It's the worst of times for the white pride movement.
In January, the nation's mixed-race president, Barack Obama, was sworn in. In July, that president publicly scolded a white police officer for arresting an African American Harvard professor. And in August, the US Senate confirmed that president's pick for the Supreme Court: the first Latina judge to sit on the panel.
Yet, 2009 may also be the best of times—at least for recruiting. The national climate is spurring racist organizations to regroup and reinvent themselves by latching onto "birther" conspiracy theories, homophobia and immigration fears, while promoting new philosophies of semi-tolerance and non-violence.
Frontline Aryans is a homegrown New Mexico white pride organization that recently committed to expansion. The group grew out of a small clique of white supremacists in Albuquerque who organized regular get-togethers in 2007 and 2008. When founder Justin Argabright moved to North Dakota in April, he decided it was time to take the organization national.
"It's becoming easier to reach out to those who don't associate with the white pride or white power movements," Argabright tells SFR. "A lot of people are unhappy with the way the country is going these days."
Argabright is planning a recruitment mission in New Mexico in the coming weeks. Susan Seligman, New Mexico regional director of the
, which combats anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry, downplays the group's reach.
"One member out of three who are active in New Mexico moved to North Dakota a few months ago," Seligman tells SFR via email. "If that's going national I have to laugh…He's small time and his 'group' isn't going anywhere."
Frontline Aryans' New Mexico director, Keith, who would not divulge his surname, tells SFR the ADL is simply trying to discredit the group.
"[ADL is] partially accurate because it is still small," Keith says. "But I have many years of experience and so does Justin, and I expect it's going to grow. The numbers here, the numbers there and the numbers everywhere else all add up."
Argabright claims that in total Frontline Aryans has attracted members in the low-to-mid triple digits from New Mexico, Minnesota, North Dakota, California, Texas and Montana. In New Mexico, specifically, Keith says, Frontline Aryans is in the double digits.
Since late July, organizers have set up a toll-free number and a
, and have begun promoting themselves publicly on a popular white national message board,
Argabright emphasizes that Frontline Aryans' approach represents a fundamental shift in white supremacist philosophy and strategy.
"I know the United States will never be an all-white country," Argabright says. "It would never happen like that unless something extreme happened, which would probably have to include violence, which I don't promote."
In fact, Argabright, 25, is adamant about non-violence and says he's completely intolerant of crimes and drugs—both got him in trouble when he was a more militant, teenage racist skinhead. He sees Frontline Aryans as a family group that organizes barbecues, musical events, retreats and pamphleteering. Frontline Aryans is also organizing a network for white-run businesses.
And while Argabright has Nazi SS bolts tattooed on his shaved head, Jews seem less on his mind these days. Asked what he sees as a central issue, Argabright—a self-described segregationist—goes right after Obama's eligibility to be president.
"As of now, I still don't believe that the president was even born in the country," Argabright says. "It is a little nerve-racking that the president's middle name is 'Hussein'…I can't speak for my whole organization, but I'm pretty sure that
they follow behind me: I don't think the president should be black and, if he is, a foreigner. That's not the precepts America was founded on."
So far, few direct links have been made between "birthers" and organized white supremacy groups, according to Heidi Beirich, director of research for the
, which tracks hate groups. But the connection is starting to emerge. In fact, the first red flag jumped out last week, when the white nationalist group Council of Conservative Citizens' website linked to a copy of a purported
for Obama (later proved a hoax).
"White supremacists are, frankly, freaking out, so I'm not surprised to see them glomming on to the 'birther' theory," Beirich tells SFR. "It provides two things: First, it helps nullify the worst thing that ever happened to them politically—the election of Obama. Secondly, it's a movement they might be able to tap into."
Beirich says white supremacist groups have attempted to recruit members from the anti-tax protest "tea parties" springing up across the county, which are often attended by "birther" activists.
"[White supremacists] see those people as their natural constituency: an angry, white backlash movement to the political changes we've had," Beirich says.
Argabright takes what might be called a pragmatic attitude for a white supremacist toward race issues in America—"we all have to get along, but that doesn't mean we have to sleep with each other and have each other's babies"—and says Frontline Aryans may focus more on issues that have more yield: immigration and LGBT rights.
These are issues still lacking national resolution: The Obama White House and the Democratic Congress have not yet tackled immigration reform, and gay marriage remains a growing issue across the country. That's good for Argabright's group.
"I think immigration and homosexuality seem to have lit a real good fire [under white supremacists]," Argabright says. "It may not always be a raging fire, but the coals are always burning…I foresee us pursuing those as long as we possibly can and then our next goal is to get [Obama] out of office."
Argabright realizes that being a white supremacist—an open one who wears Germanic tattoos and white pride T-shirts—tends to discredit his ideas.
"I could probably come up with a way to get us out of the deficit in a heartbeat," Argabright says. "…But the minute someone catches wind of 'white pride,' it will get smashed down right away because no one wants to be associated as a hatemonger or a hate group."