"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.
A retired Jersey City cop was selling white power CDs and videos in the back. He made easy conversation with a customer about Skrewdriver, a punk band that maintains legendary status since its lead singer Ian Stuart Donaldson died in a car accident in 1993. In his bin of wares were videotapes of "The Occult History of the Third Reich," ($2.50) and CDs by the infamous duo Prussian Blue 14-year-old twin sisters who sing white pride songs at many big supremacist events. (They attended an event at the J.O.U.A.M. meeting hall last year with David Duke.) The day's raffle prize was also on displaya German language edition of The Turner Diaries, a futuristic novel about the genocide of all non-whites that is considered a manifesto for white supremacist militia groups.
Copperhead offered bottles of water to the handful of women in attendance. He was on a mission to win over new recruits, or at least a girlfriend. "See, we're a bunch of normal people! Don't we look normal?"
Copperhead was, perhaps, one of the least normal looking people there. His intense blue eyes had a wild look to them while he discussed the Jewish conspiracy to take over the world, and a dime-sized scab on his throat had left a few drops of dried blood on his collar. "We're not hateful," he said emphatically. A moment later he expanded on his experience as a "racialist": "I've gone to Klan meetings . . . even Jesse Jackson says that more blacks were killed by blacks in 50 years than the Klan killed in 100. They lynched people to get rid of the bad element, guys who are raping our women and committing crimes." The conversation moved on to Haiti, slavery, and Copperhead's theory that "slaves were treated really well!" This revisionism was in keeping with the theories posted on Stormfront.org which claim that the Holocaust was a hoax, Anne Frank's diary was a fake, and Martin Luther King Jr. was an evil Communist.
Kelso, dressed in collared blue shirt and black slacks, was in the front of the room broadcasting his regular live radio show from his laptop. Kelso removed the headphones, leaving his mop of white hair and Coke-bottle glasses disheveled, to report that David Duke had called in earlier to wish them well. Radio broadcasting is one of the many odd skills he has acquired over a lifetime of being on the fringe of societyKelso was involved with the New Age movement and the Church of Scientology in the 1970s. Though he's pushing 60, Kelso still has the energy of teenager and the enthusiasm of a motivational speaker. That has translated to the astounding growth in his organizationmost of Stormfront's active members have joined in the last year and half. He's also been the motivating force behind real community-building among Stormfront members, organizing gatherings like this one. Today, Kelso met several folks for the first time that he'd only known online, greeting each with a limp handshake. Finally he asked the crowd to take their seats.
Rich Lindstrom, the point man for New Jersey's white supremacists, went to the wooden podium. "We are not ashamed! We are not afraid! We're here in broad daylight," he said. Lindstrom was burly and slightly sunburned, perhaps acquired from his job as a roofing contractor in West Milford, New Jersey. Lindstrom has been a minor player in white nationalist politics for years. According to One People's Project, an anti-racist organization, Lindstrom was fined for putting white supremacist stickers on a traffic sign about 20 years ago. Since then, Lindstrom continued his endeavors as Northeast coordinator for the National Alliance and later as a founding member of the National Vanguard. Lindstrom has also promoted a local message board called North East White Pride (www.newp.org), which has a more overtly racist bent than Stormfront. (Recently, a news banner at newp.org announcing the death of Yolanda King, Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter, described her as a "Dead Nigger Bitch.")
Lindstrom, symbolizing the old guard, made way for Bobby Ammon and Evan Thomas, up-and-coming leaders of a new wave of white supremacy. Ammon was there to promote the Nationalist Coalition, a white supremacist organization formed last year. The Coalition portrays white people as a persecuted group fighting for survival, couching its aims of rigid segregation in the language of identity politics.
Thomas, a 22-year-old with a politician's speaking voice and the posture and physique of a Marine, talked about ways to make the "cause" more relevant. When he suggested that they should tone down the Jewish conspiracy stuff because, "average white people don't care," the crowd was defiantly silent. He switched tacks and eventually had the crowd cheering when he said he would "give his life" to the cause.
Then, the speeches were interrupted by an excited announcement from the back of the room: The protesters had arrived. But Lindstrom downplayed the threat, saying that "the combined weight of the protesters is 150 pounds." Kelso guessed that the average protester had biceps about six inches in diameter, and he asked if the "dirty animals" were "wearing dresses."
