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Strange bedfellows: The neo-Nazi movement and radical Islam

Both neo-Nazis and radical Islamists thrive in chaos and depend on frenetic press reports to bolster their image and, they hope, their recruitment efforts

Almost immediately after Wade Michael Page attacked and murdered six worshippers at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, mainstream press articles that covered the tragedy included numerous references as to how often “some people confuse Sikhs with Muslims,” leading the reader to conclude that Page’s murderous attack was really directed at Muslims. For some neo-Nazis and racist skinheads Sikhs may be an appropriate target of violence.

The simplistic conclusion is that neo-Nazis target Muslims because they see them as members of an “inferior” race and part of the “browning of America” they so abhor. This conclusion ignores, however, the strength of anti-Semitic beliefs among both the neo-Nazi movement and radical Islamists. For the time being, at least, in selected circumstances the hatred of the Jews will likely override other racial concerns and create what some in both radical communities may believe to be a practical bond between them.*  This relationship should not be surprising, but for now it won’t be meaningful beyond polite phrases of support for their mutual anti-Semitic agendas.

Selected leaders of the modern neo-Nazi and National Socialist movements in Europe and the US have periodically expressed support for radical Islamists. However, it should be noted that not all neo-Nazi, National Socialist, or racist skinhead organizations embrace this controversial position. For example, the late William L. Pierce, an influential figure in the US neo-Nazi movement, wanted no such association.

European Examples
The late Albert Huber, who was known also as Ahmed Huber, was a Swiss neo-Nazi convert to Islam who the US government believed was linked to funding networks of al Qaeda through the Al Taqwa Bank. The bank’s co-founders, which included Huber, also reportedly included several members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Huber admired both Osama Bin Laden and Adolph Hitler and was, to many, an example of the fusion between radical Islam and National Socialism.

In Germany, neo-Nazis have recognized that radical jihadists can make good allies. Unsurprisingly, many commentators in Germany have not recognized this relationship and continue to maintain that Muslims should be the natural target for neo-Nazi violence.

United States Examples
Neo-Nazis and radical Islamists also periodically cooperate in the US. In 1961 Elijah Muhammad, at the time the leader of the Nation of Islam, met with Klan leaders in Atlanta. In 1962, America’s best known Nazi, George Lincoln Rockwell, formally addressed the Nation of Islam. That same year he praised Elijah Muhammad in his Party’s newspaper as a man that could make a “lazy race” industrious.

More recently Tom Metzger, a proponent of the “Third Way” (a rejection of both capitalism and socialism), has remained unabashedly anti-Semitic and has, as Rockwell did before him, reached out to the Nation of Islam (which has also garnered support from the late Muammar Qaddafi, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, and Idi Amin) and its leader, Louis Farrakhan, as early as 1985. Taking a cue from Rockwell, Metzger has also addressed Malik Zulu Shabazz’s New Black Panther Party, which received some recent notoriety as the group that brandished weapons and attempted to intimidate voters at a Philadelphia polling station in 2008.

Billy Roper, who prefers the label of “National Socialist” to “neo-Nazi,” has reportedly expressed admiration for the perpetrators of 9/11 by stating that “...anyone who is willing to drive a plane into a building to kill Jews is alright by me...”

The Aryan Nations, under the leadership of August Kreis, has expressed strong support for al-Qaeda.

What this suggests is that it would be premature to conclude that Page attacked the Sikh temple by mistake. Assuming or even implying that he mistook Sikhs for Muslims is putting conclusions before the facts.

Page may have targeted the Sikhs just as easily as he could have mistaken them for Muslims. Relations between Sikh and Muslim have often been strained, and Sikhs preach and embrace a religious tolerance that radical Islamists and neo-Nazis find unacceptable. Yet, in Great Britain neo-Nazis have found it expedient to support the Sikhs when it is in their interest to do so.

Using the Mainstream Media
The mainstream American press pounced on the anti-Muslim narrative after the Oak Creek shooting without any evidence of exactly what Page believed at the time of the attack. They reported the events in such a manner as to make their speculations appear conclusive. Though time may prove these conclusions correct, the reason will be more happenstance than prescient.

Both neo-Nazis and radical Islamists thrive in chaos and depend on frenetic press reports to bolster their image and, they hope, their recruitment efforts.

Both use discontent to promote their values
Both adhere to a violent and xenophobic world-view
Both promote martyrdom
Both recruit in prison
Both embrace absolutist and totalitarian views
Both oppose democracy and individual liberty
Both subscribe to conspiracy theories to explain their own failures and victimization
Both yearn for purity and a desire for a homogeneous society, one based on race and the other based on religion

However, not every neo-Nazi who promotes racial hatred resorts to violence, and membership in racist skinhead or neo-Nazi “crews” does not “on its own prove violent intent” despite their penchant for violence-inspiring rhetoric.

Though the loss of life at the hands of a terrorist is always tragic, the threat in the U.S. of terrorist acts from neo-Nazis remains minimal, though anti-Semitic hate groups will continue to be the greatest inspiration for terrorism. According to the Institute for Homeland Security Solutions, between 1999 and 2009 the majority of terrorist plots from al-Qaeda, those inspired by al-Qaeda, and white supremacists made up nearly 70 percent of terrorist plots and attacks in the US. Al-Qaeda and groups and individuals inspired by them were responsible for 40 of the 86 plots. White supremacists were responsible for 20 plots during the same period.

Reports have surfaced, however, arguing that neo-Nazi inspired terrorist attacks may be on the rise.

Though neo-Nazi recruitment might see a slight upward tick as a result of the Oak Creek attack, the overall effect on the movement’s strength and rhetorical unity will be symbolic. A possible outcome could be that Page’s act will inspire other like-minded anti-Semites to plan or take similar action as individuals (the most difficult to detect) or small groups.

However, it’s unlikely that Page’s act will inspire any long-term cooperation between neo-Nazis and radical Islamists. For now, members of each may give the other rhetorical succor, but the fissures in both movements will make any sustained cooperation difficult to maintain.

* One of the best contemporary academic works on this relationship is George Michael’s The Enemy of My Enemy: The Alarming Convergence of Militant Islam and the Extreme Right (University Press of Kansas, 2006).

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