Betsy Williams was driving recently when she saw the Reverend exit the police station, rake in hand. She had last seen Kenneth Molyneaux, who claims to be an ordained minister, in a courtroom.
A year and a half ago, Williams, an Akron city prosecutor, persuaded a jury to convict Molyneaux of trespassing and littering, and the sight of him gearing up for a day's labor on a roadside cleanup crew delighted her. "I even got to see him in his little orange vest," she says.
Satisfying as it was for her, Molyneaux can also look back on his ditch work with a measure of glee. His original three-month jail sentence was reduced to community service when an appeals court found the littering ordinance used against him unconstitutional. (The trespassing conviction stood.)
Molyneaux was arrested after placing fliers on car windshields at an Akron mall. The handbills spoke of revolution, a struggle for survival. The World Church of the Creator summoned white people to protect and advance their race. "If we don't FIGHT, we will PERISH, our CHILDREN will PERISH, and with us CIVILIZATION," the fliers proclaimed.
Those who monitor extremist activity call the World Church of the Creator "one of the fastest-growing hate groups in America." Molyneaux -- a prolific writer of gargoyle-and-skeleton poems, essays, and novels -- is Ohio's leading disciple. The head of the movement calls him "our dramatist."
That such a dedicated white supremacist lives in Akron would seem to advance Ohio's reputation as a haven for jackbooted thugs and white-sheeted woodsmen. Last fall, the Center for New Community, a faith-based nonprofit in Chicago, published a report on white nationalism in the Midwest. The center tracked 73 groups in Ohio, the most of any Midwestern state. The media jumped on the revelations. "Hate groups make Ohio a stomping ground, report says," read a Plain Dealer headline. "Ohio leads Midwest in hate groups, study says," said The Columbus Dispatch.
Others have reached the same conclusion. In its Intelligence Report, the Southern Poverty Law Center finds 40 hate or militia groups in Ohio; only California, Texas, and Florida have more. Says Anti-Defamation League researcher Mark Pitcavage, who lives in Columbus: "Ohio has a high level of extremist activity, both in terms of hate-group movements and anti-government movements."
The term "stomping ground," though, appears to be applied loosely. A closer examination behind the headlines shows that, while a few groups on the monitors' lists warrant attention, most have dissolved or amount to little more than a guy with a copy of Mein Kampf and a Yahoo! account. Between their peculiar theories and a proclivity for self-destruction, a majority of white-nationalist groups would have trouble staging a poker game, let alone a revolution. "I don't think there are 73 people in Ohio, let alone 73 groups," says Ted Almay, the superintendent of the state's Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.
As for Molyneaux, his rhetoric may be chilling, but he is hardly an advertisement for Aryan might: He is a 24-year-old college dropout who has no job and lives with his parents. Says a sarcastic Williams: "I'm not really sure how that proves the superiority of the white race."
Devin Burghart, director of the Center for New Community's Building Democracy Initiative, says "meticulous" work went into the report. Information was gathered from far-right publications, activist reports, field sources, and media accounts. To make the list, groups had to be active in the past year and have a bona fide constituency, Burghart says. "It can't be one guy in a bedroom with a website."
So Scene attempted to contact every group with a cell in Northeast Ohio. Judging by the response, the list abounds with the nothingness Burghart claims to have left on the cutting-room floor.
Harry Diemert, for example, answered a letter mailed to the Cleveland address of Kingdom Restoration Ministries. Diemert has nothing to do with the group. He bought a house from someone who was involved with the ministry.
That was seven years ago.
"I get stuff in the mail for them once in a while," Diemert says. "I return it."
Scene traced Monetary Science in Wickliffe to Peter Cook, who is cited in the footnote of an obscure anti-federalist treatise found on the Internet. Cook is a retired industrial engineer for whom the mechanics of money and U.S banking became an intellectual hobby. For a time, he published a newsletter based on his readings of Federal Reserve history. "I dropped it about 10 years ago," he says. "Nobody was interested. It was just a waste of time."
