Assessing the Militant White Separatist Movement
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Madeleine Gruen, CTR Vantage
Today the militant white separatist movement faces leadership and organizational challenges: after the deaths and arrests of significant movement leaders over the past decade, it is fractured and appears poorly led. Further, the movement's recruitment and training capabilities appear relatively crude, and it lacks a unified ideological outlook. However, it would be a mistake to conclude from this that the American white separatist movement will remain incapable of orchestrating violence on a large scale. A confluence of factors producing discontent with the status quo are likely to bolster the movement, including the present economic crisis, the migration of jobs overseas, and the fears and concerns produced by demographic trends that suggest whites will become a minority in the United States by 2050.
Indeed, most observers believe there has been an increase in support for the white separatist movement in recent years. This article assesses the current state of the movement by evaluating its operating environment, the competing strategies of top-down leadership and leaderless resistance, circulation of the movement's core doctrine, training and access to weapons, and tactical and strategic successes.
An important factor that will contribute to an extremist group's success is a favorable operating environment. An environment is considered favorable if it provides the qualities necessary for a group or movement to sustain operations, and to eventually achieve its objectives. Some factors include a population that is ideologically supportive, and from which the movement may recruit members; a safe haven or protection from adversaries (in this case, the U.S. government); ability to train operatives; and the ability to access weapons and material necessary to launch attacks.
The environment in which the white separatist movement operates is decidedly mixed. On the one hand, the overall social tide in America appears to be moving against an agenda of white separatism or white supremacy. This is reflected, among other things, in the fact that the voting public elected an African-American president who hung his campaign platform on the concepts of hope and change. Further, demographic measurements show the country will only become more ethnically and racially diverse over time.
But paradoxically, the movement can also draw strength from these factors. Demographic trends give rise to fears and concerns in segments of the white population; in some ways Obama's election has magnified rather than diminished racial tensions; and political issues that have drawn people to the white separatist movement (such as immigration and gun control) have only been thrown into sharper relief. Moreover, the economy remains sick, with seventeen states having an unemployment rate of over 10%. The poor economic future that whites face as the country changes has long been a theme that movement leaders believe draws people to white separatism. As one movement publication, The Truth at Last, stated:
Immigrants are flooding into our nation willing to work for the minimum wage (or
less). Super-rich corporate executives are flying all over the world in search
of cheaper and cheaper labor so that they can "lay off" their American
employees.... [M]any young White families have no future! They are not going to
receive any appreciable wage increases due to job competition from
immigrants-meaning both legal and illegal immigrants!
Similarly, Bobby Norton of the Aryan Nations told researchers Betty Dobratz and Stephanie Shanks-Meile in the 1990s: "I think the economy is going to get really bad so that's also going to bring a lot of suffering on us but it is going to make our ranks swell." It is obvious why the movement would focus on the economy: as conditions worsen, the U.S. government may lose the population's support. Pockets may become increasingly disgruntled and prone to aggressive, possibly even violent, expression of discontent. Riots may lead to government crackdowns, which would further erode trust in government. We spoke recently with Tom Metzger, a veteran of the white separatist movement and founder of the White Aryan Resistance, who sees even riots within the black community as a possible call to action for white separatists. "We're waiting for the system itself to tip," he said. "They're the ones who are going to become more brutal, more oppressive." Hypothesizing that the unemployment rate among African-Americans in the Detroit area would lead to unrest, Metzger said: "The government will come in and show its face. That will be the ‘go' signal for us to defend ourselves."
Unlike such militant Islamist groups as al-Qaeda, the white separatist movement is unlikely to have a solid base of operations or clearly assigned field bases from which to maintain a sustained military campaign. This will impede the implementation of any long-term strategy.
