Hate Thy Neighbor
A white supremacist gets a surprise visit from the supporters of tolerance.
By Ben Winters
SEPTEMBER 27, 1999: A middle-aged suburbanite is standing on her stoop with a terrified expression, surveying the chaos that has suddenly erupted on her doorstep. A mob has materialized on the street outside her house, spilling across the sidewalk and onto her lawn. A ragged chorus of angry voices is hollering insults, demanding explanations, shaking their fists and chanting.
The woman, who, in her peach blouse, conservative hairdo and comfortable shoes, looks like the average suburban mom, stands there baffled, hands trembling, eyes blinking back tears. "Please," she says in a shaky, desperate tone. "Please leave us alone."
No such luck. The crowd of teenagers and Gen X-ers with their wallet chains, fancifully dyed hair and pissed-off expressions isn't going anywhere. Indeed, in the next moment their anger intensifies exponentially, when the real target of their ire appears next to her on the steps. It turns out that the woman in the peach blouse is someone's mother; and this 27-year- old in the T-shirt and jeans is her son, Richard Mayers. He's also a white supremacist. What looks like a gang of thugs to Mrs. Mayers is the Chicago chapter of a group called Anti-Racist Action, dedicated to quashing racists, sexists and homophobes. Richard Mayers falls into at least one of those categories.
"There's no escaping," comes a voice from the crowd in a high pitch of anger. "We know who you are, and we know what you do."
What Mayers does, specifically, is distribute literature for the World Church of the Creator. The white supremacist organization headquartered in Peoria gained infamy over the Fourth of July weekend, when a member named Benjamin Smith went on a shooting spree through the Midwest that left three dead (including himself) and nine wounded.
The shouts continue. "Whatever you do is going to have repercussions. We are aware of you, we are aware of the people you work with. We are absolutely."
Mayers says nothing, just stands there, arms crossed smugly, next to his increasingly agitated mother ("Richard," she says, "Go back in the house!"), wearing the appropriately superior expression of someone dedicated to the notion of superiority.
The man yelling at present is Kieran, one of the organizers of today's action, which brought some thirty young people from Chicago and various suburbs to Berwyn. They spent half an hour canvassing the neighborhood with fliers headlined "Your Neighbor is a Racist Organizer," featuring Mayers' home address and telephone number, plus a blurry photo. Then they proceeded to "phase two," which Kieran describes as "ringing his doorbell and asking him to come out and play."
The playing begins in earnest as soon as Mayers uncrosses his arms and opens his mouth. Fed up with the chants -- led by an ARA member with a police-style megaphone -- of "NAZIS OUT! NAZIS OUT!" Mayers launches a counter-chant, his lone voice struggling against the megaphone and the combined vocal power of the angry horde: "JEWS OUT! JEWS OUT!"
While Mrs. Mayers tries to shut her son up, while she tries to explain to the protestors that she and her son are good Catholics, and that her husband is Jewish, even, a sideshow has developed across the street. Among the small crowds of neighbors who have spilled out to watch the action is one very angry man. "Hey, hey, hey," says this burly shirtless guy with a tattoo on his arm, accosting two ARA members on the fringes of the group. "You woke up my 6-month-old daughter. She was sleeping. Now, get out."
The protestors try to explain what they're doing, that racist organizers like Mayers have to be exposed to be beaten, but the tattooed guy isn't having it: "He don't hurt nobody."
"He didn't hurt anybody? He's part of a group that murders people."
"He's not on my porch. Look at how many of you guys there are."
It may seem like a huge crowd to the guy with the tattoos -- and it certainly does to Mayers mother, who has retreated into the house, promising to call the police -- but the reality is that the ARA members represent a minority, the very slim percentage of people taking some sort of direct action against America's far right movements.
Meanwhile, those movements are experiencing a renaissance.
And even in the wake of the Smith murders, the World Church has shown no signs of slowing. "Yes, certainly the violence scattered those who were somewhat passive supporters," says Devin Burghart of the Center for New Community, an Oak Park nonprofit that tracks the activities of far right groups in the Midwest. "But the second thing it's done is harden the resolve of the hardcore that are left. That's why we've seen the intensification of literature distribution here in the Chicago area.
"What we've noticed is a massive shift in the political climate that's gone on since the collapse of the Berlin Wall," Burghart says. "Given the demise of communism, and how Americans used to define themselves in relation to communists: 'We're not those folks.' As a result of that collapse, now Americans are increasingly looking inward, and a result of that looking inward has been a rise in what many people are calling a new brand of white nationalism."
This new ideology of hatred, Burghart explains, "argues that there's this group called the middle Americans, and they're increasingly being squeezed from above, by the multi-national secular elite, and from below, by the multi-cultural hordes."