Today, Mr. Cook is 90 years old and practically blind. He was surprised to learn that his abandoned newsletter had caught anyone's attention. "The only one who's interested in me is the undertaker."
The Center for New Community also lists four Ohio chapters of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), whose president is ex-Klansman David Duke. The group's Ohio contact, Ed Bicker of Seven Hills, says EURO is not a hate group but "a civil-rights organization" that opposes affirmative action, liberal immigration, and forced busing. "We want to put pressure on the media and federal government the way the NAACP puts pressure on the media and the federal government."
The pressure this self-styled National Association for the Advancement of White People can apply is dubious, for EURO -- Bicker puts the number of Northeast Ohioans who belong at 25 -- sounds more like a mailing list than an actual group. They've met once, and the group's inactivity may be the product of Duke's absentee leadership. Since losing a 1999 bid for a Louisiana congressional seat, he's been living in Russia.
Groups with better name recognition aren't faring much better. "Rock" Fuller -- a 30-year-old truck driver, husband, and the father of two -- joined the Imperial Klans of America three years ago. "I've always felt strong for my people," he says. "I guess I got tired of being a lone wolf." Due to "security reasons," he won't say how many people belong to his klavern.
Fuller believes that he is oppressed, as whites are discriminated against under the "affirmidation act." Fuller was asked if he meant "affirmative action."
Yes, he says. He blames the mistaken source of his oppression on cold medicine he is taking.
Fuller would not divulge his true first name or say where he lives, but the phone number he called from is a Vermilion exchange. He says he chose the IKA because it is Christian and nonviolent. "We are a peaceful, family-oriented people. Most of us have kids. We do not cause problems."
The IKA, Fuller also wants you to know, has nothing to do with the Klan that held a ballyhooed rally in Cleveland three years ago. "He's fake Klan," Fuller says of Jeff Berry, the Indiana man who brought the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan to town. "No true Klan recognizes him."
Actually, there is no true Klan at all. At its 1920s peak, membership numbered in the millions. Judges, mayors, and councilmen joined as if it were the Elks. Even future President Harry Truman donned the hood and robe for a short time before catching the full stench of its anti-Catholicism.
The Klan of today is not even a shadow of its shadowy self. The last of the universally recognized imperial wizards died more than 50 years ago. The group that survives is fragmented and decentralized, reliant on the gimmickry of courthouse rallies and Jerry Springer appearances. The Anti-Defamation League estimates that, nationwide, the Klan has no more than a few hundred members, spread across almost as many klaverns. Almay says a lot of recruits are scared off by the cost of the $83 robe.
Ohio's once prominent Klansmen have been silenced, largely by incarceration. Cleveland native Vince Pinette, the grand titan of the Klan's Realm of Ohio, once sought to hold a rally in each of the state's 88 county seats. He was on his way until he was arrested. He's been in prison since 1994 for beating his girlfriend.
James Roesch of Kettering became the imperial wizard of the Knights of the White Kamelia in 1999. He was featured in a documentary film, Invisible Revolution. Roesch and the film were difficult to take seriously, as he was all of 19 years old and cheesily mustached at the time of his ascendancy. He later moved to Jasper, Texas, the hometown of his wife, whom he met at a cross burning to celebrate the dragging death of James Byrd. Last summer, a Jasper County grand jury indicted Roesch on a charge of indecency with a child by sexual contact. A 14-year-old girl told investigators he grabbed her between her legs. Roesch entered a plea of not guilty and last month sued the district attorney and the sheriff for $25 million, claiming that his right to due process was violated.
Berry, the wizard who brought the Klan to Cleveland, is now a ward of the Indiana Department of Correction. In December, he received seven years for criminal confinement, after holding a television news crew captive until they gave him the taped remarks of a disillusioned Klansman they planned to air.
"The Klan in all this is absolutely nothing," says Mark Potok, editor of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report. "It's unimportant. It's mocked and looked down on by the rest of the radical right."
