Brian Levin/Cal State San Bernardino
White supremacist Jeff Hall (with bullhorn) at an anti-illegal immigration rally in Riverside.
For the next month, psychiatrists will evaluate a 10-year-old Riverside boy accused of murdering his father. Authorities say the young boy confessed to the killing during an interview with detectives.
The father was Jeff Hall, the leader of a local white supremacist group. His son had been steeped in his violent, neo-Nazi rhetoric. But there could have been a more basic motive: an attempt to stop beatings in the Hall home.
Authorities say that early on May 1, the boy took a loaded revolver from his parents’ bedroom, crept downstairs where his father was dozing on a sofa, and fired a single shot that killed him. Court documents say the boy told a detective that he shot his dad to stop him from beating him and his stepmother.
“When we’re talking about a juvenile, especially one that is this young, we take into account the understanding that a 10-year old may not have the same ability to comprehend what his actions have done than an 18-year-old and so forth," said Riverside County prosecutor Ambrosio Rodriguez.
The boy had been thrown out of public school, apparently for his violent tendencies. Those tendencies, and the murder, might be the product of the father’s violent lifestyle. Jeff Hall led the West Coast chapter of the National Socialist Movement, an international neo-Nazi group, and Rodriguez expects the group's hate-filled cause to be part of the case.
"It already is," Rodriguez said. "It’s hateful vitriol and raising five children with such unmitigated hate, I don’t see how that doesn’t become an issue when we’re talking about a 10-year old boy."
The five Hall children were thrust into the maelstrom of the neo-Nazi movement. The boy joined his father on militia-style border patrols with armed white supremacists. He and a sister were trained how to shoot. The parents hosted monthly National Socialist Movement meetings and kept loaded guns in the house.
“It feels like a normal home. I walked in on a Saturday and the mom had bunny rabbit ears on and she was jumping around with the two little girls," said photographer Julie Platner, who had been documenting the family.
Platner spent a year following Hall, his family and his acolytes. Authorities say the family lived in squalor in a house unfit for children. On the two days Platner visited the house, the family put on a sunny face.
"They are lovely children, you know?" she said. "They also have a swastika hanging in their living room. They were exposed to way too much, obviously. They’re the casualties of all this.”
Brian Levin, a criminologist at Cal State San Bernardino, has monitored the National Socialist Movement and other neo-Nazi hate groups for years. He says the movement is full of emotionally troubled people masquerading as political activists.
"It’s an unhappy individual existence for many of these people because it is a veneer that covers up a lot of deep pain and shortcomings and that’s part of the story that you don’t see," he said. "It’s beyond debilitating, and in some ways it’s even worse, as we’ve seen here.”
Hall’s death is a blow to the neo-Nazi movement. The burly, media-savvy skinhead founded the group's West Coast chapter three years ago. Within months, he’d assembled a band of young, swastika-waving supporters to march against a Riverside synagogue and day labor sites — events that drew scores of counter protestors and sometimes turned bloody.
“He was someone who was reliable, who could articulately or semi-articulately speak to the media. Certainly to the NSM in California, it is going to disable the movement for the immediate future,” Levin said.
Hall seemed to relish the chaos triggered by the group's street actions. But in a 2009 interview with KPCC, he tried to portray the group as a non-violent, pro-family organization trying to better the nation with white supremacist ideology.
“We have intelligent people with intelligent things to say who’re focused on positive actions, you know, and we have play groups. Their children are playing with children they can relate to. We give ‘em hope. And we remind our guys we’re not gonna change the world overnight. We’re not gonna change the nation overnight. But how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time," said Hall.
Hall’s hope is over. It was ended, investigators say, by the son he wanted to follow in his footsteps. The boy — a wiry, shaggy haired child in a baggy orange jumpsuit and shackles — appeared briefly in a Riverside County juvenile courtroom this week. His stepmother has been charged with keeping guns and ammunition in reach of children. His attorney will enter a plea on his behalf in July.