David Holthouse

How White Supremacists Are Trying to Make an American Town a Model for Right-Wing Extremism

Editor's note: This is the first of a four-part series by Media Matters of America. 

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The Dangerous Consequences of Recruiting Nazis to Serve in Iraq

The racist skinhead logged on with exciting news: He'd just enlisted in the United States Army.

"Sieg Heil, I will do us proud," he wrote. It was a June 3 post to AryanWear Forum 14, a neo-Nazi online forum to which "Sobibor's SS," who identified himself as a skinhead living in Plantersville, Ala., had belonged since early 2004. (Sobibor was a Nazi death camp in Poland during World War II).

About a month after he announced his enlistment, Sobibor's SS bragged in another post to Forum 14 that he'd specifically requested and been assigned to MOS, or Military Occupational Specialty, 98D. MOS98D soldiers are in high demand right now. That's because they're specially trained in disarming Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) like the infamous roadside bombs that are killing and maiming so many U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Presumably, a part of learning how to disarm an IED is learning how to make one.

"I have my own reasons for wanting this training but in fear of the government tracing me and me loosing [sic] my clearance I can't share them here," Sobibor's SS informed his fellow neo-Nazis.

One of his earlier posts indicated his reasons serve a darker purpose than defending America: "Once all the Jews are gone the world will start fixing itself."

Sobibor's SS included enough biographical details in his various posts to Forum 14 over the years, including that he's a single father from the small town in southern Alabama, that a military investigator with access to enlistment records for recent months should have little trouble discerning whether the Army is actually teaching a skinhead with genocide on his mind how to be a tactical bomb maker.

But there's little reason to expect that will happen.

Two years ago, the Intelligence Report revealed that alarming numbers of neo-Nazi skinheads and other white supremacist extremists were taking advantage of lowered armed services recruiting standards and lax enforcement of anti-extremist military regulations by infiltrating the U.S. armed forces in order to receive combat training and gain access to weapons and explosives.

Forty members of Congress urged then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to launch a full-scale investigation and implement a zero-tolerance policy toward white supremacists in the military. "Military extremists present an elevated threat to both their fellow service members and the public," U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, wrote in a separate open letter to Rumsfeld. "We witnessed with Timothy McVeigh that today's racist extremist may become tomorrow's domestic terrorist."

But neither Rumsfeld nor his successor, Robert Gates, enacted any sort of systemic investigation or crackdown. Military and Defense Department officials seem to have made no sustained effort to prevent active white supremacists from joining the armed forces, or to weed out those already in uniform.

Furthermore, new evidence is emerging that not only supports the Intelligence Report's findings, but also indicates the problem may have worsened since the summer of 2006, as enlistment rates continued to plummet, and the military accepted an ever-lower quality of soldier in a time of unpopular war.

First of all, a new FBI report (PDF) confirms that white supremacist leaders are making a concerted effort to recruit active-duty soldiers and recent combat veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the unclassified FBI Intelligence Assessment, "White Supremacist Recruitment of Military Personnel Since 9/11," which was released to law enforcement agencies nationwide: "Sensitive and reliable source reporting indicates supremacist leaders are encouraging followers who lack documented histories of neo-Nazi activity and overt racist insignia such as tattoos to infiltrate the military as 'ghost skins,' in order to recruit and receive training for the benefit of the extremist movement."

The FBI report details more than a dozen investigative findings and criminal cases involving Iraq and Afghanistan veterans as well as active-duty personnel engaging in extremist activity in recent years. For example, in September 2006, the leader of the Celtic Knights, a central Texas splinter faction of the Hammerskins, a national racist skinhead organization, planned to obtain firearms and explosives from an active duty Army soldier in Fort Hood, Texas. That soldier, who served in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, was a member of the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group.

"Looking ahead, current and former military personnel belonging to white supremacist extremist organizations who experience frustration at the inability of these organizations to achieve their goals may choose to found new, more operationally minded and operationally capable groups," the report concludes. "The military training veterans bring to the movement and their potential to pass this training on to others can increase the ability of lone offenders to carry out violence from the movement's fringes."

Currently, 46 members of the white supremacist social networking website Newsaxon.com identity themselves as active-duty military personnel. Six of these individuals are members of "White Military Men," a New Saxon sub-group.

Earlier this year, the founder of White Military Men identified himself in his New Saxon account as "Lance Corporal Burton" of the 2nd Battalion Fox Company Pit 2097, from Florida, according to a master's thesis by graduate student Matthew Kennard. Under his "About Me" section, Burton writes: "Love to shoot my M16A2 service rifle effectively at the Hachies (Iraqis)," and, "Love to watch things blow up (Hachies House)."

As part of his thesis research, Kennard, at the time a student at Columbia University's Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism, also monitored claims of active-duty military service earlier this year on the neo-Nazi online forum Blood and Honour, where "88Soldier88" posted this message on Feb. 18: "I am in the ARMY right now. I work in the Detainee Holding Area [in Iraq]. I am in this until 2013. I am in the infantry but want to go to SF [Special Forces]. Hopefully the training will prepare me for what I hope is to come."

One of the Blood and Honour members claiming to be an active-duty soldier taking part in combat operations in Iraq identified himself to Kennard as Jacob Berg. He did not disclose his rank or branch of service. "There are actually a lot more 'skinheads,' 'nazis,' white supremacists now [in the military] than there has been in a long time," Berg wrote in an E-mail exchange with Kennard. "Us racists are actually getting into the military a lot now because if we don't every one who already is [in the military] will take pity on killing sand niggers. Yes I have killed women, yes I have killed children and yes I have killed older people. But the biggest reason I'm so proud of my kills is because by killing a brown many white people will live to see a new dawn."

The Army is currently investigating war crimes allegations leveled against Iraq combat veteran and active-duty Army soldier Kenneth Eastridge, 24, who is facing trial for the December 2007 murder of a fellow serviceman. After Eastridge was arrested for that killing, National Public Radio publicized his MySpace page, which showed Eastridge displaying a tattoo of SS lightning bolts, a common neo-Nazi insignia.

Another member of Eastridge's company recently told Army investigators that Eastridge used a stolen AK-47 to fire indiscriminately at Iraqi civilians from his moving Humvee on the streets of Baghdad. "The military is to some extent desperate to get people to fight, soldiers who are not fit, mentally and physically sick, but they continue to send them," Eastridge's attorney told Kennard. "Having a tattoo was the least [Eastridge's] concerns."

As part of the research for his thesis, "The New Nazi Army: How the U.S. military is allowing the far right to join its ranks," Kennard used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain from the Army's Criminal Investigative Division investigative reports concerning white supremacist activity in 2006 and 2007. They show that Army commanders repeatedly terminated investigations of suspected extremist activity in the military despite strong evidence it was occurring. This evidence was often provided by regional Joint Terrorism Task Forces, which are made up of FBI and state and local law enforcement officials.

For example, one CID report details a 2006 investigation of a suspected member of the Hammerskins, a multi-state racist skinhead gang, who was stationed at Fort Hood, a large Army base in central Texas. According to the report, there was "probable cause" to believe that the soldier "had participated in a white extremist meeting and also provided a military technical manual 31-210, Improvised Munitions Handbook, to the leader of a white extremist group in order to assist in the planning and execution of future attacks on various targets."

