Since 2001, the Southern Poverty Law Center has published its annual hate group list, billed as the country's definitive who's who of organized bigotry and venom. It includes such luminaries as the American Nazi Party, Nation of Islam, and the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
The center, based in Montgomery, Alabama, has certainly earned its credibility.
The Klan firebombed its headquarters. White supremacists targeted its founder and leading light Morris Dees for murder. The center once scored a $7 million judgment against the United Klans of America for lynching a black Alabama teenager. Included in the spoils was the deed to the Klan's 7,000-square-foot clubhouse.
Each year, the SPLC's 15-member investigative staff gathers police reports and intelligence from field sources. Its most recent report identified 800-plus active hate groups across the country.
California (57), Florida (50), and New York (44) topped the list. Minnesota, meanwhile, landed just eight.
Judging by their slim numbers and dubious strength, organized hate in the Land of 10,000 Lakes is struggling.
The Radical Catholic
Michael Matt, a married, 48-year-old father of seven, traverses Forest Lake in a candy-apple red convertible. The machine seems a tad conspicuous for his rather modest occupation: publishing the Remnant, a bi-monthly Catholic newspaper founded by his dad, Walter, in 1967.
Matt preaches old-school Catholicism to his 25,000 subscribers worldwide. His is a traditionalist's obedience to scripture.
As he sees it, the a la carte morals of the modern church — allowing things like sex before marriage — has sent it into spiritual free-fall.
"It became very free and open for people to say... 'I will accept the parts of the Catholic Church that I feel like accepting and reject those that I don't.'"
In the Remnant, Matt's missionary tool, such sentiments are fighting words.
Though it includes a steady rotation of columnists, most articles feature Matt's byline with the kind of paint-by-numbers headlines expected from the conservative press. "U.S. Military 'hostile' to Christians under Obama." "The Coming Armageddon: Religion vs. Non-Religion."
It's a threadbare operation, with aid from a volunteer staff. Otherwise, the Remnant is a one-man show.
Back in 2007, Matt was busy recovering from making babies when his phone rang. SPLC lawyer Rhonda Brownstein was on the line. "Are you aware that your heroes are also the heroes of neo-Nazis?" she asked.
The question floored Matt. "What are you talking about?" he mustered.
A year earlier, Matt and guest columnist John Vennari, a former monk, criticized Pope Benedict XVI for visiting a German synagogue and not trying to convert his Jewish hosts.
Another Remnant writer, Mark Alessio, defended actor Mel Gibson, who claimed the "Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world!" during a drunk driving arrest.
Alessio argued that Gibson was the victim of a smear campaign by Jewish activists who objected to his film The Passion of the Christ.
As far as hate was concerned, the Remnant's stories didn't stray far from the standard-issue conservative riff, welding harrumphing outrage to the religious zeal of a bygone time. But the SPLC was soon denouncing Matt as a "radical traditionalist Catholic."
The Remnant has been classified as a hate group ever since.
"Matt publishes a bunch of very vicious people... who are into the idea that Jews are intrinsically evil, that they're the enemies of God," says the center's Mark Potok.
But if Forest Lake harbors villainy in its midst, Police Captain Greg Weiss is unaware. "This is the first I've heard of it," he says.
His computer delivers a less menacing portrait of Matt.
"He sped once," says Weiss. "There's a complaint about his wallet being stolen in 2007. He called in when — it looks like his kid — was involved in a traffic accident in 2009. Oh, in 2007, he put gas in his truck and inadvertently fled. I guess he must have forgot to pay."
Inside Old Log Cabin Restaurant, the scariest thing about Matt is the mayo running down his chin.
"I'm just an old-school guy who [believes in] what the church always taught, that God created us," he says.
The problem, he asserts: His brand of pious simplicity is no longer fashionable. "Boom! Nutball! The guy believes in creation!," Matt says.
