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I answered my office phone last week to hear a drawl I recognized from the red clay hills of west Georgia.
“You left a message for the Aryan Nations?”
A few days earlier I had called the number for the Aryan Nations Worldwide, a cell of the much-splintered Christian Identity group that set up shop about 50 miles west of Atlanta in Villa Rica. The group was a new entry in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual “Hate Map,” and I had tried to reach out to several new groups to see how they felt about being on the center’s list.
The voice on the phone, a man who would only identify himself as “A.N. Patriot,” was dismissive of the extremist watchdog group.
“It’s kind of an honor. It’s coming from an organization like that,” he said of being included in the Hate Map. “The Southern Poverty Law Center is anti-Christian, anti-white and anti-patriotic American.”
For the next 45 minutes, the man unspooled the group’s fuzzy goals and his take on the presidential race, immigration and current events. The conversation was unvarnished, unapologetic and with a touch of white supremacist salesmanship honed by extremist groups online.
Mainstream media typically do not give much room for folks like A.N. to explain their worldview. Why give voice to hateful commentary from the edge of polite society?
I asked that question myself. The counter-argument is that these people are among us. This man is your neighbor — the hater next door.
His anger and disappointment at the modern world is palpable, but we rarely hear directly from people like him.
Dylann Roof, the accused shooter in last year's massacre in a black church in Charleston, published his views online before the shooting, but we never saw it.
For the record, A.N. said his group renounces violence. “We’re not a prison gang,” he said. “We have families, we work, we pay our taxes.”
Yet in the same breath, A.N. endorsed the mass shooting in Orlando at a gay nightclub, which claimed 49 lives.
The Pulse nightclub massacre was “the Lord’s work,” he told me. He attributed the high death toll to God’s own hand on the trigger.
“That was nothing more than a Sodom and Gomorrah in that club,” he said.
Origins of a fringe religion
The brand of Christianity that allows such disregard for human life is an extreme right-wing branch of the religion known as Christian Identity, which originally gained traction with the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s but has been broadly adopted and modified by a variety of extremist groups.
Briefly, Christian Identity claims white Europeans are descended from the “lost tribes” of Israel and are God’s chosen people. Adherents typically regard other races as inferior or even sub-human and believe that the Apocalypse is near at hand.
That’s why A.N. is pulling for a Hillary Clinton victory in November.
“In all honesty, I really think it would help the movement if Hillary Clinton wins. Our country’s knees are bent. If she wins, our knees will be on the ground,” he said.
Following the country’s presumed total collapse, A.N. described a vision of America where racial segregation and white rule is re-established under the banner of the Christian church.
Given a Clinton-induced revolution, A.N. said “race mixing” and homosexuality would no longer be tolerated and whites would rule. Oh, and it will be white men at the helm.
“It used to be motherhood and being a good housewife, a nice person that took care of their family, was highly praised and looked upon as something great to do. Now, today? You kidding me?” he said. “Now a woman is not praised for being a woman. A woman is being praised for competing with a man.”
Web gives groups a forum
There were some answers I didn’t get. Why Villa Rica, for instance?
A researcher for the Anti-Defamation League told me Ayran Nations Worldwide was an off-shoot of a Louisiana Ayran Nations outfit that had winked out of existence. A.N. dodged the question, but his answer says something about the current state of white extremist organizing.
“You keep hollering Villa Rica, but it’s worldwide,” he said.
There has always been an element of internationalism to white power movements, but A.N. was as concerned with immigrants in Syria and whites in South Africa as he was by domestic racial politics. His views lined up symmetrically with those expressed by skinheads, klansmen and neo-Nazis in online racist forums.
“We are seeing the downfall of civilization,” he advised. “Thank God for the internet.”
Domestically, traditional racist organizations struggle. A.N. wouldn’t discuss how many members his group claims, but the ADL researcher I spoke with said the group is small with a handful of members. The chief deputy of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office said he was not even aware of the group.
The internet has not only allowed people like A.N. to find others who share their fringy, paranoid vision, but it’s also allowed them to get on the same page. And it’s not just on the dark places of the web.
New York Times deputy Washington editor Jonathan Weisman publicly left Twitter earlier this month in protest of the social network's refusal to crack down on vicious, anti-Semitic posts.
The internet has helped create a homogenized, international hatred of non-whites, immigrants, and LGBT communities that transcend organizational boundaries. That unity is oxygen for a movement that has suffered from decades of imprisoned leadership, costly court battles and fractious internal politics.
A.N. put it best.
“What is power?” he said. “It ain’t guns. There’s two things: It’s Christ and it’s unity. It’s all of us banding together.”