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Ads Amplify the Voices of Race Hatred

White supremacists are using mainstream media to gain new followers, and legitimacy. Watchdogs fear violence if such groups grow.

February 13, 2005|Stephanie Simon | Times Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS — White supremacist groups around the country are moving aggressively to recruit new members by promoting their violent, racist ideologies on billboards, in radio commercials and in leaflets tossed on suburban driveways.

Watching with mounting alarm, civil rights monitors say these tactics stake out a much bolder, more public role for many hate groups, which are trying to shed their image as shadowy extremists and claim more mainstream support.

Watchdog groups fear increased violence from these organizations if they grow. But perhaps an even greater fear is that the new public relations strategy will let neo-Nazis recast themselves as just another voice in the political spectrum -- even when that voice may be advocating genocide.

"The concern is that this will bring them new members and money, and that they will get some real traction in mainstream politics," said Mark Potok, who tracks hate groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center. "We are completely in favor of the 1st Amendment. [But] they poison the public discourse with ideas like 'Jews are behind it all and need killing.' "

The National Alliance, which calls for ridding the U.S. of minorities, has led the drive to raise the profile of white supremacists.

The local chapter spent $1,500 on MetroLink ads here in St. Louis last month, plastering nearly every commuter train car in the city with a blue-and-white placard that declares "The Future belongs to us!" and lists the group's website and phone number. The same chapter bought airtime on local talk radio last fall, urging whites to unite and fight for the survival of "white America." One member of the chapter, Frank Weltner, has long hosted a radio show that advocates a white supremacist viewpoint.

"We want to use mainstream advertising to say to the public: We're not a shadowy group. This is what we believe in, and we're proud of it," said chapter leader Aaron Collins. "We're trying to give people courage. We want to show them, if you stand up for what you believe in, you're not going to be crucified."

With that goal in mind, other chapters of the National Alliance have posted billboards in Utah, Nevada and Florida. The group has also coordinated massive leaflet drops, distributing 100,000 racist fliers in a single night in states as diverse as New Jersey, Alabama and Nebraska.

The National Alliance even bought a membership list and mailing labels from the Florida Bar Assn. last year so it could send an eight-page recruitment letter -- complete with anti-Semitic cartoons -- to 2,500 criminal defense lawyers.

"If we had the money to advertise during the Super Bowl, we'd try that too," said Shaun Walker, the organization's chief operating officer.

Civil rights monitors consider the National Alliance one of the most virulent neo-Nazi organizations in the country. It was founded in the 1970s by the late William Pierce, who called for herding Jews, homosexuals and "racemixers" into cattle cars and sending them to abandoned coal mines.

Although the group's website says it "does not advocate any illegal activity," National Alliance members have been convicted of violent acts over the last two decades, including armed robberies, bombings and murders. The FBI's senior counterterrorism expert told Congress in 2002 that the National Alliance represented a "terrorist threat."

"They clearly have a track record of encouraging members to take their vision of race war to the streets," said Devin Burghart, who monitors hate groups for the Center for New Community in Chicago.

Potok estimates that the National Alliance has fewer than 700 members, but it's one of the best-financed supremacist groups in the country because it owns a music label, Resistance Records, which long dominated the white-power music scene.

The white supremacist movement encompasses scores of other small -- often feuding -- organizations, with total membership estimated at 100,000. They too are reaching out.

Last fall, residents of Columbia, Mo., awoke to find the Aryan Alternative -- a new tabloid promising "uncensored news for whites" -- next to the Sunday paper on their driveways. In Louisville, Ky., in December, a branch of the Ku Klux Klan sneaked fliers inside copies of the Courier-Journal rolled up for home delivery.

And in a bold bid to recruit youths as young as 13 to the movement, the Panzerfaust record label last fall gave away thousands of CDs packed with hard-driving white-power music, distributing them in schools and malls in numerous states, including California. Sample lyrics: "Do you feel the pride as the skinheads march by? Do you see as I do that our enemies must die?"

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