When he first discovered that the Remnant had been labeled a hate group, Matt was "terrified." How could a mild-mannered dad from Forest Lake be clumped with the likes of the White Aryan Resistance and the Sadistic Souls Motorcycle Club?
"If you can find what it is, let me know," he says in a somewhat defeated voice.
Matt insists he has no beef with Jews. They "number among my dearest friends, and not a few rabbis subscribe to the Remnant," he says. "For many thousands of years the Jews were God's chosen people, and from out of their midst Jesus Christ came unto us and changed the whole world. I love them, even as I love all men."
Over the years, his lawyers have reached out to the SPLC, asking that the Remnant be removed from the list — or if they could at least start a dialogue. The overtures proved fruitless.
Still, Matt can't earn much respect as a hater either. He notes that a few years back, reporters from City Pages and the Star Tribune contacted him for stories about the hate list.
He didn't make the cut with either paper. Apparently both found him insufficiently vile.
"I just want to be a good guy," he says. "The whole point and purpose that we're here is to save our souls. It's all very spiritual, very personal. That's what it's about."
The Master Race Lives in Apple Valley
A scarecrow of a man dressed in khakis and an abused oxford saunters into an Edina Byerly's on a Sunday afternoon. He's hard-pressed to smile.
Since 1987, Charles A. Weisman, a manufacturing quality control tech, has authored more than 30 books and pamphlets. The 59-year-old father of two is a solo act as owner and operator of Weisman Publications, an independent publisher and bookseller.
He's also a veteran of the hate group list, having debuted in 2001.
Weisman's self-inventory doesn't include a whiff of what he considers to be hate. He regards himself as a scholar, "inquisitive, honest."
From his sleepy Apple Valley neighborhood, Weisman has penned literary offerings on subjects from taxation to travel, race to Zionism.
Among the titles for sale on his website: "Sodomites on Trial," "The Truth About the Confederate Flag," and "Race, Intelligence, and Culture."
Weisman believes he's unearthed various "truths" by scouring the Bible, old periodicals, and law journals. The general theme of his findings: White Christians are way better than everyone else.
It's not hard to get him to expound upon this thesis, which arrives in gentle, almost inaudible tones.
"The biggest farce in the world," he says, is that Jews are "God's chosen people."
Blacks, meanwhile, have been proven to "have a 10 to 12 percent lower IQ than whites and Asians."
Proof of these brainpower inequities can be found in history books, Weisman says. "What did the blacks have in Africa after 30,000 years? ...They didn't have a plow."
Weisman fancies himself a feather within the intellectual wing of white primacy, among those who rail from the smaller corners of the internet, posing as wise men of philosophy, law, and human nature to prove the superiority of a lighter pigmentation.
"I do research about anything where the truth and the facts aren't readily known or have been distorted," he says. "My beliefs are grounded in the truths I've found out in my study, my research. Most people don't think for themselves. They listen to the government. They listen to some media."
Potok offers a slightly less flattering assessment. Weisman, he says, is "a very well known Christian Identity ideologue.
"Guys like Weisman believe what they've discovered is we, white people, are really Israelites, the real descendents of the Bible, and that for the Jews who claim this, that's a dirty lie," Potok says. "They believe Jews are trying to steal this birthright."
The fact that Weisman has "sold thousands of books" promoting these beliefs, says Potok, makes him a clear danger.
Book and pamphlet sales at Weisman Publications remain steady, though hardly the stuff of bestseller lists.
"I still sell a fair amount," says Weisman, "mostly through quantity purchases to individuals and organizations."
When pressed about his buying-in-bulk customers, Weisman declines to name names. But as Apple Valley Police Chief Jon Rechtzigel sees it, one man's danger is another's feckless crackpot.
"We haven't had any disturbing contacts with Mr. Weisman to my knowledge," says Rechtzigel. "This, to me, looks like a free speech issue. People are allowed to have crazy thoughts on issues, right or wrong. In this case, wrong. We do try to pay attention to things like this, to have an awareness. But this is the first I've heard about it. Thanks for the heads up."