The report shows that agents only interviewed the subject once, in November 2006, before Fort Hood higher-ups called off the investigation that December.

Another report, also from 2006, covers an investigation of another Fort Hood soldier who was posting messages on Stormfront.org, a major white supremacist website. One CID investigator expresses his frustration at the muddled process for dealing with extremists. "We need to discuss the review process," he writes. "I'm not doing my job here. Needs to get fixed."

A third CID report, regarding a 2007 investigation, notes the termination of an investigation of a soldier at Fort Richardson, Alaska, who was reportedly the leader and chief recruiter for the Alaska Front, a white supremacist group. According to the report, the investigation was halted because the solider was "mobilized to Camp Shelby, MS in preparation for deployment to Iraq."

Pentagon Reduced to Recruiting Neo-Nazis

Before the U.S. military made Matt Buschbacher a Navy SEAL, he made himself a soldier of the Fourth Reich.

Before Forrest Fogarty attended Military Police counter-insurgency training school, he attended Nazi skinhead festivals as lead singer for the hate rock band Attack.

And before Army engineer Jon Fain joined the invasion of Iraq to fight the War on Terror, the neo-Nazi National Alliance member fantasized about fighting a war on Jews.

"Ever since my youth -- when I watched WWII footage and saw how well-disciplined and sharply dressed the German forces were -- I have wanted to be a soldier," Fain said in a Winter 2004 interview with the National Alliance magazine Resistance. "Joining the American military was as close as I could get."

Ten years after Pentagon leaders toughened policies on extremist activities by active duty personnel -- a move that came in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing by decorated Gulf War combat veteran Timothy McVeigh and the murder of a black couple by members of a skinhead gang in the elite 82nd Airborne Division -- large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists continue to infiltrate the ranks of the world's best-trained, best-equipped fighting force. Military recruiters and base commanders, under intense pressure from the war in Iraq to fill the ranks, often look the other way.

Neo-Nazis "stretch across all branches of service, they are linking up across the branches once they're inside, and they are hard-core," Department of Defense gang detective Scott Barfield said. "We've got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad," he added. "That's a problem."

The armed forces are supposed to be a model of racial equality. American soldiers are supposed to be defenders of democracy. Neo-Nazis represent the opposite of these ideals. They dream of race war and revolution, and their motivations for enlisting are often quite different than serving their country.

"Join only for the training, and to better defend yourself, our people, and our culture," Fain said. "We must have people to open doors from the inside when the time comes."

Soldier shortage

In 1996, following a decade-long rash of cases where extremists in the military were caught diverting huge arsenals of stolen firearms and explosives to neo-Nazi and white supremacist organizations, conducting guerilla training for paramilitary racist militias, and murdering non-white civilians (see timeline), the Pentagon finally launched a massive investigation and crackdown. One general ordered all 19,000 soldiers at Fort Lewis, Wash., strip-searched for extremist tattoos.

But that was peacetime. Now, with the country at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the military under increasingly intense pressure to maintain enlistment numbers, weeding out extremists is less of a priority. "Recruiters are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the armed forces, and commanders don't remove them from the military even after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members," said Department of Defense investigator Barfield.

"Last year, for the first time, they didn't make their recruiting goals. They don't want to start making a big deal again about neo-Nazis in the military, because then parents who are already worried about their kids signing up and dying in Iraq are going to be even more reluctant about their kids enlisting if they feel they'll be exposed to gangs and white supremacists."

Barfield, who is based at Fort Lewis, said he has identified and submitted evidence on 320 extremists there in the past year. "Only two have been discharged," he said. Barfield and other Department of Defense investigators said they recently uncovered an online network of 57 neo-Nazis who are active duty Army and Marines personnel spread across five military installations in five states -- Fort Lewis; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Stewart, Ga.; and Camp Pendleton, Calif. "They're communicating with each other about weapons, about recruiting, about keeping their identities secret, about organizing within the military," Barfield said. "Several of these individuals have since been deployed to combat missions in Iraq."

Every year, the Army's Criminal Investigation Division conducts a threat assessment of extremist and gang activity among army personnel. "Every year, they come back with 'minimal activity,' which is inaccurate," said Barfield. "It's not epidemic, but there's plenty of evidence we're talking numbers well into the thousands, just in the Army." Last July, the white supremacist website Stormfront hosted a discussion on "Joining the Military."

"There are others among you in the forces," wrote one neo-Nazi in the Army. "You are never alone."


Not all military commanders fail to give known extremists the boot. "The response differs from command group to command group," Barfield said. "Most put up a front and say, 'Oh, this guy's in big trouble,' but actually do nothing unless he commits a felony. But some kick their ass out right away."

Barfield noted that commanders are far more likely to take immediate action if the soldier is stateside in a non-combat role, rather than fighting overseas. In one recent instance, Airman First Class Andrew Dornan, who was assigned to the firing party in the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard, was sentenced to nine months confinement and dishonorably discharged after he posted messages glorifying Adolf Hitler on his personal webpage and threatened to detonate a bomb on a military base.

But the military took no such action against former Navy SEAL Matt Buschbacher, who continued to fight in Iraq after the Southern Poverty Law Center had alerted officials to his active support of neo-Nazi groups.

Buschbacher said he joined the neo-Nazi movement "for the same reason everyone joins: I was angry and looking for some answers. I wanted to belong to something that made me feel good about myself."

In 1998, when Buschbacher was still a teenager living in Terrace Park, Ohio, a wealthy, almost exclusively white suburb of Cincinnati, he was ordained as a reverend in the World Church of the Creator, a violent neo-Nazi organization. He rose fast. In 1999, he was the head of the hate group's Cincinnati chapter when Chicago member Benjamin Smith went on a three-day, two-state shooting spree that targeted Jews, Asians and blacks. Smith killed two people and wounded nine before committing suicide as police closed in.

Afterward, Buschbacher praised Smith as "a dedicated activist for our racial cause" in The Cincinnati Inquirer. "We have pride in our race, heritage, and culture, and we will do anything to prevent it from being destroyed," he said. "White man is the creator, the creator of civilizations."

In May 2000, Buschbacher attended Nordic Fest, an annual skinhead festival sponsored by the Imperial Klans of America in Kentucky, where he posed in front of a flaming swastika, seig heiling. He joined the Navy shortly afterward. Again, Buschbacher advanced quickly. In October 2001, he completed 26 weeks of SEAL training at the Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado, Calif.

In August 2002, while an active duty SEAL but not yet stationed in Baghdad, Buschbacher attended the National Alliance's invitation-only "leadership conference" at the neo-Nazi group's West Virginia compound. The conference was held just weeks after the death of National Alliance founder William Pierce, author of The Turner Diaries, the fantasy novel about revolution and race war that inspired Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Pierce also wrote the seminal pamphlet, "What is the National Alliance?" It was in that tract that Pierce explained that a National Alliance member in the military "[u]ses his daily interactions with career personnel to select exceptional individuals who are receptive, and he then gives them the opportunity to serve their race while carrying out their military functions."

