Barbecue Nations

Aryanfest was hardly the badass event it billed itself. Shaved-headed men hugged each other like they were at a gay pride picnic.

At a hillside campsite just north of the group campground, a dozen or so law enforcement officers from various agencies were close enough to smell the smoke from the white supremacists' barbecue grills. Disguised in baseball caps, they passed around binoculars and took down license plate numbers, 85 of them before one night was through. Among the cops was Mesa Police Department Detective Matt Browning, who's been on loan to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Joint Terrorism Task Force, and has worked undercover as a Nazi skinhead for two years. Since not all of the few hundred people who attended the event were paying customers, Browning estimates that Aryanfest took in no more than $10,000 -- barely enough to cover expenses -- from its $30-a-head entrance fee and from the alcohol sold at the site.

The police were happy that white-separatist group Volksfront's prediction of 1,000 people attending did not come true. But Browning said with a wry smile, "That's still a good-sized crowd. Come on, 300-plus racists in one place without a fight?"

No arrests were made at the event, not even a DUI, and swashbuckling predictions of violence that had been roiling about white power Internet sites proved unfounded. Not that there hasn't been violence among participants at such rallies in the past. Even disputes over girlfriends, Browning says, can result in "violence and people grabbing guns and bombs."

Skinheads in wife-beaters danced with each other to the beat of hate bands at Aryanfest.
Skinheads in wife-beaters danced with each other to the beat of hate bands at Aryanfest.
An icon of the white power movement, Tom 
Metzger shows 'em what he's got.
An icon of the white power movement, Tom Metzger shows 'em what he's got.

Nazis had bragged, Browning said, that the skinhead gang "Public Enemy Number One was coming over from California to kick some ass. We had word that the Eastern Hammerskins were coming to kick some ass, that the Nazi Lowriders were coming to kick some ass. That didn't happen."

Instead, smatterings of Volksfront, Aryan Nations and Klan members moshed peacefully with skinheads. Except for the occasional zeig heils, the festivities were reminiscent of a gay pride picnic, with shaved-headed men merrily romping about with arms around each other.

It was that spirit of community and brotherhood that Billy Joe Roper hoped he could tap into.

Of all the speakers scheduled for Aryanfest, it was young Roper's moment to shine, to attempt to garner support for his fledgling White Revolution. (He says the group will unify the fragmented white power movement.)

Roper is no longer a skinhead (or "featherless biped," in his own geek speak), and you couldn't tell he had ever been one by looking at him. Clad in a white shirt and green windbreaker with a scarf draped around his neck, Roper looked more like a member of the Audubon Society, or the history teacher he once was, than a white power crusader against his hated "mud people." Overweight with a bland face and glasses, Roper's the kind of guy the Internet was made for.

The 31-year-old son of a Klansman was membership coordinator for National Alliance, the largest and best-organized of the nation's white power groups. Roper was fired "for tactical differences" in late 2002, and subsequently declared himself chairman of White Revolution. He estimates that his group has a membership of more than 100 and supporters totaling at least 1,000.

Apparently, not many of them are in Arizona.

Two nights before Aryanfest started, Roper held a summit meeting, inviting all his Arizona supporters to dine with him at an East Valley Denny's. Six people showed up.

Later at Aryanfest, Roper hoped to convince those gathered that his White Revolution is the only answer. The way he sees it, the Balkanization of America has already begun. Mexicans are poised to take the Southwest, blacks the Southeast; it's a bleak future for white America.

"I fear the worst. America was born in bloody revolution, and it may well die that way," he told New Times. "It might be nice to think that the world is some nice soft pink-and-blue day-care center where everyone can get along and sing 'Kumbaya' together, but that's not how nature works, and that's not what got our ancestors standing upright and using tools to create technology and civilizations."

He says he's prepared to die or go to prison if need be to stop what he calls the amalgamation of America. In his opinion, mass genocide is preferable to race mixing. He's been the subject of assassination attempts for his views, he claims, and been beaten bloody with a tire iron at a demonstration. He says he's even had condoms full of HIV-positive urine thrown at him. But he'd rather be a martyr than a spectator. "That I accept as the price I pay for the life I choose to live."

Perhaps the piss-filled rubbers came in reaction to Roper's violent sense of humor. In a recent press release regarding a protest of Martin Luther King Day, he suggested, "after four more such as him are shot, we can take the whole week off."

While Roper may seem fearsome over the Internet -- where he spews most of his venom -- he's nowhere near a badass in person. In fact, on stage at Aryanfest he came across as the ultimate computer nerd, a virtual hate-mongering Bill Gates.

Shedding his windbreaker to reveal a white button-down shirt, Roper, gripping the microphone tightly, tried and failed to whip the meager crowd into a frenzy.

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