World and Nation

Hate Groups Stay Mostly Quiet During Election

A tall, extra-hot mocha in his hand and a .380-caliber pistol on his hip, Bill White sat near the window of a Starbucks in Roanoke, Va., last month and discussed his political predicament as the leader of one of the nation’s more established neo-Nazi groups.

“Right now,” said White, the head of the American National Socialist Workers Party, “we’re facing the potential of a half-black candidate financed by Jewish money going up against a white candidate financed by Jewish money, who are both advocating the same policy. So you’ve got two terrible choices.”

On Friday, about three weeks after that interview, White was jailed on suspicion of making threats against a juror who was on a panel in 2004 that convicted a white supremacist of plotting to kill a federal judge.

So stands the state of organized racism in 2008, paralyzed and at a crossroads in what would presumably be a pressing moment of action — the possibility that Sen. Barack Obama will become the first black president — but has so far not been.

There have been sporadic reports throughout the country of Obama signs vandalized with swastikas, windows smashed at local Obama campaign offices and racist pamphlets dropped on doorsteps. Overt and thinly veiled racist comments about Obama have been caught on camera at rallies, and a Republican women’s group in California — the Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated — has made headlines for a flier that showed Obama’s face on a faux food stamp that also included images of watermelon and fried chicken.

But party officials and organizations that monitor hate groups, always concerned about the specter of violence, report far less activity from the more traditional sources of open racism late in the race than they had expected.

“What we really haven’t seen is white supremacists really rallying over an Obama presidency,” said Mark Potok, the director of intelligence at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. “Hate groups are in a more or less stunned position right now; they haven’t been able to figure out how to proceed just yet.”

Some attributed the relative lack of activity so far from white supremacist groups and other sources of racial attacks to the same cultural shifts that led the Democrats to become the first major party to choose a black presidential nominee.