'Heroes among us'

Today, Matt Buschbacher denies recruiting Navy personnel into the Alliance. What's clear is that for years after becoming a SEAL, he violated military regulations without repercussions by staying active in the neo-Nazi movement.

Using the online pseudonym "Mattiasb88" [88 is neo-Nazi code for "Heil Hitler"] to hide his identity, Buschbacher designed and distributed National Alliance fliers, white power screen savers, and a photo montage of Pierce on the Internet via his website, racialpride.com, which displayed a logo of a burning swastika and this mission statement: "The purpose of this website is to provide white patriots with a large database of information for recruiting and self-improvement." Buschbacher also posted messages to the white supremacist website Stormfront and the website of Resistance Records, a hate rock music company owned by the National Alliance. In the fall of 2003, the National Alliance magazine Resistance even published a collage of "Scene Shots" that included a small photo of Buschbacher wearing a Turner Diaries T-shirt and giving a Nazi salute.

Buschbacher hasn't been the only neo-Nazi to fight in Iraq. Forrest Mackley Fogarty, a member of the Tampa, Fla., unit of the National Alliance, was deployed for 18 months during Operation Iraqi Freedom with his Army National Guard unit. "There are some dirty Arabs enjoying their 70 virgins because of my actions and that of my fire team," Fogarty boasted in the Winter 2005 issue of Resistance. (Fogarty was identified in the article only as "Forrest of Attack.")

Jon Fain, a neo-Nazi who currently lives on the National Alliance compound, was part of the original Iraq invasion force in 2003, as a U.S. Army engineer. Shawn Stuart, the Montana state leader of the National Socialist Movement, another neo-Nazi group, served two combat tours in Iraq as a U.S. Marine before he was discharged in 2005. Stuart, who is running for the state House of Representatives in Montana, told the Missoula News that he joined the NSM in 2004, while he was still a Marine, because he "came to believe the United States is fighting the war on Israel's behalf."

None of these men, it appears, were ever disciplined for neo-Nazi activities. All were honorably discharged.

James Douglas Ross Jr. was not so fortunate. Ross, a military intelligence officer stationed at Fort Bragg, was caught shipping disassembled AK-47s to the United States from Iraq in 2004, officials said. When investigators searched his off base housing, they found a weapons arsenal, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and hate group materials. Ross was forced to return from Iraq and given a bad conduct discharge. "But they let him keep the weapons [he kept in his house]," said Department of Defense investigator Barfield, adding that Ross has since relocated to Washington, where he's a leader of the Eastern Washington Skins, a neo-Nazi gang. "He kept his military connections, and he's still trying to recruit soldiers, so we're still dealing with him."

For his part, despite his sometimes brazen activities, Matt Buschbacher tried hard to avoid exposure as a neo-Nazi in the military. But his identity became clear after he posted a photo of himself in a "Mattiasb88" Yahoo profile in 2004, and then advertised his neo-Nazi E-mail address in a July 2004 posting to a currency trading forum. "I am in the military and currently in Iraq," he wrote there. "If anyone would like to purchase some Iraqi dinars I have access to as much as you would like." That September, Buschbacher was profiled in his hometown Terrace Park community newspaper, Village Views. The article, "Heroes Among Us," reported he was fighting terrorism with a SEAL unit based in downtown Baghdad.

Two years later, Matt Buschbacher is back from Iraq -- also with an honorable discharge, despite the fact that the Southern Poverty Law Center informed the military of his background while he was still on active duty. He lives in Denver, Colo., and teaches classes on how to pick up women. "I have no connection with any neo-Nazi anything any more," Buschbacher said. Photographed holding a red rose, he was recently splashed across the cover of a weekly newsmagazine in Denver promoting his new book, Date the Women of Your Dreams. The cover story made no mention of his neo-Nazi past.

Training for race war

According to a 1998 study commissioned by the Department of Defense, "Young civilian extremists are encouraged by adult leaders to enlist in the military to gain access to weapons, training, and other military personnel."

The reasons are obvious: Soldiers are trained to be proficient with weapons, combat tactics, and explosives, to train others in their use, and to operate in a highly disciplined culture that is focused on the organized violence of war. This is why military extremists present an elevated threat to public safety, and why extremists groups both recruit active duty personnel -- especially those with access to classified information or sophisticated weaponry -- and influence their members to join the armed forces.

"The threats posed by extremism to the military are simultaneously blatant and subtle," the Defense Department study said. "On the one hand, high-profile terrorist acts and hate crimes committed by active and former military personnel can have seriously detrimental effects on the civil-military relationship as well as on the morale and security of military personnel. On the other hand, even the non-violent activities of military personnel with extremist tendencies (e.g., possessing literature and/or artifacts from the extremist 'movement'; dabbling in extremism through computerized telecommunications activities; proselytizing extremist ideologies, etc.) can have deleterious consequences for the good order, discipline, readiness, and cohesion of military units."

Special Forces soldiers who double as extremist operatives present a special danger, since they have commando skills gained at huge taxpayer expense -- often including urban warfare, long-range reconnaissance, and combat demolitions.

"Hate groups send their guys into the U.S. military because the U.S. military has the best weapons and training," said T.J. Leyden, a former racist skinhead and Marine who recruited inside the Marine Corps for the Hammerskins, a nationwide skinhead gang. He later renounced the neo-Nazi movement and now conducts anti-extremism training seminars on military bases.

"Right now, any white supremacist in Iraq is getting live fire, guerilla warfare experience," Leyden said. "But any white supremacist in Iraq who's a Green Beret or a Navy SEAL or Marine Recon, he's doing covert stuff that's far above and beyond convoy protection and roadblocks. And if he comes back and decides at some point down the road that it's race war time, all that training and combat experience he's received could easily turn around and bite this country in the ass."

Department of Defense investigator Barfield confirmed that threat assessment. "Today's white supremacists in the military become tomorrow's domestic terrorists once they're out," he said. "There needs to be a tighter focus on intercepting the next Timothy McVeigh before he becomes the next Timothy McVeigh."

'White soldier's burden'

In April 1995, the same month Timothy McVeigh detonated a 7,000-pound truck bomb outside a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, the National Alliance erected a billboard on the main road leading into Fort Bragg, an Army base in Fayetteville, N.C. The billboard's message read, "Enough! Let's Start Taking Back America," and listed the neo-Nazi group's toll-free number.

The billboard was the work of Robert Hunt, a National Alliance recruiter and active duty member of the Army's elite 82nd Airborne Division, which is based at Fort Bragg. By late 1995, a large neo-Nazi skinhead gang had formed within the 82nd Airborne. Members saluted a Nazi flag in their barracks, distributed National Alliance literature on base, and held drunken barracks parties where they blasted "Third Reich," a rockabilly white power anthem by the band Rahowa (short for "Racial Holy War") with lyrics about killing blacks and Jews.

In December 1995, two members of the 82nd Airborne skinhead gang gunned down a black couple in a random, racially motivated double murder that shocked the nation and sparked a major investigation of extremism in the military as well as congressional hearings. The killers were eventually sentenced to life in prison, and 19 other members of the 82nd Airborne were dishonorably discharged for neo-Nazi gang activities.

