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Hate Groups Market to the Mainstream

Neo-Nazis and other groups target teens through slick Web sites and rock music.

Hate groups - motivated by bigotry - continue to be a growth industry both in the United States and abroad.

The number of organized hate groups in the US jumped 20 percent in the past year, to 474 in 1997, according to a new study. While several factors are responsible for the growth, experts say that the promotional savvy of extremist groups is clearly on the rise.

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Many are now using media like the Internet and rock music to promote their message, selling professionally packaged CDs and establishing savvy Web sites that advocate violence and racial separation to a new market - the American mainstream.

At a Web site for skinheads from Minneapolis, one "clicks" on a swastika icon to join discussions on white pride, read about skinhead "victims" of the US government, or discover new neo-Nazi rock bands.

At the "www." for another right-wing group, Christian National Identity, a home page suggests that the group is "working to put God first in all things and ... secure ... a future for white children." The site has a bookstore with titles like "Separation or Mongrelization," "Psychopolitics - Art of Brainwashing," and "Did Six Million Really Die?" - a reference to the Holocaust.

Last year, 164 Web sites in the US featured causes like racial superiority and apocalyptic religious conflict. Three years ago only one such Web site existed.

"Popular culture is being used to mask a new kind of barbarism," says Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Montgomery, Ala., who helped conduct the study. "On the fringe you are finding a lot more hate sites on the Web with state-of-the-art graphics that are appealing to a broad variety of kids in the upper and middle class."

Another phenomenon is the use of rock music to send messages of hate. Resistance Records in Detroit, for example, a neo-Nazi label, sells about 50,000 albums a year via its Web page, offering buyers a choice of 14 different bands and styles. Owner George Burdi, the lead singer in a band called Racial Holy War whose songs advocate a new "Nordic ferocity" among whites, says he has "big plans for the Internet.... It's beautiful. It's uncontrollable."

Nor are the movements mainly found in the US. With the rise of music and Web sites, skinheads and neo-Nazis communicate across borders daily, gaining members at a rate estimated at possibly four times faster than a decade ago.

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Andrew Miakovic, for example, a guitarist for the American neo-Nazi group Max Resist, was arrested in Sweden last year for raising his hand on stage in a Nazi-style salute, and went through a widely-publicized trial: "The courts didn't understand," Mr. Miakovic said in a later interview. "They were making us legends, doubling the number of our tape and record sales."

"This is a global phenomenon with its strongest influence now in Europe, from the Balkans to Russia," says James Hooper, editor of Fascism Watch, a newsletter in Washington. "They are much better organized than in the US, and unlike the US, they have a formal political expression through parties of [Jean-Marie] Le Pen in France, [Gianfranco] Fini in Italy, and especially [Jrg] Haider in Austria."

The US study, conducted by Intelligence Report newsletter, also documents a rise in Ku Klux Klan activity after years of decline, with one Klan region growing from one chapter in 1996 to 12 today. White supremacists in Denver last year killed a police officer and a black man standing by a bus. A suspect in the Jan. 29 bombing of a Birmingham, Ala., abortion clinic, Eric Rudolph, is reported to be a member of the Christian Identity movement, which believes whites are the "chosen people" of the Bible.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation last year counted 9,759 hate crimes, which included burned churches, murders, and painting hateful symbols like swastikas. Of those, race played a role in 63 percent of the cases, while religion, sexual orientation, or ethnic origin was an issue in about 10 percent each.

Yet the larger concern raised by the rise of hate in the airwaves and in cyberspace, as well as in the formation of groups, is not one of petty violence. Rather, experts say, it is that the expansion and increased extremism could cause a deeper and broader shift among young people toward an acceptability of positions that, while not murderous and violent, are nonetheless tolerant of positions formerly considered extreme.

The number of Americans that fall into the various extreme camps is hard to gauge, partly because the groups splinter so often, and because viewpoints change rapidly. Mr. Potok estimates that between 500,000 and 1 million people are involved in groups ranging from patriot and militia groups to the harder edged neo-Nazis.

"It is safe to say there are about 10,000 individuals who are hard core. The neo-Nazis, the fringe of the fringe, those who think about serious violence as part of their identity," says Potok. "That fringe number continues to rise slowly.'

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