Hate Thy Neighbor

Jeff Hackworth is mainstream America. He is 42 years old and grew up in Framingham. He owns a $400,000 house on Cape Cod that he shares with four dogs. He works as a computer consultant and volunteers as a sailing instructor for kids. Sitting in the 400 Club in Chatham, dressed in a button-down shirt and jeans, his brown hair falling softly around his face, he looks like the boy next door. And he is.

He just hates Jews. And thinks blacks are inferior. And that Mexicans should stay in Mexico.

Hackworth is a member of the Boston unit of the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi organization that's considered by the Anti-Defamation League the most dangerous hate group in the country. He is intelligent and well spoken, chatting easily about his views and where they came from. Even as a kid of eight, he says, he couldn't understand why people promoted multiculturalism, couldn't see anything good about it. And today, “everywhere I see it, it's a hellhole, unless the people are wealthy and can afford to stay in their own separate compounds in the rich part of town.” Multiculturalism is a fantasy, he says.

Headquartered in West Virginia, the National Alliance is run by William Pierce, a former physics professor and author of The Turner Diaries, a novel detailing a violent white revolution that many believe served as an ideological impetus for Timothy McVeigh's bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It also may have inspired the bank robberies, bombings, and murders — including those of a state trooper and a radio talk-show host — carried out in the early 1980s by a now-defunct group called the Order. In fact, the National Alliance has praised the Order for “having set its sights on a full-scale, armed revolution, ending with the purification of the U.S. population and the institution of a race-based authoritarian government.” The National Alliance calls for a completely white living space and claims on its Web site that its members “will do whatever is necessary to achieve this White living space and to keep it White. We will not be deterred by the difficulty or temporary unpleasantness involved, because we realize that it is absolutely necessary for our racial survival.”

Hackworth joined four years ago. He had seen Mike Wallace interview Pierce on TV discussing the Oklahoma City bombing. (The bombing was a bad idea, Hackworth says. “It was a bad target,” he says.) He was looking for a community of like-minded people to join as his concern grew that the white race was being overpowered by nonwhites. This fear was later inflamed in the wake of statistics out of California showing that whites now compose a minority in that state. He checked out the National Alliance's Web site, he talked to other members to make sure they were “normal,” and then he joined.

There were only about a dozen members in Massachusetts at the time. Now, Hackworth claims, their ranks have significantly increased, though he won't give an exact number. He says secrecy is necessary to protect the group's security. Even within the National Alliance, he says, “we have to be careful about interrelationships.” If someone is linked to a crime, the rest could be taken down. And so the organization operates in small, trusted cells, where even fellow members don't know who the other members are, much like Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.

“What we're seeing with these white supremacy groups is exactly what we're seeing in international terrorism,” says Jack Levin, director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University. “We're seeing small cells consisting of very few people who come together in a loose confederation.” A lone wolf or a small band of plotters is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, for the authorities — namely the FBI — to track, infiltrate, or combat. Terrorists, domestic and otherwise, are now faceless and fluid, shifting and migrating.

Hackworth's arguments about a Jewish lobby and multiculturalism are well thought out — seductive even. But his rhetoric is laced with hate. He sums up his beliefs like this: “We believe in the white sovereignty of this country. Nationalism. We're fed up. We're tired of being nice and friendly and not hurting people's feelings. So now we're jumping in their faces.” Every time he mentions “them” — the Jews, the hated enemy — he gets excited, rises from his chair a little, hones an edge on his otherwise smooth language. He feels “there is a place for violence,” and his logic is punctured with phrases such as, “It's gonna take some kind of revolution,” “We need to do whatever is necessary to stop them,” and “We do hate. We don't shy away from it at all.

“We're called neo-Nazis all the time and that we're trying to bring about another Holocaust and exterminate the Jewish people,” Hackworth says. “Well, you know, we gotta survive.”

Many people assume that liberal, progressive Massachusetts is immune to hate groups. The Bible Belt and the Confederate South, the dreary Pacific Northwest, the white-bred Midwest — that's where those groups thrive and flourish, they say with a collective sigh. But make no mistake about it, experts say: They're here, too. Massachusetts has active members of not just the National Alliance but also the World Church of the Creator and the Ku Klux Klan. In fact, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks such groups, there are more hate groups in Massachusetts spreading their particular brand of virulence than in West Virginia.

