The recent explosion at an NAACP chapter in Colorado has brought back memories of past violence directed toward the national civil rights group by members of domestic hate groups — a segment of the population that experts warn is on the rise.
Members of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement hold flags as they salute and shout “Sieg Heil” during a rally in front of the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Photo: Mel Evans/AP
WASHINGTON — The first thing Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), thought of when she heard about the explosion outside the NAACP office in Colorado Springs last week was Walter Leroy Moody Jr.
Beirich, an expert on extremism in the United States, told MintPress News, “It’s not the first time that the NAACP’s been targeted for domestic terrorism – I can’t be sure that that’s what it was, but I thought of Walter Leroy Moody, who bombed an NAACP office in Savannah, Georgia, in 1989.”
Moody was found guilty of killing federal appeals Judge Robert Vance and Robert Robinson, an NAACP attorney in Georgia, with two separate mail bombs in 1989. During his trial in 1991, Moody told the court that the Ku Klux Klan assembled and mailed the bombs that killed Vance and Robinson.
Moody is currently serving several consecutive life sentences at the Holman Correctional Facility, and at almost 80 years old, he is the oldest inmate on Alabama’s death row.
At about 10:45 a.m. on Jan. 6 an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded outside the Colorado Springs NAACP office, which also houses a hair salon. Nobody was injured in the explosion, and the only damage to the building was some charring on the outside wall. It has been reported that the owner of the building, Gene Southerland, was told by police that the explosion was the result of a pipe bomb placed next to a gasoline can, which did not explode.
Colorado Springs police officers investigate the scene of an explosion Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, at Mr. G’s Hair Salon at 603 S. El Paso Street in Colorado Springs, Colo. AP/The Colorado Springs Gazette, Christian Murdock
On Jan. 9 the FBI released a sketch of the suspect — a balding white male in his 40s — and announced a $10,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest in the case. While the FBI has not said the NAACP was the target, Thomas Ravenelle, FBI Denver’s special agent in charge, said, “We would be naïve if we did not acknowledge the NAACP as a national organization has been the recipient of threats throughout their existence.”
Founded in 1909, the NAACP bills itself as “the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization.” It was created partly in response to lynchings and the 1908 race riot in Springfield, Illinois. The organization’s main objective is to “ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of minority group citizens of the United States and eliminate race prejudice.”
Since its inception, the organization has been a target for white supremacist groups, such as the KKK.
In 1951, Harry Tyson Moore, founder of the first NAACP branch in Brevard County, Florida, and his wife were the first NAACP members to be killed for their civil rights activism after a bomb exploded in their home on Christmas Eve. Nobody was arrested for the crime at the time, but forensic work in 2006 pointed to Klansmen, who had long since died.
Following several years of harassment, Medgar Evers, a field secretary for the NAACP in Mississippi, was assassinated in 1963 by a member of the White Citizen’s Council, a white supremacist organization.
In 1965, George Metcalfe, president of the Natchez, Mississippi, chapter of the NAACP was severely injured after a bomb exploded his car. At the time, the NAACP was attempting to integrate the cafeteria of the Armstrong Rubber Company, a tire plant in Natchez. Wharlest Jackson, Sr., the treasurer of the Natchez NAACP and a close friend of Metcalfe’s, was killed in a similar explosion in 1967, shortly after accepting a promotion at the tire plant.
In 1975, the Boston chapter of the NAACP was firebombed, reportedly by opponents of school desegregation.
Then, in 1981, 10 people were arrested for planning to bomb the NAACP headquarters in Baltimore. Among them were KKK leaders from Maryland and Delaware. Later that decade, in 1989, shots were fired into the NAACP headquarters.
In July 1993, the Tacoma, Washington, branch of the NAACP was damaged by a pipe bomb. That incident was followed by the firebombing of the Sacramento, California, office a week later. Nobody was injured in either attack, but white supremacists were arrested for the crimes. These incidents occurred in the wake of the federal government sentencing two Los Angeles police officers to prison for violating the civil rights of Rodney King when he was beaten by police in 1991.
Colorado, and white supremacy in America
Colorado is currently home to 17 hate groups, according to the SPLC’s Hate Map. These include the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and The Creativity Movement — both white supremacist organizations.
However, Beirich told MintPress, “There’s nothing off the top of my head that says, ‘Oh, Colorado would be a logical place for something like this.’”
“That said, NAACP offices have been targeted in various parts of the country, so why not Colorado?”
Since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, in which 168 people were killed in a plot engineered by right-wing extremists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, there have been 110 terrorist plots and racially-motivated rampages in the United States by the radical right, usually white supremacists.
One of the most recent manifestations of extreme violence motivated by white supremacy and anti-Semitism was last year’s shooting at the Overland Park Jewish Community Center in Kansas, which claimed the lives of three people. The alleged killer was Frazier Glenn Miller, Jr., 74, who had spent time in prison in the 1980s for planning to kill Morris Dees, the founder of the SPLC. Miller is the founder of the White Patriot Party and the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
There are currently 939 active hate groups in the U.S. In 2000, there were 602. The numbers are rising and “over 50 percent of them are white supremacist,” said Beirich.
The number of hate groups generally correlates with the population, according to Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the SPLC. Potok told Business Insider last year that two groups people should watch are the American Freedom Party, which is anti-immigrant and has moulded itself into a political party contesting elections, and Crew 41, a skinhead gang. A couple that reportedly belongs to Crew 41 were sentenced to life imprisonment in March for plotting and carrying out the murder of a registered sex offender and his wife.