"The fallout from the skinhead killings was immediate," racist skinhead Steve Smith recalled in his 2005 essay, "The White Soldier's Burden." Smith was in the Army from 1991 to 1996 and was stationed at Fort Bragg at the time of the murders. "White soldiers at Fort Bragg were inspected to see if they had any 'racist' tattoos. The Army also held mandatory classes on 'extremist' organizations."

Before the Fort Bragg slayings, military regulations on extremist activity by active duty soldiers were ambiguous. There were no specific regulations on extremism at all until 1986, when it came to light that active duty soldiers were providing guerilla training and stolen military weapons to a paramilitary Ku Klux Klan faction led by a former Green Beret. The Southern Poverty Law Center then urged Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger to "prohibit active-duty members of the armed services from holding membership in groups like the Klan or from taking part in their activities." Weinberger responded by issuing this directive: "Military personnel must reject participation in white supremacy, neo-Nazi and other such groups which espouse or attempt to create overt discrimination. Active participation, including public demonstrations, recruiting and training members, and organizing or leading such organizations is utterly incompatible with military service."

Though sternly worded, many commanders interpreted that order to mean that while active participation in extremist groups was prohibited, so-called "passive support," such as distributing propaganda, listening to hate rock, displaying flags or symbols, and "mere membership," were still allowed. After the Fort Bragg slayings, however, the Department of Defense toughened military policy somewhat to read, "Engaging in activities in relation to [extremist] organizations, or in furtherance of the objectives of such organizations that are viewed by command to be detrimental to the good order of the unit is incompatible with Military Service, and is, therefore, prohibited."

Then-Defense Secretary William Perry used even stronger language to describe the intent of the updated regulation. "Department of Defense policy leaves no room for racist and extremist activities in the military," Perry stated. "We must -- and we shall -- make every effort to erase bigotry, racism, and extremism from the military. Extremist activity compromises fairness, good order, and discipline. The armed forces, which defend the nation and its values, must exemplify those values beyond question."

Lowering standards

Neo-Nazis have no respect for the values of a free democracy or the shining example of equal opportunity its military is meant to be. When Jon Fain, the Army engineer, was interviewed in 2004 for a Resistance article titled, "On the Front Lines for the Jews," he advised neo-Nazis considering a military career to "[n]ever allow yourself to be brainwashed into the 'everybody's green' lie." In the Stormfront discussion on joining the military, neo-Nazi "Ulfur Engil" wrote that he was stationed with the Army in Europe and offered this guidance: "Nothing will change what you are. If you join, you are still the same enlightened white man (or woman) you always have been."

Hundreds of neo-Nazis online identify themselves as active duty soldiers. "When you are in, after you finish basic training, your discretion is very important," Ulfur Engil wrote in a recent Internet posting. "If you are someone who wears boots and braces keep a second pair that's neutral looking (black). Remove any obvious pins from your jacket (runes by themselves are okay, though. They don't take issue with them, providing there is no obvious [racist] arrangement. The USO in Keflavik, Iceland, actually sold runes!) Do NOT use any Internet connection offered by the base or do ANYTHING on a military server. NOTHING. Get an Internet connection that is private and off-base, invest in EvidenceEliminator, and set up an email account with Hushmail and/or Ziplip."

Extremists in the military are tricky to unmask. "They're a lot smarter about it than street gang members," said Barfield. "They don't brag and boast like gang bangers." The best way to reduce the number of extremists in the armed forces is to prevent them from entering the military in the first place. "But now we're lowering our recruiting standards. We're accepting lesser quality soldiers," Barfield said. In a move to boost enlistment, the military is allowing more and more recruits with criminal records to sign up. A recent Chicago Sun-Times article revealed the percentage of recruits granted "moral waivers" for past misdemeanors had more than doubled since 2001. The military also revised its rules on inductee tattoos earlier this year to allow all tattoos except those on the front of the face. Both changes in the rules made it easier for extremists to join. And while military regulations prohibit (PDF) all gang-related or white supremacist tattoos, many recruiters are ignoring such tattoos, or even literally covering them up. "I had one case where a recruiter and his wife took a guy to their house and covered up his tattoos with make-up so he could pass his [physical examination]," Barfield said.

Military regulations also call for any superior officer who spots a soldier with a neo-Nazi or white supremacist tattoo to refer the soldier to a commander, who then is supposed to demand the soldier have the tattoo removed. If the soldier refuses, he's supposed to be kicked out.

"But there's a loophole," Barfield said. "If they never refer them, they can't refuse, so they just never refer them, and they stay in."

"If you have any kind of tattoo prior to going in, they will require you to write out a statement as to what it is, and what it means to you," advised a neo-Nazi in the Stormfront military forum. "If it's something obvious like a swazi [swastika], then they will probably say, 'No go.' But, something more obscure, like a Schwarze Sonne [a "black sun," another Nazi symbol] or a Celtic cross would probably be okay, so long as no phraseology accompanies it."

"The average Joe recruiter can spot the most obvious tattoos," said Leyden, who trains the military in identifying hate group members. "But the vast majority of them don't know what 'White Power' in German looks like, they don't know what 88 in Roman numerals means, and now, they may not even care, because they're under this extreme pressure to fill the void, and who are they filling the void with? Therein lies the danger."

'Switchblades and smeared blood'

The large tattoo on the right arm of Air Force airman Robert Lee West depicts a menacing wizard with a scythe. His recruiter probably saw no problem there, but the photo of himself West has up on his EveryonesSpace web page should wave a red flag. In it, West, with his head shaved, is standing in front of a swastika and Iron Eagle banner, holding twin AR-15 assault rifles. West, 23, who's stationed at Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, lists his general interests as "switchblades and smeared blood."

In his "About Me" section, he writes: "I train most days for marksmanship, combat, demolition, politics, economics, religion, military tactics, oratory, and propaganda. I will give my life for a cause greater than my own. My mind and spirit shall ensure life for my people, and death for yours. I shall fight until I have achieved victory. Just remember when you speak to me that I don't play by ZOG [Zionist Occupation Government] rules and I will not hesitate to sever your subclavian artery."

Special Agent Will Manuel of Air Force's Office of Special Investigations at Warner Robins said he's "well aware" of West's neo-Nazi identity. "We've seen all his pictures, we've read his website, and we know what's he doing." Yet despite the toughened policy declared by the Pentagon a decade ago, Manuel says, "We're not going to go after him just based on what he says he believes, or on him making a lot of claims. There has to be an overt act first. He has to actually organize or recruit or commit a crime. But even his pictures and writings raise concerns, obviously, because we know that where you have one [neo-Nazi], there's usually another, and what he claims to represent totally goes against the core values of the military."

Ten years after the military crackdown on extremism, it's clear that there are still a great many Robert Lee Wests in the U.S. armed forces. And that should worry all Americans. In 1996, the Ft. Bragg murders sparked Congressional hearings on extremism in the military. Then-Air Force Secretary Sheila E. Windall said in her testimony, "We have an absolute obligation, and the American people have an absolute right to expect, that military members will use their expertise and the lethal tools of their trade to protect them and never to harm them."

But some in the military appear to have lost sight of that obligation in the fog of war. "The regulations could use some fine tuning, but they're already on the books," Barfield said. "They're just not being enforced. My fear is that it's going to take another Fort Bragg before that changes."