And their numbers are growing. According to the Law Center's Mark Potok, “the soft-liners have diminished, but the real hard-line hate groups are climbing up, up, up very steadily.” Exact figures are hard to come by, but estimates suggest that nationwide there are 35,000 to 50,000 white supremacists affiliated with a group of some kind. While that may seem a marginal fraction of the population, “these groups are a lot more dangerous than their numbers would suggest,” says Northeastern's Levin. “Thanks to the Internet, thanks to the new strategy of encouraging and supporting their foot soldiers who aren't necessarily members, they have influence far beyond their numbers.”

It's not the committing of hate crimes that is the problem — in fact, only a very small fraction of hate crimes are carried out by members of organized hate groups. And it's not the increase in the dumping of hateful propaganda on the lawns of folks in Lexington and Sharon and Avon. The real danger these days is an evolving racist underground of people who are not necessarily card-carrying members of any particular group, but who latch on to a group's ideas — individuals or small groups that take their ideological cues from the above-ground organizations. It's the updated tactics of hate-group activity, encouraging leaderless resistance to carry out the apparent ultimate objective: igniting a full-blown race war.

The time is ripe. The faltering economy may be expanding the pool of potential recruits — disaffected men and women looking for direction, purpose. The September 11 attacks have provided inspiration and motivation, churning the simmering hate to a full boil. “The current events in Jew York City have caused me to activate my unit,” wrote Paul Mullet, a leader of the Aryan Nations. “Please be advised that the time for all Aryans to attack is now, not later. Our opportunity may never be the same. The call to arms goes out to all true Aryans around the world.”

And the FBI concedes there's not a damn thing it can do about it. “You're dealing with civil rights issues here,” says spokeswoman Gail Marcinkiewicz of the Boston office of the FBI. “We do not track people and people's views. Unless these people come to our attention, there's nothing we can do.”

Today's racist hatemongers no longer gallop the streets at night, cloaked in white sheets. They are far less visible and unpredictable now. Like the 19 men who carried out the September 11 hijackings. Like the pawns of organized domestic terrorism who lurk in the shadows until they viciously explode onto the scene.

Like Leo Felton.

In retrospect, there were signs. The Nazi flag, foR one, that he plastered in the window of his apartment on Salem Street, right in the middle of Boston's North End. So, too, the tattoos he chiseled on his bald pate — “Skin” and “Head,” etched deep and black and proud. These things mere blocks from the FBI's Boston office.

But the FBI wasn't looking for him. No, his six-foot, seven-inch frame, stacked with 225 pounds of angry flesh covered with white supremacist tattoos, operated in the shadows, in the dark ether that hadn't registered any blips on this city's radar screen — ever, really. Which was just the way he planned it.

He was on a mission. He allegedly had been plotting and strategizing while still in jail serving 11 years for bludgeoning a Cuban man with a crowbar, a sentence that had been extended when he slit the throat of a nonwhite inmate. He wrote to a fellow hatemonger, now his new girlfriend, Erica Chase, that he wanted to do “something political” and then drop “off the face of the earth to participate in the historical process.” And now he was free, free to lead a small cell of racists in violence and destruction, in bombing targets in Boston's Jewish and black communities, to further the cause. That's just what authorities say he planned to do.

The mission? To begin a racial holy war.

Prosecutors allege that after his release from jail in January 2001, he was busy — stockpiling, preparing. He collected books on how to assume a new identity and carry out terrorist actions, how to make explosives and silencers. Authorities believe he stole a gun from his wife in Ipswich, and Chase brought one with her from Indiana. He purchased computer résumé paper and a printer and churned out $1,200 in fake twenties and fifties. Then, prosecutors say, he and his girlfriend used the counterfeit money at office-supply stores and fast-food joints, purchasing small things and receiving real currency as change.

