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U.S. neo-Nazi groups are deeply divided and poorly organized

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'Commander' Jeff Schoep leads members of his National Socialist Movement in a stiff-armed 'heil' on Capitol Hill on April 19 (Photo by Zachary Goelman)

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Forty members of the National Socialist Movement, a U.S. neo-Nazi group, marched from the Washington Monument to Capitol Hill on April 19 under the protection of hundreds of police officers. (Photo by Zachary Goelman)

Hundreds of police officers lined the sides of Constitution Avenue to ensure that the National Socialist Movement, considered the largest neo-Nazi organization in the U.S., could march from the Washington Monument to Capitol Hill. Over 100 counter-protesters stood on the sidewalks chanting for the neo-Nazis to go home. An armored police bus pulled up and discharged its controversial cargo: fewer than 40 members of the white supremacist group.

The National Socialist Movement could muster only a small cadre of activists for the “March Against Illegal Immigration,” on April 19. It was meant to be the first “major” rally by a neo-Nazi group in the capital since an attempt in 1999 was called off because of even lower member turnout.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that monitors and pursues legal action against hate groups, says that while groups like the NSM have shot up in membership, these groups are divided and disorganized. Some previously large white supremacist groups like the Aryan Nations are now a shadow of their former selves. Power struggles within the National Socialist Movement, including the defection of several high-profile members, have depleted its ranks. Some former members went on to form their own groups, or join rival organizations. Others turned out to be FBI informants.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, what it characterizes as “hate groups” have grown by 48 percent since 2000--from 602 organizations and chapters to 888. Based in Montgomery, Ala., the center considers organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, skinheads, black separatists and other racist networks to be hate groups. Mark Potok, who heads up the Intelligence Report, said he lacks real membership numbers and much of the data comes from watching the spread of new chapters across the country.

“A chapter can be as few as two people, or as many as a hundred,” Potok said. Overall, he estimates that the National Socialist Movement’s members number in “the hundreds.”

He says that the groups are particularly successful at online recruitment.

“When it comes to the Internet, white supremacists have always been ahead of the curve in Web-savvy,” he said. The best-known white supremacist Internet forum is Stormfront.org, which was launched in 1995 by former Ku Klux Klan leader and American Nazi Party member Don Black. David Duke, another former Ku Klux Klan leader, frequently uses Stormfront.org to post his writings. The site claims 21,500 active members.

But some don’t find Stormfront.org extreme enough and have started their own Web sites. The National Socialist Movement has done just that. Its online members noted derisively that Stormfront.org no longer allows members to use the Swastika symbol in their avatars.

“Stormfront only goes so far,” said Hal Turner, a white supremacist radio host based in Bergen County, N.J. “You don’t change political discourse in cyberspace. There is a growing gap between Stormfront and other white power groups.”

Turner thinks more highly of NewSaxon.org, the social networking site of the National Socialist Movement, which is modeled on the popular MySpace.com platform. It claims over 4,200 members.

Members of NewSaxon.org post pictures and share their favorite music. “Aryan Girl” by the band Achtung Juden, is a popular love ballad, and contains the line “you’re my Eva Braun.” One member from Harrison, Ark., who joined under the user name ‘KKKKnights,’ says his turn-ons include “all things white.” Another user, named skin_head88, from the town of Pittsburg, Kan., lists his turn-offs as “race traitors, Jews” and people of color.

But despite the online growth, the fact that only 40 members showed for the Washington march illustrates what many call the dwindling strength of that movement. Detractors allege that under its commander, Jeff Schoep, the movement has lost its way.

“I know Jeff Schoep,” said William A. White, of Roanoke, Va., who left the National Socialist Movement in July 2006 to form his own neo-Nazi group, the American National Socialist Workers Party. “He doesn’t have a strong grip on ideological issues,”

White watched the news coverage of his former colleagues marching in Washington.

“I was surprised that Jeff Schoep brought out anyone at all,” he said. The movement is so fractured right now, said White, that “there’s no clear leader in the field.”

But the malaise of the neo-Nazis doesn’t mean they’re harmless. In 2005, the National Socialist Movement marched through a poor, predominantly black neighborhood in Toledo, Ohio. Sensing a riot, the police evacuated the neo-Nazis. The protestors in Toledo turned on the police, and 110 people were arrested--none of them white supremacists.

The “March Against Illegal Immigration” in Washington, D.C., showcased the National Socialist Movement’s attempt to participate in mainstream political discourse. Sensing that illegal immigration is keystone issue in the coming election year the neo-Nazi group has tried to join anti-immigration movements.

Schoep said his message was simple: “Send immigrants home.”

“But it’s not about all immigrants,” Potok said. “It’s about brown people.” The anti-immigration issue has risen to the forefront of white supremacist ideology. The National Socialist Movement claims its members have joined up with volunteer Minutemen patrols along the U.S.-Mexico border. But despite appeals to patriotism, and “defending” the U.S. against illegal “invaders,” the National Socialist Movement’s continued use of the Nazi flag, portraits of Adolf Hitler, and racist ideology haven’t earned them the praise of any major political figure or candidate in the country.

Even within the neo-Nazi community, the National Socialist Movement is reviled for its penchant for Nazi paraphernalia.

David Duke and William Pierce, the late leader of the Aryan Nations (once a powerhouse of racist white nationalism) sneeringly called members of the National Socialist Movement “Hollywood Nazis,” because they continued to dress in the classic 1930s German regalia with brown shirts and red swastika armbands.

It seems the NSM took that criticism seriously. The night before they marched in Washington, they met for their national convention, dressed in traditional Nazi outfits. But at that meeting they unveiled their new look: sleek black fatigues. At the march, Schoep proudly debuted the fashion.

“We’re modernizing,” he said.

E-mail: zlg2103@columbia.edu