Understanding White Nationalist Shock Troops: An Interview with SPLC’s Laurie Wood

At rallies like Charlottesville, amidst the crowd of supporters and protesters, are a specialized group of White Nationalists. They’re not the speakers or part of the leadership on stage. But if you look at photos or pay attention at these events, you’ll see the “Shock Troops.” Among the White Nationalist movement, shock troops perform the “boots on the ground” actions: to attend, to protect, and if need be, to fight with outside protesters. Their willingness to get into physical altercations create additional concerns and considerations for Law Enforcement.

Join us for this recorded webinar, as the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Laurie Wood:

  • Explains who the shock troops are,
  • Describes what their role is typically at rallies,
  • and profiles these groups and their leaders, including histories, tactics, symbols and other identifiers.

 

Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Some of our audience may not have attended your previous White Nationalist webinar. How does this webinar, the Understanding the White Nationalist Shock Troops build on that previous topic, or how are they different? And does somebody need to have attended the previous webinar to understand this webinar?

Laurie Wood:  This webinar briefly reviews the current state of white nationalism and the faces behind it: the Richard Spencers of the world, the ones in the suits giving speeches on college campuses. But the focus of “Understanding the White Nationalist Shock Troops” will be on the people who are backing up those suit-and-tie, wearing pseudo-intellectual, white-collar racists.

The world saw them in Charlottesville — the Klansmen, the neo-Nazis, and racists of other ilk like the League of the South — who were the boots on the ground, or the shock troops, for the white nationalists who were speaking.

At Charlottesville, and to a lesser degree at subsequent rallies, you had the familiar faces of the Klan, and straight-up, old-fashioned Nazis, in attendance. In the past we would not have necessarily seen that amount of melding of these different groups and ideologies.

That could be attributed to the old concept of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” We know that these groups don’t necessarily like each other or agree with one another’s beliefs, but have decided to band together against their common enemy, which is anyone who doesn’t go along with their version of what America should be, a white homeland.

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Charlottesville was a line in the sand for many people.

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JCH: Does somebody need to have attended the previous White Nationalists webinar in order to understand the webinar about the Shock Troops?

Laurie: No, because there will be an introduction about White Nationalists, and then we will go more in-depth into the Shock Troops. In the White Nationalists webinar, we will profile the different leaders and groups that they represent, and then we’ll get in-depth into the groups that we call the Shock Troops.

JCH: What are Shock Troops? What is their role in the movement? And how do they differ from other segments of White Nationalism? 

Laurie: Shock troops are the ones who are chosen for the offensive, confrontational work. They’re the ones who are on the ground engaging in physical confrontations. Think about Charlottesville. It wasn’t Richard Spencer and his ilk who were the ones who were engaged in the majority of the violence at Charlottesville. Rather, it was the Klan, Nazis and groups like the League of the South (LOS) who were the foot soldiers. Those are the shock troops.

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No matter what you might think about the Klan,

the group itself was built on violence and murder. That’s the legacy of the Klan.

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JCH:  Are they intentionally there to cause the skirmishes?

Laurie:  Whether or not they are there to intentionally cause skirmishes or confrontations, they are certainly well prepared for them and willing to engage, if not instigate. You saw that in Charlottesville. I can’t stress enough how that rally changed not just how we, who monitor extremism, view the current social climate. I think it’s going to be something that we will look at across our society and see that it was a pivotal moment in our culture.

Think about it: people can just say “Charlottesville” now, just like you can say “Waco” or “Oklahoma City” and you know exactly what you’re referencing. Charlottesville has become that type of societal touchstone. I don’t think I’ve seen the line dividing our society drawn as dramatically regarding white supremacists and those who oppose them as it has been post-Charlottesville. Charlottesville was a line in the sand for many people.

 

JCH: What are some of the most common misunderstandings that law enforcement and justice professionals might have about the Shock Troops?

