White supremacist groups don’t target communities at random, says Norm Gissel, a Coeur d’Alene attorney who has battled neo-Nazi and other white supremacist groups. They come to a particular community because they see something that indicates they might be welcomed there.
Joe Roy, who works for the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center and tracks hate-group activity, said such activity sometimes springs up just because someone already living in a community starts believing in the message of a group such as the National Alliance.
Roy’s not sure either why McGuire chose to try to gain a footing in Bozeman, but he’s seen chapters of the National Alliance and Neo-Nazi groups spring up all over the country.
“Sometimes an incident will bring them in,” Roy said.
They watch the Internet for something that indicates they might find a welcome audience, such as a cross-burning or a factory closing, he said. A factory closing means out-of-work and possibly disgruntled people.
“As humans we normally look for someone else to blame our woes on,” Roy said. Groups like the National Alliance offer a target: minorities.
Gissel has traveled around the United States to talk to communities about his experience fighting hate groups. He’s seen some patterns in their methods.
“They start as service groups,” Gissel said. They attempt to gain some level of legitimacy. The message tends to morph toward anti-government rhetoric and then to racist attacks.
“They become the racial gatekeepers of the community,” Gissel said.
Roy wasn’t surprised to learn McGuire had filed for School Board in Bozeman.
“That used to be looked at as the exercise of the day (for white supremacists),” he said. “They used to encourage their members to seek office where they might gain legitimacy.”