In addition to charting groups with minimal or nonexistent memberships, the Center for New Community stretched the net to catch organizations that are more annoying than hateful. A third of the supposedly white nationalist groups fall under the militia/patriot subhead.
Among those is Right Way LAW, which Dick Schramm founded in Green a decade ago. It's sort of a correspondence school for laypeople who want to write their own legal documents. (LAW stands for "learn and win.") Right Way drew the attention of extremist monitors when a few of its followers went on jags of what's called "paper terrorism." Last year, Right Way member Sandra Lehman and her husband, Ellis, pleaded guilty to 18 counts of intimidation. The Lehmans, angry that authorities did not prosecute an alleged assault on their daughter by a former boyfriend, filed a barrage of specious complaints against Stark County officials. One IRS form, apparently written to prompt an audit, claimed they paid a judge $17 million.
Right Way was also linked to Joan Bowman, who, with Richard Lewis, tried to buy eight cars from DeLorean Cadillac with phony U.S. Treasury "sight drafts." Bowman and Lewis subscribed to Redemptionism, which is based on a bizarre Federal Reserve conspiracy theory that each citizen's birth certificate is redeemable for up to $1 million. Lewis and Bowman were sentenced to five years' probation for theft. Then, like the Ellises, they filed a flurry of complaints against their imagined tormentors -- including the grand jury foreman. The displeased judge hit them with 10 years in prison for intimidation.
Schramm says he opposes Redemptionist thought and that his students didn't learn it from him. In 10 years of teaching the law, he says, he's never been charged, jailed, or told to stop what he's doing. And nothing suggests he's a white nationalist. "We have no political ax to grind. We're not anti-American, terrorists, or whatever. We're just wonderful people who are learning the law."
Watchdog groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center differentiate militia and common-law groups from neo-Nazis. One needn't be racist or anti-Semitic to distrust the government. In fact, the founder of the Ohio Unorganized Militia, James J. Johnson, is black.
Yet the Center for New Community lists 13 active Ohio Unorganized Militia chapters on its hate list. Even if the Ohio militia were racist, there are undoubtedly fewer than 13 chapters. Almay says there are only about two dozen people active in the entire militia movement statewide. (E-mails sent to the Unorganized Militia's headquarters near Columbus and a Portage County outpost were not answered.)
Rick Eaton, a researcher at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, also questions what kind of posse the Ohio militia could raise. Nationally, the movement has foundered for a number of reasons: Timothy McVeigh's carnage, an uneventful Y2K, and an inability to appeal to anyone but kooks. "While many subscribe to the ideals and philosophies that are promoted by the patriot movement, I doubt there are that many slogging through the rivers in March and doing maneuvers in the woods," Eaton says.
Johnson, incidentally, no longer leads the militia. In 1997, he moved to Parumph, Nevada, where he publishes The Sierra Times, an Internet publication "for real Americans." In 2000, he ran for the U.S. Senate as a Libertarian. He received 5,393 votes -- 1 percent of the total cast, or not quite half the number tallied for the box marked "None of these candidates."
Other extremism monitors don't find the volume of hate that Burghart does. In a forthcoming report for the Southern Poverty Law Center, Potok counts 28 hate groups in Ohio, up from 26. But it's a number even he admits doesn't tell much of a story. "A perfectly reasonable criticism of the whole practice of counting groups is that, well, you know, is 600 groups with three people in it more dangerous than 20 groups with a thousand each? Obviously not."
Monitors won't criticize each other's lists on the record, but there is something of a rivalry to produce the most exhaustive report, to have had an eye on an individual or a group before the trouble starts. That watchdogs tend to make armies out of a man, a dog, and his cashier girlfriend is not to say that white nationalism doesn't exist. Ex-con Harold Ray "Butch" Redfeairn leads the Church of Jesus Christ Christian in Dayton. Last year, Redfeairn was anointed by Richard Butler to head the Aryan Nations. Redfeairn has a history of violence and instability. In 1979, he shot a police officer during a traffic stop. He entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and spent four years in mental facilities. Court psychologists diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic. Eventually, in 1985, he pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated murder and aggravated robbery. He served six years, and since his release, he's been convicted of aggravated menacing, disorderly conduct, alcohol-related driving violations, and carrying a concealed weapon.
