Sunday, June 20, 2004

Alan Berg and the haters

It was twenty years ago this weekend that Alan Berg, the Denver radio talk-show host, was gunned down in his driveway by members of The Order, a gang of Aryan Nations thugs who robbed banks and targeted Berg for his on-air humiliation of right-wing extremists.

My friend Kevin Flynn at the Rocky Mountain News (who co-authored the definitive book on The Order, The Silent Brotherhood) interviewed Berg's ex-wife (with whom Berg had dined the night he was killed) on the anniversary, and came away with a great piece:
Fighting racism for 20 years
Neo-Nazi victim Alan Berg's ex-wife calls hate a 'disease'

Like nearly everyone touched by this crime, Judith Berg has been watching the development of hate groups over the succeeding years, their cycles as they wax and wane. And she has an interesting perspective on where we stand currently:
Berg said the murder of her ex-husband was a watershed event that inspired more hate-movement violence.

"What happened to Alan in the grown-up world has reached into the youth culture," she said. "It opened the door to an acceptance of violence as a means of acting on hate."

The nation's attention is now focused on terror threats from abroad, but Berg thinks the nation should also look inward.

"While our backs are turned toward overseas, hate groups are having a heyday," she said.

"People are very unhappy; they're out of work and jobs are scarce. They're ripe for joining extremist groups. We need to understand what happened to make sure it doesn't happen again."

I think the current down cycle for right-wing extremism is actually masking a lot of activity beneath the surface. White nationalist sentiments are being gradually introduced into the mainstream discourse, especially among younger people. There has also been a real flurry of low-level recruitment -- particularly the distribution of flyers -- that may enjoy only slight success, but which definitely indicate an uptick in proselytization in the mainstream.

The four years after the coming election will be very interesting either way. If Bush is re-elected, expect to see the gradual emergence of these belief systems on the mainstream stage, in keeping with trends of the past four years. If Kerry wins, expect to see an extremely virulent and violent resurgence of the extremist right, because the conditions of the past four years have paved the way for them.

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