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Monday, August 13, 2012

Pete Simi Encounters Sikh Temple Shooter During Research of Book

Editor's note: Recently University of Nebraska at Omaha's (UNO) Pete Simi spoke with numerous national media outlets to discuss meeting Wade Michael Page. Simi met -- Page -- the accused shooter who killed six people at a Sikh temple in a suburb of Milwaukee while during research on his most recent book. I interviewed Simi for a UNO Magazine article about that very book, which he co-authored with fellow sociologist Robert Futrell. The article is below:

Lifting the veil of darkness on White Power Movements
Toss any stereotypes about what you think a Skinhead might look like out the window. Because a Skinhead — or, more appropriately, a White Supremacist — could be your neighbor, classmate, coworker or church member, says American Swastika author Dr. Pete Simi.

Simi, an associate professor in UNO’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, wrote American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement's Hidden Spaces of Hate with Dr. Robert Futrell, a sociology professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The two draw on more than a decade of research and interviews, from the infamous Hayden Lake Aryan compound in Northern Idaho to private homes in Los Angeles to hate music concerts around the country.

“They’re constantly vilified and getting the short end of the stick,” Simi says. “So, I wanted to get their perspective.”

The book is getting good press. In November American Swastika was named CHOICE magazine’s Outstanding Academic Title of the Year for 2010.

The book was a long time in the making. Simi started doing fieldwork on the Neo-Nazi movement in 1997. He gained close looks at the everyday activities of the white power movement, even spending five-weeks living in a white power home and attending Neo-Nazi events in the Southwest.

“I thought it was really important from the beginning to make firsthand contact with folks,” Simi says. “Most of us have familiarity with these groups based on movies, TV shows and newspaper articles — things of that nature. But I didn’t really have first-hand contact with members of these types of groups.”

Through descriptive case studies, Simi and Futrell examine hate in the home, talking with parents who aim to raise “little Hitlers” and discussing the impact home schooling and cultural isolation can have on children. The authors also describe Aryan crash pads, Bible studies and rituals.

“Observing their events, spending time with people in their homes and observing how they raise their kids and what they do on a daily basis in their lives,” Simi says. “What their lives look like. You don’t get that from reading their propaganda.”

His most interesting encounter, he says, was witnessing a white power baby shower.

In the book, the authors explain the history of the movement and describe the several different clans operating in the United States, including the KKK, the Aryan Nation, Skinheads and others. At gatherings, there is always an attempt to try to unify different branches of the Neo-Nazi movement.

They also discuss ways White Supremacists cultivate, maintain and spread their beliefs — largely under the radar of most Americans. Yet if you want to learn about them, they’re accessible.

“They’re very open to having outsiders attend because it is an opportunity to get the word out,” Simi says. “White and willing to listen — their assumption is they can convert you.”

California has the most active Neo-Nazi scene in the United States. During the summer of 2004, Simi spent five-weeks with a Neo-Nazi family in Southern California.

Simi says white supremacist prison and street clans have grown recently. Public Enemy No. 1 — or PEN1 — has more than 21,000 members. They’re activities revolve around organized crime like meth trafficking and counterfeiting.

“Their [White Supremacists’] strategy is not to conform or declare war on the system,” he says. “Within the last 10 years a key leadership vacuum has left the movement very decentralized.”

This has led to growth in the Neo-Nazi white power music scene via the Internet. Simi and Futrell take readers through the hate music scene, from underground bars to massive rallies, examining how the Internet has shaped communication and created disturbing new virtual communities.

White supremacy has been more visible recently in at least two instances. Simi points to news of a wife who killed her Neo-Nazi husband. Police found that he had a type of biological weapon in his possession. There also have been connections between Neo-Nazis and the Tea Party. Simi wrote about that in American Swastika’s preface.

“Neo-Nazi’s are making efforts to infiltrate the Tea Party movement,” Simi says. “Most involved with the Tea Party are not Neo-Nazi’s; however, there is some degree of overlap. It’s an indisputable fact that this is happening. Some Tea Party members don’t appreciate that, but it is what it is.”

You can also read the original article, "Lifting the veil of darkness on White Power Movements" at UNO Magazine. The magazine is sent to 74,000 UNO graduates and friends around the world! This spring 2011 issue focused on "Crime, Safety & Justice for all."  This publication is produced three times a year by the UNO Alumni Association and University of Nebraska Foundation.

- population-we blog post by Becky Bohan Brown 
© 2012 population-we, LLC
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