As is typical of white-power movements, the Aryans are in disarray. Redfeairn ousted Butler in January, accusing the founder of surrounding himself with "a bunch of derelicts." A day later, Redfeairn resigned. "I've got other plans, other things I'm going to do," he told the Dayton Daily News.
A few groups run tighter ships than the Aryans. Cleveland has an active branch of the National Alliance, which Potok describes as "without question America's premier neo-Nazi group." The National Alliance was started by William Pierce, a former physics professor who worked on George Wallace's 1968 presidential campaign. He is the author of The Turner Diaries, a novel about a race war that inspired Timothy McVeigh and the Order, the group that robbed armored cars and murdered Jewish talk-show host Alan Berg in 1984.
Pierce lives in Hillsboro, West Virginia, but the Southern Poverty Law Center has called Cleveland the National Alliance's "largest and best-organized unit." In 1999, Pierce bought Resistance Records, a white-power music label, and picked Clevelander Erich Gliebe to run it.
Prior to joining Resistance, Gliebe, 37, promoted white-power concerts. He is a former boxer and the son of an immigrant who fought for the German army in World War II. By all accounts, Gliebe, a graduate of Normandy High School in Parma and current resident of North Royalton, is an effective promoter of the record label and a companion magazine. Worldwide sales have been tabbed as high as $1 million.
Gliebe is media-shy. A request for an interview was answered by a man named Warren, who would not give his last name. The National Alliance, Warren explains, is open to law-abiding citizens only and is not white supremacist but white separatist. Like Bicker, David Duke's disciple in Seven Hills, Warren equates his group to the NAACP, except that the people being advanced are white. "We know that a multiracial society is not a healthy society."
Warren would not disclose the National Alliance's local membership count, save to say it's a "substantial few," whatever that means. But it's the National Alliance's shrewdness, not its size, that worries hate monitors. It tends to attract a better-educated crowd than its like-minded brethren and has shown a gift for subtlety. Gliebe also heads the European-American Cultural Society, which has held seemingly innocuous folk festivals around town. Once inside the tent, unsuspecting crowds are treated to speeches by the likes of Tom Metzger, the head of the White Aryan Resistance. On Martin Luther King Day, Resistance rolled out its first video game, Ethnic Cleansing, where players "save the world" by killing blacks, Latinos, and Jews.
The Council of Conservative Citizens is another group with living, breathing sympathizers in Ohio. The council recently held a meeting at Mannerchor, a private German club on State Road. About 15 or 20 white, middle-aged men gathered to eat pizza, drink beer, and listen to speakers.
The C of CC calls itself pro-white and promotes "Southern cultural issues." The council, headquartered in St. Louis, received notoriety a few years ago, when Mississippi Senator Trent Lott and Georgia Congressman Bob Barr addressed the group. Both politicians later tried to distance themselves from the council. Lott claimed to have "no firsthand knowledge" of its views.
The Ohio chapter isn't making its views known. Scene tried to attend the pizza party, but was not allowed inside: Invited guests only. "Nobody here is interested in talking to you," a leader of the group said.
The C of CC klatsch turned out to be the one meeting of David Duke's EURO contingent. It's a small world after all.
The National Alliance and Council of Conservative Citizens, however, appear to be the exceptions rather than the rule. Even with the Internet making it easier for those obsessed with race and Zionism to find each other, most movements' battle cries are shouted with the tiniest of voices.
On a Saturday afternoon in July of 2000, Akron policeman Rodney Criss was working special duty at the Chapel Hill Mall. He received a call about a couple of guys placing handbills on car windshields, which the mall prohibits.