Leadership vs. Leaderless Resistance
Over the past decade, most of the high-profile leaders of the white separatist movement have either died or been incarcerated, including William Pierce, founder of the National Alliance (NA) and author of influential novel The Turner Diaries; Richard Butler, founder of the Aryan Nations; and Matthew Hale, leader of the World Church of the Creator (now known as the Creativity Movement). Many of the larger groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and NA have lost members as a result of the void in leadership, or have fragmented due to infighting.
T.J. Leyden, author of Skinhead Confessions: From Hate to Hope and former member of the Hammerskin Nation, says the KKK is now considered "a joke" in the white separatist movement. Among other reasons for this, it is no longer a unified organization and its various branches cannot agree on leadership, strategy, or tactics. Some separatists believe the KKK is not doing anything to further "the cause," but is merely collecting membership dues. Leyden observes that the movement's contemporary leaders are, overall, less educated than the leaders of ten or twenty years ago. Further, Leyden assesses that the movement is disjointed in terms of ideology, methods of operation, and even strategic objectives-a condition, he says, that could be resolved with the emergence of strong leadership.
The void in charismatic and conspicuous leadership within the white separatist movement may in part be due to specific strategic choices. It may be that the white separatist movement has moved away from a hierarchical, pyramid-style organizational model to a more flexible model that resembles a "chain network." This would suggest the adoption of leaderless resistance as a strategy, something that certain key white separatist intellectual leaders have advocated for some time. The leadership void clearly cannot be completely attributed to a strategy of leaderless resistance: too many within the movement are skeptical of such an organizing principle. But leaderless resistance does offer some clear advantages: among other things, it minimizes the chance of white separatists being netted by a RICO prosecution, makes it more difficult for lawyers like Morris Dees to bring civil lawsuits against the movement, and makes infiltration with informants more difficult.
Circulation of Core Doctrine
Another condition that can be seen as a weakness in the white separatist movement is the lack of circulation of new ideas, and lack of effort to package the core ideology in fresh ways. At one time, the white separatist movement was on the cutting edge of new and alternative media. One example is the production and distribution of white power music, which helped the movement maintain currency with younger generations. Another was the success of the anti-Semitic Liberty Lobby, which had 300,000 paid subscribers to its flagship publication at its height in the early 1980s, while "410 radio stations broadcast Liberty Lobby's daily program."
To be sure, the movement does make use of some vibrant means of social networking. The National Socialist Movement (NSM), for example, runs a social networking site at www.newsaxon.org. It offers users the opportunity to create personal home pages, participate in polls, access white separatist-interest blogs, videos, and other forms of new media. But while social networking and the ongoing production of white power music continue to be effective indoctrination tools, there is little evidence of further innovation.
Training and Access to Weapons and Explosives
It has frequently been suggested that hate groups have a larger presence in the military than ever before. Multiple reasons have been given for this claim. For hate groups, there would be a clear advantage to military enlistment: military experience would give white separatists more sophisticated tactical capabilities, including knowledge of urban warfare strategy, bomb-making, firearms, intelligence collection, and counter-intelligence operations. This would be of special value because, as previously noted, the white separatist movement lacks a natural geographical safe haven. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) contends that "thousands of neo-Nazis and other white supremacists" are currently serving in the armed forces. Tom Metzger concurs that there are many white separatists in the military, but says it is impossible to give a precise number because many supporters do not overtly advertise their affiliations.
Over the past year, white separatists have been involved in many violent crimes, most of which have been categorized as inter-gang violence. The weapons of choice in these incidents were mostly small arms, knives, metal pipes, sledgehammers, brass knuckles, and the like. As Metzger wrote:
We are becoming a knife and ‘edged blade' society. Carry a legal length knife
and know how to use it. Box cutters come in all sizes and are a good defense
item. They are disposable and cheap, and are more easily explained. In a pinch,
there are dozens of weapons lying around: rocks, bottles, bricks, lumber,
anything just lying around. In a riot with the JDL a few years ago a comrade
used a floor standing ashtray to nearly beat a Jew attacker to death. A
carpenter carries tools of the trade. Hammers are deadly. An auto mechanic
carries tools; a pipe wrench can ruin the day of an attacker. Almost anything
feasibly can be used as a weapon. Pencils or ballpoint pens used properly will
also ruin an attackers [sic] day.