Still, police say, Felton needed more money. He plotted with a prison mate — now part of his terrorist cell — to travel to Boston. Together they held up a Citizens Bank on Boylston Street, making off with a little more than a thousand dollars, according to police. A plan to rob an armored car was foiled when his buddy was busted after stealing a car to use in the holdup.

That was just a minor setback. In the meantime, Felton allegedly studied his bomb-making books. He bought a Procter Silex coffee machine and pulled out the wiring, the timing, and the heating elements. He scribbled lists in a notebook — notes on how he would disappear once his mission was completed, lists of disguise paraphernalia and the name of the missing person whose identity he would assume.

Investigators claim he also wrote out recipes for the explosives AN-al and ANFO. He wrote “OKC,” presumed to stand for Oklahoma City, followed by a ratio of fuel and ammonium nitrate — the same mixture Timothy McVeigh used. He bought 50 pounds of ammonium nitrate and ordered 10 “bird bombs” — cardboard tubes used to fuse and fire explosive devices. He ripped out a newspaper clipping of an upcoming service at the New England Holocaust Memorial near Faneuil Hall.

Then, on the sixth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, Chase supposedly tried to buy a cup of iced coffee at a Dunkin' Donuts in East Boston while Felton waited outside. The cashier hassled her — the $20 bill was an obvious ink-smeared fake. An off-duty cop waiting behind her in line followed her outside. After a short chase, he and another officer arrested both Chase and Felton.

The cops had no idea what they had, who they had. No idea what they had thwarted. And that might be the scariest thing of all.

Boston could have been the next Oklahoma City if Leo Felton and Erica Chase had not been arrested over a cup of coffee at a doughnut shop. Even then, the police did not know that this was more than a counterfeiting case, didn't know who Felton was until he was released on bail. Namely, the leader of a small cell of vicious racists and a member of the White Order of Thule, itself an offshoot of the group the Order.

Leo Felton and Erica Chase have denied these charges, but the rhetoric that both produces and inspires their ilk is timeless: white power, white pride, tightly spun conspiracy narratives of the Jewish octopus and the mongrelization of the white population by “mud races.” Over the past several years, the movement has transformed itself into something perhaps less marginal yet more insidious, certainly harder to deal with. The transformation has, at once, made these homegrown Mohammed Attas more influential and more invisible.

The new paradigm for the movement's leaders — our homegrown Osama bin Ladens — is to avoid direct involvement in bloodshed. They sit back and encourage, support, even train young people to carry out their mission. “Now their job seems to be to inspire their foot soldiers,” Levin says. “They don't have to be everywhere, they don't have to be anywhere because they've got their surrogates: young people who are faithful, dedicated hatemongers.”

The Internet has played a huge role in swelling the ranks of those surrogates. Racialist Web sites and hate-inspired chat rooms have created a community of belief. “Ten years ago, if you had a person who harbored certain ideas in a community where they didn't have people who shared their views, they lived and operated in relative isolation,” says Robert Leikind, director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in Boston. “Now, with the Internet, you can literally, with the click of the mouse, become part of a national or international network. Instantly. With people who not only share your ideas or share your convictions, but who give you every opportunity to deepen them, give them more substance, who give you the confidence and courage that come with being part of a network of people who share your views.”

What that means is that the net of these ideas can now be cast wider than ever. “They've been very successful at transmitting these demonizing and dehumanizing ideas to a much broader audience,” says Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates in Somerville, a watchdog group that tracks the extremist right. And that has exponentially increased their potential to influence mainstream America. One of the students charged with plotting a Columbine-style massacre of his teachers and classmates at New Bedford High School in November had photographs of Hitler, painted violent racist graffiti, and possessed the amateur bomb-makers' bible, The Anarchist Cookbook.

Like the National Alliance, the World Church of the Creator (WCOTC) hates Jews and blacks. But the other most-vibrant hate group in Massachusetts also hates Christians.

Rob — he won't give his last name since he is a supervisor at his service-industry job — is, at the age of 27, much younger than the National Alliance's Hackworth. He's also much less articulate, though he makes up for that with his enthusiasm. Rob is a member of the WCOTC chapter in Peabody. The WCOTC is a religious group — cobbling together bits of Nietzsche, Hitler, Odinism, and paganism into a form of neo-Nazism (although Rob does not seem to know what “pagan” means). They even have a Golden Rule: That which is good for the white race is good; that which is bad for the white race is evil.

