Two views of a conference in New Hope

What I heard that night was frightening -- but I hear it at school, too

Dec. 27, 1997 The Philadelphia Inquirer By J.R. King

Back in September, when my high school newspaper was doing a special feature on hate in America, I decided to take a trip up to the Best Western in New Hope. Why New Hope? A meeting of a local white supremacy group, the American Nationalist Union (ANU).

Although journalists were not allowed, I was let in as long as I left tape recorder and camera in my car. The banquet room was filled with middle-aged, working-class white men tired of paying taxes to a government that had long ago ceased to listen to them. One tried to persuade me that we should return to a paper ballot system because every time the vote is tabulated by computer, the members of a powerful elite simply decide who should win the election. That is why none of the members of his party were ever "allowed" to hold public office. Meanwhile he tried to sell me his book on how NASA staged the Apollo moon landing.

A man walked up claiming he had been "screwed by [ his ] employer." He said that he did not "feel like paying taxes," so he refused to fill out a W4 form. Without his permission, his employer continued to send his payroll taxes to the IRS. Now he felt it was his duty to get back. He had come to my first contact to ask for help. What was his advice?

"Sue him."

"But shouldn't I sue the IRS?" the aggrieved man asked.

"Well, the courts will never let you win against the IRS," the sage replied. "So, just sue your employer and with whatever you win from him, you can then go after the government."

By now, the meeting was starting. The first speaker, Don Wassall, chairman of the ANU, stated the group's basic platform. He talked about how the press had given them a bad rap about endorsing David Duke for president. He then discussed the problems with our sacred ground as he saw them. To him, this nation was "a predominately white country and should stay that way." In 1965, when Congress changed the immigration laws, it began "the Third World invasion of the United States." He cited statistics that social services such as Medicaid and Social Security cost U.S. workers billions of dollars every year. And, "due to the Third World immigration favored by Democrats and Republicans, whites will become a minority in less than 30 years."

Other issues arose: the plight of American workers, and how our current system was set up to help the rest of the world, and not the United States. His solutions -- including a fence on the border of Mexico -- were rejected by the "overly politically correct" mainstream philosophy, and it was our duty as Americans to restore the "land of the free."

To prevent my being removed, I had meant to appear open-minded, but it was too tempting to ask questions such as, "If the United States invoked the no-immigration policy that you recommend, how would your ancestors have gotten into this country?" So not too much later, I was escorted out of the building. There were almost a dozen police officers on hand to serve and protect the people in this meeting.

When a local group called Anti-Racist Action set up a peaceful protest, they were taken to a designated area a block and a half away. One of the police officers was called into the meeting room to remove a representative from a Bucks County newspaper and me from the meeting.

Back at my school, I began to realize a much more serious problem than the ideas of the group to which I had listened.

At school, when the conversation shifts from the overpriced cafeteria food and the big party next weekend, people state their opinions on the world as they know it. I overheard several such conversations in the days after the ANU meeting, and that is when I realized that the actual danger posed by groups like the ANU, with their racist and homophobic philosophies, is that their message is getting through to America's youth. Although no one I have met is as extreme as these people appear to be, many students talk as if they share beliefs similar to those I heard at the ANU meeting.

The youth of America today believe it is their God-given right to use this country for all it's worth while others born outside this country should not be their tax burden.

When I hear statements about how repealing immigration laws or removing the ban on assault weapons would "bring our country back to where it should be," I cringe as I imagine today's youth becoming tomorrow's hate-mongers. They don't realize that this narcissistic attitude is the backbone of many hate groups in America.

My experience at the ANU meeting in New Hope has made me realize that this problem exists much closer to home than I had ever thought. We cannot begin to condemn these people for what they do until we take a long look at ourselves and our philosophy, and begin to uncover where the real hate lives.

J.R. King is one of the editors of The Wisterian, the La Salle High School newspaper.