Hate Crimes in Prison

SANTA ANA, Calif. -- Within the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and United States Courthouse is a courtroom called the "Nuremberg room," for its resemblance to the famous chamber in which 22 leaders of the Third Reich were tried in 1945 and 1946 for crimes against humanity.

Both halls of justice have three-tiered docks where multiple high-profile defendants are shackled to anchors in the floor by chains hidden from view, behind tables and podiums. Like the docks in Germany's Palace of Justice 60 years ago, the docks in Santa Ana this year have filled with self-avowed Nazis, Aryan warriors, and followers of Hitler.

But the Nazis standing accused in California are Nazis of a wholly different strain than Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal defendants like Hermann Goering and Rudolf Hess. They are white supremacist pimps, drug dealers and backstabbing shower-stall killers, glorified thugs with swastika tattoos. They covet power and oversee a criminal empire, but they are motivated less by furthering their die-hard racist ideology than satisfying their crude greed. They are the leaders of the Aryan Brotherhood (AB), the most notorious, powerful, and violent prison gang in America. Also known as the Brand or the Rock -- a reference to the Shamrock tattoos AB members favor in addition to Nazi insignia -- the gang in recent years has established criminal networks outside prison walls in cities, small towns, and suburbs across the country.

Their nicknames are worthy of professional wrestlers -- Super Honky, The Baron, Lucifer -- but the blood they have spilt by the bucketful has been all too real. Aryan Brotherhood members make up less than one-tenth of one percent of the nation's prison inmate population, yet the white power gang is responsible for 18% of all prison murders, according to the FBI.

The AB's carnage has spanned four decades. In 1981, two members of the Brotherhood who were incarcerated at the federal prison in Marion, Ill., murdered the leader of a rival gang, the D.C. Blacks, by sneaking up behind him in the shower and then brutally stabbing and slashing him 67 times. They then dragged his bloody, mutilated corpse through a cellblock while white inmates cheered and chanted racial slurs.

"I have walked over dead bodies," one of the AB assassins in that case later boasted in court. "I've had guts splattered all over my chest from the race wars."

The last arrow
Law enforcement authorities and prison officials have until now been unable to destroy the Aryan Brotherhood, mainly because so many top leaders of the gang are serving life or multiple life sentences with no possibility of parole. These men laugh at criminal penalties that only add more time to their already infinite sentences.

Isolating the gang's leaders in solitary confinement hasn't worked either, because they always find way to communicate with each other and to transmit and receive reports, requests, and orders from prison to prison and down through the ranks, whether by bribing guards, subpoenaing each other to appear at court hearings where they employ hand signals and speak in code, or writing letters in a form of invisible ink made with their own urine.

These methods are time consuming. But time is one luxury the leaders of the Aryan Brotherhood possess in abundance. One sure way to stop them is to kill them, which is exactly what the federal government is threatening to do in a sweeping racketeering indictment that has drawn a rogue's gallery of 40 Aryan Brotherhood members and associates, including virtually all of the gang's veteran leaders, or "shot callers," to the Nuremberg room in Santa Ana.

Twenty-one of the defendants are eligible for the death penalty, making the Aryan Brotherhood indictment the largest death penalty case in the history of the American justice system. It is a decapitation attack.

"Capital punishment is the one arrow left in our quiver," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Jessner, who is spearheading the Aryan Brotherhood prosecution. "I think even a lot of people who are against the death penalty in general would recognize that in this particular instance, where people are committing murder repeatedly from behind bars, there is little other option."

The indictment alleges that over the past quarter century, Aryan Brotherhood members either personally committed or solicited 32 murders and attempted murders in order both to promote the gang's stature in prison and to maintain the AB's iron-fisted control of narcotics trafficking, male prostitution, gambling, and extortion among white inmates.

In one example, the indictment alleges that in 1997, AB leaders responding to an outbreak of racial violence inside the federal penitentiary in Marion issued a "formal declaration of war" on black inmates throughout the federal prison system by using coded phone calls and messages written in a secret double alphabet invented by Sir Francis Bacon in 1652. When they received their orders, AB operatives in the federal pen in Lewisburg, Penn., executed a carefully coordinated, simultaneous attack on black inmates, killing two and severely wounding four.

"My brothers and I have went to war (make no mistake it is war), with all of mongoloid races at one time or another, using knives, pipes, locks/rocks in socks," a member of the Aryan Brotherhood in Oklahoma who identified himself as "tree 1488" posted to a forum on prison gangs on the white supremacist Stormfront Web site in June. (The numbers 14 and 88 are both common white supremacist identifiers.) "At the end of some of these confrontations somebody is needed to be medi-flighted out, nearly always someone has had to go to medical. I carry my scars/badges of battle. Death is a very real possibility."

The racketeering indictment further alleges that Aryan Brotherhood leaders in prison have contracted killings and other violence by operatives in the free world to collect debts, silence witnesses, and crush competition. Wives and girlfriends of incarcerated AB commonly help smuggle drugs into prison, and deliver messages back to AB members and minions in the free world. Four women are named in the current federal racketeering indictment for acting as couriers of information, drugs, and money.

While the precise number of Aryan Brotherhood members and associates is not known, the gang has chapters in virtually every major state and federal prison in the country. Estimates of AB's total strength vary widely, but nearly all exceed 15,000 members and associates nationwide, with roughly half in prison and half out.

"You gain ranks by battles, by 'missions,' not all of it locked up," explained tree 1488. "Brothers grow as close as vets do when they go into battle fighting for a common cause. We are there for each other even on the outside. I have a high ranking it has taken me nearly seven years of missions to earn."

The Oklahoma Aryan Brotherhood member went on the explain to the white nationalists on Stormfront that when he was first released from prison, "my neighbors on the outside were taken aback by my tattoos at first -- sleeved out arms with shoulder caps that read 'Aryan Honor,'" but that he gradually won them over with his gardening and baking acumen. "I give them fresh vegetables when they are in season, cakes and so forth. I clue them in to white nationalism if they show an interest. Aryan Honor is the credo I live by."

Through the past, darkly
Most prisons were racially segregated until the 1960s. When they were desegregated, racial violence flared and inmates formed gangs along color lines. In 1964, white inmates at San Quentin Maximum Security Prison in San Quentin, Calif., founded the Aryan Brotherhood. From the beginning, the gang was steeped in racial hatred and neo-Nazism. The founders adopted swastikas and Nazi SS lightning bolts as the Aryan Brotherhood's identifying symbols and tattoos. Recruits were ordered to read Mein Kampf and to "earn their badge" of membership by attacking -- and often killing -- black inmates.

In 1973, no less a reputed mad-dog killer than Charles Manson was rejected by the Aryan Brotherhood when he asked to join but then refused to murder for skin color alone. "The AB want Manson to kill a black because black is black," Manson's lieutenant Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme wrote in a letter. "He will not do this and they are against him."

Throughout the 1970s, as the gang expanded, the AB constantly battled with black and Hispanic prison gangs in slow-burning wars of attrition fueled by racial hatred but truly fought over territory and profits. Then as now, the Aryan Brotherhood was both a white supremacist organization and a criminal syndicate.

