When it was brought to News Hits' attention that the largest Nazi organization in the United States — the National Socialist Movement — had moved its headquarters to the city of Detroit, we spent a fair amount of time being outraged.
We were mostly insulted by the audacity — a group that spews racist hatred moving to a majority African-American city? To be specific, our majority African-American city?
Not to mention metro Detroit is home to the country's largest Middle Eastern population, a sizable Jewish community and thousands of other immigrants, and the NSM is decidedly anti-immigration and anti-Semitic.
So we put on our proverbial reporter hat to check it out.
Well, dear readers, if the local Anti-Defamation League isn't gearing up for jack-booted, goose-stepping thugs waving swastikas and heil-Hitlering around Hart Plaza, maybe we shouldn't either. But we won't be complacent.
"Them being in Detroit shouldn't scare anybody," says Betsy Kellman, the regional director of the ADL. "There are a lot of groups here in Michigan. We do try to expose them and bring them to light. The last thing you want is to have them work surreptitiously. The more attention you bring to them, the less scary they can be."
Since 1981, the Southern Poverty Law Center has investigated hate groups and extremist activity throughout the United States. Each quarter, the center publishes its Intelligence Report magazine to provide updates to law enforcement and media as well as the public.
That's where the news item about NSM's move to Detroit appeared. Here's some of what Intelligence Report has said about the group: "Its leaders are building a new hate machine fueled on bloodthirsty rhetoric, publicity stunts and big-tent recruiting." In 2005, as the magazine described it, "a planned NSM march through a rough Toledo neighborhood sparked rioting that made international news."
Why did NSM move from Minneapolis to Detroit?
National spokesman Charles Wilson, listed on the NSM Web site as a "lieutenant," said he'd try and get us some local Nazis to talk about that. They never called, and he was short on the phone. He was busy with the group's march in Washington, D.C., this weekend. "That's going to be lots of fun," he says.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, NSM "commander" Jeff Schoep moved to Detroit (no word on exactly where) for girlfriend reasons. Where goes the commander, so goes the headquarters.
Again, Kellman isn't worried about some colossal bunker being set up.
"It's a P.O. box," she says of the new HQ. "Much of what they do is on e-mail and online. That's how they keep in touch."
OK. Point taken. But we're still concerned about the NSM in general. The Intelligence Report quoted one NSM spokesman as crediting the group's growth to "the fact that we are legally confronting Jews and blacks in the streets.
But what do we do? We are, after all, staunch supporters of the First Amendment.
We asked another expert, Jack Kay, for suggestions. He's interim chancellor at University of Michigan-Flint, but as a communication scholar he's studied hate groups for three decades.
"These groups do have the right to their opinions, but those of us who oppose these groups also have the responsibility to speak up and say their opinions are pretty ugly and their opinions should be repudiated," Kay says.
Done. And we're still on the lookout.News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]