The young men looked to be in their early 20s, and Criss assumed they were touting deals for cellular phones or pizza delivery. He told the men to remove the 150 or so handbills they distributed and leave. Kenneth Molyneaux and Brian Weaver refused. Criss reached for one of the handbills; only then did he realize this wasn't about two-for-one pizzas. The fliers advertised the World Church of the Creator, whose golden rule says that what is good for the white race is of the highest virtue, and what is bad is the ultimate sin.
Ben Klassen, a man so far to the right he accused the John Birch Society of being "a smokescreen for the Jews," started the church in 1973. Klassen dreamed up a religion -- Creativity -- and declared a holy war on Jews and the "mud races" that kept whites from achieving their full glory. (At the time of his arrest, Molyneaux was wearing a T-shirt that read "Rahowa," code for "racial holy war.") Breaking with white-supremacist form, Klassen didn't try to tether his crusade to Christianity. Creativity heralds no afterlife and believes Jesus was a fiction designed by Jews to enslave whites.
Klassen attracted a small but militant following. In 1991, one member was convicted of killing a black Gulf War veteran in Florida.
Klassen killed himself two years later. The church went into doldrums until 1996, when Matt Hale was appointed "ponitifex maximus" on his 25th birthday. Hale leads the church from a home he shares with his father in East Peoria, Illinois.
In 1999, Hale earned a law degree, but was denied a license to practice because of his beliefs. A state panel said that Hale was free under the First Amendment "to incite as much racial hatred as he desires," but "in our view he cannot do this as an officer of the court." About the same time, one of his former followers, Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, went on a shooting spree in Illinois and Indiana that left two dead and nine wounded. His victims were black, Asian, and Jewish. Smith turned the gun on himself while being pursued by police.
Hale says the shootings were "unfortunate" and that the church is a "peaceful, legal organization," but he won't condemn Smith. "Invaders do not have rights," he says of the victims. He's been sued by two of Smith's wounded and is still fighting for his law license.
After Smith's rampage, the church rocketed up the extremist monitors' charts. In 1999, the director of the Wiesenthal Center called it the "most active and sophisticated of its kind."
But with hate groups, everything is relative.
Last year, the church held a rally at a public library in Wallingford, Connecticut. Forty people attended. In January, the church convened in York, Pennsylvania. Hale says 70 people met inside the library, while the fire code prevented more from entering. To Hale, the event was a "fantastic success." Still, anti-racist activists outnumbered the believers four to one.
Hale, of course, will not say how many belong to the church: "I have the number, but I don't give it out." The Southern Poverty Law Center's Potok says the church has claimed 30,000 members, a number he finds "patently ludicrous." Hale is adept at publicity stunts but little else, Potok adds. "The World Church of the Creator began as Matt Hale, a handful of college admirers, and a batch of ex-girlfriends. It has grown a little since then" -- primarily by reaching out to prison inmates and misfits like Kenneth Molyneaux.
He was a good kid with smarts to spare. In high school, he took advanced courses. He wasn't a star, and he wasn't a troublemaker; he just went quietly about his business. When he graduated from Akron North High School in 1996, it was a decent bet he would be in the 28 percent of the school's students who go on to a four-year college.
Then he snapped.
"Frankly, he's a nut case," says Jean Crosier, Molyneaux's aunt. "I don't even know what to tell you about him."
Crosier and other relatives say no one in the family shares Molyneaux's ideas. The boy once known as "Little Kenny" (his father is Big Kenny) has grown into an embarrassment and a pariah. "We ignore him," Crosier says. "He has no contact with family members."
Molyneaux still lives with his parents in North Hill, an integrated, working-class neighborhood. It would seem to be a place where race matters, for better or worse. The high school is two-thirds white, one-third black. One relative who asked not to be named says there was an incident between Molyneaux and a black student at North during his senior year, though she did not know the details.
Whatever the case, Molyneaux is singular in his dedication to the church. He does not hold a job and appears to have few friends in Akron.
"His mom and dad pay his bills," Crosier says. "He never leaves the house. He's on the Internet 24-7."
