The National Alliance (NA), a neo-Nazi organization that was once labeled "the most dangerous organized hate group" by the Anti-Defamation League, appears to be on the verge of imploding.
Recent posts on the white supremacist Vanguard News Network's electronic message board indicate that NA membership coordinator David Pringle left the organization last week — making him the latest in a steady stream of senior cadre members who have either been fired or have resigned since the death of NA founder William Pierce in July 2002.
The NA — and other groups like it — has experienced rocky times in recent years, rife with power struggles, lawsuits and squabbles over ideology and funding practices. Though such difficulties are common in the realm of activist groups, the fracturing of white hate groups — which appears to be sending activists underground or, increasingly, to the anonymous world of cyberspace — threatens to make it more difficult for law enforcers to monitor and pre-empt potential acts of violence.
The turmoil within the NA is a telling example of the problems the organized hate movement now faces.
Struggles for control of the organization at the group's headquarters in West Virginia and discontent with the leadership of new Chairman Erich Gliebe have resulted in the replacement of most of the group's board of directors and staff. The NA also has lost several key people in various locations around the country. For example, earlier this year, Southwest States Regional Coordinator Jim Reid resigned in disgust over the organization's decision to publish a calendar — as a fund-raising effort for the group's Resistance Records label — featuring strippers as the models. In an e-mail sent to NA members in protest over the "Girls of Resistance" calendar (posted on the Vanguard News Network Web site), Reid wrote: "Who among us just a few short years ago could have imagined coming to a Leadership Conference of the National Alliance and rubbing shoulders with white trash nude table dancers and their handlers!" Reid added that the calendar was: "without a doubt the most ill-conceived, incredibly stupid, low-brow idea to ever originate from the National Office."
In recent weeks, another squabble has erupted over the fact that Resistance Records owns another record label called Unholy Records, which sells satanic black metal music. Some NA members are upset because some of the bands involved in the black metal scene do not adhere to the group's official "cosmotheist" (the universe is God) theology or white supremacist ideology. Others simply do not believe that the NA should be selling satanic materials to white children. Like the calendar featuring the strippers, some members see Unholy Records as a sign that the NA leadership is compromising the organization's ideals in order to make money. This has resulted in an even further loss of membership.
The National Alliance is not alone in having significant organizational problems. Even prior to the death of its founder, Richard Butler, in September, the Aryan Nations had been fracturing. The group lost a lawsuit in 2000 that resulted in the loss of their headquarters compound in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and their financial assets. They also have had an internal dispute dating back to 2002, when two of Butler's lieutenants attempted to seize control of the group. With no leader who appears able to unite the various factions, Butler's death has likely signaled the final blow for the organization. Likewise, the Illinois-based World Church of the Creator (WCOTC) has been troubled by the federal conviction in April of its "Pontifex Maximus" (high priest), Matt Hale. He was convicted of soliciting the murder of a federal judge and obstruction of justice. Prior to his arrest in 2003, Hale had been one of the highest-profile leaders in the movement. The breakdown that followed Hale's arrest was further exacerbated by the arrest of WCOTC Western Pennsylvania leader Hardy Lloyd, who is accused of killing his girlfriend last August. Given the turmoil and dwindling membership rolls within some of its best-known organizations, what will be the fate of the white supremacist movement? In the past, membership in an organized hate group was the main avenue for activists seeking extremist literature and like-minded people, but the Internet has turned that paradigm on its head. It is not clear that this trend will weaken the movement: There are now hundreds of anti-Semitic and white supremacist Web sites on the Internet, and these sites appear to be taking the place of the membership groups as the primary way for white supremacists to obtain information and camaraderie. As it happens, this trend away from a movement based on membership groups to one based on the Internet is something that movement strategists have been recommending for quite some time. Among the oldest of the white supremacist Web sites is Stormfront.org, which claims to have nearly 38,000 members. It is not unusual to visit the site and find more than 700 people on it at one time. Stormfront and other sites like it offer news from a white supremacist perspective, tips on weapons and self-defense, advice on activism and even an Aryan dating chat room. This online community offers a much larger exchange of ideas than a five- or six-person local NA unit ever could. Other popular white hate Web pages include the NA's Nationalvanguard.org and the Missouri-based Vanguard News Network. The Nationalvanguard site is a slick and polished information portal run by NA member Kevin Strom. It is one facet of the NA that even the group's critics agree is well-run, and likely will survive even if the group does not. Another trend we have noted is the increasing availability of white supremacist music. Not only is it profitable, as the NA has found through its Resistance Records business arm, but it is distributing the movement's message to rebellious teens on a much wider scale than was possible in the past. One hatecore record label, Panzerfaust, launched a program — dubbed "Operation Schoolyard" — this autumn to distribute white supremacist compact discs to white children. Under this plan, Panzerfaust Records pressed 100,000 hatecore CDs that were sent to white supremacist activists throughout the country, who then handed the discs out to children for free. In many areas, including parts of Europe, it is becoming trendy for white kids to listen to hatecore music. This music and computer games like "Ethnic Cleansing" are indoctrinating many kids to white supremacist ideology at an earlier age then ever before. If even only a small percentage of these kids embrace the ideology, it will provide a new wave of recruits for the movement. However, it does not appear so far that these youths have been drawn to membership groups in large numbers; more often, they are sharing ideas and seeking camaraderie on Web sites like Stormfront. Ultimately, it is possible that this trend could be a natural evolution of the movement that fulfills the vision of "leaderless resistance" promulgated by former Klansman Louis Beam. In a February 1992 essay, Beam outlined a plan to overhaul the white supremacist movement — calling for the formation of small, autonomous cells that were to be driven by ideology rather than following the direction of membership groups. Beam's argument was that this "leaderless resistance" would have superior operational security and be more successful in conducting attacks than the membership groups, which he believed were filled with informants. To understand Beam's perspective, it is important to note that he was one of 14 white supremacist leaders tried on charges of sedition in Fort Smith, Ark., in the late 1980s. Beam and the others were acquitted, but this experience taught him that membership groups had been infiltrated and their leaders would be targeted by the government. He viewed "leaderless resistance" as a way for supremacists to defend themselves from the government — and ultimately win the revolution. In the essay, Beam envisioned a two-tiered approach to the revolutionary struggle. One tier would be the above-ground "organs of information," which would "distribute information using newspapers, leaflets, computers, etc." The organs of information were not to conduct any illegal activities. The second tier would be comprised of individual operators and small "phantom" cells who would conduct attacks. These people were to remain low-key and anonymous, with no traceable connections to the above-ground activists. In this "leaderless resistance" concept, Beam appears to have been one of the first to envision the impact that the Internet would have on the white supremacist movement. That potential began to be realized when Stormfront was launched in 1995, and is even more evident in the thousands of sites on the Web today. In the current age of cyber cafes, anonymous Web surfing and PGP, it is now possible to access supremacist Web sites and communicate with others in an untraceable manner. Stormfront even has a section devoted to teaching interested individuals how to do this. In his essay, Beam wrote that "It becomes the responsibility of the individual to acquire the necessary skills and information as to what is to be done." Today's lone wolf or small cell can anonymously acquire that information with the click of a mouse. Now, whether they turn the rhetoric and guidance into action, to follow his call, remains to be seen — but any plans now likely will be much harder to predict or pre-empt.