When Dylann Storm Roof walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, he joined the Bible-study class before gunning down nine African-Americans as they prayed.
Roof still communicates with his admirers on the outside. In jail, he began exchanging letters with a man in Arkansas named Billy Roper. A former schoolteacher and the son and grandson of Klansmen, Roper leads the Shield Wall Network, a group of several dozen white nationalists who organize rallies and conferences — often collaborating with neighboring hate groups — with the goal of building a white ethno-state. “I have a lot of empathy for him. I’m 47, and he’s young enough to be my son,” Roper said of Roof when interviewed recently for this project. “These millennials and now, I guess, Gen-Zers that are coming up, they are not stupid about the demographic trends and what they portend for the future. That angst, that anxiety that plagues them, drives them to do rash things — whether it’s that rash or not — I can empathize with.” I would humbly suggest we believe that Roper is being sincere, and that he speaks for many.
Roper and Roof are only two of those affiliated with the 148 white-nationalist hate groups in this country. Though it is impossible to calculate their exact membership numbers (as individual groups either conceal or inflate them), their violence is indisputable. White supremacists were responsible for the deaths of at least 39 people in 2018 alone. And the activity has not slowed this year: not in January, as neo-Nazis plastered flyers outside newspaper offices and homes in Washington State and the Carolinas and an army veteran pleaded guilty to killing a black man in New York to “ignite a racial war”; in February, as Vermont synagogues and LGBT centers were vandalized and a self-described white-nationalist Coast Guard lieutenant was arrested for plotting a domestic terror attack; in March, as WELCOME TO GERMANY and GAS THE JEWS were spray-painted outside Oklahoma City Democratic Party and Chickasaw Nation offices and, on the Upper East Side, classmates handed their school’s only black ninth-grader a note reading “n—–s don’t have rights”; in April, as a shooting at a synagogue left one dead and three injured and FBI Director Christopher Wray called white supremacy a “persistent, pervasive” threat to the country; in May, as swastikas fell from the sky — on flyers dropped by drones outside an Ariana Grande concert — and were scrawled on public spaces in at least three states; in June, as far-right groups rallied in Portland, Oregon, for the first time that summer; in July, as a man promoted a white-power manifesto on Instagram before killing three and wounding 17 others at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California; in August, as another angry young man — this one 1,000 miles away in El Paso, Texas — posted an anti-immigrant manifesto online then committed this year’s most deadly mass shooting, killing 22 and injuring 24 at a Walmart; in September, as the Department of Homeland Security added white-supremacist extremism to its list of priority threats, the same month a swastika appeared on its walls; in October, as swastikas also appeared on Cape Cod and invitations to a white-supremacist gathering were mailed to Maine residents; in November, as a white-supremacist group filmed a video outside Mississippi’s Emmett Till Memorial; nor this month, as students flashed possible white-power signs at an Army-Navy football game.
The photojournalist Mark Peterson has documented this year, traveling the country to surface the extent of the activity and catalogue the most dangerous ideologies. His quotidian look at contemporary American Confederacy and white nationalism shows us our neighbors in other robes. The people portrayed are living among us in every region of the country, in our workplaces, in our government, on social media, and, for some, in our homes. Their culture is made up of both public rallies and private rituals. We see their homes and their streets and their schools, and that these are also our streets and our schools and our neighbors. “These pictures weren’t just taken in the South,” says Peterson, who covers the right wing and began documenting the rise of white nationalism after the 2016 election. “They were taken in New York, in New Jersey, in California, in Portland. The idea of quarantining it or ignoring it: That didn’t work in the past when they tried to do that, and it won’t now.”