Crosier feels sorry for Kenny's parents, who feel pressured to do something about their wayward boy. She describes his mother as the "most dearest, wonderful person." Grasping for a solution, Molyneaux's parents offered to pay for a one-way bus ticket to East Peoria, so he could be close to Hale, Crosier says. He declined. Crosier believes Kenny was afraid to be on his own. "He'd probably have to get a job to support himself."
Instead, he bathes in the glow of his computer monitor. He prefers to write about his beliefs rather than speak about them. He exchanged a few e-mails with Scene -- his prose is succinct and polished -- but would not consent to a phone or an in-person interview.
One recent day, he appeared outside his house to retrieve the emptied garbage cans from the tree lawn. He's a runty 5-foot-5 with closely cropped hair, a goatee, and jagged teeth. He shooed away a reporter as he dragged the cans away from the curb.
But a church follower who lives in Cleveland was willing to talk. Rich Tokar is a 51-year-old divorced West Sider who works for a vending machine company. He calls Creativity "a religion for people who don't have a religion." He appreciates the ascetic lifestyle it preaches and says he felt better immediately after giving up red meat and peanut M&Ms. His cigarette consumption has fallen from three packs a day to under two.
Tokar doesn't discuss race until he's asked about it, and even then he speaks matter-of-factly, as if he were still discussing the benefits of an organic diet. He thinks it odd that he can say he loves his family, but is portrayed as a Nazi if he says he loves his race. Yes, Native Americans were here first, he says, but "our race is the one that more or less built this country." Race "is what I am," he continues. "When I look in the mirror, what do I see? First I see a human being. Then I see a white man."
Tokar is a lonely druid. He says he is the only Creator he knows of in Cleveland. "I think there are three or four in Akron."
Burghart's report eyes a "new ideological construct" on the horizon, one that "poses an even graver menace to democracy, and to civil and human rights."
White nationalists, we're to believe, are shedding the robes and camouflage for suits and ties, a trend Burghart calls "bullets to ballots." The ideas white nationalists promote, he argues, are joining the mainstream with more success. Evidence? "Immigration is certainly an issue that's being pushed forward with a white-nationalist bent since September 11."
For all his good intentions, Burghart is like the groups he monitors, in the sense that he's so eager to see a sinister plot. That 19 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were foreign nationals would seem to be reason enough for the U.S. to revisit its visa policy, a point Burghart concedes. "But let me clarify: We don't put out this report as part of a scare tactic or to show the sky is falling. We list the real numbers in the real communities where there is activity to let folks know what's going on . . . If people see this list and think it's not a problem, that's certainly their business. But there are a lot of folks out there who aren't aware and should know."
The damage hatred can cause -- whether it be by a mutilated black Barbie doll left in a mailbox or a terrorist-commanded jet -- is justification for extremist monitors to err on the side of caution. "These people can cause problems far disproportionate to their numbers," the Anti-Defamation League's Pitcavage says. "It only takes one Timothy McVeigh to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City."
But to call Ohio or any other place a hotbed of hate would appear to give the white-power movement more credit than it deserves -- and to miss the point.
"There are a handful of really hardcore white supremacists in the state of Ohio, just like there is in every other state," says Almay, the state's top lawman. "This group will bounce around between the Aryan Nations and the Klan and some of the neo-Nazi groups when they were active. But it's basically, with some additions and deletions, the same group of a dozen people that are involved in the white supremacy movement."
Almay is most concerned with the ones who are thrown out of far-right groups. "They're not attending meetings, they're not scaring people. They're sitting in their basements until they just explode."
Even the monitors themselves allow that it's not the known leaders who are likely to engage in violence; it's a desperate soul on the fringe of the fringe. "Obviously, the most dangerous people are not giving little speeches in public libraries or even hosting websites," the Southern Poverty Law Center's Potok says. "The scariest people are not going to talk to you, they're not going to talk to me, and they're not going to advertise their presence on the web. It seems to me, the most frightening people are the people you don't hear about until something explodes or somebody dies."