Call it sticker shock.
For at least three months some Southern California bookstores have been targeted by a group calling itself the White Aryan Resistance which has defaced hundreds, perhaps thousands, of books with a hate-mongering message. In a campaign that seems to be centered in the San Gabriel and San Fernando Valleys, booksellers and their customers have found many best-selling books "vandalized" with stickers or rubber stamps bearing the same racist message: "Earth's Most Endangered Species: The White Race. Help Preserve It."
Placed on inside pages, the stickers also contain the phone number for a racially charged tape-recorded message. Callers are encouraged to send for literature via a Covina post office box and to dial additional numbers in San Diego and Orange counties and the South Bay area. Those numbers produce additional hate messages as well as a turgid scatalogical fable about racial purity.
"We're not happy about this," said Karen Watkins, general manager of Vroman's in Pasadena. "Freedom of speech is one thing but this is pushing it a bit far." Most of the stickers cannot be removed without damaging the book, she noted, making the books unfit for sale or return to the publisher.
Since a customer reported the first defaced book two weeks ago about 200 have been found at the Colorado Blvd. store, Watkins said. But she added there may be many more stickered or stamped books among the thousands in stock; the staff can't check every volume. Watkins noted that Vroman's store in the Santa Anita mall had discovered books with stickers.
Jeanette Anderson of Waldenbooks in the Glendale Galleria said the first sticker was discovered in her store around the first of the year. So far the store has identified about 60 marked books, she said.
A Crown Books executive said that as many as 200 stickered books had been found in five of the chain's 96 Southern California stores--Glendale, Studio City, Sherman Oaks, Encino and Pasadena. The executive, who requested anonymity, said that an employee had furnished a description of a possible suspect seen in a Crown store last month--a white, heavyset male in his late 20s or early 30s with receding shoulder-length dirty blonde hair and a mustache. All three bookstores said they had reported the defacings to police.
The bookstores also reported that the books recently picked for defacing often are bestsellers or likely to appeal to general readers. The Crown spokesman noted, however, that when the stickers first began turning up several months ago the books were usually liberal or "left-wing" themes.
Among the titles booksellers said have been stickered recently: Barry Williams "Growing Up Brady," Rush Limbaugh's "The Way Things Ought To Be," Susan Faludi's "Backlash," Clarissa Pinkola Estes' "Women Who Run With The Wolves" Al Gore's "Earth in the Balance" and Joel Kotkin's "Tribes."
Vroman's Watkins said that while the stickers usually seem randomly placed, a biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton was always defaced with a sticker across a photograph of the First Lady.
Some bookstores declined to comment on whether their books had been stickered. Others claimed they had been unaffected. But Waldenbooks's Anderson said the grapevine among bookstore workers is churning out rumors of stickered books as far away as Texas and New Mexico.