Pugnacious anthems and racist diatribes have never been in short supply at Nordic Fest, an annual white-power Woodstock held over the Memorial Day break near the former mining town of Dawson Springs, Ky. And this past weekend was no exception. On the agenda were a Triumph of the Will--themed running event and a cross "lighting" sponsored by the Imperial Klans of America. But something new did arise at Nordic Fest this year: bellicose talk and plans of action against illegal immigrants. Among the scheduled guest speakers was Hal Turner, a New Jersey Internet radio talk-show host who recently instructed his audience to "clean your guns, have plenty of ammunition ... and then do what has to be done" to undocumented workers.
With immigration perhaps America's most volatile issue, a troubling backlash has erupted among its most fervent foes. There are, of course, the Minutemen, the self-appointed border vigilantes who operate in several states. And now groups of militiamen, white supremacists and neo-Nazis are using resentment over the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. as a potent rallying cry. "The immigration furor has been critical to the growth we've seen" in hate groups, says Mark Potok, head of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. The center counts some 800 racist groups operating in the U.S. today, a 5% spurt in the past year and a 33% jump from 2000. "They think they've found an issue with racial overtones and a real resonance with the American public," says Potok, "and they are exploiting it as effectively as they can."
Both Potok's group and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) are worried that extremists are burrowing their way into the anti-immigration mainstream. Mark Martin, 43, of Covington, Ohio, is a chef at a French restaurant and tends his backyard organic garden. But he also dons the black and brown uniform of western Ohio's National Socialist (read: Nazi) Movement. "There's nothing neo about us," he says. Martin admits he frequently harasses day laborers and threatens them with deportation. "As Americans, we have the right to make a citizen's arrest and detain them," he insists. "And if they try to get away, we have the right to get physical with them." Martin gleefully boasts about leading eight fellow storm troopers in disrupting a May 1 pro-immigrant rally in Dayton by taunting protesters. Although police ultimately restrained him, Martin believes his agitation was worthwhile because it attracted new recruits. "After the rally, the Klan called us," he says. "Now we've started working together more often."
In addition to white supremacists, the immigration debate seems to have reinvigorated members of the antigovernment militias of the 1990s. Those groups largely disbanded after the Oklahoma City bombing orchestrated by militia groupie Timothy McVeigh and, later, the failure of a Y2K bug to trigger the mass chaos some militia members expected. "We've seen people from Missouri and Kentucky militias involved in border-vigilante activity, especially with the gung-ho Arizona group Ranch Rescue that used face paint, military uniforms and weapons," says Mark Pitcavage, fact-finding director of the ADL. "It's a natural shift. Militias fell on hard times, and this anti-immigration movement is new and fresh."