Desperately seeking angry white females

Hate groups move beyond their traditional "angry white male" constituency to recruit as many new female members as they can find.

Published October 14, 1999 10:01AM (EDT)

Brainstorming by e-mail, Lisa Turner and a half-dozen other women discuss how they might attract new recruits into their circle:

How about a craft fair? We'd pass out literature and sign up women who'd like to find out more about us. They'd come to our booths to see our decorative candles and jewelry and soaps. All showing off our organization's logo. It would be just like a Renaissance festival ...

Turner and her friends are not inviting women to join a church group or a charity drive. Instead, they represent the white separatist organization World Church of the Creator, an overtly racist and anti-Semitic group that is aggressively targeting women to join its traditional constituency of angry white males.

Experts say a newly stepped-up recruitment effort by this and other such groups targeting women is growing, especially on the World Wide Web, and that it is rooted in the standard business dictum: Grow or die.

"They need as many bodies as possible," says Randy Blazak, assistant professor of sociology at Portland State University, and founder of Oregon Spotlight, a watchdog effort that tracks hate-group activity. "Since more white women are working and therefore being laid off or competing with minorities, there is a growing pool of alienated people to target."

Nationwide, women already make up roughly 25 percent of hate group members, according to research by Kathleen Blee, a University of Pittsburgh sociology professor, but they also account for a startling 50 percent of all new recruits.

This is partly due to the emergence of educated, media-savvy leaders in the hate movement -- such as Matt Hale, the law-school graduate who heads the Church of the Creator. Hale and his ilk understand how to pursue growth strategies based on targeting demographic segments. Minority recruiting is out of the question for white supremacists. So women are now being recruited for positions of influence in organizations that previously restricted them to the roles of girlfriends, wives or mothers.

"Barriers are breaking down," agrees Jocelyn Benson of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC closely monitors the hate-group movement. "They're seeing shortcomings in male leadership, so they're turning to women to fill the void," she says. "It's gone beyond just bringing in some mothers and girlfriends. There are more professional women coming in. That adds legitimacy to their cause. It provides more access to money for their movement."

Church of the Creator's Lisa Turner, for example, herself a law-school dropout, says she is a catalyst for "intelligent" online discussions of gender politics within the hate movement. As one of her efforts, Turner posted an essay, Lessons from the Death of Princess Diana," in which she longed for a "White English Rose" to win over the masses for Church of the Creator. One of the more notorious members of the church was Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, whose shooting rampage in Illinois and Indiana last summer left two people dead and nine wounded before ending in Smith's suicide. In a subsequent media blitz, Hale disassociated Church of the Creator from Smith's deadly acts, but the gunman is still clearly revered inside the organization. In an e-mail written in September, Turner expressed regret at the "harassment and attacks" she said Smith had suffered from "anti-racists." She vowed to promote activist counter-efforts. "I am here for the long haul," she writes. She referred to the dead gunman as "Brother" Ben Smith.

Turner claims she currently has more than 200 women from a wide variety of professions and institutions on her e-mail list. Some are at such prestigious universities as Cornell, Stanford and Harvard, she says. "They're sick and tired of the propaganda dished out in their college classrooms, like the Holocaust," Turner says. "They ask me for advice. So I feel like a support system for women who are not necessarily ready to join Creator but are looking for a way to bolster their arguments and debates in classrooms with professors."

Several of the female Church of the Creator members recently recruited by Turner expressed in interviews a clear sense of fulfilled longing for the sort of traditional membership one would find in any club. They essentially had been "church-shopping" before committing to Church of the Creator. Turner was able to recruit them partly because, unlike other white separatist groups that had failed to even return messages sent to their Web sites, Turner was quick to reply to any e-mail she received.

"She is almost never too busy to help out, and she'll do almost anything to help out," says an 18-year-old student at College of the Canyons in Valencia, Calif., who identifies herself as "Sister Megan." "She teaches us that if we are ever to survive, information is key."

Melody LaRue, a 24-year-old office manager in Seattle, says she wasn't looking for "your average skinhead group," so Turner's focus on women made an instant connection. "There aren't as many women fighting for our cause as there should be," she says. "This is generally because the racial movement has been seen as a 'boys club.' The women in our church focus most of their efforts on changing that. To win over our people, we must be equal in numbers."

Church member Corinne S., 40, of Burbank, Calif., says she has maintained an interest in supremacist groups since she was 13. But she had no idea how to get involved until the Web "opened up a whole new world for me," she says. She cyber-shopped, running into frustrations when her e-mailed requests for information from various Ku Klux Klan and Aryan sites met with little or no response.

Turner, however, bounced back information to her immediately and it was to Corinne S.'s liking. "Women are the teachers, lovers and nurturers, the creators of life," Corinne S. says. "We need more families and children to complete our vision of the future."

The Internet has been very good to hate groups. No longer confined to giving speeches in town squares and churning out newsletters, the groups are reaching out to that precious mass audience that they have always sought but rarely found. There are now more than 540 "hate" Web sites hosted by an estimated 310 separate groups, according to the SPLC.

By now, racist webmasters have proved to be as cyber-savvy as their non-racist counterparts. Sites specifically seeking to increase interest among women include a Mothers of the Movement Aryan site that offers a second-hand clothing exchange and cost-saving tips on homemade baby wipes and food. It also maintains mainstream online links to Parenting magazine and One Nazi site features a white-power dancing baby.

The recruitment of women isn't confined to cyberspace, though. Cultural shifts are helping transform organizations that have traditionally viewed females as baby-bearing subordinates. While sexism still surfaces from the old school, Turner and other women recruiters say such barriers are breaking down. "Everyone is starting to realize that if we are going to overcome in this struggle," she says, "we are going to have to do it together -- man and woman -- side by side."

She blames the media for holding onto a bias about her movement. "The Jewish-controlled media tells these women that these groups are dominated by women-hating men," Turner says. "Because these women are so vulnerable, they stay away."

The SPLC's Benson, who has spent much of 1999 documenting the new role of women in these organizations, notes how paradoxical it is that recruiters such as Turner are using a feminist-themed approach. She says she recently sat in on a Creator session in which a young mother gathered with other mothers, chatting up recruitment ideas like they were exchanging tips on buying a stroller.

"The idea is to create a community of women first, then bring them into the movement," says Benson. "They can gather through the bond of motherhood, for example, and then use that to seek to create an all-white world for their children."

As one of their efforts, this club of young mothers headed to a local mall and placed Church of the Creator cards in the pockets of jeans in clothing stores. Turner approved: "I like to promote by putting our church literature in library books," she says. "Mainly the women's sections. I advocate putting it in newsstands, slipping it in the front pages of magazines. Something like the pages of Glamour. Yes, we get creative. We say, Take out literature and distribute it anywhere you can."

Back on her e-mail list, Turner is busily developing more ideas. An Internet radio broadcast is one possibility. "Also," Turner says, "I have always had a dream of having a premier magazine of, by and for white women ..."

By Dennis McCafferty

Dennis McCafferty lives in Washington and is a staff writer for USA Weekend magazine.

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