A Whiter Shade of Christmas
|As the holidays draw near, Women for Aryan Unity keeps busy sending Christmas cards to incarcerated white supremacists and raising money for needy Aryans.||
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The holiday song "White Christmas" is a favorite among the white supremacist set, for obvious reasons. May your days be merry and bright / And may all your Christmases be white. Put into the context of white nationalism, the tune becomes a jolly anthem for white pride and privilege. And don't think that racist activists can't be jolly or share a little holiday cheer.
In fact, there is an international organization of white supremacist women who devote their energies to holiday activities such as sending Christmas cards to their incarcerated "brothers," and raising money for needy Aryans. This year Women for Aryan Unity (WAU) is holding its 15th annual Yulefund, which has purportedly raised $2,000 over the last three years to buy gifts for children of incarcerated white supremacists. Women for Aryan Unity also publishes a cookbook, sends welcome packages to new mothers, and runs an Aryan Clothing Drive.
The idea of a nurturing neo-Nazi or a charitable skinhead is incompatible with most people's conception of racist activists. After all, a hate group is all about hate, right? Well, yes and no. For many women in the white supremacist movement, their public actions involve the nurturing of their own group. These facilitators of fundraisers, contributors to clothes drives, and community builders represent the "softer side" of hate. They are the "housewives who hate" as one person sarcastically noted on a white nationalist message board. While their actions may be more benign than that of their male counterparts, they are not necessarily less harmful.
WAU's charitable activities are "a way to try to keep the racist movement alive and try to paint [racist inmates] as heroes," said sociologist Kathleen Blee, a leading researcher of hate groups. With the supportive admirers and mother figures WAU provides, prisoners are encouraged to stay active in their racist groups and continue their attacks on blacks and Jews from inside the walls of prison. Perhaps worse, the children of the incarcerated men are ensured a continuing Aryan influence. Women for Aryan Unity, and other female activists, are nurturing new generations of white supremacists in the spirit of a favorite Nazi Party maxim, "In the hand and in the nature of woman lies the preservation of our race."
Diversity Among Racists
Women for Aryan Unity is based in the most urban and international of places, Brooklyn, New York. The group itself is a testament to the ironic fact that, despite its disgust for multi-culturalism and diversity, the world of white supremacy is diverse. Racist activism crosses geographic, class and gender lines perhaps now more than ever before.
"The stereotype of racist groups all being like the Klan -- rural and southern -- is not true anymore," said Blee, noting that the largely urban Nazi and skinhead groups are the most active part of the white nationalist movement. A fast-growing online message board called Stormfront White Nationalist Community is a testament to this new generation of racists.
Stormfront's online community acts as a virtual meeting place for all types of white supremacists, and represented on its pages are all flavors of racist, from those who prefer not to join any organization to the committed members of the National Socialists. While everyone adheres to a doctrine of white supremacy, they have differing ideologies and tactics. Some are supposedly Christian-based, others are more pagan. Some play with radical ideas like joining forces with black separatist groups in order to gain more legitimacy; others berate anyone who has sympathy for the "enemy" races. Gender roles and feminism are hot topics -- one recent string of posts argued over the validity of New York Times columnist's Maureen Dowd's book "Are Men Necessary?"
Clearly, white supremacists are not a monolithic group. During research for her 2002 book, "Inside Organized Racism: Women and the Hate Movement," Blee found that the public's preconceptions about racist activists, and specifically about racist women, were skewed. After interviewing 34 white nationalist women, she wrote that "many did not fit common stereotypes about racist women as uneducated, marginal members of society raised in terrible families and lured into racist groups by boyfriends and husbands." In fact, most of Blee's research subjects were educated middle-class women with decent jobs, and many came to racist activism on their own.
Reportedly, the numbers of women involved in hate groups has risen. In 1980, Klansman David Duke launched a campaign to recruit women to the white supremacist movement. Others followed suit, hoping that a new influx of members would reinvigorate their ranks. It was believed that women would be less likely to become police informants, since they are less likely to have criminal records.
"We have seen women take more of a prominent role in recent years as [hate groups] are more starved for members," said Joe Roy, Chief Investigator for the Intelligence Project, which tracks about 700 hate groups across the U.S. While many women have joined into co-ed skinhead, neo-Nazi or Christian racist groups, others have opted to form their own organizations, like WAU. In 1990, the Intelligence Project began tracking Women for Aryan Unity, which, said Roy, currently has at least six active chapters in the U.S.
Part of the reason for the rise of women-only groups may be due to a delayed battle of the sexes. The traditional role of white nationalist women is to give birth to and homeschool as many white babies as possible, but many ladies aren't so keen on this idea and often challenge their lower status. An Australian WAU chapter recently told its members to buck up, even if their husbands, fathers or boyfriends don't want them involved:
"We have been told that several men in our movement 'scoff' at our work and our magazine, we have even been told that these men don't want their women to be involved! Perhaps these men need to take a good look at themselves, it would seem they're in the wrong movement! Perhaps they feel threatened that their women's knowledge might far exceed their own! Either way, these men should be ashamed of their hypocritical actions."
While part of WAU's mission is to redefine feminism among white nationalists, the projects it publicly advertises are domestic in nature -- a clothing drive, a cookbook, and the annual Yulefund.
Giving Back, the White Supremacist Way
Appeals for WAU's Yulefund are posted repeatedly on Stormfront, where there are sub-boards for members to discuss topics ranging from self-defense and ideology to dating and poetry. Many of the women among Stormfront's 52,463 registered members subscribe to a homemaking message board, a strange window into the kitchens and living rooms of white nationalist families. The normalcy of the posts is eerie. Between cupcake recipes, tips on how to train a puppy and birthday congratulations are rants about the "mudding" of America and the genetic inferiority of Jews and African-Americans.
