WHITE SUPREMACISTS. Neo-Nazi drive to recruit US youth has some success among `skinheads'
The white-supremacist movement, crippled by the recent imprisonment or indictment of many of its leaders, nonetheless is still at work recruiting new members - with a special focus on youth. Although the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) has not met with much success in attracting young people in recent years, new types of white-supremacist groups are ``on the verge of being more successful with today's youth,'' warns Bill Stanton of Klanwatch, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.
``It's these nontraditional hate groups that seem to be directing their attention to young people,'' says Mr. Stanton.
White supremacists routinely reach their target audience by stuffing racist literature into high school lockers, or by establishing ``white power'' organizations on college campuses. Lately, however, they've also begun to market their message through rock music and television.
Civil rights groups, meanwhile, say they are disturbed to see that perpetrators of racially motivated violence increasingly are teen-agers. Most often, such crimes are spontaneous outbursts of latent racism, having no connections to organized hate groups, Stanton says.
But there are early indications that neo-Nazi groups are reaching some young people - and goading a few of them into action.
In particular, the movement's racist philosophies appear to be permeating white street gangs collectively known as ``skinheads'' (because of their members' shaved scalps), an offshoot of the punk youth phenomenon. Law enforcement officials say they have little hard evidence linking skinhead gangs with organized white supremacy, but many believe there have been enough incidents in the last year to bear investigating. In Orlando, Fla., a couple of young skinheads beat up a black man outside a music club. And a 20-year-old skinhead was arrested earlier this month in San Jose, Calif., after allegedly threatening to lynch a black woman unless she paid him a ``toll'' to cross a footbridge.
At least one skinhead attended this year's World Aryan Congress, a gathering of white supremacists held each summer at the Aryan Nations headquarters in Hayden Lake, Idaho.
The Aryan Youth Movement-White Student Union, an organization for young people that is said to have about 300 members nationwide, claims the young man accused in the San Jose case is one of its white ``warriors,'' working underground for the white-supremacist movement. Although San Jose police found racist literature in the suspect's house, they say their intelligence operations indicate local skinheads have only a tenuous connection, at most, to organized hate groups.
Others, however, are not so sure.
``There are two things to say about this,'' says Leonard Zuskind of the Center for Democratic Renewal in Atlanta. ``One, they're apparently targeting kids. And two, it's premature to say the white-supremacist movement is gone in this country. It's not gone.''
The center is the principle national clearinghouse monitoring hate group activity.
Some 175 people attended last month's World Aryan Congress, despite a federal crackdown that has put many of the movement's leaders behind bars. Still others are awaiting trial - some on federal counterfeiting charges, some on charges of seditious conspiracy to overthrow the US government, and some on charges of conspiring to murder federal officials.
Even so, the movement's focus on youth appears to be real. Young skinheads have appeared on a cable television show produced by the California-based White Aryan Resistance (WAR). A computer bulletin board for white supremacists is designed, in part, to appeal to young, upper-middle-class ``hackers.''
Then there is the music. ``One aspect of the groups we indicted was that they were planning to get into the promotion of Aryan rock bands in the US, to attract more young people,'' says Steven Snyder of the United States Attorney's Office in Fort Smith, Ark. Mr. Snyder is prosecuting 14 defendants on sedition and murder conspiracy charges.
In Britain, the neo-Nazi National Front funds a rock band called Screwdriver, whose lyrics promote racist, pro-nationalistic, and pro-fascist politics. The group reportedly has developed a following in the US within the last 18 months.
Songs like Screwdriver's ``White Pride'' transmit the white-power message to disaffected young people, says Tim Yohannan a Berkeley, Calif., nightclub owner and the publisher of a magazine for punk-rock fans.
``A lot of [the skinheads] seem fairly well indoctrinated,'' he says. ``From talking with them, you can tell they've been reached - by the Klan, by WAR, or by some other group.''
Sources familiar with the skinhead phenomenon say there are different kinds of ``skins,'' many of whom have no racist inclinations.
Mr. Yohannan estimates half the skinheads in the San Francisco area are ``Nazi'' types. Violent and aggressive, they often show up at local punk clubs and try to intimidate other youths in the counterculture. ``In a lot of cities, they've almost managed to destroy the punk scene,'' he says.