Nazi punks #$%& off!
March 26, 2010 7:10 AM   Subscribe

Aside from moving, what can I do about the prevalence of white supremacy in my community?

I can't move at the moment due to the crappy job market, cost of moving a family right now, and all the rest. I plan to gtfo as soon as I can.

I live in a small city with what seems like an inordinately high number of white supremacist sympathizers. I've seen at least six different people with KKK, swastika, iron cross or various rune tattoos in very visible places. My local Craiglist is frequently flooded with talk of local WP/WN meetups, and although they get flagged, it's still unnerving. It was found that a popular community group that hosts events attended by families is led by a man with a history of racist hate crimes in another state. A quick search of my area's name on Stormfront led to a ton of posts (I couldn't handle delving any deeper than scanning search results).

As for how this affects me: I barely want to take the bus, lest I be approached (again) by one of these people. Just doing a minor amount of research has turned my stomach. This is all on top of this the recent furor over health care reform; I had to turn off the computer for a few days to avoid the news. Is there anything I can do to spot these folks, protect myself from them, and avoid them? Am I justified in being scared of potential unhinged white supremacists, and is this something therapy would help? I feel like I'm condoning skinhead behavior by not leading a pitchfork mob down main street. A friend has an anti-Nazi sticker on his car, but I worry that would just get me targeted.

All anecdata is appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
sorry to ask this, but are you a quote-unquote "visible minority"?
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 7:17 AM on March 26, 2010

I have no idea what you should do (besides moving as soon as possible) but I think you might find The Big Sort by Bill Bishop to be an interesting read. It's about how communities got sorted, and it sounds like you moved into one that became particularly appealing to a bunch of the white supremacists -- who sorted themselves there too.
posted by blue_bicycle at 7:18 AM on March 26, 2010

While agreeing that this is a really unpleasant situation, nothing in your post seems to indicate that these people have ever approached you or caused any trouble for you. You haven't said if you're a member of a group that is targeted by these people or if you just have problems of conscience with their existence. I think the best advice is for you to try and move as soon as possible and find constructive ways to combat the problem if you feel that passionately about it -- having an anti-Nazi bumper sticker isn't going to do a thing. If you feel unsafe participating in work to combat these problems, then try donating money to people who do this work. You should check with the Southern Poverty Law Center to see if they are doing work in your area. They also have information on getting involved.

As for your fears about "unhinged" white supremacists, a quick search of the local news archives could tell you how often they seem to be involved in violence. I suspect it's not very often; it's one thing to have a bunch of racists in a town, it's quite another to have roving gangs of racist thugs beating up on citizens. The latter tends to attract police attention, and quickly.
posted by proj at 7:19 AM on March 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Do you belong to any larger groups of people? Church or the like, that could give you a greater sense of not being quite so alone/isloated?
posted by jquinby at 7:20 AM on March 26, 2010

Keep tabs on them and report them to the authorities if they're planning any crimes.
posted by anniecat at 7:22 AM on March 26, 2010

See this PBS documentary about grassroots opposition to racism. It's important to organize, so the hate groups don't feel like they're getting the upper hand. It needs to be made clear that they're outside of the community norms so people like you feel safe to speak up. There are plenty of ways to do this - ads in the local paper, letters to the editor, your own fliers, t-shirts, signs in windows.

Remember that these people are COWARDS. They generally don't even attend their own rallies without covering their faces. They need to be shamed, continuously, so that people who may have sympathized with them don't dare to say so.
posted by desjardins at 7:40 AM on March 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

As for your fears about "unhinged" white supremacists, a quick search of the local news archives could tell you how often they seem to be involved in violence. I suspect it's not very often; it's one thing to have a bunch of racists in a town, it's quite another to have roving gangs of racist thugs beating up on citizens.

I think this is pretty key. I did some tabling in the mid-late 90's for anti-racist action at punk shows in Texas and ran into a few of these guys, especially at hardcore shows. They were absolutely annoying, moronic, often drunk or high out of their minds, and general dipshitty douchebags, but even when they came over and talked shit to me for running a table, they're were no more threatening than your average high school bully.

On the few occasions that I can remember these guys getting in trouble with the law, it was for behavior that anyone whacked out of their minds would do. It had nothing to do with any kind of organized, cohesive movement, no matter how much they would've liked to have claimed otherwise.

I'm not saying that the folks in your town are completely harmless. But if, say, your local news happens to report on one or two of them getting arrested for, say, getting in a bar fight or stealing copper to support a drug habit, it's not because the revolution is about to start, even if the local news is (and they invariably do) try to hype it up.