In recent years, there have been isolated cases of white separatist movement supporters seeking to fabricate or obtain weapons of mass destruction. In December 2008, Amber Cummings shot her husband, James Cummings, in the head twice as he slept. The subsequent investigation revealed that James had subjected his wife to years of abuse, and that he had dark obsessions with child pornography, Adolph Hitler, and Nazi memorabilia. Investigators also recovered the component parts of a radiological dispersal device, as well as bomb-making instructions. Amber Cummings told police that her husband was very upset over Barack Obama's election, and her comments suggested that he may have intended to attack the newly-elected president. While it did not appear that Cummings was a member of any white separatist organization at the time of his death, his wife confirmed that he had "been in contact" with groups. Investigators found a completed application for NSM member in Cummings's home.
In 2004, Tennessee farm hand Demetrius Van Crocker sought to purchase the ingredients to make Sarin gas. He described himself to an FBI undercover agent as a former member of NSM, and said he intended to attack federal courthouses. He claimed he was not a "ruthless murderer," but felt action had to be taken against the government. In a recorded conversation, Crocker said he dreamed of setting off a dirty bomb at the U.S. Capitol, and wanted a helicopter license so he could bomb black neighborhoods or spray them with poison gas. Regarding the prospect of "collateral" deaths, Crocker said:
It can't be helped. And the way things is now, everybody hollered about what
Timothy McVeigh done, and I said, well, I don't like the government, anything
associated with the government-a building. I don't want my kids around it, cuz I
know how I feel about the government, you know? And you top all that now. They
ain't gotta worry about home terrorists. Look at the [sic] al-Qaeda. I mean,
would you want your kids around a government building right now? School's bad
Tactical and/or Strategic Successes
To date, white separatists have not had a true strategic success, an identifiable moment that moved them closer to achieving their political objectives. It remains to be seen whether their operational capabilities grow to the point where they can experience strategic successes. Though movement adherents continually perpetrate violent crime, their attacks have done little to further their cause-and in fact, some of these actions can be viewed as detrimental to the movement.
89-year old James von Brunn, who died in a prison hospital on January 6, 2010, opened fire in Washington, D.C.'s United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in June 2009, killing security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns. Von Brunn was a long-time fixture in the white separatist movement, running a web site called Holy Western Empire that promoted the idea of a Jewish conspiracy to destroy the "white gene pool." Rather than resulting in celebration among white separatists, the event resulted in consternation about Von Brunn's apparent lack of a "game plan," and concerns about a crackdown on white nationalists. One representative comment on the popular white separatist chat forum Stormfront read:
What happened to grandpa, why did he snap? Maybe he didn't like the idea of
winding up in an old folks [sic] home. It seems he was a vet. He must have
forgot [sic] all his training. There was no planning in his attack, no mass
kill, no massive destruction, one for one? At least McViegh [sic] went out with
a bang, and the Hero Robert Matthews had a game plan.
There are numerous ways to assess the current status of the white separatist movement. Four possibilities are:
1. The white separatist movement is a loaded gun that is simply waiting for a strong leader to pull the trigger by unifying the disparate factions. It has the capabilities and intentions to instigate major violence in the United States, but requires command and control in order determine the right moment to act, and in order to carry off attacks in a sustained and protracted way.
2. The white separatist movement is more unified than it appears on the surface in terms of its strategy and objectives, and the trigger will be pulled once a clear and universally understood "tipping point" becomes apparent to supporters. Social and economic conditions in the U.S. could degrade to the point where there is such a clear moment for action. Organized group factions and "lone wolves" will act in a "swarming" fashion once the "go" sign is evident.
