SKINHEAD LEADER FINDS NEW MEDIUM FOR SPREADING HATE
Until a year ago, George Burdi was a virtual unknown, spreading a message of white separatism and anti-Semitism as the leader of Rahowa, a Canadian white power rock group that played before sparse audiences of skinheads in places like the West Side Club in Detroit.
Last April, though, the 24-year-old Burdi and several other young white racists founded Resistance Inc., a Detroit-based media company that markets white separatism on its own record label, produces video documentaries, promotes its bands and publications on its own Internet site, and publishes Resistance Magazine, the slickest periodical in the white supremacy movement. Burdi also serves as the magazine's editor.
``I do hate,'' said Burdi, the eldest son of an insurance broker who grew up near Toronto and now writes and performs under the name George Eric Hawthorne. ``I hate what is happening to my people, white people. I hate the fact that we forgot the laws of nature. The laws of nature dictate that you must look after your own kind. The laws of nature dictate that any living thing that becomes apathetic to its own fate will perish.''
By adeptly deploying an array of modern communications technology outside the mainstream media, Burdi awakened a once-moribund neo-Nazi skinhead movement in the United States that now numbers an estimated 4,000 hard-core supporters, up from roughly 1,000 in 1987, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama. In the process, Burdi became one of the most prominent white supremacy leaders in North America, said state human relations agencies and private human rights groups in the United States.
Resistance Inc., in short, has developed ``a new model for purveying hate,'' according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights group based in Los Angeles.
The company is at the leading edge of a vast communications web, established by some 250 American and Canadian hate groups, that includes desktop publishing, shortwave radio, citizen access television, computer-supported fax networks, independent video production, telephone hot lines, computer billboards, and the Internet.
With such equipment and technology, all of it quite affordable, hate groups are able to keep in touch with each other like never before, as well as to recruit new supporters, most of them white males in their teens and 20s.
``All this has had a pretty profound effect on a movement whose resources are limited,'' said Don Black, a former Ku Klux Klan leader from Tuscumbia, Ala., who learned computer technology while serving a two-year prison sentence in the early 1980s on a federal sedition charge. Black now operates Stormfront, a white supremacy computer bulletin board in West Palm Beach, Fla.
``A third of households have computers and with the phenomenal growth of the Internet, tens of millions of people have access to our message if they wish,'' he said. ``The access is anonymous and there is unlimited ability to communicate with others of a like mind.''
Such broad capability to communicate hate, though, is worrying state authorities, human rights groups, and the Clinton administration. Vice President Al Gore, responding to questions about hate on the Internet, said in a statement on Friday that the administration was studying the issue.
``We have established principles in this country that define what is protected speech and what is not, and there are technological ways being developed to protect people from receiving provocative and hate speech over computer networks,'' Gore said.
The computer is by far the most powerful and effective of all the new tools for hate groups. White supremacists have established areas on the Internet and seven national computer bulletin boards where they exchange messages and receive news items, documents, schedules for radio and television broadcasts, order sheets for racists books and magazines, and addresses for most of the white supremacy groups in the country.
Never has the hate movement had access to such powerful and inclusive communications technology, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. ``We're a long way from the era when these guys put leaflets on windshields,'' he said.
What Cooper and other civil rights leaders fear is that the new technology could produce a mass hate movement in the United States. There is no evidence that is occurring, say state human relations commissions and police authorities, but there are unmistakable signs of a growing militancy on the American far right that may be related to the more pervasive messages of hate.
Hate crimes are the fastest-growing category of crime in Pennsylvania and several other states, according to state human relations commissions. In more than 20 states across the country, groups of armed citizens are forming and training as organized militias. And in California, neo-Nazi skinheads are appearing in greater numbers at rock concerts. In December, an 18-year-old white youth at a concert in Orange County was beaten and stabbed by skinheads who did not like the fact that he was wearing a picture of a black man, guitarist Jimi Hendrix, on his T-shirt.
``What we know is that today it is OK to express bigoted, racial ideas in public,'' said Cooper. ``Is that related to the new ability to communicate hate? I don't know. But people feel much more comfortable now letting it all hang out than they once did.''
In the aftermath of a triple murder in Pennsylvania late last month, in which the two skinhead suspects had attended concerts in Pennsylvania and Detroit by bands that record on Resistance Records, and the killing in October of a skinhead singer in Wisconsin who recorded on the label, Burdi and his company have now drawn the attention of the police in three states.
None of the killings have slowed interest in his company's products, Burdi asserted. Resistance Magazine has a circulation of over 13,000, he said, although that number cannot be verified because he is secretive about his business operations to the point that he would not disclose the address of his headquarters in Detroit. But Resistance Magazine's full-color presentation on good paper stock, the quality of its CDs and the string of well-attended concerts it promotes are indications of the company's success
Burdi is also a polished public speaker capable of quoting George Bernard Shaw and Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. And as a thick-muscled and energetic singer who performs bare chested, he has made Rahowa (the name is a condensation of racial holy war) not only one of the most popular white power bands but also the rallying cry of thousands of young white men across the country.
``It should come as no surprise to the average American that there is a serious problem in inner cities,'' Burdi said. ``Young people who grew up with this are rejecting wholesale that America is a nation of harmony. They believe that multiracialism has failed. Our message is that we want a white homeland. We want to live separately from other races.''
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