PRC May 12-18, 2002
Hilton Washington and Towers, Washington DC
The Middle East conflict has long been framed as a struggle for power between Israelis on one side and Palestinians on the other. White power groups are coopting the message But under the radar, a surprising new player has been gaining strength by using the conflict to its advantage. Next Generation Radio's Brian Montopoli reports.
On a clear Saturday morning, a group of about 150 young anti-racist protesters, some in scuffed jeans, others in fatigues and black masks, are making signs and banging buckets. The protesters are waiting to confront the National Alliance, a white power organization, that has scheduled a pro-Palestinian rally for noon that day. At five minutes past noon, there seem to be no group members in sight, and it looks for a moment as though the National Alliance isn't going to show up.
But…a few minutes later, from a darkened parking garage down the street, they do. And they come in droves: First 50, then 100, 200, 250. Skinheads, tattoos on the backs of their necks, extended their arms in Nazi salute; other white power advocates, dressed in suits, are more subdued. They hold signs in support of Palestine and shout slogans condemning Israel. Then everyone-the outnumbered, anti-racist protesters on one side of the street, white power activists on the other, police in riot gear in between-walks to the Israeli Embassy. Here they will face off-the white power groups yelling anti-Israeli, pro-Palestinian slogans and the protesters trying to get the Nazis to go away.
"It was pretty frightening-this was the first time that Anti-Nazis were outnumbered by Nazis, especially by such large numbers. "
Rami El-Amine is a Palestinian activist who has watched in frustration as white power groups like the National Alliance have begun to speak out in support of Palestinian rights. He says their support is insincere.
"I was furious. They were laughing at us as if this was all fun and games-we'll come out here to the Israeli embassy and play like we care about this issue and its all to whip up hate and anti Semitism and knowing just as well that they hate us just as much and would commit the same atrocities against us as they would against Jews and still do against Jews. Several people had to hold me back cause just seeing them marching along and seig hiling and waving the Palestinian flag and these signs and then when I yelled over and was like you could care less, your using this to whip up racism and anti-Semitism and their immediate response was go home, and flipping us off…And they showed their true colors when we confronted them on it-they were like go back home, they were very clear they don't have sympathies for Arabs or Palestinians." (condensed)
But whether El-Amine likes it or not, white power groups are increasing associating themselves with the Palestinian cause. And that newfound alliance is no accident. Groups such as the National Alliance are enjoying a resurgence in this country-fueled by post-September 11th resentments and savvy tactics.
It's hot at the rally, and Billy Roper, deputy membership coordinator for The National Alliance, is sweating in his suit as he hustles from reporter to reporter.
"This is the largest gathering of white nationalists in Washington DC since World War Two." "Membership has grown by more than a third since September 11 and actually significantly more than that" "There's been an explosion-we have an opportunity to speak to people and we've had people coming to us. We haven't had to go to them. People are a lot more receptive to our message."
September 11th, in fact, may have been the best thing to happen to the white power movement in a long time. Their leaders blamed Israel for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; they said that in light of US support for Israel, retribution was inevitable. The attacks heightened nationalistic sentiment, and white power leaders found an expanded audience for their brand of anti-Semitism.
Jerry Bellow is an activist with Anti-Racist Action, a national group that organizes against the white power movement.
"For longest time only good thing you could say about fascist groups was they were not unified, leaderless, politically weak, and that's starting to change." "The National Alliance has been preparing for an opportunity like this for 30 yrs."
The National Alliance, an organization that runs a white power record label and broadcasts speeches over the internet, has more than just Israel on its mind. On their new recruiting video, National Alliance leader Dr. William Pierce advocates separation between races.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, worries that the events of September 11th will help white power groups inject their message into the mainstream.
"What it does is it gives them a legitimacy, it gives them a certain credibility because what's out there now…they hook up and link into an event. And they believe that gives them a certain sense of credibility."
The National Alliance is still a small organization-Roper says membership is below 10,000-but it is growing. When the Ku Klux Klan came to Washington DC in 1990, their small contingent was overwhelmed by more than 1,500 protesters. But a decade later, the National Alliance has found a new way to package its message, and, if today's rally is any indication, opposition is not as organized as it once was. Jerry Bellow says that by appropriating the Palestinian message, white power groups have found a way to inch towards the mainstream-and get one step closer to becoming a legitimate political force.
"My biggest concern is effect this is going to have on Morale of National Alliance and the skinhead groups. That they're going to become animated and energized by this and begin to build the movement in their own communities. Results will be they will be politically capable of shaping dialogue, physically capable of disrupting left wing activities, and shape themselves into European style and European strength fascist movement."
When the rally ends two hours later, the white power activists file back to the parking garage. Later that night, they will gather for a free concert featuring the bands Hate Machine and Maxresist. From the curb the anti-racist protesters watch them go. Both sides shout their final condemnations. This is the third, and largest, such rally since September 11th. It remains to be seen whether it will be the last.
For next generation radio news, this is Brian Montopoli reporting.