"There's no doubt the Aryan Brotherhood are a bunch of racists, but when it comes to doing business, the color that matters most to them isn't black or brown or white -- it's green," said prison gang expert Tony Delgado, Security Threat Group Coordinator for the Ohio Bureau of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Whereas the Order -- a high-profile gang of hardened white power criminals who in the early 1980s robbed armored cars, counterfeited currency and machine-gunned to death a Jewish radio host -- killed and robbed mainly to further the cause of white supremacy, the Aryan Brotherhood reverses that formula. The AB uses the white supremacy movement to further its criminal endeavors.

"The white power thing is mostly just a good recruiting tool and a way to maintain structure and discipline," said Delgado. "These guys are more about making money than starting any kind of white revolution. They sell heroin to white people all the time. That's not very Aryan or brotherly of them."

Joining the movement

In 1980, the Aryan Brotherhood split into two separate but cooperative factions, one for gang members in federal custody and the other for gang members in state prisons, who had by then proliferated to Colorado, Arizona, Missouri and New Mexico. The federal faction of the gang formed a three-man "commission" to supervise and direct all Aryan Brotherhood actions inside federal prison. In 1982, the state prison AB faction followed suit.

Initiates to both factions swore lifelong allegiance to the gang with the same blood oath: "An Aryan brother is without a care/He walks where the weak and heartless won't dare/For an Aryan brother, death holds no fear/Vengeance will be his, through his brothers still here."

Also in the 1980s, the imprisoned leaders of the Aryan Brotherhood began to cultivate relationships with the leaders of neo-Nazi and white supremacist organizations outside prison, most notably Aryan Nations. AB members in Missouri unsuccessfully challenged that state's ban on inmates receiving Aryan Nations literature, and AB members all over the country joined Aryan Nations under its alter-ego name, Church of Jesus Christ Christian. This "church" is a purveyor of the "Christian Identity" religion preached by late Aryan Nations founder and head pastor Richard Butler, whose "prison ministry" for decades promoted the doctrine that non-whites are "mud people" and Jews are the literal descendants of Satan.

Very few Aryan Brotherhood members are sent to prison originally for hate crimes. Typically they're sent up on robbery or drug charges and then join the gang for protection. But once they're members of the AB, white prisoners are indoctrinated into the virulent ideology of race war.

"We do what we have to do to make it in prison. If any of you ever have to go there you will fully understand. Until then you won't," a member of the Aryan Brotherhood posted in June to a Stormfront forum on which white supremacists were debating whether the Aryan Brotherhood should be embraced or shunned by white power activists.

"My name is Michael but all my brothers call me 'tattoo.' I am an overseer for the Alabama Aryan Brotherhood. I am currently incarcerated in Bibb County Correctional Facility in Brent, Alabama. I want to set the record straight on a few things I've head on this forum. The Aryan Brotherhood, my family, will always be a big part of the White Nationalist movement! We are under a blood and honor oath to live by the 14 words 'We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.' Any true soldier not only lives by these words but they would be embedded in his heart and soul. Rahowa! [Racial Holy War]."

Once they're released, some Aryan Brotherhood members commit terrible hate crimes in the name of Rahowa. The most infamous racially motivated murder since the civil rights era occurred in 1998, when three white men, two of them ex-cons, tied a black man, James Byrd Jr., to the back of their pickup truck with a logging chain, dragged him to death over three miles of country roads outside Jasper, Texas, and then deposited his shredded remains in front of a predominantly black cemetery. One of the ex-cons testified at his trial that he and one his accomplices had both joined the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas for protection from black inmates while they were incarcerated. When he rejoined society, his arms were covered with Aryan Brotherhood tattoos, including one depicting a black man being lynched. "You look at his arms," the trial prosecutor said, "and you see what's in his heart."

In October 2001, another member of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas who was enraged by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks gunned down a Bangladeshi gas station attendant simply because the victim "looked Arab."

The AB has reportedly toyed with terrorist plots of its own. In 2000, a longtime Brotherhood member and explosives expert-turned-government informant told federal investigators he had been approached by AB leaders inside Colorado's Supermax federal prison who asked him to provide them with technical information on making bombs in preparation for a series of attacks on federal buildings and officials across the country.

"It's become irrational," he said, according to an FBI report. "They're talking about making car bombs, trucks bombs, mail bombs."

In Ohio, another case
Just before dawn this June 23, a strike force of more than 125 federal and local law enforcement officers, including six swat teams, mustered at a mobile command center in Painesville, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. After a briefing, the force divided into no-knock search teams that surrounded and then raided six houses spread across four counties in northeastern Ohio. According to indictments released later, the houses contained stashes of illegal weapons and drugs belonging to the Order of the Blood, a criminal network financed and managed by the Aryan Brotherhood and the Pagans, an outlaw motorcycle gang.

The pre-dawn raids resulted in the seizure of 60 weapons, including 13 fully automatic machine guns, plus large amounts of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and the prescription painkiller Oxycodone. Thirty-four members and associates of the Aryan Brotherhood were arrested, and warrants were issued for 10 still at large. The sweep came after a 20-month undercover investigation that shifted into high gear earlier in June, when police in Willowick, Ohio, arrested two members of the Aryan Brotherhood for possessing illegal machine guns and found in their vehicle a file containing detailed personal information about two police officers in nearby Eastlake whose lives had been threatened two years ago by members of the Pagans.

"This case has all the elements of organized crime and has tentacles spread over a wide area," said Lake County Sheriff Daniel Dunlap. "These were not informal gang bangers flashing gang signs. These were hardened criminals operating in our midst."

Polishing the Rock
There are roughly 550 members of the Aryan Brotherhood in prison in Ohio, said Tony Delgado, the Ohio prison gang expert, and another 500 members on the streets who, like AB members everywhere, are bound by the gang's blood-and-honor code to follow the orders of their incarcerated leaders. According to a recently declassified FBI report on the Aryan Brotherhood, "The rule of thumb is that once on the streets, one must take care of his brothers that are still inside. The penalty for not doing so is death." This practice is known within the gang as "polishing the rock."

The rock is getting polished all over the country, even in Fairbanks, Alaska, a city of 30,000 deep in the interior of the Last Frontier. Sgt. William Hathaway, a security officer at the Fairbanks Correctional Center, said that an Aryan Brotherhood associate, or "Peckerwood," from the gang's Arkansas faction arrived in Fairbanks last year and began actively recruiting other Peckerwoods among the city's methamphetamine users and dealers to help set up an AB-financed drug ring. (Inside and outside prison, Peckerwoods are Aryan Brotherhood wannabes who do the gang's bidding in exchange for some degree of prestige, profit, and protection; occasionally a Peckerwood will become a full-fledged member, usually after carrying out a "hit" on an AB enemy.)

"He professes the Peckerwoods to be a 'white power gang,' and he is fairly successful in his efforts," said Sgt. Hathaway. "I have noticed several t-shirts lately with a woodpecker riding a motorcycle and the wording, 'Peckerwoods, this wood don't burn,' in our community this summer where none were noticed before."

Sgt. Hathaway said the Arkansas Peckerwood was imprisoned in Fairbanks after being convicted on a drug charge and is currently awaiting trial for plotting an escape in which he and 11 accomplices planned to murder correctional officers and Fairbanks patrolmen.

