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When current Harvard School of Public Health Research Associate Raphael Ezekiel was a professor at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, he became curious about the growth of the racist SS Action Group. That curiosity lead the social psychology professor to begin meeting with the group, which lead to introductions to such racist leaders as Tom Metzger of White Aryan Resistance and Robert Miles of the Klu Klux Klan.
Years of interviews and hundred of hours later, Ezekiel wrote a book with these interviews and observations called “The Racist Mind.” The book was published in the mid-90s and was the culmination of nearly a decade of research.
“For about three years I was going into Detroit up to three times a week to hang out with these guys (SS Action Group) at their leader’s house,” Ezekiel said in an interview with BTL. This familiarity with the group lead to his invitation and participation in national conferences and introductions to national racist leaders.
From his experiences, Ezekiel was able to draw some broad conclusions about the people who participate in these groups.
“The leaders are political animals. The racism is a tool to political activity,” says Ezekiel. “It was obviously important to understand what did it mean to be a 17-year-old poor white kid from Detroit and play nazi and what did it mean to be a big leader?
“The national leaders are not who the media think they are. The media fuck this thing up totally. The leaders are not wild men driven wild by their sick racism,” Ezekial said. “What they really are, are people looking for power.
“Racism is the tool. If they say this stuff, the audience responds. If they never put on a swastika and stood on the corner running their shit no one would listen. They put on a swastika and shit takes over. And they play that a lot.”
He says most leaders started their education as engineering students. “Fascism is what you get when you let engineers be in charge of social policy,” Ezekiel joked.
On the other hand, the followers fit an entirely different picture.
“The members, now we’re talking about kids –” he pauses cutting himself off. “But hold on a moment, we are talking about men. It is a hyper masculine conceptual world and it attracts the males because they gain power and prestige within the group acting out.”
He says on several occasions members claimed to have gone out with skinheads to prey on gays, or people they perceived to be gay, but he never actually saw any of this criminal activity. But the bragging about such actions was what got them prestige in the group.
“They were fundamentally afraid their lives were like a candle flame in the wind and any flame could blow out. I still think it’s true for the people like them,” Ezekiel said of the followers.
The demonstrations the group would hold were essential to this psychology, he says. “If you are not sure if you are alive, but you stand shoulder to shoulder with your buddies confronting a hostile counter demonstration of red scum, throwing snowballs and batteries, and you are able to hold ranks for five minutes before the police whisk you out to safety — it kind of suggests you are alive. You really are alive.”
He said the group would spend hours deconstructing the protests they held.
There was also something else common to the core group of twenty five members he got to know. Of them, 22 had lost a parent before the age of nine or ten, he says. And all but one of those lost a father. He says all of them had no discernible father figure in their lives.
But he also said these kids were not necessarily racist to the core, they were seeking a social belonging.
“They were romantic about nature, opposed to big business, they wanted to do things that were dramatic, that made them notorious. They could have had all that without having to bother with the racism,” he says. “The truth is, had you been able to give them Earth First, they probably would have been racist, but they wouldn’t have had any reason to act it out.”