SCOTT SIMON, host:
A neo-Nazi group called the National Socialist Movement is holding what it calls a national anti-illegal immigration rally in Phoenix today. Another rally is scheduled for this afternoon in Minnesota. Similar rallies in the city of Riverside near Los Angeles in the past month have led to clashes with counter-protestors.
For member station KPCC in Pasadena, Steven Cuevas has more. But first we want to warn our listeners that portion of this report may be offensive.
STEVEN CUEVAS: About two dozen members of the National Socialist Movement wearing World War II-era Nazi garb showed up for last months rally near a day laborer site in Riverside.
Unidentified People: White power, white power!
CUEVAS: The group was outmatched by about 700 counter-protesters. The two sides were separated by dozens of police officers in riot gear. NSM members taunted counter-protesters with racist epithets. Fights broke out and several counter-protesters hurled rocks and bottles. The neo-Nazis left three hours later under police escort.
(Soundbite of chanting and drumbeats)
CUEVAS: Counter-demonstration organizer Kevin Akin helped mobilize over 50 community and religious organizations against the NSM.
Mr. KEVIN AKIN (Organizer): The broader the resistance is to the Nazis, the more difficult it is for them to find specific targets. We're hearing only irritation, anger, and fear from the community. The fact is, when they come to Riverside, their enemies are the whole community.
CUEVAS: It's the kind of provocative confrontation the National Socialist Movement is known for. The group's Web site called counter-protesters an unruly mob of Mexicans, Jews and homosexuals. NSM members are depicted in strictly heroic terms.
Mr. JEFF HALL (National Socialist Movement): I'm humbled in their presence.
CUEVAS: Jeff Hall is the National Socialist Movement's California director.
Mr. HALL: They're proud of who they are, they're tired of the white guilt being shoved on their kids, or multiculturalism. They can't see any reason for it.
CUEVAS: Hall is a burly skinhead with a German military Iron Cross tattooed on the back of his skull. He set up the group's California headquarters in Riverside last year. He led the recent street rallies in a predominantly Latino neighborhood already battling gang violence, home foreclosures, and high unemployment.
Mr. HALL: I think that Riverside was waiting for something like this. And I would like to see it cleaned up. And I see on so many street corners groups of Hispanics, most of whom you can easily assume came here illegally. In times when we've been hit so hard, you know, with the recession and job losses, we're standing up for the American workers.
CUEVAS: Whites American workers, to be exact. The National Socialist Movement's guiding principles, founded on the Nazi Party's 25 points, are clear - only those of pure white blood may be members of the nation. Brian Levin is director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State, San Bernardino. He says illegal immigration is simply a Trojan horse the NSM can use to deliver its broader message of white supremacy.
Mr. BRIAN LEVIN (California State University): The immigration issue allows racist white nationalists a plank to reach out into the mainstream. And you can attract everyone from people of goodwill who'd never hurt a fly, all the way to Nazis.
CUEVAS: The National Socialist Movement claims to be the nation's largest neo-Nazi group. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, says it probably has fewer than 100 members in California. But the center's Mark Potok says membership in the NSM and other white supremacist groups is growing � fueled by the recession, illegal immigration, and the election of the country's first black president.
Mr. MARK POTOK (Southern Poverty Law Center): We really are seeing a lot of rage out there connected very directly to the changing demographics of the country. There is a real attempt to sort of exploit the economy and hang it around the necks of people of color.
CUEVAS: The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented a rise in what it calls domestic terror plots linked to white supremacist groups. None of those plots have direct ties to the NSM. But the Law Center's Mark Potok said the NSM does its best to provoke violence and outrage, as evidenced by its raucous street rallies. In Riverside, it's also antagonized the Jewish community.
Unidentified People: (Singing in foreign language)
CUEVAS: Members of Temple Beth El, the city's largest synagogue, helped organize recent counter-demonstrations against the NSM. The NSM responded by marching on the synagogue during Friday services waving swastika flags. Rabbi Suzanne Singer.
Rabbi SUZANNE SINGER (Temple Beth El, California): I'm sort of torn between on the one hand thinking, well, let's not make a huge deal out of this, and on the other hand thinking, well, you know, not that it's like Nazi Germany here, but in this community, which has an unemployment rate of about 14 percent, people are really, really hurting and they're vulnerable to trying to find a scapegoat.
CUEVAS: Riverside city leaders condemned the NSM's recent actions while at the same time promising to protect the neo-Nazis' right to stage street demonstrations in the future. The group promises to do just that, here in Riverside and in other cities across the country.
For NPR News, I'm Steven Cuevas in Riverside, California.