"He is continuing his recruiting within our facility," said Sgt. Hathway. "He corresponds with the local leader of the Aryan Brotherhood and counts several of the incarcerated Hell's Angels as his friends. He seems to be getting a large following within our prison."

Lightning Storm
There is no way to precisely estimate the number of Aryan Brotherhood members and associates in the United States. But there is little question about how far and wide the AB's lightning bolts strike. When the U.S. attorney's office in Santa Ana released the multiple death-penalty indictment, 30 of the 40 accused were already in prison, but the remaining 10 were arrested in simultaneous raids in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington.

And in January, in a dragnet similar to the Ohio bust, more than 70 federal, state and local officers swarmed three suspected AB haunts, including a motorcycle shop in Ruidoso Downs, N.M., a small town in the Rocky Mountains where newly released members of the Texas Aryan Brotherhood were allegedly setting up a burglary and methamphetamine-dealing ring. The month before in the nearby town of Cloudcroft, N.M., a local deputy was killed in a shootout with AB member Earl Flippen, whose arms were adorned with tattoos of Iron Eagles, dragons, skulls, and the motto 'White Pride." Flippen was wounded in the initial exchange of gunfire, then finished off with a single shot to the heart by the slain deputy's partner, a 33-year law enforcement veteran who subsequently pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Flippen had been out of prison less than six months.

By early September federal prosecutors had obtained guilty pleas from all 19 of the AB racketeering defendants who are not eligible for the death penalty. The remaining 21 defendants are scheduled to stand trial later this year. The final and lasting effect of the federal government's decapitation strike against the Aryan Brotherhood is unknown for now. But even if it deals a lethal blow to the gang's leadership, with thousands of rank-and-file members due for release from prison in the next decade, the death throes of the Aryan Brotherhood might be long and nasty.

"Someday most of us are finally going to get out of this hell," the AB hit man who murdered the leader of the D.C. Blacks in 1981 recently declared from solitary confinement. "And even a rational dog after getting kicked around year after year after year attacks when his cage door is finally opened."

Racism Rising in the Golden State

CHINO HILLS, Calif. -- Despite all their big talk of honor, pride and the Aryan warrior's code, neo-Nazi Skinheads don't like a fair fight. Cowards by nature, they prefer to travel in packs and gang up on hate crime victims. The trio of Nazi skins laying in wait near a playground in a park here the morning of May 1 proved no different.

Around 11 a.m. that Sunday, a 21-year-old black man from the nearby city of Diamond Bar arrived at the park with a group of foster children from a group home where the man volunteered as an activities coordinator. He'd brought the kids to play basketball. As the players divided into teams, according to witnesses and police reports, the Skinheads swaggered over. They called the foster home worker a "nigger." They told him he'd made a big mistake by showing up in their park that morning with a bunch of mongrel brats.

The subject of their taunts and threats hastily tried to gather his charges to leave, but the Skinheads surrounded him and then attacked. They thought the odds were three to one. But they were wrong. Several of the kids jumped into the fray. Seconds later, two more adult employees of the group home arrived in a separate vehicle and heard the intended victim yelling for help. They also joined the combat. The Skinheads suddenly found themselves badly outnumbered in a fight they'd started.

One of them ran for their car, jumped in, gunned the engine, and promptly crashed into a park bench, then a metal exercise station, then a concrete barrier, and then, at last, a tree. Unfortunately, the damage did not disable the vehicle, and the Nazi at the wheel was able to throw it in reverse then roar across a field and toward the cluster of kids and adults from the group home, who by then had beaten one of the remaining Skinheads to the ground and were physically restraining the other while they waited for the police to arrive (several bystanders had called 911 on mobile phones).

The first officers on the scene found the enraged driver of the battered car wheeling erratically around the park, chasing the kids and group home workers in a deadly game of tag. They immediately blocked his vehicle with their own and arrested him for attempted murder. The other two Skinheads were taken into custody on charges of aggravated assault (one of them escaped from a local hospital that night after being treated for his injuries). A spokesman for the Chino Hills Sheriff's Department described the 20-year-old Skinhead driver as "a known white supremacist" who had previously been arrested for several racially motivated attacks in San Bernardino County. "He places himself in places where minorities will be and makes slurs," the spokesman said. Police found neo-Nazi pamphlets, stickers, and patches inside his car.

The attack in Chino Hills, a suburban city with about 70,000 residents, was no isolated incident. It occurred in the heart of the Inland Empire, a booming region of Southern California where tract homes are cheap, the air is filthy, and white power violence is on the rise.

The new minority

Made up of an area stretching from western Riverside County to the southwest corner of San Bernardino County, the Inland Empire used to be a sparsely populated, rural area of ranches, vineyards and farms, where whites were the clear and dominant majority.

All that has changed.

Driven from Los Angeles and San Diego by soaring housing prices, middle- and working-class black, Hispanic and Asian families have migrated to the Inland Empire in massive numbers, drawn by a surplus of comparatively affordable, big homes in sprawling, suburban-style developments. The rolling, high-desert terrain of the Inland Empire is now studded with more than 50 small to mid-sized cities containing a combined population of roughly 3 million. This continuing exodus inland from Southern California's expensive coastal cities has fueled large-scale residential, commercial and industrial development in the region. Horse pastures and orange groves have been paved over for strip malls and chain restaurants. Simultaneously, the Inland Empire has experienced rapid demographic shifts as more and more minorities move into a region that has long been a hotbed of white supremacist activity. Between 1990 and 2000, the Inland Empire's white population increased only 7%, while the number of blacks grew 61%, Asians 62% and Latinos 82%.

Whites are now a minority in the Inland Empire.

These seismic changes in the region's racial make-up have corresponded with a steady rise in hate crimes, including a particularly vicious spike in racially motivated violence and harassment in the past two years. During that period, as hate crimes dropped 10% statewide in California, the number of reported hate crimes in the Inland Empire shot up 20%. Last year, there were 148 hate crimes reported in the Inland Empire, most of them committed by racist Skinheads and other white supremacists.

This year, this disturbing trend has shown no signs of abating.

In January, in just one example, a gang of 10 neo-Nazi Skinheads attacked three Hispanic men outside a topless bar in Redlands, yelling racial slurs while they knocked the men to the ground then kicked them mercilessly. One of the victims suffered a broken arm. All three were hospitalized.

"The unfortunate reality is that the Inland Empire is California's own northern Idaho," said John Ruiz, assistant Riverside County district attorney, who has successfully prosecuted several high-profile hate crimes, including one in 2002 when he sent five members of the neo-Nazi Western Hammerskins to prison for stomping a black man with combat boots and cutting him with razor blades. With that case, Ruiz basically ran the Hammerskins out of town. The gang subsequently moved its base of operations to Mesa, Ariz.

"A lot of people are moving out here, and some of them don't like rubbing elbows with ethnic minorities," Ruiz said. "It's a small but very vocal segment of our society."

And, too often, a very violent one.

Cow hands wanted

The brochure reads, "Welcome to the City of Lake Elsinore, among the fastest growing cities in Riverside County. Picturesque mountains, Southern California's largest natural lake and a strategic location along the booming I-15 corridor make Lake Elsinore unique. Value for industrial expansion and new businesses are cornerstones of our economic gardening strategy. Discover what over 38,045 residents already know -- Lake Elsinore's got more!"

