Peacenik Nazis

The phone message instructed me to call a different number if I was a member of the "Jew media."

Considering his worldview, Matt Hale probably intended the message to encompass all media calls. As a New Times writer, though, I was actually a pawn of the Irish-Catholic media conspiracy, not the Jewish one.

As such, I just left a message explaining I was a half-Norse wayward Protestant under the pink thumb of Mike Lacey calling to see how America's Nazis were feeling post-September 11.

We Aryans like to josh that way.

Hale called back in grand spirits. Things apparently are hopping for the radical racist right.

"This is clearly a time for us to get our message out to the people," said Hale, national leader of the World Church of the Creator, a proto-fascist, quasi-Jung-Cult group widely accused of being the nonviolent public voice for violent Rahowa Skinheads.

His new message basically is this:

The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were inevitable results of U.S. support for Israel and of U.S. exploitation of Mideast oil.

Indeed, while unorganized American hate has focused on anything vaguely Arab or vaguely Muslim, America's most organized hate groups have been selling a much different message. Like George Washington and Paul Revere, they say, Islamic terrorists are just brave revolutionaries fighting with the only means they have against a powerful occupational army.

As such, America is an imperialistic hypocrite in trying to put Osama bin Laden's head on a pike. So, stop the bombing. Give peace a chance. Can't we all just get along?

"The hard boys on the right are sounding like Trotskyists with this support for those suffering in the Third World," says Mark Potok, editor of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report. "From a publicity standpoint, I think they view this all as a wonderful thing."

Yes, the peacenik gig is working wonders, those hard boys say.

Hale said he's getting dozens of supportive letters and e-mails at his office in Illinois, including messages from old liberal enemies saying they now agree with his position.

Up in Minneapolis, Jeff Schoep, commander of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, gauges public opinion by walking around town wearing blood-red swastikas. Since September 11, he says he has felt an acceptance he's never before felt on American streets.

"Storekeepers and everybody just really seem to be a lot nicer to me," Schoep said with boyish enthusiasm. "I think that means people understand now that we were right."

He, too, says angry white guys are joining his movement. But neither Hale nor Schoep would give numbers on new recruits.

That usually means they're lying.

If you live in the East Valley, though, it would appear they are telling the truth.

In the last two months, Scottsdale and Mesa have been blanketed with literature from Hale's World Church of the Creator.

According to local authorities, it's the largest distribution of hate literature in the Valley since Arizona's ultra-radical right went underground following the Oklahoma City bombing.

"We've been very busy fielding calls about this stuff," said Bill Strauss, Arizona's regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.

The literature is being distributed by a Valley man who "wanted to do something positive following the September 11 tragedies," Hale said. The man is a new recruit to the World Church who quickly became the church's "single largest distributor of literature in the United States," he said.

The man has bought $1,500 worth of pamphlets from Hale to be distributed in the Valley.

I asked Hale to have the man contact me. The man left one message with no name or return number. He hasn't called again, and Hale refused to give me the man's name or phone number.

"He apparently has gotten a little skittish about talking," Hale said.

Which makes sense. These are tough times to have fringy ideas in America. Sixty days of flag-waving plebiscites have allowed President Bush to treat the First Amendment as a buggy whip in a modern era of safety first, civil rights later.

Hale and Schoep say they're concerned about new attempts to curtail their freedom of speech.

"We are watching Mr. Bush's words very closely," Hale said.

Fascists love martial law once they've crossed the threshold of power. Conversely, you know the republic is basically sound when the Übermen are still weak enough to champion free speech.

We're now in a gray place where just freedoms are being threatened by arguably just campaigns, a constitutional purgatory where white supremacist demagogues and centrist journalists can end up whining about some of the same things.

Schoep and I got along swimmingly. Hale and I had a nice talk, too.

Hale, by far the more polished of the two, was charming with a facile rhetorical command of world events and political philosophies. Freedom of speech good, exploiting Arab nations bad. We could have been two Berkeley hippies discussing Nixon.

"There's no doubt this event has enabled us to become more legitimate in the eyes of the public," Hale said.

After I got off the phone with both Schoep and Hale, I quickly found myself absolutely disgusted that I hadn't properly hated them. At those moments I realized these again may be dangerous times for America in dealing with its radical racist right.

Why? Hale and Schoep now have two moderate talking points -- First Amendment rights and U.S. involvement in the Middle East -- as shiny loss leaders to draw folks into their little shop of horrible ideas.

And their ideologies have an ignominious history of drawing flames from America's smoldering rural white underclass.

I grew up in a small Nebraska town in the mid-1980s in the middle of the farm recession. A man named James Wickstrom came to my county commiserating with farmers about their woes. Banks and federal farm policy bad, farmers and American single-family farms good.

Soon, though, this slippery slopehead had built a cell of the fiercely anti-Semitic, anti-government Posse Comitatus that was threatening to occupy the county courthouse. And nine miles down the road, a Wickstrom follower named Michael Ryan broke away from the Posse, started his own doomsday cult and ended up shovel-buggering and skinning a follower who tried to leave.

Basically, I know what it feels like to be from Kingman.

Wickstrom absolved himself of responsibility for setting Ryan down the ideological path to the electric chair and for turning my town into the white-trash psychopath joke of the Midwest. He was just exercising his First Amendment rights, after all.

I hate that I can't disagree with him on that point.

But many Wickstrom-like leaders follow the dangerous creed of America's most radical right -- Public Words, Private Acts. It's a trick that creates plausible deniability. The demagogues never accept responsibility for the lunatics who inevitably act on their most vitriolic words.

Hale and Schoep got me thinking about anthrax.

Both say they are sometimes concerned by what some lunatic might do in their name. Both say they haven't seen any sign that any follower is involved with or planning an act of domestic terrorism. Both say they in no way condone violence at the present time.

But, granted, the better madmen don't telegraph their terrorism.

"You're always going to have possibility of someone doing something crazy," Schoep said. "I haven't seen September 11 triggering anyone. But these are crazy times. You don't know what to expect.

"For us, it's what Joseph Goebbels said: 'You must try to stay legal until the end.'"

The trick, then, is to predict when someone's end is upon us.

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Robert Nelson