Vice News recently published a documentary, “The Ku Klux Klan Is Boosting Its Numbers by Recruiting Veterans,” in which reporter Rocco Castoro goes to Mississippi and speaks with KKK members.
In one conversation, Steve Howard, the former Imperial Wizard of the North Mississippi White Knights, says, “I believe that white people need to have their own country, just like I believe that blacks need to have their own country here in America, but it’s going to take all out war to obtain it.”
The 2000 U.S. Census has been one of the most important factors in the rise of hateful extremists, Beirich explained. It showed that by the year 2042 white people would be a minority in the U.S.
Those figures sparked a growth in hate groups, she said, noting that white supremacists likely became nervous about the country becoming less white and more diverse.
“Obviously, the rise in the number of hate groups is a reflection of a backlash in this country against changing demographics,” she said.
She concluded that racism and the rise of white supremacist groups in the country should be a cause for concern among citizens and law enforcement.
“This white supremacy is an ideology that should have been put to bed with the Civil Rights Act, or the Civil War for God’s sake, right!” she said.
“The fact that this country’s been white supremacist for most of its existence, until the mid-60s, means that we don’t want to go back to that where people are oppressed because of the color of their skin.”
Meanwhile, back in Colorado Springs, the FBI is still searching for a balding, middle-aged white male in connection with the recent bombing outside the NAACP office.
Henry Allen, Jr., the president of the Colorado Springs chapter of the NAACP, has stated that he still does not know if his office was the target of an intentional bombing.
The government’s non-response
In response to the rising number of hate groups in the country, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) commissioned an intelligence assessment of the situation in 2009. It was dispersed to federal, local, and tribal counterterrorism and law enforcement agencies across the country.
That assessment did not find “specific information” about right-wing groups planning acts of violence, but it noted that right-wing extremists “may be gaining new recruits by playing on their fears about several emergent issues. The economic downturn and the election of the first African American president present unique drivers for rightwing radicalization and recruitment.”
The government defined right-wing extremism as “groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.”
The assessment also determined that the rise of extremism may be the result of the economic and political atmosphere, which included the recession, outsourcing of jobs and a “perceived threat” to U.S. power. It said that “possible passage” of firearms restrictions and challenges faced by returning military veterans integrating back into society “could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks.”
“We’re currently in one of the hottest periods of extremist activity in the United States that I’ve seen in my 20-year career. This blows what we saw pre-Oklahoma City out of the water and makes it look like a kindergarten picnic,” Daryl Johnson, a domestic terrorism expert and founder of DT Analytics, a private consulting firm for law enforcement and Homeland Security professionals, says during an interview for the recent Vice News documentary. Johnson was also the main author of the intelligence assessment issued by DHS in 2009.
Yet, rather than acting on the information gathered in the assessment, the government cancelled all of its domestic terrorism reporting and law enforcement training after the report was leaked and politicized by conservative media outlets and politicians.
One such publication described “the piece of crap report” as “a sweeping indictment of conservatives.” It continues, “In Obama land, there are no coincidences. It is no coincidence that this report echoes Tea Party-bashing left-wing blogs … and demonizes the very Americans who will be protesting in the thousands on Wednesday for the nationwide Tax Day Tea Party.”
Conservative news organizations interpreted the publication of the report as a political power play by Obama to demonize the right, rather than an impartial analysis of domestic terrorism that could help law enforcement.
In 2011, two years after the report was released, Johnson said he was deeply disheartened by how the report was characterized. Johnson told Joe Hamilton at the Muskegon Chronicle that he was “a former intelligence analyst and counterterrorism expert for the U.S. Army, an Eagle Scout, Mormon, one-time church missionary, an anti-abortion gun owner, and third-generation lifetime registered Republican.” In short, he said he is a conservative. Johnson added that the report could not have been a political move on the part of Obama, since he was hired in 2004 by the George W. Bush administration.
Following Hamilton’s opinion piece, Johnson penned his own article for Salon, “Daryl Johnson: I tried to warn them.” In it, he makes a damning indictment of the DHS decision not to follow through on recommendations made in his report.
“Since the DHS warning concerning the resurgence of right-wing extremism, 27 law enforcement officers have been shot (16 killed) by right-wing extremists. Over a dozen mosques have been burned with firebombs – likely attributed to individuals embracing Islamaphobic (sic) beliefs. In May 2009, an abortion doctor was murdered while attending church, two other assassination plots against abortion providers were thwarted during 2011 and a half-dozen women’s health clinics were attacked with explosive and incendiary devices over the past two years.
In January 2010, a tax resister deliberately crashed his small plane filled with a 50-gallon drum of gasoline into an IRS processing center in Austin, Texas; in January 2011, three incendiary bombs were mailed to government officials in Annapolis, Md., and Washington, D.C.; also, in January 2011, a backpack bomb was placed along a Martin Luther King Day parade route in Spokane, Wash.; and, during 2010-2012, there have been multiple plots to kill ethnic minorities, police and other government officials by militia extremists and white supremacists.
The Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek, Wis., and the shooting of four sheriff’s deputies in St. Johns Parish, La., in August are only the latest manifestations of right-wing extremist violence in the U.S. Yet, there have been no hearings on Capitol Hill about this issue. DHS still has only one analyst monitoring domestic terrorism. The federal government’s failure to recognize the domestic terrorism threat tells me there will assuredly be more attacks to come.”