Saturday, January 08, 2005

White like me

Here's a disturbing piece out of Portland, from Willamette Week:
Dreaming of a White New Year: "Ghost skins" plan to descend on Southwest Portland in the next month.
Portland supremacists

White supremacists have been seeking to mainstream themselves for years, particularly as the younger generation of former skinheads has aged and melted into larger society. The militia movement of the 1990s was a form of this mainstreaming, but it entailed stripping out the overtly racist and anti-Semitic content of the belief system, leaving it to revolve around conspiracy and monetary theories as the chief drivers of its political agenda.

If this story is accurate, then they're trying out a new strategy that keeps intact these more noxious elements and presents them in a guise of seeming social normalcy:
Ramm, a Tualatin resident, is the national director of the Tualatin Valley Skins and, in some ways, the new face of intolerance. He and his fellow supremacists are self-described "ghost skins." They don't shave their heads, commit crimes or duck-step around town in boots and braces. While their identities remain murky, their goals are crystal-clear.

"We seek to enlighten the public on racial truths the media, schools and government are afraid to promote," says Ramm.

To perform this duty, he and an unknown number of like-minded Aryans are staging a "flyer outreach contest" Jan. 8 in Gabriel Park. Sometime after 1 pm, they will disperse through the surrounding Hayhurst, Maplewood and Multnomah neighborhoods armed with hate-promoting handbills. These are rubber-banded around rocks, stuffed into plastic baggies and lobbed onto the lawns and driveways of pre-assigned targets.

Ramm says judges will be manning a police scanner and the team who generates the most complaints wins 1,000 white-power songs, two racist DVDs and a 17-inch swastika.

According to the TVS website, the contest is a perfectly legal opportunity to "just say NO to the Oregon cesspool of Niggers, Spics, Kikes, Faggots, Ragheads, Chinks, Gooks, Roaches & leftist communist swine."

One of the aspects of right-wing extremism that is most frequently overlooked is its ability to blend into the landscape and present itself as normal. My encounters with various members and camp followers of the Aryan Nations, and my personal encounters with avowed neo-Nazis as well as Freemen and militiamen, made me realize that the stereotype was wrong: For the most part, many of these people passed as least nominally normal. They held jobs, paid taxes, took part in the PTA and local clubs, went to barbecues with their neighbors and went fishing with their coworkers.

James Aho discussed this in depth in his landmark 1992 study The Politics of Righteousness: Idaho Christian Patriotism. Aho compiled an extensive dataset on a large number of members of far-right "Patriot" groups and found that, by and large, they were better educated and better employed than the average American, contrary to the stereotype. (He did observe a particular trend in their education patterns; they hardly ever came from fields involving the humanities, and had an emphasis on technical, engineering and business fields.) For the most part, their lifestyles were indistinguishable from that of their neighbors.

It was this realization, concurrent with the recognition that what I was dealing with was genuine fascism, that sparked my long interest in fascism studies. It's one of the reasons I continue to insist that fascism is not such a distant phenomenon for we Americans.

If the "ghost skins" of Portland enjoy any success, it will signal a more deeply disturbing trend: a receptivity to this tactic, the object of which is "normalizing" white supremacist beliefs. Given the current political environment and latent intolerance, it seems likely they'll at least pick up some numbers on the margins; the bigger picture rests on their ability to actually mainstream themselves and gain acceptance.

Here's hoping the people in Portland who are standing up to them -- including the nonprofit Southwest Neighborhoods -- have some success as well.

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