Rob is a racist skinhead, which means he shaves his head and wears flight jackets, and his skin is covered with symbolic tattoos — “SKIN” emblazoned on his chest, “Vincere Aut Mori” (Latin for “victory or death”) burned into his back. “My parents have never seen them, though,” he says.

He was raised a born-again Christian and says he “always had a subliminal racist attitude growing up. Racism is kind of like a natural instinct. Racism is taught out of you.” Growing up, he bounced around Melrose, Wakefield, and Stoneham. “I look back [at Stoneham] now,” he says, “and the blacks were always in trouble. Now I think back, and I'm like, 'Son of a bitch. They have nothing but crime in their blood.'”

He joined the WCOTC four years ago, when the only local chapter was in Billerica. (Now there are four: one each in Peabody, Sutton, East Boston, and Sterling.) He says he didn't know anything about racist groups until a skinhead passed him a card for the WCOTC. Rob gave it to a friend, who ordered some of the group's literature. While flipping through it, Rob had an epiphany. He read the group's “bible” — Nature's Eternal Religion — “and it listed the scriptures and the contradictions. I said, 'They got a point here.'”

Rob explains his beliefs simply, if vaguely: “We are the Creators, we as white people. The only people who have ever created anything real is the white people. White people have created everything. Our religion is our race. Everything is for white people, about white people.”

As hate group members often do when discussing their beliefs, he tries to distance himself from violence. Instead of blowing people up, he thinks that, left to their own devices, they'll just self-destruct. “So we won't help them out,” he says. “Without whites' help, they'll just shoot each other. A lot of the minority races, if they didn't have whites to help them out, they wouldn't survive. I'd rather see them overdose on drugs.”

But it's hard for members of Rob's group to distance themselves from violence when their rallying cry is “Rahowa,” which stands for racial holy war, something they view as inevitable. “Jihad is the same thing,” he says. It's also hard to disavow violence when a member of the group, Benjamin Smith, goes on a two-day rampage in the Midwest, shooting an Asian, an African-American, and several Orthodox Jews, before killing himself. Harder still when the group's leader, Matt Hale, offers Smith up as a martyr.

But, in the end, it's the rhetoric the WCOTC uses to inspire its foot soldiers that makes it so dangerous. Its founder, Ben Klassen, who has since committed suicide, wrote in Rahowa! This Planet Is All Ours: “RAHOWA! In this one word we sum up the total goal and program of not only the Church of the Creator, but of the total White Race, and it is this: We take up the challenge. We gird for total war against the Jews and the rest of the goddamned mud races of the world — politically, militantly, financially, morally, and religiously. . . . We regard it as a holy war to the finish — a racial holy war. Rahowa! is INEVITABLE. It is the Ultimate and Only solution. . . . No longer can the mud races and the White Race live on the same planet and survive. The planet is from now on all ours and will be the one and only habitat for our future progeny for all time to come.”

The new face of domestic ter-rorism is alive and well and living among us in Massachusetts. The National Alliance, the World Church of the Creator, the foot soldiers. “I think it's fairly inevitable that people who are involved in some of these hate groups will ultimately be involved in criminal activity,” says the ADL's Leikind. “If only because some of these groups call for it. And so I think that's a huge danger.”

If the destruction of the World Trade Center showed that it is nearly impossible to investigate and impede determined foreign terrorist cells, the situation is even more complicated with domestic terrorists. Federal agents say they are too busy to track the Internet, that they need probable cause to set up a wiretap, that they do not track people's views, no matter how hateful they are. “Until they do something illegal,” says the FBI's Marcinkiewicz, “there's really nothing we can do.”

Leo Felton is in jail, facing 90 years in prison. The problem lingers in the unknown — how many other Leo Feltons are out there. How many individuals or small cells of people are deciding, right now, that it is time to act. To emerge from the underground “to do something terrible,” as Leikind puts it. “They could be,” says the ADL's Andrew Tarsy. “Anybody could be. And no one would know.”