Not all the hate groups tracked by the SPLC are white supremacist groups. There are extremist Muslim groups, multiethnic anti-gay groups, and Black supremacist groups, among others.
New Mexico has its share of problems – stubborn unemployment, a through-the-roof drunken driving rate and a checkbook off balance by $100 million, to name a few.
But we are doing a lot better than our neighbors in one way: the prevalence of hate groups. New Mexico has just three hate groups, according to Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center and the editor-in-chief of the center’s hate group tracking Intelligence Report.
That’s low compared with neighboring states. The SPLC counts 16 hate groups in Arizona, 15 in Colorado, 11 in Oklahoma, four in Utah and a whopping 36 in Texas.
We don’t have the lowest numbers in the nation – that distinction goes to Alaska and Hawaii, at zero hate groups each. Potok describes the hate groups we do have as “tiny.”
“New Mexico suffers from this movement (white supremacy) considerably less than most states,” he said in an interview with ABQ Free Press. “So, you know, I think the problem is less one for New Mexico per se than for our country as a whole.”
Earlier SPLC reports counted more groups in New Mexico, including some apparently defunct chapters of the Ku Klux Klan. Potok said the SPLC searches year-round for hate-group activity but can’t always determine why a particular group’s activity stopped. It could mean the group disbanded, or it could simply mean they stopped maintaining a website or speaking publicly.
“Probably what happened (in New Mexico is that) they just disappeared. I mean, especially these little Klan groups that kinda pop up and go away from year to year. But I can’t say that we always know [why],” Potok said. “Sometimes they just disappear. You know, their websites, all indications that they’re doing anything.”
The SPLC, based in Montgomery, Ala., has a variety of methods to search for hate groups, including trawling the web, searching out hard-copy publications of racist literature, scanning police reports around the country for reports of hate crimes, and taking tips from the public.
Not all the hate groups tracked by the SPLC are white supremacist groups. There are extremist Muslim groups, multiethnic anti-gay groups, and Black supremacist groups, among others. Potok said that of the 784 groups tracked in 2014, 113 were Black supremacist groups. White supremacists and anti-immigration groups predominate the listing, however.
Potok said there are almost certainly hate groups around the country that his organization is not aware of. Groups that don’t advertise themselves (and whose leaders manage to stay out of jail) are very difficult to track. “I have no doubt that we miss some of these groups,” he said. “For whatever it’s worth, I think we’re good at (finding them). We’ve been doing it for about 30 years. But, you know, we don’t claim to be perfect in that way.”
New Mexico grown
The three groups the SPLC currently identifies in New Mexico are really only two groups – one chapter of the 11th Hour Remnant Messenger group and two chapters of a group called Aggressive Christianity.
According to the SPLC website, 11th Hour Remnant Messenger was founded in the 1990s by a man named Vincent Bertollini, who was arrested in 2006 in Santa Fe on a warrant after fleeing the country to avoid a DWI charge in Idaho. Following his release in 2010, he moved to the Albuquerque Metro area and has continued his “work” with the group.
The SPLC website has only a vague overview of the 11th Hour Remnant Messenger ideology, but Potok provided ABQ Free Press with some details. “It’s basically a heretical reading of the Bible that says that Jews are satanic. They’re literally biologically descended from Eve having sex with the serpent in the Garden of Eden,” Potok said.
“Another part of this bizarro theology is that white people are the real descendants of the Hebrews of the Bible. So they say quote-unquote Aryans are actually the chosen people of God,” he said.
New Mexico’s other identified hate group, Aggressive Christianity, was founded by James and Deborah Green in 1979 after God spoke to them in their prayer closet. The group is headquartered in Fence Lake, about an hour’s drive south of Gallup. James Green frequently mans a booth at the Gallup Flea Market with a flag emblazoned with the word “REPENT.”
The Aggressive Christians call themselves “The Army That Sheds No Blood.” Their often-all-caps website refers to Green as “Gen. Jim” and rails against “The GAY MAFIA, BLOODTHIRSTY MUSLIMS, [and] The ZIONIST CONSPIRACY To Control The World.”
Power of the Internet
Though right-wing conspiracy theories existed, of course, long before the Web, the Internet has been instrumental in the spread and development of hate propaganda, according to Potok. Widespread use of the Internet also has made it easier for hate groups to proselytize, which means it’s easier for people to become radicalized without actual real-world contact.
This, Potok said, has led to the “lone-wolf” problem: Most violent extremists these days act alone, making it much more difficult for law enforcement to predict or disrupt domestic terrorist plots. For Potok, the best recent example of this was the June 17 Charleston, S.C., massacre, when, according to authorities, a white supremacist named Dylan Roof walked into a Black church and murdered nine people.
“For Roof, the Internet was everything. That is where he got his information, period,” Potok said.
“As far as anyone knows, he never had any face-to-face contact with anyone in the white supremacist movement, he wasn’t a member of any group. He was radicalized, it appears, one hundred percent through reading Web pages on the Internet and, in particular, the Council of Conservative Citizens Web page.”
The Council of Conservative Citizens is a white-supremacist group that believes America is a “Christian nation” as well as a “European nation” and is particularly focused on spreading dubious horror stories of Black-on-white crime to prove its point about the supposed dangers of integration.
The Council of Conservative Citizens’ website states it is against “sexual licentiousness, homosexuality and other perversions, mixture of the races, pornography in all forms, and subversion of the authority of parents.”
The CCC, coincidentally, rears its ugly head in another point that Potok makes about the rise of Internet extremism. According to Potok, who recently edited a report on lone-wolf domestic terrorism for the SPLC, one reason for the rise of Internet-based hate groups is the increasing social cost of membership in a white-supremacist organization.
To make this point, Potok references Trent Lott, the former Mississippi U.S. senator whose longtime links with the CCC became the subject of controversy in the late 1990s. “You know, 15 years ago, you might be identified as a member or a friend of the Council of Conservative Citizens, as Trent Lott was, and survive that politically. I don’t think that could happen anymore,” Potok said.
The lone-wolf problem – that adherents of hateful ideologies are being driven underground and acting alone, making attacks very difficult to disrupt – is a very difficult one, Potok said. He recommends people take threats seriously and report them to the authorities.
“Dylan Roof talked about this to his roommates and other people, and no one took him seriously, and again and again and again, we see this happening,” Potok said. “A lot of the school shootings, the kid is going around talking about how he’s going to blow away this person and that person and those people, and, you know, people think it’s just talk. Well, you know, I think that caution’s the better part of valor here.”
Potok said we’re going through “a very tough time” as a country right now. But he describes himself as optimistic and said he believes the current spate of white-supremacist violence personified by Dylan Roof will come to an end as more white people come to accept the widespread demographic changes that will leave whites as a minority by 2043.
“All through American history there have been backlashes that followed virtually every major social advance. So you had very major backlashes, often including very serious violence, to the freeing of the slaves, to women getting the right to vote, to Catholics immigrating in the 1920s in large numbers at a time when the country was still dominated by Protestants,” Potok said.
“We’re looking at 30 years of a very major demographic change. And I fear it will likely get worse before it gets better. But, you know, all that said, ultimately I think that we will come out of this a better country – a truly multicultural and multiracial democracy.”
Andy Beale is an Albuquerque freelance journalist.