The women posting to the Stormfront board, and those involved with Women for Aryan Unity, are remarkable only for their racist views. A hospital worker and mother in New York City recently posted a nasty rant about African-American panhandlers. A 34-year-old New Jersey mom and member of Women for Aryan Unity admitted online that she used to tear down posters celebrating African-American history month. Another woman involved in WAU activities is a former nanny who had worked for "non-racialist" families, which she found difficult to do. As one WAU woman, identified only by her screen name as MistWraith, wrote to me:
"Granted, not many women have our views, but scratch that and we're not much different than a lot of women. Most of us work, go to school, eat regularly, interact with people, are married, live in houses, some are professional, some are stay-at-home moms, some are Jills of all trades, etc. We're all different kinds of women... If you're expecting a bunch of high school dropouts living under the thumb of some abusive drunk with no teeth, you're looking in the wrong place."
Indeed, the WAU website describes its members as "normal" looking women, mostly former skinheads, who now "blend in with society." The group is comprised of rural, suburban and urban women around the world. The Yulefund, MistWraith wrote, is "not different than any other kind of fundraiser you've seen, except they're for white families. That's all you need to know."
The major difference between this fundraiser and the one put on by your local church is that WAU raises money to "purchase and send Yuletide gifts to the families of our Prisoners of War." These white nationalist "P.O.W.s," many of whom are serving time for firearms convictions, are white supremacist activists linked to violent crimes.
Take Chester Doles, a fourth-generation Ku Klux Klansman whom WAU paints as a prisoner of (race) war. Doles was a Georgia leader of the National Alliance, a white supremacist organization that government authorities consider dangerous. In the 1990s, he was convicted and served prison time for felony counts of battery and burglary. In 2003, he was arrested again and convicted of illegal possession of firearms; Doles is now serving a 70-month sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Manchester, Kentucky. Another interesting tidbit: Doles reportedly owned a video game called "Ethnic Cleansing," in which the object was to hunt down blacks and Jews. A perfect Aryan recipient of the Yulefund, apparently.
Multiple white supremacist organizations view Doles as a political prisoner who was "silenced" by the state for his racist activities. Along with WAU, the National Vanguard is also raising money for Doles, whom they describe as "a family man, a loving husband, and a great father to his children." They ask people to "cheer up" the convict this Christmas by contributing funds.
Gary Yarbrough, another "P.O.W." supported by Women for Aryan Unity, is serving a 25-year sentence for shooting at FBI agents, illegally possessing explosives and firearms, including a submachine gun that police said was used in the 1984 murder of Denver talk show host Alan Berg. (Two other white supremacists were convicted of that murder, and Yarborough has denied involvement. All three men were members of The Order, a white supremacist "brotherhood.")
Women for Aryan Unity also sends Christmas gifts to the young son of Mark Gaudin, a National Alliance member who was killed in 2002 during an apparent robbery. Three black men were accused of the crime; one was convicted of capital murder in 2004. Gaudin, a taxi driver and maker of Aryan T-shirts, is considered a martyr for the cause of white supremacy. His family is only one of 22 recipients of the Yulefund this year.
Antidotes to Hate
What can advocates of peace and tolerance do with the uncomfortable knowledge that dedicated racists live quietly among us? How do we deal with the fact that there are some people with hidden ways of showing their hate, like the New York City nurse who hastily stitches up a black woman's wound in a way that will definitely leave a scar. Or the tech support guy who runs the server for a neo-Nazi website from his home. Or the nanny who works on a fundraiser for violent racists in her spare time.
First, remember that the results of a Google search of "neo-Nazi" or "white supremacy" have been designed to scare.
"You can't take what they say on their website at face value," said Kathleen Blee. "It's just propaganda. A lot of these groups do websites to be provocative, kind of as a low level terrorism." Because so much of the racist community is online, the physical presence of a WAU chapter in your town probably poses no threat. Personally, I gave out my name, phone number and email address to multiple WAU members in my area, with no response. The only responses I received to my interview requests were via the Stormfront message board, a familiar and comfortable setting for dedicated racists where some berated me for being part of the "jewmedia" and others calmly deliberated their thoughts.
Perhaps the best defense against the spread of racist activism is the nurturing of a healthy, multi-ethnic youth culture. Like any group, a lot of what racist organizations have to offer is social: parties, friends and identity. If white kids are encouraged to engage in social activities that are multi-cultural, inter-faith and tolerant they will be less likely to be enticed by a free skinhead concert. Research suggests that committed racists are made, not born, and most members of racist groups become radicalized once they enter a group setting that encourages racist attitudes, so preventing recruitment into racist groups is key.
There are ample materials to help parents and caregivers with the task. The Anti-Defamation League recommends a book titled, "Hate Hurts: How Children Learn and Unlearn Prejudice" and a brochure for youth called, "Close the Book on Hate: 101 Ways to Combat Prejudice." Both are available through the Anti-Defamation League website and at Barnes and Noble.
The best and worst thing to keep in mind is that subtle, everyday racism is widespread, while intense organized hate is fairly rare. Rather than simply hating the haters, the Southern Poverty Law Center encourages the general public to promote racial and ethnic tolerance in general, daily ways. Tolerance.org offers practical steps to do this through its 10 Ways to Fight Hate, and suggestions on how to respond to bigoted comments.
In the meantime, you can dedicate your holiday activities to tolerance by giving a year-end gift to one of the many anti-hate organizations and donating to a clothes drive that helps people of all colors. And, for God's sake, please don't sing "White Christmas."
Maria Luisa Tucker is an AlterNet staff writer.