The barrage of daily headlines makes it easy to see this year’s incidents as isolated, as white noise in the background of our relentless political moment. But as disturbing as they are, these images portray the American story. It is our inheritance, institutionalized since the Civil War by a government that only recently, and tentatively, began to address domestic terrorism for what it is. White nationalism, legitimized by our president’s support of “very fine people,” has flourished in part because of this refusal to look it squarely in its face and acknowledge it as homegrown. Without a full accounting of the reality, there can be no remedy. To look away is a form of collaboration. —Claudia Rankine
The Klan Near New York
“I’ll be honest with you, we don’t have as many members as they do down in North Carolina or South Carolina,” said the Grand Dragon of the Loyal White Knights of the KKK for New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut (in green), here in his home in suburban New Jersey on October 5. Since first joining the Klan in the 1970s, he has been a member of Aryan Nations, the National Alliance, and the Imperial Klans of America. One state over, the grand dragon of the Loyal White Nights of the KKK (in white) is seen near his home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Both men were photographed in the months following Homeland Security named white supremacy a primary security threat.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, KKK membership has declined in America even while the industry of hate has thrived, fueled by the next generation of white supremacists who have aligned with newer alt-right and white-nationalist organizations (the kind whose members carry tiki torches and wear khakis instead of hoods). White supremacists, white nationalists, and neo-Nazis overlap with self-described “identitarians” like the American Identity Movement, fascists like the Patriot Front, ethno-survivalists like the Shield Wall Network, white-power fight clubs like the Rise Above Movement, and “anti–white guilt” provocateurs like the Proud Boys. Sometimes even they have a hard time describing how their ideologies differ. —Reporting by James D. Walsh
Rallying in Major Cities
This rally in Portland, Oregon on August 17 — one of at least eight such far-right events in major cities this year — was organized by the Proud Boys, which claimed its goal was to drain Portland of its law-enforcement resources until the city condemned antifa. Critics, led by Fox News, often compare antifa with violent far-right groups, calling it the radical left’s violent mob. But statistically the equivalency is unsubstantiated. “We counted a representative sample of antifa attacks and threats on MAGA supporters,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino. “The bottom line is we haven’t seen any hard-left or antifa homicides.”
Policing White Supremacy
On June 8, about 15 members of the National Socialist Movement — the largest neo-Nazi group in the country, with 30 to 40 core members — protested Detroit’s Motor City Pride parade, captured in these two photographs. “We were legally armed,” said leader Burt Colucci. The Detroit Police Department was criticized for providing an escort for the protesters, a measure Police Chief James Craig defended as an attempt to prevent “a Charlottesville No. 2.” No one was arrested, but a GoPro video Colucci shot of himself shoving a counterprotester to the ground was later released.
Public events like this one led to tensions ratcheting up among law enforcement, far-right groups, and the public. It didn’t help that, also this year, hate was regularly exposed in the ranks of those charged with fighting it: In April, two Virginia police officers were fired because of their links to white nationalists. Two months later, Reveal reported on nearly 400 current and former law enforcement officers who were members of, or engaged with, extremist Facebook groups, including anti-Islam groups and anti-government militias like the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters. In St. Louis, 22 police officers were added to an “exclusion list,” prohibiting them from bringing cases to prosecutors after the Plain View Project found racist and anti-Muslim comments they had made on social media. Earlier this month, a photo surfaced of 37 West Virginia corrections officers performing a Nazi salute at their graduation ceremony.
HATE ON THE RISE
After a white supremacist killed 51 people in two New Zealand mosques in March, President Trump was asked if he thought the threat of white nationalism was on the rise. “I don’t, really,” he responded. “I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.”
Hate-crime statistics are notoriously difficult to calculate. Local and state law-enforcement agencies are not required to submit numbers to the FBI, laws defining hate crimes vary from state to state, and experts estimate that more than half of all hate crimes go unreported. According to the FBI, hate-crime violence hit a 16-year high in 2018 with the black, Jewish, Latino, and transgender communities being targeted more than ever and the nation’s largest cities seeing the most activity. The FBI’s 2019 numbers won’t be available until next November, but indications suggest they will continue to trend upward. The most deadly mass shooting of 2019 was committed by a xenophobic extremist in El Paso, Texas. “Lone wolf” killers have found their pack.