Others rushed to the door of the meeting hall to gawk, although only a few ventured out to face the enemy. Across the street, a group of six protesters held signs saying "Nazis Out! of Elmwood Park." Six police officers looked on while both protesters and white supremacists took photos with their cell phone cameras so they could post the images online. The protesters were already well-known to the Stormfront members, who had compiled a stack of papers with the names, home addresses, and MySpace addresses of several local activists from Anti-Racist Action and One People's Project. Activist Daryle Lamont Jenkins, though not present at this protest, claimed last year that a brick had been thrown through his window in retaliation for past demonstrations at the meeting hall.
Copperhead, who had been filming everything through the open door, set down his video camera to put on his own show. He adopted what he called his "nappy-headed radio" voice and narrated a fictional scene: "We're here in New Brunswick, home of the nappy-headed 'hos! We gave them nappy-headed 'hos some hair-straightening cream, but they still 'hos!" Bystanders laughed raucously as they returned to their uncomfortable metal chairs.
Back inside, Kelso turned his figurative role as cheerleader into a literal one, suggesting that a hearty round of applause would deflate the protesters and "make it sound like we have a hundred people in here." The obliging crowd sent up a deafening whoop and applause, ending in laughter. Kelso's enthusiasm bordered on manic as he asked the crowd to repeat the cheering a few more times. After more speeches about white flight, white fear, and white power, the meeting adjourned for what Kelso described as "a white man's feast." Single file, the crowd moved down a doubtful flight of stairs into a dank basement. The perimeter of the room was crowded with discarded computers circa 1990, stacked upon a heap of unused old furniture. Two fold-out tables held the repast: hot dogs, hamburgers, slices of American cheese, tubs of pre-prepared macaroni and potato salads, iceberg lettuce, and Lay's potato chips. There was only one kind of bread available: white. Lindstrom stayed at the grill outside, flipping hamburger patties, while everyone else ate dinner inside, away from protesters' cameras.
Jim Russell, a perennial but unsuccessful Congressional candidate from Westchester, passed out anti-immigration literature during the meal. Russell has never been a popular candidate, but working the anti-immigration angle has helped some white supremacists attain national exposure that was impossible to get just a few years ago. In 2005, Kelso and fellow Stormfront member Bob Whitaker, an appointee in the Reagan administration, were interviewed on a South Carolina Fox station about their fear of the "disappearance of the white race." Last month, Paula Zahn interviewed Stormfront member and radio host James Edwards, who repeated the well-worn white supremacist line that "white Americans are in for the fight of their lives." Immigration was, he said, "happening at the expense of European Americans." That immigrants are turning the U.S. into a third world country was a common refrain during dinner. A Queens man summed it up when he spoke about his experience living in East Harlem"it was great as long as you stay inside away from the Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and bodegas."
As the dinner wound down, Kelso was winding back up. He urged people to join in the next day's field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
"It's bigger than the Louvre . . . and everything in it is made by white people like us!" he exclaimed.
Outside the Met on Sunday morning, lines of NYPD officers with helmets, flak jackets, and rifles stood guard. Kelso would later boast that the police were there to protect the arriving Stormfront members, but the NYPD tells the Voice that the confluence was just coincidental; they had gathered at the landmark for an exercise.
Two hours past their scheduled 10 a.m. arrival, Kelso lumbered up the steps with a cadre of camera-carrying followers. An initial plan to filter in one by one was forgotten when the group realized there were no protesters that needed dodging. However, outside the friendly confines of the New Jersey meeting hall, the group was visibly more subdued. Two men who proudly wore Nationalist Coalition shirts during the New Jersey meeting were now in plainclothes: one sporting a Guinness T-shirt and the other in a plaid button-down.
Kelso tried to locate stragglers in the mass of crowds outside the museum, but the others appeared too awed by the sights of the city to help him. Evan Thomas and Bobby Ammon, the two young speakers from the previous day, were eagerly taking in the chaotic landscape; Copperhead, meanwhile, was treating a new handful of women to his "nappy-headed" radio comments, which he abandoned once he was within listening range of the security guard.
