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The 'Burbs: When Hate Groups Follow You Home 

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Recently, I found myself on the National Alliance Web site. Flashing in black at the top of the page was its dictum: "Toward a New Consciousness, a New Order, a New People." Instead of the customary hate-group swastika, the National Alliance chose for its symbol the life rune, signifying life, creation, birth, rebirth and renewal — for all good Aryans, that is.

The National Alliance was once considered the most dangerous hate group in America. William Pierce, its founder, had been a physics professor at Oregon State University. In 1978 he wrote The Turner Diaries, considered by many to be the bible of the racist movement. Timothy McVeigh made a living selling copies of it at gun shows all over the country. I had recently left my job as a hate-group monitor, and I was surfing the site as much out of habit as duty. It didn't seem like much new was happening. Then, I spotted something I hadn't seen before: the phone number for National Alliance headquarters in my neighborhood. That was new.

I live in Valley Glen. If you've never heard of Valley Glen, you would be in the majority. Mapquest doesn't recognize it, and most of my neighbors don't use it as the return address on their envelopes. Community boosters, though, imagine Valley Glen as the upscale part of Van Nuys. In fact, it's a family neighborhood with a park, an elementary school, a high school and even a junior college.

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Ethnically, it's a pretty mixed area, lots of Russian, Israeli and Armenian immigrants living side by side with East Indians, African-Americans and Latinos. One might even call it a "model of diversity." Don't get me wrong, this isn't some freaky love-in of a community. We have our share of gangs and crime, and there are nights when police helicopters circle overhead.

My move to the Valley coincided with my move out of the film business. Tired of writing about people who actually led exciting lives while I sat alone in a room, I went to work for a human-rights organization. Its focus was social justice. My area, my obsession, became hate groups and domestic terrorists. They were dangerous and somebody needed to monitor them. I spent my time combing every new hate site on the Internet, hanging out at Klan rallies, Aryan festivals, white-power concerts, even attending a birthday party in honor of the big daddy of all haters, Adolf Hitler.

One day a realization hit: These overlapping groups of racist, anti-Semitic, anti-government, Holocaust-denying conspiracy theorists were too busy infighting and showboating to pose any real threat to the general public. I realized the Third Reich was not going to rise again under the bumbling direction of this current crop of white supremacists. Plus, I had become desensitized to all of it. No litany of racial slurs, no monologue of racist jokes, no genocidal fantasies recited by skinheads could any longer get me to raise an eyebrow.

It was time to retire from the hate game.

Still, like a junkie, one will occasionally relapse. On that Friday afternoon, I was powerless to resist. I had to call the National Alliance's new headquarters, here in Van Nuys. Just to make sure. I got a message:

"Hello, I'm William Pierce, and I want to tell you about the National Alliance, which is America's foremost organization working for the long-term interests of men and women of European descent. We in the National Alliance are concerned about the out-of-control immigration situation. The government makes only a transparent pretext to protect America's borders. Millions of nonwhite illegal aliens are pouring into the country, rapidly changing the racial complexion of our population and the quality of the civilization that our ancestry built. We're concerned about the Jewish monopoly control of our mass media, of news and entertainment and the way in which this control is being used to shape public opinion and governmental policy in directions not in accord with the long-term interests of our people . . . "

It went on in predictable fashion, concluding with the following appeal: "If you'd like to be contacted by a local member of the National Alliance, leave your name and your mailing address at the tone."

In the past, I'd make contact, infiltrate, report. This time, I didn't leave a message. Instead, I took my dogs for a walk in the park. It was just before sunset, and two African-American guys sitting on a bench smiled and complimented my dogs. In the middle of the park, a group of East Indians played their weekly game of cricket in their crisp white outfits. As I strolled out of the park, an Orthodox Jewish family walked by on its way to synagogue. For just a moment I wondered why anyone would start a hate group in Van Nuys.

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