Hate on holiday: Neo-Nazis mark MLK birthday
Civil rights activist Uriah J. Fields celebrated the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. on the Downtown Mall with a sign voicing his displeasure with U.S. foreign policy.
Local members of the National Alliance chose another way to commemorate the day, blanketing Charlottesville lawns with fliers disparaging King, touting Abraham Lincoln's opposition to integration, and warning that "no multi-racial society is a healthy one."
Doug Schneider, who lives on Mulberry Street, found three of the fliers in his yard. "It's incredibly insulting when they don't know who lives on this street," he says. "A lot of African Americans live here. That's what horrified me."
Another Mulberry resident, who requested anonymity for fear of being targeted by the flier distributors, says, "I got my Washington Post out of the driveway, and next to it is this horrifying hate thing. I couldn't believe it here in Charlottesville."
The woman, who filed a complaint with the police, says that when she called, "The receptionist said they'd had numerous complaints."
Police report collecting 105 fliers around Johnson Village and Ricky Road behind the Barracks Road Shopping Center. Residents on Rugby Road and in North Downtown also were targeted by the National Alliance.
The neo-Nazi group, headquartered in Hillsboro, West Virginia, was founded by William Pierce, author of The Turner Diaries, a book that inspired Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Pierce died in 2002. His protegé and philosophical heir, Kevin Alfred Strom, 45, lives in Charlottesville, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Strom broadcast a radio show on King 10 years ago; in another King show on January 17 he accused the civil rights leader of destroying the fabric of American society. The National Alliance website calls Strom's show, American Dissident Voices, "the premier radio show for Whites."
National Alliance chief operations officer Shaun Walker refuses to confirm Strom's Charlottesville residency, but says Strom does live in Virginia.
Why distribute the fliers in sophisticated– and often liberal– Charlottesville? "It wasn't targeted for any malicious reason," says Walker. "It's an area where white people live, and we wanted to get to them."
A "couple thousand" fliers were distributed by a "proto-group" in Charlottesville, according to Walker. A proto-group consists of three "mature leaders" who have to prove their activism to become an official unit.
"UVA has quite a bit of racial tension," notes Walker, referring to the 2002 incidents in which white UVA students were beaten up by black Charlottesville High School students. "That's what sparked the proto unit."
Walker refuses to discuss national membership numbers, estimated at 1,500 by the Anti-Defamation League, but he says that nationally, the Alliance has 25 official units and about 100 proto-units.
As for African Americans who may have gotten the fliers, Walker says that was purely unintentional. "They're intended to go to white people," he explains. Minorities are not welcome in the group.
And, insists Walker, "If the public knew the truth about King, he wouldn't be a holiday."
Another flier distributed in North Downtown neighborhoods, called "Don't Catch AIDS," links interracial sex and marriage to AIDS.
"We got our biggest media boon with that one in Eagle, Colorado, with Kobe Bryant," says Walker, who estimates several hundred media stories from distributing the flier in the town where the African American basketball star is accused of raping a white woman.
City Councilor Meredith Richards calls the flier "disgusting." When she received the MLK literature in her Johnson Village neighborhood, she threw it away.
"I don't think there's much appeal for that message in this community," she says.
As objectionable as many Charlottesville residents find the National Alliance's white supremacist message, Richards recognizes that it's protected speech.
Schneider, too, acknowledges that the First Amendment gives the National Alliance freedom of speech. "People have the right to express their opinions, but don't throw it in my yard," he protests. "Stand on a street corner or write an article, but don't bring it to my door unless I ask. It's inappropriate to assume I want to hear that."
"Although distasteful, it's not threatening," says city spokesman Maurice Jones. "The worst criminal offense would be littering."
Are police investigating littering charges against National Alliance distributors? "If a citizen saw anyone engaged in this activity, I'm sure the police department would be interested," Jones says.
Local NAACP vice president Cindy Stratton says the organization has received a couple of calls about the fliers. She's not surprised that Charlottesville would be targeted. "It's indicative of the need to continue the work we do," she sighs.
Mayor Maurice Cox sees the flier distribution as "a sad commentary on how much hatred they must harbor in their souls" if they're trying to catch one or two haters "who might be nestled in any community."
Cox doesn't believe the National Alliance will find recruits here. "There's no place for them in this community," he says. "Charlottesville is united in denouncing this kind of hate mongering."
Kevin Strom, a leader of the white supremacist National Alliance, reportedly lives in Charlottesville.
NATIONAL ALLIANCE WEBSITE