These days, Weisman's megaphone is losing its reach. Weisman Publications used to provide full-time work. It now generates but a half-day a week.
The internet has given rise to legions of blast-furnace pundits, each trying to out-provoke the next in search of minor-league fame. In this kind of shoot-first-and-don't-ask-too-many-questions blowout, it's difficult for a retiring scholar from Apple Valley to be heard above the shrieking.
Weisman has no intentions of getting back into publishing as a career. He now has a family to feed; fringe publishing requires a vow of poverty. "It would be hard," he admits.[page]
The Fuhrer's Followers
On a spring day, a group of 30 white-power activists march on downtown Toledo, Ohio. Homemade flags marrying swastikas with stars and stripes flit in the wind.
Despite being outnumbered five-to-one by counter-protesters, the marchers send a vibe of arrogance, if not malevolence.
The Nationalist Socialist Movement arrived in Ohio to extol white unity and push back against the supposed onslaught of immigrants.
You're damn right Joe was there.
He won't provide a last name, but claims to be a military veteran and a 15-year member of the Nationalist Socialist Movement from somewhere in Minnesota. According to the SPLC, this is the preeminent neo-Nazi organization in America, with 80 chapters.
Though it tends to venerate Hitler, heterosexuality, and white homogeny, its national PR man Brian Culpepper prefers the more ingratiating label of "grassroots political and civil rights organization."
But if the Fuhrer's followers are big in Minnesota, as the SPLC suggests, they don't leave much of a footprint.
Culpepper's reluctant to let Joe speak to the media, he says, "because some people can fall to pieces when the camera is on."
But Joe isn't on camera; he's on the phone, and he makes his feelings clear from the outset.
"Every time we do an interview with any type of newspaper out there in Minnecrapolis, you guys always smear us, using derogatory buzzwords like 'white supremacist' and 'hate monger,'" he says. "Why is it every fuckin' time we do an interview with you little college-punk newspapers that all you do is run our names through the mud and paint us in a very negative light?"
Joe wants to clear the air. The National Socialist Movement isn't a hate group. It's not even white supremacist.
"And don't use the term 'racial segregationists,' neither," he says. "Because when you do, you put other people into a lower standard of living than where yourself is at. We are a white civil rights and political action organization."
After all, the group doesn't preach hate. Its preferred game is pride in all things white.
"Just by standing up in defense of white people and white culture, we're called 'monsters,' 'anti-Semites,' and 'racists,'" says Culpepper.
Neither man will discuss the group's membership numbers, nationally or locally. Yet both confirm they're alive and well in Minnesota.
The National Socialist Movement has two meeting halls here, one up north, the other in a Twin Cities suburb. Members meet twice monthly.
Demographics span the gamut, says Joe. "We're retired, current and former military, guys driving 18-wheelers, plumbers.... We are in the many and have quite a few members all over the state of Minnesota. Our race has been bastardized and we're sick and tired of it."
The group's last public display of force in Minnesota was almost six years ago, when it held two anti-immigration rallies. A July 2009 Faribault showing was followed by another in Austin three months later.
According to an "After Action Report" filed by "Unit Leader Sam J.," the rally in Faribault was met by a boisterous, largely Hispanic crowd that spewed death threats before ultimately scattering.
"And we were left standing victorious!" the dispatch reads. "We then returned back to my home where we sat, talked, enjoyed the early evening with a few cold brews, and enjoyed our recent victory."
But talk of superiority is not Joe's style.
"It's not up to any man, race, creed, color, or nationality to decide who is superior," he says. "Let the blacks and Mexicans live in their area and make it what they want. If they want to make it look like a shithole, dumpy slum that a lot of places in north and south Minneapolis where I've traveled through look like, fine. Live like a bunch of damn grub worm animals for all I care."
Besides, time is on the side of the National Socialist Movement. The day is fast approaching, says Culpepper, when the Fuhrer "will be vindicated."