If it makes you feel safer, you may try to see about taking a local self-defense or martial arts class. Carry a small canister of pepper spray. Relatively small things like this can have a pretty significant impact on your psyche. Chat with your neighbors/co-workers/friends and acquaintances. It doesn't have to be in an organizing fashion, just about local goings-on and what, if anything, it means to your neighborhood. The more people talk about this kind of shit openly, the smaller the perceived threat becomes.

Good luck, and don't let the bastards grind you down.
posted by Ufez Jones at 7:42 AM on March 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

This has all kinds of anti-hate organizing tips and resources.
posted by desjardins at 7:42 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Holy crap, do you live in the Reconstruction?

Ditto contacting SPLC, that's your first step. Also, seriously consider moving, even if it's hard. Your kids are seeing this stuff, absorbing it, seeing how you much don't like it, and the moment they get rebellious, take one guess which direction their rebellion will take.

Also, there are places in the country with much better job markets, so if you move to a better area, the financial pinch may not be so bad in the long run.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:43 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're just looking for ways to avoid confrontation with these guys, and the best way to do that is not to stick your head above water. When you're out and about, keep your mouth shut; don't make eye contact; don't linger in one area more than necessary. Hate-mongers look for you to give them any excuse to start something. If your body language expresses "I'm not interested in anything but passing through here and getting to my destination," they shouldn't be able to latch onto anything they don't like. Note that your body language should not express fear or unease. Be confident, but passive.

I feel awful typing those words. What I'm basically suggesting is that you subjugate yourself, letting the racists "win" the fight for social superiority. That's definitely not a good thing, but here's how I seed it. You need to get out of that place as soon as yesterday. I strongly believe that financial objections to moving are usually just excuses. If you're determined, moving now will not kill you. You will find ways to stretch the dollar, you'll find work, and you will NOT end up on the street. And you'll find yourself all the happier for it, for getting yourself and your family out of a racist hellhole. Don't let fear prevent you from doing what you need to do.

You're not going to single-handedly take down the local KKK. You're not going to enlighten the swastika-clad skinheads to the folly of their ways. Any action you take against these guys only paints a big target on your own forehead. So I'll say it again: It sucks, but for now, keep your head down and go along to get along. And pack your bags immediately.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 7:47 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't totally tell if it bothers you because you hate it or if you have an underlying worry about safety.

You can start by knowing this statistical fact: white supremacy supporters are the single largest ethnic contributors to the "moron" in "oxymoron". Rest safely in the knowledge that if God exists, he probably didn't choose a semi-literate hick with gothic tattoos as his master race.

Evolution, too, has dealt these people a blow by making them more likely to suffer from the debilitating genetic mutation that makes them blame everyone but themselves for being semi-literate and unappealing to anyone but those carrying the same mutation.

These people need help, pity, and the occasional dollop of full strength mocking. If you really feel strongly, get involved in a programme to improve education in poor areas or anti-racist activism.

Should you be scared? Perhaps, but a lot of the bluster is a way of getting attention. Among any racist groups, narcissists and show offs overindex massively. And the whole white supremacist ethos is built on cowardice. The cowardice to admit that uppity negroes probably aren't the reason you can't hold down the last job you had; the cowardice of threatening violence - often against kids and women - because they are soft targets; the cowardice, frankly, of knowing that for all the bluster about taking back the country it's far easier to rage about things than to do anything. The meetings are not necessarily a sign of the gathering storm. They are also a safety valve for people best taken off the streets for their own safety.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:51 AM on March 26, 2010

You can’t really tell who’s a racist just be looking at them, they’re going to want to advertise it. And most won’t bother, either because it’s not polite or because they just assume that you agree with them. If you’re looking to avoid a fight, just be polite, keep your head down, and avoid talking politics. Chances are, they’re going to assume that you agree with them or are ‘just one of the nice ones’. Doing anything that might change anyone’s mind might make you a target, but chances are that they’re not going to do anything more than attempt to intimidate you. Donating money to the SPLC is a good idea that might help your conscience, if that’s your biggest worry.

