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Before a group of white supremacists made their planned field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art over the Memorial Day weekend, they had decided to meet up at an undisclosed location in New Jersey.
So, if the Voice was going to get into that meeting, we were going to have to trust a guy who calls himself Copperhead to take us there. Outside the Marriott Hotel in Saddle Brook, New Jersey on Saturday morning, a Hyundai with Virginia plates rolled up with two people inside.
"Don't worry, we're nice white guys," said Copperhead, the older of the two, as he welcomed his passenger. "No one's going to get offended here," he said while pulling on a baseball cap decorated with a Confederate flag over his shoulder-length hair. Copperhead, it was later explained, was the name given to northerners who sympathized with Confederates during the Civil War.
According to several Internet sites, white supremacist groups around the country had called for "patriot" get-togethers over the three-day weekend. The one organized for the New York area included a Saturday barbecue and a Sunday visit to "the incomparable Metropolitan Museum of (White) Art."
Visiting the preeminent art museum, these patriots believed, would be a terrific way to celebrate white culture.
But first, there was the barbecue, which a Voice reporter was now traveling to after contacting local white supremacists through one of the most active neo-Nazi websites on the Internet, Stormfront.org, which has more than 110,000 members. (About 10,000 are in the Northeast.) The field trip to the Met was being organized by Jamie Kelso, a former Mensa member and New York City native. It was also being promoted by NewSaxon.com, a Friendster-like "online community by whites for whites" that appeals to young and tech-savvy racists. Before mysteriously shutting down recently, NewSaxon claimed more than 50 New York members, some of whom posted images of themselves wearing Nazi uniforms and skinhead regalia.
In a telephone call before the event, Kelso had answered a question about how people might be dressed at the event (would anyone be in white robes?) by acknowledging that some white nationalists do insist on wearing "silly costumes," but that the Memorial Day events were not meant to incite hate.
He said that he had hopes to convince others that white nationalism is a respectable political program, and added that rising anti-immigrant sentiment has helped his cause. "People want to think that we're weird," he said. "We are the only normal ones, actually. We are the ones that see that the ship is sinking." Stormfront may have been founded by KKK leader Don Black, but Kelso says it's a legitimate force in American society, a sort of NAACP for white people.
For days, the "normal guys" at Stormfront had interrupted their discussions about Mein Kampf and firearms shopping to discuss their plans for the weekend. Among those planning to attend the New Jersey meeting were guys with screen names like LongKnives and EuroWarrior14.
And, as the Hyundai continued on its way, the two people from the organization in the car were unaware that they were taking a reporter to the secret location of their party.
As the car motored farther away from the center of town, Copperhead explained that he had come to the white nationalist cause just 10 years ago, at the age of 50. But now he had become Kelso's right hand, helping to set up events, assisting with the microphones, videotaping, and other technical needs. After a short conversation about the "immigrant invasion," he pulled the car into a gravel yard on a quiet corner of Elmwood Park, New Jersey.
The destination turned out to be a meeting hall by the name J.O.U.A.M. (for Junior Order of United American Mechanics), a one-room building with the air of an abandoned country church. Its peeling white paint and dirt-and-weeds yard seemed evidence of neglect, poverty, or both. But the building still gets plenty of use, at least by white supremacist groups. The National Alliance and National Vanguard have both used it as a meeting place, drawing both the Elmwood Park Police and anti-racist protesters. Elmwood Deputy Chief John Palmeri says the meetings have been happening with increasing frequency. About once a month is the estimate of Dorothy Dunkerley, who helps manage the building.
Although neither she nor her husband, former Junior Order counselor William Dunkerley, attend the meetings, she says they both consider the protesters more vexing than the white supremacists.
The hall's interior matched the exterior in its drabness. Dozens of folding metal chairs had been jostled out of their neat lines as a few sweaty people tried to position themselves near fans. Most of the 30 or so attendees gathered near two tables up front, where white power CDs and DVDs were on sale.
The attendees were a motley group of locals and visitors from Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Washington, and Massachusetts. Some were muscled and tattooed, others wore pressed khakis and professorial glasses. One man wore his hair in a long rat tail covered partially by his trucker hat; another wore the skinhead's signature Doc Martens with white laces. A man with a shaved head and muscle shirt had brought his young son, who protested that his snack of strawberries needed to be cut up.