White nationalists condemn church killings, identify with shooter

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
White Nationalists Condemn Church Killings But Identify With Shooter

Leaders of America's core white supremacist groups have a laundry list of perceived grievances. They say the media ignore black on white crime; that desegregation has led to poorer schools for white students; that white people in the United States have lost power to black people.

And while they don't condone last week's shootings of nine black worshipers at a Charleston church, many of the leaders say they understand the motivation behind the attack – and predict more violence to come.

Interviews with half-a-dozen prominent white nationalists reveal a movement that they say has been re-energized by such things as the election of America's first black president and, more recently, what movement leaders describe as "a siege" against white police officers.

"A lot of the whites in the U.S. are starting to wake up," Robert Jones, grand dragon of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina, said in an interview. White people, he said, are getting "fed up" with the lack of attention paid to crimes against white people by blacks.

But that anger hasn't translated into membership growth for established hate groups. The Ku Klux Klan today, for instance, is a shadow of the white supremacist force it was in the 1920s, when its numbers peaked at about 6 million members. Today, the Klan has about 2,000 to 3,000 members nationally, with about 72 chapters, known as klaverns, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization based in Montgomery, Ala. that monitors extremist groups.

Overall, the number of white nationalist groups identified by the law center was 518 last year, compared with 736 in 2008. And hate crimes have remained steady over the past decade.

Active Number of U.S. Hate Groups by Type | FindTheBest

But those numbers may be misleading, the law center says, noting that the Charleston killings underscore fundamental changes in how the "white power" message is being spread today, with younger adherents shunning group membership in favor of the convenience and anonymity of online forums. One such site, Stormfront, describes itself as "a community of racial realists" and says that its number of registered users has more than doubled since 2008 to 300,000.

Dylann Roof, the man accused of last week's attack at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, is not known to have joined any of the established hate groups, but a manifesto attributed to him describes how he was radicalized online, learning about "brutal black on white murders" while surfing the website of the white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens.

16 PHOTOS
Charleston SC shooting suspect. Dylann Roof
See Gallery
White nationalists condemn church killings, identify with shooter
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
This image has been provided by the Charleston Police Department, Thursday, June 18, 2015. A man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside a historic black church in downtown Charleston, S.C., Wednesday night, June 17, 2015, killing nine people, including the pastor in an assault that authorities are calling a hate crime. The shooter remained at large Thursday. (Photo via Charleston Police Department)
The Emanuel AME Church is viewed behind a police vehicle on June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the Church on the evening of June 17, 2015. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A police officer holds up a tape in front of the Emanuel AME Church June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the church on the evening of June 17, 2015. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A view ofthe Emanuel AME Church is seen June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the church on the evening of June 17, 2015. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

"HORRIFYING"

Bradley Griffin, a Council board member, called the Charleston attack "horrifying," And attempted to distance the organization from the killings. "No one in our group has ever said, 'Go pick up a gun and shoot random people.' I don't know where this guy got that idea from," he said in an interview.

But he also said he's sympathetic to Roof's anger. "If anyone touches a hair on a black person, it's international news, whereas the most horrific crimes imaginable are inflicted on whites all the time, and I think the media kind of wants to downplay that," he said. The Council's website, which has since been taken down, described the group "as the only serious nationwide activist group that sticks up for white rights" and warned against "modern Negro thuggery."

Kyle Rogers, a South Carolina member of the Council since 2001, estimated the group's membership at 10,000, though he said only a fraction are active. He operates a flag-vending website from his home in leafy Summerville, South Carolina, and his business includes selling patches of the Rhodesian and Apartheid-era South African flags, similar to the ones displayed on a jacket Roof wore in a widely circulated photograph.

"We're seeing a lot of young people wearing patches like that in the white nationalist world," said Stephen Piggott, a campaign coordinator at the Southern Poverty Law Center. "If you were walking down the street, the average person wouldn't have a clue what that patch is. But if he was walking down the street wearing a Nazi swastika, it would be completely different."

Griffin, whose father-in-law founded the Council, frets about the tendency of younger people to keep their separatist beliefs private.

"They hide on the Internet. They don't organize," he said. Violence could be avoided, he added, if "people have older men above them to show them discipline like they used to."

Asked how he formed his views, Griffin pointed to his childhood in Eufaula, Alabama, a short drive from the birthplace of George Wallace, a former Alabama governor who tried to block desegregation at the University of Alabama in 1963.

"The political, the cultural views that I have are not surprising at all considering where I'm from," he said. "There's a long history of this."

Leaders of the white power movement warn that last week's shootings could presage a rise in violence by disaffected whites who see their world changing in ways they can't accept.

"I expect that you're going to see an uptick in those types of attacks," said Brian Culpepper, a Tennessee chapter leader of the National Socialist Movement, the largest Neo-Nazi organization in the United States, referring to the shooting in Charleston.

"Open borders is a huge problem," he said in an interview, causing white people to be displaced by "third worlders," and generating "resentment among the whites and among the nationalists."

"RACISM IS ALIVE AND WELL"

In South Carolina, white separatists have found particularly fertile territory. The state has the highest per capita number of hate groups in the country, including 14 white nationalist organizations and two chapters of the Ku Klux Klan, according to the law center.

Active Hate Groups in 2014 by State | FindTheBest

And the groups don't necessarily include all of those sympathetic to their principles. Roan Garcia-Quintana said he resigned from the Council of Conservative Citizens because "they were all interested in just complaining," he said. And he stopped attending meetings of the League of the South, a group that wants "a free and independent Southern republic" to protect its "Anglo-Celtic core population," because they were "like a history class."

Once a refugee from Cuba, he now heads a small organization called "Americans Have Had Enough" founded to combat an "invasion" of undocumented immigrants.

Many African-Americans in the state say that such groups exacerbate racial tensions and help fuel the kind of violence Charleston saw last week.

"It didn't surprise me," said Mary Quarles, a black woman who grew up in Abbeville, South Carolina. "We're in the South and the South is the South."

She recalled how her great, great grandfather, a sharecropper in Abbeville, was lynched after being accused of disrespecting a white woman, according to the family history.

"It's just sad that we're still going through this," she said.

Tajuana Eddleton, 42, who works in marketing in Richmond Virginia and attended college in Charleston, said she, too, wasn't surprised by the murders.

"Although that doesn't mean it's not hurtful," she said "Racism is alive and well. It might subside but the undertones are still a reality."

More on AOL.com:
Searchers comb Alaska glacier for GIs killed in 1950s crash
'Cowardly': Boston Marathon bombing victims berate Tsarnaev
Senate poised to hand Obama big victory on negotiating trade

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners

Man Suspects His Wife Is Cheating On Him - Then His Daughter Reveals What's Really Going Man Suspects His Wife Is Cheating On Him - Then His Daughter Reveals What's Really Going
20 Folks Recall Shocking Interview Moments That Made Them NOT Want the Job 20 Folks Recall Shocking Interview Moments That Made Them NOT Want the Job
Nature Gets Revenge On Safari Hunter Who Killed Elephants And Lions For Sport Nature Gets Revenge On Safari Hunter Who Killed Elephants And Lions For Sport