White Supremacy Groups

views updated


Organizations that believe the Caucasian race is superior to all other races and therefore seek either to separate the races in the United States or to remove all non-Caucasians from the nation.

White supremacy is an umbrella label applied to the beliefs of a number of groups of activists in the United States. Although the beliefs of the various groups differ in some particulars, they share a desire to preserve what they call the "genetic purity" of the Caucasian race. Among the better-known white supremacist organizations are the ku klux klan, the Aryan Nations and its offshoot the Order, the White Patriot Party, and the White American Resistance movement. These groups also are anti-Semitic, as they classify Jews as non-Caucasian. Some members of white supremacy groups have committed violent acts against nonwhites and those whites who are opposed to their beliefs.

The Ku Klux Klan has been the most enduring white supremacy group. It was established after the Civil War and became a white underground resistance group to Reconstruction in the South. Klan members used violence and intimidation against newly enfranchised African Americans as a way of restoring white supremacy in the states of the former confederacy. Dressed in white robes and sheets to disguise themselves, Klan members burned property and whipped, assaulted, and sometimes murdered African Americans and their white supporters in nighttime raids. These violent acts led Congress to pass the Force Act in 1870 and the ku klux klan act in 1871, measures that authorized the president to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, suppress disturbances by force, and impose heavy penalties upon terrorist organizations. By the end of the 1870s, the Klan had virtually disappeared.

The Klan reemerged in 1915, adding new enemies to its list. The revitalized organization drew upon anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, antiSemitic, and anti-Communist prejudices, believing that the ethnic character of U.S. society was changing and that white Protestants were losing their dominant position. The reinvigorated Klan extended its reach outside the South and into the Midwest, drawing most of its members from small towns. By the late 1920s, Klan membership exceeded four million nationally. Klan members participated in marches, parades, and nighttime cross burnings. Klan membership dropped dramatically, however, during the Great Depression of the 1930s and the national organization was virtually disbanded in 1944.

The civil rights movement of the 1960s ignited interest in the Klan in the South. Klan members terrorized civil rights workers, with many instances of bombings, beatings, and shootings. The Klan was ultimately unsuccessful in preventing the expansion of civil rights for African Americans and membership declined again. However, there was a resurgence of Klan activity in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with most groups located in southern towns and cities. Since 1981, the southern poverty law center, located in Montgomery, Alabama, has monitored Klan activity through an effort called "Klanwatch." It issues a quarterly report that identifies Klan leaders, locations, and activities.

Neo-Nazi groups, which base their beliefs on Adolf Hitler's Nazi ideology, have been active since the 1960s. The American Nazi Party conducted many demonstrations during the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s and 1990s other groups arose that espouse similar racist and antiSemitic beliefs, most prominently the group Aryan Nations, also known as the Church of Jesus Christ Christian. The religion of the Aryan Nations is the Christian Kingdom Identity Movement, whose adherents believe that white Europeans are the chosen people of the Bible, that Jews are the offspring of Satan, and that all others are fit only for slavery.

The rise of vandalism and violent crimes by persons associated with white supremacy groups led states to enact hate crime statutes.

These laws provide additional penalties if a jury finds a defendant intentionally selected a victim based on race, religion, color, national origin, or sexual orientation. In addition, federal civil rights statutes that derive from the original 1870s anti-Klan laws have been used to prosecute members of white supremacy groups for their ideologically based criminal acts.

In the 1990s white supremacy groups became linked to right-wing militia organizations. These militia groups, while espousing anti-government violence, often share a belief in white supremacy.

Many white supremacists maintain low profiles, seeking to champion their beliefs through support of their racist organizations. Others, however, are well known to the public by their repeated appearances in the media. Such is the case with Matt Hale, a native of East Peoria, Illinois. As early as 1990, his beliefs in white supremacy were featured in an article in the Chicago Sun-Times when he was a freshman at Bradley University. Throughout his early adulthood, he was arrested on a number of occasions for engaging in altercations while he was trying to spread leaflets regarding his beliefs.

Hale later formed the World Church of the Creator, which deems such racial and ethnic groups as blacks and Jews as "mud races." The organization became known as one of the most violent hate groups in the United States, though Hale himself was never charged with a violent crime. At about the same time that he became the leader of the group, Hale entered law school at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

He graduated in 1998 and passed the Illinois bar examination. However, the Illinois Supreme Court's Board of admission to the bar denied his application to become a member of the Illinois bar, citing Hale's "gross deficiency in moral character." Three years later, Hale's application to become a member of the Montana bar was similarly denied.

further readings

Gallaher, Carolyn. 2003. On the Fault Line: Race, Class, and the American Patriot Movement. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield.

Swain, Carol M. 2002. The New White Nationalism in America: Its Challenge to Integration. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Swain, Carol M., and Russ Nieli, eds. 2003. Contemporary Voices of White Nationalism in America. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.


Jim Crow Laws; Second Amendment; Militia; Terrorism.