Lions of the Streets
The Aryan Strikeforce screams swastika chic. Its websites prominently reference "88" — as in "H," the eighth letter of the alphabet. As in "Heil Hitler."
But the Nazi exaltation seems more window dressing than conviction. The Strikeforce is skinhead first, Third Reich a distant second.
Its primary goal is safety, "because the beauty of the white Aryan woman must not perish from the earth," according to the group's website. And that means keeping other races at arm's length.
The SPLC's 2014 report marks the Strikeforce's Minnesota debut on the hate group list. But strength in numbers is not yet an attribute.
Rob McFall, president of the group's New York chapter, admits there are only 100 members nationwide. "It's not for the weak. That's for damn sure," he says with a laugh. "It takes balls and slightly intelligent."
Not to mention 10 bucks a month.
"We're a little cheaper than most. The Klan, for instance, they range from $100 to $200 a month. Others are $500 a year. That to me is ridiculous and is taking a lot out of someone's pocket."
McFall understands economic hardship. After a stab at landscaping "didn't go too well," the 33-year-old with a wife and four kids is currently without full-time work, although he did just pick up a roofing job.
He doesn't lose much sleep over Strikeforce's distinction as a hate group.
"Us being called a 'hate group' doesn't bother me. It is what we are. But we're not setting out to like conquer the world. My goal is to keep my family and my race safe. That's basically all it is."
According to the SPLC, there's a small band of Strikeforce members in Minnesota. But the only proof seems to be an aging URL showing an email address for a Minnesota chapter.
McFall accuses the center of using dated intelligence. The Strikeforce has talked of establishing a Minnesota chapter, he says, but organizing the skinhead legions isn't as easy as it sounds.
"You guys have a group out there, the Hammerskin Nation, but they've been under investigation or some shit," says McFall. "They wanted to come over with us. And the only thing is, uh, it's kind of a soft spot on the melon. There's a couple of informants in their organization and I'm not going to talk to somebody's who's a possible fed."
Attempts by City Pages to locate a Minnesota member failed. The closest person was two hours outside the Twin Cities, possibly out-of-state, and unwilling to talk.
"He's a little shy," McFall explains.
Besides, the struggle faces more pressing matters elsewhere.
"The day-to-day stuff, honestly, it's a pain in the ass," McFall says. "It's hard to keep track of what everyone else is doing just around here."
A web posting by McFall speaks to the hardships of leading a superior species.
"It's time we start a new order," he wrote. "No more infighting. If you have a problem with a brother, it better be a good one or I'm smacking heads together. I'm sick of all the girl-like drama. We are skinheads, lions of the streets. We are the ones doing this for our race. We need all of us to be on the same page.... I agree we need to change. But in order for that change to come, man the fuck up and take a stand or fuck off."[page]
Vinlanders: Ghost in the Machine
The online video from 2011 shows what only can be described as a skinhead barbecue, a small gathering of burly, tatted-up dudes loving life.
After studying the video and monitoring Facebook conversations, the SPLC determined it took place in an unnamed Minnesota park.
Potok says the bash was attended by members of the Vinlanders Social Club, a small band of racist skinheads known for boozing, brawling, and venerating the Norse god Odin.
It's a combustible concoction of off-the-charts racism and seismic egos that makes the group prone to spontaneous violence. One of the group's founders, Eric "The Butcher" Fairburn, once pummeled a homeless black man to unconsciousness on a busy downtown Indianapolis street.
But ego clashes, internal fighting, and criminal prosecutions took a toll. The Vinlanders have suffered dwindling ranks over the past half-decade, according to the SPLC. Yet splinter cells still exist, one reportedly in St. Paul.
"We're not talking a very large group," says Potok, "maybe a half-dozen members and a half-dozen probates. Since we first became aware of that video, online communication has shown us they're active."
If there's a notorious band of racists in St. Paul, however, their presence has gone unnoticed.
Police Sgt. Paul Paulos has called the city home for the last half-century. It's been three decades since he last saw a skinhead.