Anecdote, because you asked: I grew up in an area that was majority black, but had large white supremacist following (within the white minority) anyway. There was a white supremacist rally on my brother’s first day of junior high/high school (7-12th grade program), where the majority-black and hispanic security guards were ordered by the majority-black administration to protect fifty idiots shouting racist slogans from the 200+ kids who were trying their best to jump them. My family has a Stereotypical Jewish last name, so were assumed to be evil by the white supremacists but still consistently had to prove that we weren’t racist fucks to everyone else. My brothers and I got through with a little harassment but no real damage.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:53 AM on March 26, 2010

You don't tell us how you were "approached". Was it a "here, read our pamphlet" or was it "Yo (racial slur), you need to get out." If you are a minority/obviously Jewish, and your neighborhood is filling up with the swastika brigade, then GTFO fast.

If you are white, they aren't so much a random threat as they are an eyesore and a stain upon our collective conscience. Look, I think they are repulsive morons with a limited grasp of history and reality. It's not like I would invite them home, yeah? But, within limits...ya know, like being just treat them like you do any other stranger.

If your eyes meet, you do the chin-up nod and a "hey" or whatever your inconsequential greeting is. If they try to give you a pamphlet, take it, say something non-affirmative and monosyllabic, and then recycle it at the next blue barrel. If you treat them like you treat every other random person, then the odds of them being a threat at the bus stop are fairly small.

I say this after owning land adjacent to the local grand poobah (or whatever) of the KKK. They would tell me if they were going shooting in the back, so I didn't wander around out there, and they never fucked with any of our non-white friends, or me when they found out I was half Lebanese. (I'm not sure they understood where Lebanon was...and it was pre the 9/11 Arab hate fest.)

Would I move into a neighborhood full of yobs and skinheads? And if I lived in one being invaded, I would seriously consider getting out as soon as possible. But would I panic because I've seen a few bad tats? Probably not. Your mileage may very.
posted by dejah420 at 8:02 AM on March 26, 2010

Chill. The. F*ck. Out.

Seriously. Unless you happen to be an obvious member of a minority, you personally have nothing to fear here.* It's quite likely that the biggest risk you run here is getting your political and social sensibilities aggravated on a regular basis. These sorts of people aren't exactly harmless, but the harm they cause has a lot more to do with maintaining an unfriendly environment than it does with actual violence. A December 2008 FBI intelligence report records something like three dozen acts of violence of all sorts attributed to non-incarcerated racist skinheads nationwide in almost two years. Considering that in 2007-08 there were over 300 murders in the District of Columbia alone, it's reasonable to think that the actual physical threat posed pales in comparison to other, less direct sorts of unpleasantness.

Are they dangerous? Well, kind of. About one or twice a month, a skinhead somewhere in the country commits an act of violence against some else that gets reported to the police. But seriously, the average black dude is far more likely to be shot by another black dude than one of these jokers. They're a lot of unpleasant talk, but mostly just that: talk. Which is why they're protected by the First Amendment.

I feel like I'm condoning skinhead behavior by not leading a pitchfork mob down main street.

There's something deeply inconsistent with believing that the appropriate response to demonstrative intolerance is violence. One is led to suspect that the main reason you dislike these people is just as much what their political beliefs are as how they express them, which in one sense makes you little different from them.**

Well, guess what: the world is full of people who not only don't believe the same things as you do, but believe things you find actively repellant. This, as it turns out, is what it means to live in a diverse society. If you can't deal with that, you need to re-examine your own commitments, because being committed to diversity so long as you don't find those different from you to be unpleasant is not actually being committed to diversity at all.

Furthermore, I simply can't believe that there's no way to avoid regular contact with such people, even in your situation. The fact that you know that skinheads are regularly assembling in your community does not actually mean you need to go to said meetings, or indeed be affected by them in the slightest. I know for a fact that less than a mile from me people are doing things which I strongly disapprove of, right this minute but no one's forcing me to go there or interact with those people. Ergo, frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn, at least not in a way that interferes with my life or makes me want to lead a mob. I just don't go over there.

You almost certainly do not need protection, and you almost certainly do not need to be affected by this in the slightest. If the mere existence of people in your community with political beliefs in opposition to yours causes you this much angst, you're the one with the problem.

*Of course, if you are such a person, that changes the situation a bit, but nothing in your post indicates that you are.

**Note that I am not intending to defend or attack any particular political belief. Simply pointing out that the drive to match perceived possibilities of violence with violence gives the lie to protestations of liberality.
posted by valkyryn at 8:44 AM on March 26, 2010 [10 favorites]

Ditto "find others who share your beliefs."
posted by salvia at 9:06 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

what can I do about the prevalence of white supremacy in my community

Can you volunteer with local organizations that try to help troubled kids get a good education? Can you help your community make safe places for kids to hang out and stay occupied after school? Can you help with community cleanups that might make your area less attractive to hoodlums? Can you find ways to work with law enforcement or local government or the local school board to improve the situation? If there is poverty (and the resulting despair) in your community, can you find ways to fight it?