Lake Elsinore's also got neo-Nazis.

In September 2003, three students were suspended from Lake Elsinore High School for hoisting a swastika banner up the school's flagpole during a patriotic assembly to commemorate the second anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. One of the students told a local newspaper, "I don't like black people."

And last June, on the second-to-last day of school, two Nazi Skinheads -- who were not students at Lake Elsinore High -- accosted two black male students who were walking across the school's parking lot with a white female friend who was also a student. One of the Skinheads pulled up his shorts to display tattoos on his legs of a swastika and an Iron Cross. When the targets of his scorn just kept walking, the Skinhead drew an ice pick, ran after them, and stabbed one of the males repeatedly while shouting, "Die, nigger!" The second Skinhead threatened the other two students with a claw hammer when they tried to come to their wounded friend's aid. The stabbing victim, a starting linebacker on the school's football team, was seriously injured but survived.

The Skinhead who wielded the ice pick, 19-year-old Armando Perez, appears Hispanic but insisted to police that he was white. He later pleaded guilty to aggravated felony hate crime assault. When the judge asked him if his crime was motivated by racial hatred, Perez replied, "It definitely was."

The Lake Elsinore assault took place 10 months after a comparable hate crime at a high school in Murietta Valley, a similarly sized, practically identical city that's just a short drive south on Interstate 15. In that case, a black basketball player at Murietta Valley High School was violently fouled by a white opponent in a game during which white fans yelled racial slurs from the stands. The next day, two white students attacked the ball player outside the high school principal's office, severely beating him while yelling more racial slurs. The attackers, then aged 14 and 17, pleaded guilty to assault and making racial threats, and served short sentences in a juvenile detention center.

At many Inland Empire high schools, racial conflicts arise when large numbers of incoming black and Hispanic students accustomed to urban environments undergo a clash of cultures with their new white classmates in semi-rural locales like Norco, a city of about 24,000 located 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles that still calls itself "Horse Town usa." Norco's official Web site plays "Ghost Riders in the Sky" as theme music, greets visitors with "Howdy, Partner!" and proclaims, "We are dedicated to providing a high quality of life while keeping our rural lifestyle." City jobs are listed under the header, "Cow Hands Wanted."

At Norco High School, two black female students who sat for lunch at a table in the shade that a group of white students told them was designated "Whites Only" last September were hit in the face with burritos and then punched in the face by two white males. A few days later, a group of white students beat another black student unconscious. Racist graffiti appeared on the school's walls. Yet another black student found song lyrics about shooting blacks placed on her desk.

"People of color move their families out here because they can get a house for the price of an apartment in the big cities on the coast, and because they think it's safer out here than the neighborhoods they can afford there. But a lot of times they get here and they find a different kind of danger, a different kind of tension," said Lorraine Watts, president of the NAACP in Lake Elsinore. "Truth is, they have second thoughts once they're here, and if they could afford housing elsewhere, a lot of them would leave."

'Forced integration'

From his home in Fallbrook, just south of the Inland Empire, notorious racist Tom Metzger has a front row seat to the rising racial hatred in his part of the world.

He likes what he sees.

"The chemistry out here is perfect for more and more racism," said Metzger, the leader of the white supremacist hate group White Aryan Resistance. "You've got all these non-whites moving here from Orange County and Los Angeles, trying to flee the crime perpetrated on them by their own kind in their ghettos, and when they come out here they're basically shoving forced integration down the throats of the whites who have traditional claim to this area, and that is provoking a negative racist reaction among whites, as it damn well should. It's great!"

Most locals don't share Metzger's enthusiasm.

Several Inland Empire school districts have formed diversity coalitions in hopes of curbing racial tension among students. Anti-racism community meetings in the Riverside County city of Hemet have drawn as many as 400 people, and last November more than 7,000 residents in Lake Elsinore -- nearly a fifth of the city's population -- marched down the city's main street to protest against racial violence in their community.

Not all such violence in Lake Elsinore or elsewhere in the Inland Empire is committed by whites. In 2003, four racially motivated fights between blacks and Hispanics broke out on campus at Hemet High School, resulting in mass suspensions, and last May, shouted racial slurs between black and Hispanic students at Temescal Canyon High School in Lake Elsinore escalated into a brawl involving 200 students. And this May, three Hispanic youths chased down a 15-year-old high school freshman and stabbed him to death outside his home in Corona in what prosecutors have termed a racially motivated homicide. The three made racially derogatory statements while their victim lay dying.

But by far most of the hate crimes in the Inland Empire are white-on-black or white-on-Hispanic. The most recently reported of these crimes occurred July 10, when four Skinheads with "White Power" tattoos and swastika patches repeatedly drove past a Hispanic family's home in Hemet, shouting slurs and threats while brandishing knives. After the family called for help, police officers tracked down the Skinheads and arrested them for making terrorist threats with a hate crime enhancement. According to an investigative report, the Skinheads denied being members of any organized white power gang. They told the officers they were "just proud about being members of the Aryan race."

Public enemies

In November 2003, the fbi formed a task force with the Riverside and San Bernardino County sheriff's departments that was designed to crack down on neo-Nazi Skinhead and other white power gangs in the Inland Empire, including the High Desert Freak Boys and the Angry Nazi Soldiers.

Since then, the task force has arrested more than 60 individuals associated with white power hate groups on charges including illegal weapons possession, drug dealing, and hate crime violence. The task force has also seized more than 15,000 rounds of ammunition; more than 75 firearms, many of which had been illegally converted to fully automatic; a half-dozen stolen cars; bulletproof vests; a pharmacopeia of methamphetamine, hallucinogenic mushrooms, steroids and marijuana; and enough swastika flags, Hitler youth banners, knock-off SS daggers, WWII German army helmets, and white supremacist propaganda to fill a Dumpster.

"Sixty years after the discovery of Auschwitz, I'm amazed we're still fighting this garbage in our country," said San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department spokesman Tom Freeman.

Last November, one of 19 alleged white supremacists arrested on drugs and firearms charges was an assistant football coach at Paloma Valley High School in Menifee, which is near Hemet. According to investigators, the coach had supplied players with steroids and had recruited several of them, along with other Menifee and Hemet teenagers, to join a heavily armed white supremacist group affiliated with the growing neo-Nazi Skinhead prison gang Public Enemy Number One. The football coach is a convicted felon and has a prison tattoo of a swastika on his stomach below the letters S.W.P. for "Supreme White Power." He said the arsenal of rifles and handguns police found in his house were for hunting rabbits and coyotes. Prosecutors charged him with illegal possession of firearms anyway, perhaps swayed from leniency by the numerous photos also discovered at the coach's house. The pictures appeared to have been taken at a series of neo-Nazi rallies held at rural locations in Riverside County. In one, two 12-year-old girls salute a swastika flag.

Riverside County Sheriff Bob Doyle said the amount of white power literature seized from the coach's house is the most he's seen in three decades of law enforcement.

"Hate groups such as these endanger lives," he said. "These types of people are trying to find a refuge here, and we're trying to stop it."