The group had swelled to 20, including a handful of New Yorkers who had missed the previous day's meeting. Among them were a former Brooklyn schoolteacher, an Upper East Sider who called himself Boy Howdy, and a German immigrant who now lives in Park Slope. Kelso tried, with limited success, to get everyone's attention as they gazed around the spacious lobby.
"We're going to look at the sculptures, some of the most amazing work done by our race," Kelso announced. Two nearby security guards exchanged worried glances, but said nothing. Kelso reminded the restless group to stay together and not to use flash photography. "We have no contingency plan if we get separated," he added cheerily to a companion, and the group promptly split up in different directions.
The group made its way through the crowded galleries of European sculpture and decorative arts. Kelso, a self-proclaimed artist and art buff, occasionally paused along the way to explain that "this painting is worth $2 million," and that piece of art, "is one of only 41 works by the artist." The white supremacists didn't stand out from the hordes of other tourists crowding the galleries, and their hushed comments, half-heard snippets about shooting Arabs or speculation about Muslims being thieves, were swallowed up with noise.
As he walked the halls, the man from Brooklyn told anecdotes from his days in the New York City school system. "It's a zoo," he said as a few others listened curiously. The animals, he implied, were all the black and brown kids who force schools to "teach to the lowest common denominator." This, he said, was the problem with forced diversity. The discussion morphed into a brainstorming session on how to create public whites-only schools without being accused of outright racismperhaps, the ex-teacher suggested, by creating a charter school that specializes in something he believed that black kids wouldn't be interested in, such as Latin. His small audience nodded in approval at the scheme.
The group continued its journey, pointedly bypassing the African, Asian, and Latin American wings. No one was interested.
In the European and American galleries, however, every object or image was interpreted as a symbol of white accomplishment, from sculptures of Zeus to paintings by Winslow Homer. Kelso paused in front of a tempera painting of a blond, blue-eyed woman wearing an opulent red gown and pearls in her hair. The artist was Piero del Pollaiuolo, a 15th-century Italian painter. Kelso called everyone over to admire the Aryan beauty, hinting that perhaps the artist was making a statement about racial purity, something the members of Stormfront are especially passionate about. (In a recent post on the site's message board, a woman suggested this response to unwanted advances from non-whites: "I wish I had a time machine . . . because there was a time when your attempt at hitting on me would have resulted in you becoming a tree ornament.")
Kelso made sure to stop and admire the famous 21-foot-long oil painting, "George Washington Crossing the Delaware," by Emanuel Leutze. (Online, Kelso calls it a "great white treasure.") No one, meanwhile, pointed out the black oarsman pictured alongside the great Revolutionary War general.
The Stormfront tourists also paid particular attention to Civil War art, especially artist Winslow Homer. A favorite work portrays several oppressed but hopeful Confederate soldiers who, "continued to carry on a hopeless fight against overwhelming odds," according to Kelso. The scene seemed to strike a chord with this group of white people who say they, too, are oppressed and carrying on a discouraging fight against a society corrupted by non-whites.
After a couple hours of reviewing masterpieces of white art, Kelso herded everyone into the cafeteria. Over cupcakes, cookies, chips, and juice, the dwindling group was beginning to develop real friendships. Bob Whitaker, a stalwart of the white nationalist movement, reminisced about his days as a mercenary in "small engagements in South America and Africa" where, he said, he may have killed some people.
Eventually the group disbandedone to the airport, a handful to Central Park, a few young men in search of Little Italy and some beer. Kelso, as always, headed back to his computer to spread the Stormfront message.
Some of the others posted their own remembrances. A 29-year-old Pennsylvania man claimed that he'd gotten lost during the field trip and had happily come across some Nazi relics at the museum. He only regretted, he wrote, that he'd been unable to insult any non-white people while he visited the city. The solo Queens member of the outing thought it had gone so well, he suggested midtown Manhattan as the next conference location. "It would be epic," he wrote, "like that picture of Washington crossing the Delaware."
Several days later, Kelso was informed that one of his participants was actually a newspaper reporter. "Oh, I'm all atwitter!" he exclaimed, seemingly unfazed and excited by the opportunity to get the word out about his cause. Told that the Voice had wanted to observe the members of his group as they really are, he heartily endorsed the idea, saying that we had been given an accurate representation. With only a hint of doubt in his voice, he added, "You would be a great white nationalist!"