sites:
It was a familiar brand of anti-Semitism, full of conspiracy theories: Jews rewrote and manipulated history for their own ends. Jews control the media and government.

"They led to the downfall of the white people in America," Weltner said. "The Jews, to undermine white people, started the civil rights movement. They were in many ways favorable to the woman's vote. They don't like white males, let's face it."

And blacks: "The blacks are the storm troopers of the Jews."

Weltner's solution -- and that of the National Alliance -- is separation.

"I don't want to live with you anymore. I want to be separate. I've tried that - I've lived with you. I didn't like it," Weltner explained sitting in his office. "You got your society, you've got your people, you've got your destiny. I've got mine. We need to separate this thing. We've had this horror story going on with integration long enough. It hasn't worked. Nobody likes it. The government keeps churning it out. It's tyranny over the mind of man."

A recent Los Angeles Times report describes the aggressive recruitment efforts of white supremacists, particularly in the St. Louis area through a recent spate of advertising, in detail:
Neo-Nazi organizations are not only putting up billboards, they're also instructing members to hide tattoos and dress for rallies in conservative suits to avoid being dismissed as extremists. Thomas Robb, the national director of the Knights of the KKK, urges his members to serve on community boards and in political parties so they can push their white-power agenda from positions of social respect.

"I encourage them to do that, absolutely," Robb said. "Though it has to be done gently."

The National Alliance, meanwhile, is increasingly tailoring its leaflets to current events. Local members seize on any racial tensions in their community as an excuse to blanket the area with articles explaining the white-power worldview.

And the most disturbing aspect of this is that it appears to be working:
When the flap about the MetroLink ads made news here, the National Alliance got so many calls that the phone company insisted that the group upgrade its voice mail system, said Collins, the chapter leader. He wouldn't give precise numbers, but said 80% of the callers listened to the two-minute white-power message on the group's answering machine, then hung up. He said there were two angry callers but that many people asked for more information. "I had to appoint three people just to call people back," he said.

The bigger question, though, is why white supremacists now feel emboldened to make their presence more public. If you look at most of these cases, the thread running through them is that they are clearly tying themselves to mainstream conservative issues: the National Alliance ad campaign, for instance, targeted immigration and "European American" rights.

What is enabling these extremists, in reality, is a conservative movement that has in fact been moving in their direction in recent years. Like the NASCAR folks, conservative Republicans apply cosmetics and give lip service to the causes of equality and tolerance. But the proof, as always, lies in the pudding.

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