"We had skinheads in South St. Paul, but that was back in the '60s and '70s," he says. "Our database shows nothing about these guys, and it dates back to 2001. I can honestly say I haven't heard about them and there's no reason for me to tell you otherwise."
Adds Sgt. John Eastham of the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department: "I personally have never heard of that group."
Despite local police skepticism, the SPLC is sticking to its claim.
"Look," says a somewhat irritated Potok, "you don't have to believe us if you don't want to, but [the video is] the basis of [the Vinlanders] being on the list."
Street Preacher Hate
Minnesota's octet of hate tends to be Caucasian-heavy. But the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ shows that bigotry can be an equal-opportunity exercise.
A brick building next to a tattoo parlor on Emerson Avenue in north Minneapolis is said to be home to the "black separatist" organization's local chapter.
Members tend to be street preachers whose principal weapon is to hurl insults at passersby.
"Hu-man is a combination of hue and man," one was captured shouting from a corner by the Village Voice in New York. "You have no hue, no color, so you're not human!"
The church regards women as "whores" and "bitches." Gays and Jews are detested as the devil's spawn.
Originally cradled along the Eastern seaboard, the Israelites now have a dozen locations across America. They're guided by a spiritual snobbery that says blacks are God's chosen people, and all others are subhuman.
Multiple visits to the Emerson Avenue building found no one at home. A man who answered the phone number listed out front directed all questions to the New York City office. Despite repeated calls, no one ever picked up the phone.
Dead but Rising. Maybe.
If Minnesota's hate roster thus far seems unremarkably diabolical, the rest don't help the cause.
Take the Parents Action League. The Champlain group, which debuted on the SPLC's list three years ago for being anti-LGBT, holds views best described as Michele Bachmannesque.
In 2011, it pressured the Anoka-Hennepin School District into keeping a "radical homosexual agenda" from its sex-ed curriculum.
But just two years later, it failed in its push to have the young adult novel Eleanor & Park yanked from library shelves due to the book's "vile profanity" and sexual subject matter.
The lack of success appears to have summoned atrophy. Its website remains frozen in 2013, its causes relegated to aging newspaper links.
"We are not interested in being interviewed," President Laurie Thompson writes in an email to City Pages. "We have other obligations we're working on now in addition to making changes to our website."
The same dormancy appears to have befallen Bradlee Dean's Annandale youth ministry, You Can Run But You Can't Hide International.
It wasn't long ago that Dean was a man on fire. The firebrand speaker — freshly emancipated from the shackles of pills, powder, and liquor — took to high school auditoriums and big-box stores to share his lessons on hope and salvation. His holier-than-thou evangelism followed the teachings of a meaner Jesus.
The married father of three called homosexuality "an abomination." Gay discrimination was a myth because "they are subverted and condemned by their own hand."
But the good Lord giveth, and the good Lord taketh away.
Dean's headliner days saw their apex in 2011. While leading a Friday prayer before the Minnesota House of Representatives, the sweat suit-clad evangelist snuck in an unsubtle dig at President Obama, who Dean had long fingered as a Muslim. The true head of America, he said, "is Jesus, as every president up until 2008 has acknowledged."
These days, Dean has been reduced to a shell of his former self. His strip-mall ministry in Annandale closed two years ago. Street teams of youngsters sharing Dean's word and peddling CDs by Junkyard Prophet, his Christian rock band, have reportedly been disbanded.
Dean is now said to run his ministry from home, where he isn't in the mood to elaborate on his latest iteration.
"Why don't you look at your track record. You've been sued by our attorney," he says, referring to a defamation suit lawyer Larry Klayman brought against City Pages. (A judge dismissed the case last month.) "We're not interested. Thanks."
Then he hung up.
As best as anyone can tell, Dean's once-mighty movement now consists of a middle-aged man with a calf tattoo, a keyboard, and an internet radio show.
Consider him emblematic of Minnesota's struggling state of organized hate.