A white supremacist group plans to stage an anti-illegal immigration rally in Riverside this weekend. It’s the second one held by members of the Detroit-based National Socialist Movement in the past month. Police broke up the first rally after the group clashed with hundreds of counter-protesters.
Only eight members of the National Socialist Movement showed up for the September rally outside a Home Depot store in Riverside, chanting over a megaphone, “American jobs for American People," and "White power! White power! White Power!”
The group was drowned out by counter-protesters banging drums, pots, and pans, and chanting “Nazis go home!” There was a lot of shouting, and stiff-arm Nazi salutes. A swastika flag was set on fire. Police broke up a couple of scuffles. The neo-Nazis left after about 45 minutes.
To the National Socialist Movement, it was a rousing success. Even though the Riverside Police Department said there were no serious fights and no one brandished a weapon, the NSM's Web site refers to the “Great 8” as proud street warriors who stood their ground against machete-wielding, rock throwing "illegal immigrants, Jews, and homosexuals".
National Socialist Movement state president Jeff Hall says he is humbled in their presence. “They’re proud of who they are, tired of white guilt being shoved on their kids, and multiculturalism,” said Hall, wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with the NSM’s swastika-stars and stripes shield. “They can’t see any reason for it.”
Hall wasn’t at last month’s rally. “Car trouble”, he says. He set up the group’s California headquarters in Riverside last year. He’s a tall, burly skinhead with a German military Iron Cross tattooed on the back of his skull. He’s raising his family in Riverside.
“I think Riverside was waiting for something like this. I’d like to see it cleaned up,” says Hall. “And I see on so many street corners groups of Hispanics, most of whom you can assume came here illegally. In times when we’ve been hit so hard with the recession and job losses, we’re standing up for American workers.”
To be exact, that’s white American workers like Jeff Hall, a plumber. The National Socialist Movement’s guiding principles, founded on the Nazi Party’s “25 Points,” are clear – only those of “pure White blood may be members of the nation.”
Brian Levin is director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. He says illegal immigration is simply a Trojan horse the NSM can use to deliver its broader message of white supremacy.
“The immigration issue allows racist white nationalist a plank to reach out into the mainstream,” says Levin. “And you can attract everyone from people of good will, who would never hurt a fly, all the way to Nazis. So there is a bridge from groups like the NSM to other folks, and then into the mainstream.”
The National Socialist Movement is also targeting Riverside’s Jewish community. At Temple Beth El three weeks ago, NSM protestors waved flags with swastikas. Some who’d come to worship say the NSM took photos of them as they left the synagogue.
Temple Beth El rabbi Suzanne Singer says she has mixed feelings about the NSM’s activities. “I’m torn between thinking, well, let’s not make a huge deal out of this,” says Singer, who took over leadership of Temple Beth El about a year and half ago. “And on the other hand thinking, not that it’s like Nazi Germany, but in this community where unemployment is what, 14 percent? People are hurting and they’re vulnerable to trying to find a scapegoat.”
The National Socialist Movement claims to be the nation’s largest neo-Nazi group. The Southern Poverty Law Center says it probably has fewer than 100 members in California. But monitors of hate groups worry that a weak economy and the election of a black president could increase recruitment.
National Socialist Movement’s Jeff Hall doesn’t buy it. “But I tell you we’d be more than happy to fix the economy, you know? Hitler did. And [Germany] became a superpower. Could it be done again? Of course.”
The NSM has a reputation for courting young people. It has its own version of the Boy Scouts, called the Viking Youth Corps. It runs a record label for “white power” heavy metal and punk rock bands like Orange County’s Final War.
One of Final War’s songs called “Land of the White” includes the lyrics, “No Jews in power with money to bribe/I see once again our people having their pride/I see the Jewish lies being taught no more/this is our land... we’re white, proud, and free... this is our land... the land of the white.”
“Part of that Nazi message is also stuff that’s attractive to young people,” says Brian Levin of Cal State San Bernardino.
“The warrior message, the tough guy message that can attract rootless, disenfranchised youth who see the country around them changing and say, 'Wait! Where is there a place in it for a white kid like me? What’s my future?'"
The National Socialist Movement may be banking on those disenfranchised youth. But even California director Jeff Hall admits that trying to attain what many critics say is a twisted vision of an all-white America is an uphill battle.
“And we remind our guys we’re not gonna change the world overnight, not going to change our nation overnight, but how do you eat an elephant?” asks Hall. “One bite at a time. Where the NSM goes the NSM grows. And that’s no lie.”
And where the NSM goes, so goes its opposition. This weekend, more than 60 Inland area churches, synagogues, and community groups will rally against the National Socialist Movement’s activities in Riverside.