Laurie: It’s very easy to dismiss the potential threat of the Klan because it’s easy to laugh at it – frankly. The question we often get is, “there’s still a Klan?” Yes, there’s still a Ku Klux Klan in 2017. People think about the Klan, and they think about the stereotypical Klansmen with a burning a cross in a field. Especially law enforcement – they often wonder “Really? I’m supposed to be worried about that in 2017?” They have other things to be worried about than some throwback from the 1960s.

The thing about it is if you laugh at it, if you can make fun of it, and dismiss it as a joke, you’re diminishing the threat. No matter what you might think about the Klan, the group itself was built on violence and murder. That’s the legacy of the Klan. That’s what the Klan is.

David Duke tried to make it the 3-piece-suit Klan, the kinder, gentler Klan: “We don’t hate you, we just love the White race.” Even with all the things that David Duke tried to make the Klan more palatable to mainstream America, it’s still the Klan – it’s built upon the back of murder and violence.

JCH: What are some other misunderstandings or misconceptions that law enforcement may have about the Shock Troops?

Laurie:  A good example would be the hate group called the League of the South (LOS), which we categorize as a neo-Confederate group. It is not a southern heritage group. They’re not re-enactors. The League of the South wants to go back to the plantation days. It wants to secede from the United States and form its own Southern homeland.

David Duke tried to make it the “three-piece-suit Klan,” the “kinder, gentler Klan,” — “We don’t hate you, we just love the white race.” Even with all the things Duke did to try to make the Klan more palatable to mainstream America, it’s still the Klan – it’s built upon a foundation of murder and violence.

We’ve increasingly seen rhetoric from the League of the South that is anti-Semitic and anti-government. It’s certainly much more openly racist than it used to be. We have seen a progression of the League of the South from its inception in 1994 to what it is now. It has progressed from a pseudo-intellectual group that talked about honoring the “Anglo-Celtic” heritage of the South to now being openly racist and anti-Semitic. It’s easy to discount the League of the South that it’s some type of “heritage not hate” group. But that’s just not true.

The chief of staff of the League of the South, the second-in-command, is a man named Michael Tubbs. He is former Special Forces, and in the late 1980s, he formed a group called the Knights of the New Order, which planned to target African-American- and Jewish-owned businesses. He and his cohorts had stolen weapons from two military bases while he was on active duty, including a cache that included explosives that could’ve leveled a city block.

He served six years in federal prison, and when he got out, he joined the League of the South. And he has risen in power and influence to become second in command. We saw that command in Charlottesville — he was the very tall gentleman with long hair, his arms crossed, looking almost like a general surveying his troops as LOS members were actively engaging in confrontations and clashes with protesters

It would be easy to dismiss that particular group as, “Oh it’s a Southern thing”, “It’s not in my area.” We’re seeing them participating in lot of the major events, just as they were very visible in Charlottesville. It would be a miscalculation for law enforcement to dismiss the League of the South.

 

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 Racist Skins do not attend a lot of public events, but if they do –

they will be the ones most likely to engage in physical confrontation.

If they do engage in physical confrontation, it’s our experience,

that law enforcement will be hard-pressed to stop what is set in motion.

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JCH: What are some of the most important things law enforcement should keep in mind when they engage with someone they believe to be part of a White Nationalist movement?

Laurie: It depends on the group. For instance, racist skinheads do not attend a lot of public events, but if they do – they will be the ones most likely to engage in physical confrontation. And when that happens, it’s our experience that law enforcement will be hard-pressed to stop what is set in motion. Racist skins have historically been the most violent faction of the white hate groups that we track. They’re responsible for a vast majority of the violence that’s come out of the white supremacist movement.  Law enforcement should be very aware of that potential for extreme violence.

JCH: A large number of our readers and subscribers are law enforcement. We do have a variety of representation, what are some of the things that they will learn from your webinar about the Shock Troops that they can they immediately apply to their work the next day?

Laurie: We will show the different groups. We’ll outline their beliefs. We will show their identifiers like symbols, logos, tattoos, patches, any identifiers like that. Then we will show the leaders, their rhetoric, and some of the tactics that they might take. We hope this knowledge and awareness will help to increase the safety of law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.

 

Click here to Watch “Understanding the White Nationalist Shock Troops.”

 

 

 

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