Is there anything I can do to spot these folks, protect myself from them, and avoid them?

Like others have said, I suppose the only thing you can do is stay out of their way and don't do anything to make yourself a particular target. If this is only part of your strategy, you are not condoning their behavior and you are not being cowardly.

A friend has an anti-Nazi sticker on his car

If this is the best your friend thinks he can do, fine, but it will have no effect except maybe getting his car vandalized. Think bigger and think about the root causes of the problems. It's not as easy as buying a sticker, but it might actually have some effect.
posted by fritley at 9:23 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Report to splc. Intelligence has context, for all you know they could be committing illegal acts in a town somewhere

if u see a swastika rub it out, or any racist symbol
posted by By The Grace of God at 9:25 AM on March 26, 2010

We live in the Seattle area, which is quite unfriendly to racists, but there are plenty of them in this part of the country -- apparently Aryan Nations think Washington would be a great little member of their proposed 6 state enclave.

So, my husband, who is pretty aggressive about fighting haters, is a long time financial supporter of hate watch groups, including the excellent Southern Poverty Law Center. Bumper stickers are up to you but we've always liked "Hate is not a family value." I nth all the folks who've suggested you get involved in some grass roots organizations that fight racism. And of course you'll want to support all general human rights initiatives and efforts in your area.

Good luck, stay strong, and remember these people need to be watched and fought, but they are really NOT the majority.
posted by bearwife at 9:38 AM on March 26, 2010

Just being a witness and documenting what you have seen and sharing it with others is an important part of being an ally. Just because you're not leading the anti-racist parade doesn't mean that you're not helping. There are a lot of people who are totally sheltered from this, even in your own community, who would also start witnessing if it's brought to their attention.
posted by Skwirl at 9:51 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Be especially mindful to model tolerant, inclusive behavior: learn about and support other cultures, be blind to skin color when choosing friends, neighbors and colleagues, and be nice to everybody no matter who they are.

This is especially important if there are kids around.
posted by msittig at 10:09 AM on March 26, 2010

As an adult you are probably not in very much direct physical danger, and in grade school your kids are likely to be safe too.

But in Jr. high and high school the situation changes. Insofar as these groups penetrate the schools-- always one of their aims-- a daughter will run a risk of sexual demands from a confederation of these punks, backed up by threats of social exclusion or violence, and chances are they will try to recruit a son by similar means.
posted by jamjam at 10:10 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd guess that you're in Pennsylvania somewhere as we have a bunch of areas that have been taken over by them. Look around and see if there's a SHARP community as well (SkinHeads Against Racial Prejudice) and offer them your support. Generally where you find one group, you find the other.
posted by Raichle at 12:39 PM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you are afraid to take the bus: they win. If you are afraid to put a sticker on your car: they win. If you are afraid to speak out: they win. If you are intimidated into silence: they win.

I'm not saying you should be at the head of the rally for Goodness and Righteousness and spend your off-hours pamphleteering for equality.

But don't be afraid of racist fuckwits. They're like the Borg: individually pathetic, collectively one brain between them. The problem is that, like the Borg and feral dogs, they move in packs. Their only strength is the strength of the group.

Be smart and be safe. Don't be cowed or be silent. You don't have to be a crusader for justice, but you should never ever ever allow the passive intimidation of the mere presence of these thugs to silence you.

On preview: I see someone has mentioned SHARP. I'm of two minds about them. I ran with a bunch of SHARPs back in the day and while they mean well on the whole, I found that the average SHARP agenda consisted of "let's drink a bunch and then go beat up someone who may or may not be a Nazi skin". So I dunno. Maybe it was just the people I was around. Righteously unfocused anger is still anger, and there was too much violence in that scene for me.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:51 PM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Read about Billings, Montana. You may not be as isolated as you think.

There must be others who are disturbed by how open this talk is, even if it hasn't led to mob action. Your mission [in life], should you choose to accept it, is to find them and reinforce one another, if necessary through public action.
posted by dhartung at 10:42 PM on March 26, 2010

"Keep tabs on them and report them to the authorities if they're planning any crimes."

Unless the police are in on it, which, given how racist and right-wing cops tend to be even in more liberal areas, they likely are.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:52 PM on March 27, 2010

« Older How to rotate alternating pages by...   |   steal one of my company's clients for myself? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.