EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS
Aug 08, 2008 03:26 EST
They're not exactly rooting for Barack Obama, but prominent white supremacists anticipate a boost to their cause if he becomes the first black president. His election, they say, would trigger a backlash — whites rising up, a revolution of sorts — that they think is long overdue.
He'd be a "visual aid," says former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, in trying to bring others around to their view that whites have lost control of America. Obama's election, says another, would jar whites into action, writing letters, handing out pamphlets rather than sitting around complaining.
While most Americans have little or no direct contact with white supremacists, organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center keep close tabs; the law center estimates some 200,000 people nationwide are active in such groups. These observers think the prospect of a white revolution is fantasy.
White supremacists — many call themselves nationalists or "White activists," with a capital W — have had limited political success: Duke served in the Louisiana Legislature. And the public has periodically been unsettled by their public events, like the effort by uniformed Nazis to march through Skokie, Ill., the annual Aryan Nations meetings in Idaho and elsewhere or the FBI's clashes with armed white supremacists in several Western compounds.
Richard Barrett is a 65-year-old lawyer who traveled the country for 40 years advocating what he perceives as the white side in racial issues — like his January rally in Jena, La., to support a white teenager who hung a noose in a school yard.
Barrett is convinced Democrat Obama will defeat Republican John McCain in November.
And that could cause an upheaval, Barrett, a leader in the Nationalist Movement, told The Associated Press in an interview at his rural Mississippi home.
"Instead of this so-called civil rights bill, for example, that says you have to give preferences to minorities, I think the American people are going — once they see the 'Obamanation' — they're going to demand a tweaking of that and say, 'You have to put the majority into office,'" Barrett said.
Across the United States, some white supremacists are saying an Obama presidency could create a racial backlash that will give their groups a boost.
Barrett is evasive about his ideology and tries to keep reporters from using "buzz words" to describe him. He doesn't call himself a white supremacist, although the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center do.
The law center tracks the Nationalist Movement, the Klan and like-minded groups from its Montgomery, Ala., headquarters. The center's "Hatewatch" newsletter reported in June that some neo-Nazis, Klansmen and anti-Semites are saying an Obama presidency could prompt a race war, which many on the "radical right" believe whites would win.
Although not all white supremacists agree, "large numbers of these people really seem to think that an Obama election would benefit them hugely," Mark Potok, the center's intelligence director, said in an interview. He called that view "essentially a fantasy."
Duke, the former Klan leader, posted an essay on his Web site in June titled, "Obama Wins Demo Nomination: A Black Flag for White America."
Obama "will be a clear signal for millions of our people," Duke wrote. "Obama is a visual aid for White Americans who just don't get it yet that we have lost control of our country, and unless we get it back we are heading for complete annihilation as a people."
Jason Robb, a Harrison, Ark., attorney who represents the Klan's Knights Party, describes himself as a "white nationalist."
"It doesn't really matter if Obama wins the election or McCain wins the election," Robb said in an interview. "Neither of them are going to try to fight to preserve the white race or heritage."
Robb said, however, that Obama's election could prompt more whites to get involved in politics by distributing pamphlets or writing letters to editors.
Although the South has had more racial violence than most of the country, Randy Blazak, a sociology professor at Oregon's Portland State University, says white supremacists live all over the United States. Blazak, who has studied skinheads for two decades, calls white supremacists a counterculture, not a movement, contending the latter term overstates their numbers.
Blazak said white supremacists thrive on fear of changing race relations, the women's movement and gay rights. Blazak said white working class people in particular long for a "Leave It To Beaver" society.
"Those were the 'good old days' for straight, white males. But for everyone else, it was a pretty raw deal," Blazak said.
Barrett, a New York City native who moved to Mississippi in 1966, said the Nationalist Movement has members in 36 states, but he won't say how many. He compares today's skinheads to the minutemen of the American Revolution.
"The Revolution, if you will, in 1776 brought the 13 colonies together against the king. And the same thing can happen now against Martin Luther King, with the 50 states," Barrett said, if Obama's elected.
Barrett says he is a Democrat but won't say whether he's voting for Obama. He'll only say he won't support McCain, Libertarian Bob Barr or independent Ralph Nader.
Charles Evers, brother of Medgar Evers, the Mississippi NAACP leader killed by a sniper in 1963, chuckles when told about Barrett's assertions.
"See, Richard doesn't really mean what he says. It's popular for him to say it. That's the way he makes a living," said Evers, who hosts a talk show on WMPR-FM in Jackson. "Same as Jesse Jackson, some more of our black revolutionaries who make a living off of keeping things emotional."
Although a longtime Republican, Evers supports Obama. He says the Democrat is more qualified than McCain.
Evers, whose office has photos of him with Robert Kennedy, Richard Nixon, George W. Bush and other politicians, said he sees broad, multiracial support for Obama, even in parts of the South where the white establishment dug in to try to preserve racial segregation decades ago.
"I think we're past that stage," Evers said. "I don't think the majority of white people are thinking that way anymore."
Kim Edwards of Matteson, Ill., a black woman who traveled to Mississippi with a racially mixed group so her son could play in a baseball tournament, is more skeptical. Edwards worries that extremists want Obama to be elected so they can assassinate him.
"I'm really concerned for his safety," said Edwards, who plans to vote for Obama. "I'm concerned that once he gets in office that he won't be recognized as an American president."
However, former Mississippi Gov. William Winter, a white Democrat who served on President Clinton's commission on racial reconciliation, doesn't foresee widespread white backlash if Obama is elected.
"We are a diverse country," said Winter, who supports Obama. "We are made up of people of every conceivable racial background."