Fractured as it may be, the far right is now connected by public figures arguing for some form of ethno-nationalism. One such figure is Jared Taylor, founder of the New Century Foundation and the American Renaissance Conference, which brings together far-right leaders from various strands of neo-Nazism, the KKK, and the alt-right. Not long ago, Taylor’s pseudo-intellectual ideas were widely considered fringe. Now, they have a powerful advocate in the White House: Before becoming a top Trump adviser, Stephen Miller cited Taylor’s American Renaissance work to a Breitbart News reporter, suggesting that she aggregate a recent “AmRen” story on the (specious) link between immigration numbers and crime rates.
Taylor has also counseled Patrick Casey and Richard Spencer, members of the alt-right involved in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Nate Snyder, a former counterterrorism official in the Department of Homeland Security, says activity on the neo-Nazi website Stormfront jumped after the rally. “But when it really hit a spiking point was directly after the president’s comments, his infamous words about ‘very fine people on both sides.’ You saw activity on this thing exponentially spike,” he explains. “It was a validation point. You started seeing posts like ‘We now have an ally in the White House. I’m setting up a similar rally in my town. Let’s take this online action and move it offline and supply it with money and supply it with people.’ It was a mass mobilization.” — James D. Walsh
How One Group Operates in Arkansas
Billy Roper, leader of the Shield Wall Network (pictured below holding the letter from Roof and wearing a white shirt), says their protests are intended to polarize: to “force normal white Americans to choose between us and them.” This year, Members of the Shield Wall Network celebrated Hitler’s birthday on April 20 on Lake Dardanelle (photographed above) and protested a Holocaust Remembrance Day march on May 5 in Russellville, Arkansas (pictured preparing and marching, below).
In June, Calfy, 24 (on the far right of the boat, above, and seated next to the Confederate flag, below), Nicholas Holloway, 20 (seated far left in the boat), and John Carollo, 29 (standing at left of boat, with neck tattoo), created a Grindr account for a fictitious 15-year-old, used it to lure a man to Calfy’s home (which they called the Hate House), and assaulted him, leaving a scar across his chest and a welt the size of a golf ball on his head. Calfy called 911 and claimed they had apprehended their victim as part of a vigilante “To Catch a Predator” scheme. All three were arrested and, earlier this month, took plea agreements and were sentenced to probation, including Calfy, who previously served five years in prison for possession of explosives and threatening to carry out a mass shooting at his high school.
Counting a Spike in Vandalism and Propaganda
“Loyal White Knights” of the KKK chaplain Douglas Munker is pictured on September 8 in Yanceyville, North Carolina, with the head of the group, Chris Barker, Barker’s wife, Amanda, and another member at a gathering at the Barkers’ home (photos above). In 2017, when Munker lived on Long Island, he was found distributing KKK literature near East Hampton Middle School. Flyering is a way for hate groups to recruit and stir up fear with little risk. According to the Anti-Defamation League, white-supremacist propaganda surged 182 percent in 2018. In a review of news items from this past year, New York found at least 300 incidents of vandalism involving a swastika: at a Queens elementary school and a California synagogue, at Yale Law School and a Missouri park, on a baby crib at a hotel in Florida, and in dozens of other states.
Seeking Attention, But Passing The Blame
Neo-Nazi Jovi Val, pictured above on Fifth Avenue on September 18, was disowned by the Proud Boys a year ago after he organized a rally in support of members of the far-right facing charges for violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, including James Fields, who would be convicted of murdering Heather Heyer. The Proud Boys sought to distance themselves from Charlottesville. Many of the subjects in these photos were eager to condemn violence when interviewed, but their actions this year suggest otherwise: Many were training for a race war, or carrying shotguns at a Pride parade, or bragging about beating up anti-fascist protesters. In October, two Proud Boys were sentenced to four years in prison for attacking protesters outside the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan.
Date Posted: Monday, December 23rd, 2019 , Total Page Views: 556
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