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America's Climate of Fear and Loathing

19 April 2002

For the far right, the month of April is highly charged. April 19 marks the ninth anniversary of the government's assault on the Branch Dravidian compound in Waco, Texas, and the seventh anniversary of Timothy McVeigh's bloody bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which claimed more than 160 lives.

April 20 is Hitler's birthday, an occasion for neo-Nazi celebrations and outbursts of hate violence. On that day three years ago, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed themselves, 12 other students, and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado. Both young men were avid consumers of neo-Nazi propaganda and memorabilia.

This April, the far right has more to celebrate. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups operating in the United States rose to 676 in 2001, up 12 percent from the year before, with neo-Nazi groups accounting for a large share of the increase.

The growing collaboration between groups like the National Alliance, World Church of the Creator, the Aryan Nations, and the National Socialist Movement is another disturbing trend. Extremist youths from these and other organizations are meeting in street demonstrations and White Power rock music festivals, such as last May's NordicFest in Powderly, Kentucky. US groups and European neo-Nazis are also forging stronger links.

Racist video games, such as "Ethnic Cleansing,"produced by the National Alliance's Resistance Records, encourage players to "run through the ghetto blasting away various blacks and spics" and to "blow away" the Jewish masterminds hiding in the subway. "You can't shoot those pesky subhumans in real life - but you can in "Ethnic Cleansing: The Game!" says the promotional literature.

Notwithstanding this demurral, brutality by hate groups is not limited to video games.

Hate crimes claimed the lives of at least 21 people in the United States last year and brutalized many more. In the wake of Sept. 11, immigrants, especially of Middle Eastern or South Asian origin, became a favorite target. In November, monitoring groups around the country reported 1,000 alleged crimes motivated by bias and hate, according to Human Rights Watch. These figures likely underestimate the extent of the problem, since there is no adequate national system to record hate crimes. Fewer than one-sixth are reported to the FBI.

While overt violence is largely the work of marginal groups and marginal personalities, racist and anti-immigrant attitudes are proliferating in more mainstream currents of American society. Patrick Buchanan's new book, "Death of the West," is a best-seller despite - or thanks to - its unabashed nativism and scorn for nonwhite, non-Christian cultures. It recalls the bad old days at the beginning of the 20th century when eugenics and xenophobia were at their height. Buchanan is also a frequent guest on TV talk shows.

The best defense against hate is a strong, diverse and democratic civic culture that respects human rights and civil liberties. The heroic response of New Yorkers to the Sept. 11 attacks amply demonstrates that fact. Yet, ironically, the government's present war on terrorism is helping to erode the foundations of our civic culture.

The Justice Department's targeted interviewing of thousands of Muslim visitors, along with the secretive incarceration of hundreds of Middle Eastern immigrants, are doing little to ensure national security but a lot to legitimize racial profiling. The Patriot Act contains measures that permit the enormous expansion of police powers and government surveillance without adequate court review.

These strike at the very heart of American democracy and its system of checks and balances, and ultimately threaten the rights of all Americans.

By expanding the Neighborhood Watch program to include reporting on people who are `unfamiliar' or `suspicious', the government "is fueling the already rampant ethnic and religious scapegoating," says American Civil Liberties Union President Nadine Strossen.

This closing of our open society diminishes America's freedoms. At the same time it aids the recruitment efforts of the far right that flourish in a climate of fear and loathing of the Other. The boundary between internal and external threats is porous, as illustrated by recent reports that American neo-Nazi groups are expanding links to Islamic fascists in a strategic anti-Semitic alliance.

In strengthening the hand of the domestic far right, Bush's war on terrorism may unwittingly strengthen the hand of foreign enemies. The real "axis of evil" is fascism, whether it is dressed in native or foreign garb.

Elizabeth Hartmann
Published in the Boston Globe © 2002 Globe Newspaper Company

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