The World Church of the Creator is a good example of a hate group that has seen resurfaced in recent years. Born in 1973, the movement galvanized its members with promise of eventual "Rahowa," shorthand for racial holy war. And though the church stumbled through the early nineties after a series of legal troubles -- one member murdered a black Gulf War veteran in Florida, another was responsible for the firebombing of a Tacoma, Washington NAACP office -- it has regrouped with a vengeance since the rise to power of current leader Matt Hale in 1996.
Hale, a veteran of the National Socialist White Americans Party and his own American White Supremacist Party, has been a distressingly effective administrator of the World Church: Buoying membership, launching a "resettlement" campaign that has brought white supremacists from around the country to Illinois, and reasserting the call for "Rahowa."
And even in the wake of the Smith murders, the World Church has shown no signs of slowing. "Yes, certainly the violence scattered those who were somewhat passive supporters," says Burghart. "But the second thing it's done is harden the resolve of the hardcore that are left. That's why we've seen an intensification of literature distribution here in the Chicago area."
Along with Mayers are "a dozen or so active supporters who are going out in the middle of the night and throwing this literature on people's lawns," says Burghart. Indeed, according to Kieran, ARA sources within the World Church report their plan to "hit every white house in the Chicago area [with literature] in the next year."
Nor is the World Church unique. Lurking behind the horrifying acts of violence, like Smith's and that of Buford Furrow, the anti-Semite who shot up a Jewish Community Center in California last month, are a vast array of Klans, coalitions and pseudo-theological organizations. And they're all predicated in some way on the superiority of "Middle Americans," which translates into good old-fashioned white people.
The CNC identifies 272 separate far-right organizations in the Midwest alone, from the American Nazi Party to the Northwest Illinois Militia to the neo-Nazi skinhead Hammer Skins. And, of course, there's the St. Louis-based Council of Conservative Citizens, which includes among its members -- lest there be any doubt of the mainstream success of the far right movement -- Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.
Meanwhile, says Burghart, the level of public attention to these organizations is dangerously low, stagnating under a cloud of misperception, apathy and fear.
"I think that a lot of folks tend to look at the far right and see them as something marginal, as something fringey," Burghart explains. "The attitude is, 'We don't have to worry about those groups. They're confined to the margins, they're no big deal. Granted, they'll go off on the occasional killing spree or blow up a building, but for the most part we don't have to worry about them.'"
"People might be a little bit afraid," adds Melinda Powers, the West Town lawyer affiliated with ARA and numerous other area activist groups. "After Timothy McVeigh, people who don't take this seriously are very foolhardy, so I think it's more that people are a bit scared." The scene at Mayers' house is certainly frightening, but it also has at moments an air of absurdity, of ludicrous miscommunication.
"You're a scab, man," shouts an ARA member. "You're a scab on your class."
"Go back to Israel," comes Mayers succinct, tangential reply. "Jews back to Israel."
Before ARA can shout down this non sequitur, Mayers ducks back into the house. Meanwhile his mom continues to try and make everything OK. "It's not true. The media is promoting this, they just want us to move, they're trying to break up the neighborhood. It's not true!"
"What about your boy Ben there?" challenges one protestor.
Mrs. Mayers answers confusedly. "Ben? Ben's his grandfather, he's a lawyer."
"No, Benjamin Smith. Part of this same organization who went on a shooting rampage. "
"That has nothing to do with us," is her determined reply. But a moment later, as if to prove his mother wrong, Mayers reemerges with an armful of the World Church literature. He begins to circulate among the crowd, pushing his way through his enemies, handing the rolled-up newsprint pamphlets, each individually wrapped in orange cellophane, to his neighbors.
I elbow my way up to the front and ask for a copy. Mayers looks me dead in the eye and says he doesn't give them to Jews.
The ARA kid next to me shouts out: "How do you know he's Jewish?" (Meanwhile, I'm thinking something along the lines of, "Say what you want, the guy's got a good eye for the enemy.") But Mayers' response is less than edifying: "I don't give them to scumbag Jews."
Eventually snagging a stray copy of the pamphlet, a viciously racist and anti-Semitic broadside titled "Facts that the Government and Media Don't Want You to Know," I learn a few new things about my faith. Apparently the Talmud allows sex with 3-year-old girls, encourages stealing property and money from Gentiles, and insists on the occasional ritual murder.
Mayers continues to push through the crowd; various ARA members grab at the pamphlets, which he hordes stubbornly to his chest, tossing them out only to the bystanders and to those members of the protesting group who look adequately non-Semitic.
