What It's Like to Go Undercover and Infiltrate Some of America's Most Dangerous Hate Groups
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Nearly 200 racist skinheads, white-robed Klansmen, and other white supremacists chanted racist slogans as they marched through downtown Montgomery, Ala., on a sunny Saturday in March 1991. As they passed the headquarters of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Mark Carpenter — the leader of a new hate group called the White Reich — yelled out, "[SPLC co-founder] Morris Dees is a racist Jew and a queer!"
He sounded like a bigot brimming with hatred. But Carpenter had a secret. His true identity was Special Agent Bart McEntire of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. For months, he'd been preparing to go undercover to investigate the skinhead underworld in Birmingham, Ala., which at the time was among the most active and violent in the country. To establish his credentials, McEntire had asked an ATF informant to drop his cover identity's name in white supremacist circles. He'd scoured newspaper articles for details about unsolved robberies and bombings he could claim to have committed. And he'd arranged for the Lexington County Sheriff's Department in South Carolina, where he'd begun his law enforcement career, to conjure a record showing that Mark Carpenter had been arrested for illegally possessing explosives.
Finally, he and the White Reich were making their public debut in Montgomery. It was the beginning of an 18-month undercover investigation that took McEntire and fellow ATF agents from Klan rallies throughout the Southeast, to skinhead gatherings deep in the woods of rural Alabama, to a military base in western Georgia. The investigation helped solve a series of murders and contributed to the successful prosecution of more than a dozen white supremacists on charges ranging from illegal possession of firearms to homicide and manslaughter. It also uncovered a ring of soldiers at Fort Benning who were supplying hate groups with stolen military weapons, highlighting the ongoing dangers of white supremacists infiltrating the military.
Now, on the eve of his retirement from the ATF after a 23-year career, McEntire is for the first time telling the story of his double life as Mark Carpenter. His account reveals some of the tactics he used to penetrate the inner circle of a criminal subculture in which young minds were twisted to believe that brutal murders of unarmed black homeless men constituted the first battles of a fast-approaching race war. This war was to be fought in part with guns and bombs stolen from the armories of the Zionist Occupied Government, the enemy otherwise known as the United States.
The following account is based on extensive interviews with McEntire and other local and federal law enforcement officials; state and federal court documents; Associated Press articles; and McEntire's unpublished memoir, Not for Self But Others.
The first contact McEntire developed was Cecil Bradley, a member of the Alabama Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. They'd marched together in Montgomery. Several nights a week, McEntire drove to Bradley's house in nearby Hueytown, Ala., in his ATF undercover vehicle: a blue and gray GMC pick-up with mud grip tires and four-wheel drive. They'd sit on Bradley's front porch, sometimes drinking beer. McEntire commiserated with the Klansman about how minorities were taking over the world. Soon, Bradley was singing the praises of Mark Carpenter and the White Reich to other Birmingham-area Klansmen.
One evening, Bradley's 9-year-old son, Phillip, gave McEntire a straight-armed Nazi salute.
"What are you?" Bradley asked.
"A national socialist," the tow-headed boy replied.
"Where does Adolf Hitler live?"
"In my heart."
Bradley beamed. He often trotted out his son to repeat his allegiance to Hitler. The exchange always made McEntire queasy. Yet he also saw him play tenderly with his disabled daughter and learned that Bradley had lost his own father as a child.