September 11 wasn't kind to the white-power movement. After the terrorist attacks, several of the nation's largest hate groups lost members and money, and some all but collapsed after bitter internal power struggles. At the same time, many of the movement's high-profile leaders left the scene: Former Klansman David Duke went to prison for tax evasion and mail fraud. William Pierce, head of the National Alliance, the country's largest white nationalist organization, died of cancer. World Church of the Creator head Matthew Hale was arrested in 2002 for plotting to kill a federal judge; he was convicted last week and now faces up to 50 years behind bars.
But in recent months a new leader has given the movement a burst of momentum. Billy Roper, a 32-year-old former schoolteacher from Arkansas, has spent months quietly reaching out to disenfranchised racists and neo-Nazis across the country, uniting them under his new group, White Revolution. "Billy Roper is clearly a rising star among hard-core racists," says Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League.
Soft-spoken and polite to a fault, Roper looks and sounds less like a white supremacist than an avuncular union organizer. In a phone interview he apologizes that allergies have left him with a stuffy nose, and calmly explains how he hopes to end the factional squabbling and focus on their main goal: fighting the influence of Jews, African-Americans and other minorities. "Let's be honest, the Jews have a disproportionate impact in our society," Roper says. "All we're saying is, white people have to fight for their rights, too."
Klan and skinhead activity--marches, rallies, cross burnings--rose significantly last year, according to a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center. And more headlines are on the way. Duke is busy planning a homecoming party and a national speaking tour--and he's eying an open Louisiana congressional seat.
Roper's next big act will be in Topeka, Kans., where he is planning a major demonstration at this month's 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education court decision. "We'll make our voice heard," he says. The question is, which voice will he use--the softer tone he uses in public, or the harder line he takes privately with supporters? The day after the 9/11 attacks, Roper posted a statement on the Web that read, in part: "Anyone who is willing to drive a plane into a building to kill Jews is alright by me... The enemy of our enemy is, for now at least, our friend." The war on terror may have distracted extremists for a time, but it would appear that hatred's familiar habits are back in force again.