-- by Dave
Peter Rugg, a reporter for The Pitch, an alternative newsweekly in Kansas City, recently went undercover to report on a local Klan group.
This is not a reportorial technique I recommend. I know a lot of people question the ethics of deceptiveness in the course of fact gathering as a journalist, though I notice that most of the handwringing in these cases is done by people with all the investigative instincts God gave Elmer Fudd. Still, going undercover to check out Nazis can be bad for your health, so I don't recommend it. (Same with, say, Latin American drug cartels and Middle Eastern terrorist groups.) So I have to tip my hat to brave souls like Rugg.
It's an excellent and fairly clear-eyed portrait of what these groups -- which usually consist of a tiny handful of fairly pathetic souls -- are like in real life:
- Turk was short and fat, and the black hat he wore was stitched with a skull and bones. The visible sides of his head had been shaved, but when he turned, I could see the end of a limp mohawk. He giggled when he said "nigger" or "Jew," like a little kid with a pornographic picture, not quite understanding what he sees but sure it's something naughty. His face swelled up like a bullfrog whenever this happened. He ordered a glass of beer.
"Independence used to be real Klan-friendly," he told me. "People would just pick up the phone book and randomly call people, asking them about joining the Klan or telling them about us. And they wouldn't hang up. I go down to the Apple Market there once a month or so and put up some literature on the community bulletin board. Most times when I go back, it's still there. Maybe people don't notice it."
"So how'd you decide to join up?" I asked.
"I used to live in San Antonio until five years ago, and we just had all these wetbacks moving in. And I couldn't get a parking spot on my own street, they'd bring so many of them to live with them," he said. "Then one day, I saw chickens in one of their yards. I think there was even a fucking goose. That was it for me."
"Wow, a goose?" I marveled that someone would join a hate group based on a lack of parking.
"A fucking goose. I couldn't take it anymore. So I joined up. My wife wasn't too happy about it. I'm divorced now. But then she'd tell me to take my Knights diploma down because I kept that up on the bedroom wall. And I have a bloodstained Confederate flag wallpaper on my computer, and she'd get nervous her parents would see that when they came to visit."
Turk worked occasionally as a substitute teacher. He planned to get a teaching degree and work in education full time. But his day job was in customer service at a drug company in downtown Kansas City.
That's just a snippet. The whole piece is worth reading.
Meanwhile, this weekend's Hammerfest gathering of skinheads in Portland -- at an as-yet-undisclosed location -- should be a pretty tiny little hatefest:
- Portland State University sociology prof Randy Blazak, chair of the Portland-based Coalition Against Hate Crimes, would be surprised if Volksfront’s card-carrying members topped 50.
“They’re probably getting smaller all the time,” he says.
Blazak says Hammerskin Nation might have picked Portland for its event because groups like it have long looked to the region for the so-called “Northwest Imperative.” The imperative is the two-decade-old idea started by the white supremacist group Aryan Nations that Oregon, Washington and Idaho will someday secede to create an autonomous Aryan homeland.
It's probably the same little clutch of folks who brought us the Nazifest in Olympia last year. Plus or minus a few.
Of course, that's the thing about these characters: laugh all we like, it only takes a few of them to make a lot of trouble. Four years ago, a couple of Hammerskin concertgoers at a similar gig near Portland warmed up for the festivities by assaulting a young black man.