3. The white separatist movement is not unified and does not have the ability to pose a sustained threat to national security at present, but its cause has been fueled by the bad economy and growing immigrant population in the United States. Whites who currently would not consider participating in the movement may feel compelled to become more active in the future.
4. The white separatist movement is disjointed because its ideology, strategy, and objectives are not consistently defined, and there is no real innovation in propaganda methods. The movement will fail to make a significant political impact because the tide of American sentiment is shifting away from white separatist-type grievances. They do not have the capacity or capability to artificially degrade support for the government. Individual members or small groups may become impatient that the "white revolution" will not occur in their lifetime, and their frustration will compel them to commit random acts of violence that will be horrible, but will not serve to further the movement's cause as a whole.
The white separatist movement has a substantial support base in the United States, and the current economic and political climate appears to favor its growth. Regardless of which of these hypotheses prove true, the bottom line is that groups and individuals who embrace hatred as an ideology are dangerous. Over the past nine years that the U.S. has battled Islamist terrorism, authorities have learned to "listen to the rhetoric." The same principle must be applied to racist groups in the United States.
 In dealing with violent racially-based American movements-as when dealing with terrorist groups who claim their inspiration from Islam-there is a significant question about what to call them. We employ the term "white separatist" because it seems to best convey the dominant present goals of the movement: rather than seeking a racially diverse state with the white race at the top, movement members are more interested in producing a homogenous state consisting only of non-Jewish whites. Of course, there also continue to be supremacist strains within the movement as well.
 See Jeffrey Passel & D'Vera Cohn, "Immigration to Play a Lead Role in Future U.S. Growth," Pew Research Center, Feb. 11, 2008.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor, "Current Unemployment Rates for States and Historical High/Lows," accessed Jan. 27, 2010.
 Quoted in Betty A. Dobratz & Stephanie L. Shanks-Meile, The White Separatist Movement in the United States (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), p. 115.
 Ibid., p. 259.
 Authors' telephone interview with Tom Metzger, Dec. 22, 2009.
 Authors' telephone interview with T.J. Leyden, Dec. 12, 2009.
 See John Arquilla & David Ronfeldt, "The Advent of Netwar (Revisited)," Networks and Netwars (Washington, DC: RAND, 2001), p. 7.
 For a key text in this regard, see Louis Beam, "Leaderless Resistance," The Seditionist, Feb. 1992; see also the article on leaderless resistance in this issue.
 Morris Dees is the co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has brought a series of landmark lawsuits against racist organizations and individuals.
 Leonard Zeskind, Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2009), p. 32. For much more on the Liberty Lobby, see George Michael, Willis Carto and the American Far Right (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2008).
 Letter from J. Richard Cohen, Chief Executive Officer of the Southern Poverty Law Center, to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, July 7, 2006.
 Authors' telephone interview with Tom Metzger, Dec. 22, 2009.
 See the Anti-Defamation League's Action Center for Extremism web site for a comprehensive description of incidents involving hate groups in the past year, available at http://www.adl.org/main_Extremism/default.htm (accessed Jan. 7, 2009).
 Tom Metzger, "Mini-Manual for Survival," The Insurgent, Apr. 2003.
 Clarke Canfield, "Maine Woman Avoids Prison for Killing Husband," Associated Press, Jan. 7, 2010.
 Walter Griffin, "Dirty Bomb Parts Found in Slain Man's Home," Bangor Daily News, Feb. 10, 2009.
 "Anti-Government White Supremacist Guilty," Associated Press, Apr. 14, 2006.
 John Branston, "Homegrown Terrorist," Memphis Flyer, Apr. 20, 2006.
 Robert Jay Mathews was a founding member of the group The Order, which engaged in a string of robberies as well as counterfeiting operations designed to fund the white separatist movement in the early-to-mid 1980s. The Order was also responsible for the murders of one of its own members for "talking too much" and Denver radio show host Alan Berg. Mathews died in 1984 after a 36-hour standoff with police in Washington.
 Posting by Bohemianh, June 10, 2009.