The tension is escalating, veering quickly to the brink of violence. The faces of the ARA group run red with anger, Mayers is visibly excited and increasingly vocal. When a protestor, who happens to be Asian and female, grabs at the literature, Mayers pulls it back scornfully. There are angry shouts, a brief tussle. Kieran steps up to him. Fists are raised, but not thrown. A bunch of water balloons are lobbed with shouts of "Nazi!" Only one of them bursts.
Meanwhile, the neighbor with the baby daughter continues to complain bitterly. "You're no better than he is. You're destroying the neighborhood." Another local guy agrees with equal vehemence. "You know what I decided to do with this literature? I decided to read it and discredit it. You're not going to win over anybody with this [protesting]. Anybody with a brain is not won over with this kind of thing." A 12- or 13-year-old kid pedaling his bike in circles around the scene mutters something about "this bunch of faggots."
The three Berwyn policemen who suddenly appear on the scene don't restore much order, not for a good half-hour. But their arrival does highlight a startling truth: Seeing these men with their guns and uniforms and stern expressions wading into the crowd of pissed-off kids throws into stark relief just how young all the principals are. The ARA members, Mayers himself, even the tattooed guy with the baby daughter: No one is more than 30, the median age looking closer to 25. Indeed, the whole incident -- from the vulgarity to the water balloons to Mayers' bratty, crotch-grabbing attitude -- is flush with the rash boldness and self-righteousness of youth.
If it's heartening to see of a bunch of kids fighting for what's right, it's horrifying to see someone not much older determined to exterminate entire races. Such, though, is the trend. Remember that Benjamin Smith was barely 21 when he killed Ricky Byrdsong and Woo Joon Yoon.
Burghart points out that, "in addition to literature distribution, [the World Church of the Creator] is certainly doing a lot of one to one, face to face recruiting efforts, and they're particularly targeting young people." Like, high school young.
"One of the most powerful propaganda tools they have now is music," he adds. "There are dozens of different white power bands that are active, and their music is available, and not only from mail order anymore. Now you can go into suburban record stores at places like Record Breakers and purchase CDs by bands like Brutal Attack and Mud Oven. Some of the most violent, vile, hardcore racist and anti-Semitic literature you can imagine is on those records."
As the cops struggle to get the scene under control, there is one last vehement exchange between Richard Mayers and his accusers, the conversation still occupying some middle ground between charged political debate and adolescent bickering.
"You're hostile to the white race," Mayers claims, his mother still urging him to hush up. "You want to dominate other people with your little ideologies," says Josh of ARA, and that really winds him up. "No!" shouts Mayers. "The Jews want to dominate others! Renounce the Talmud! Renounce the Talmud!"
"We don't gotta renounce shit," counters Kieran.
As ARA regroups, preparing to leave, Josh offers Mayers one last warning. "We're going to keep our eyes on you. We're going to follow you around. We know who you are, we know where you live, and you can't escape."
"No," comes his answer. "YOU can't escape. WE know where YOU live."
Later, Kieran summarizes the mission as a mixed success. "People felt pretty good about it generally. The level of organization was not what it needed to be, but we did what we needed to do and nobody got arrested.
"[Mayers] was kind of cocky," he says. "But on the other hand, he's got to live with his parents." And what about the angry neighbors, who felt the city kids had violated sanctity of their quiet street? "That's not going to slow us down, and ultimately that kind of stuff is going to be more pressure for Mayers -- it's part of the collateral response, if people in his neighborhood are pissed off that he's bringing that kind of attention."
Also, Kieran points out rightly, "there were also some neighbors there who weren't making as big a noise, who were clearly sympathetic to what we were doing." And angry neighbors or no, Burghart says, "I don't ever think that exposing bigotry is inappropriate. It goes to lift that veil of denial in a community. I think exposure is always, always a good thing."
More exposure is in the works. Though Kieran is reticent with the details -- if the bad guys get a chance to prepare for these sorts of sieges, the effect is considerably diminished -- ARA plans to pay similar house calls to several other World Church functionaries in the weeks to come, culminating with an October visit to the group's Peoria HQ.
The ultimate goal? To find the bigots that live among us, to find the people who drop literature on lawns in the middle of the night, and drag them out into the daylight. To expose them to their neighbors, and to the world. "It's an idea that goes along with notifying a neighborhood about a sex offender," explains Burghart. "It puts them on notice, and it lets the community know they're there."
But it's hard to gauge how affected Mayers was by his visitors. As ARA departs, chanting "WE'LL BE BACK!" Mayers stands on his stoop next to his still shaken mother, smoking a cigarette, arms once again folded smugly. Taking a quick, final look back, I find Mayers smiling at me as he nods sarcastically and offers a coy wave goodbye.
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