Racist groups recruiting women, Pitt prof says

AP, Nov. 21, 2002

White supremacist groups are increasingly recruiting women because they tend to be overlooked by police and are less likely to leave the groups than are men, according to research by a University of Pittsburgh sociologist.

But while many groups tout equality and respect, the leadership of such groups remains dominated by males, said Kathleen Blee, who studied women’s emerging role in such groups in her latest book,

“It’s a scary idea; they’re building a movement with durability,” Blee said.

The sociology professor interviewed 34 women of various ages in the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi groups and so-called Christian identity groups. Blee said she decided to look into today’s makeup of such groups after writing a Pulitzer Prize-nominated book about women in the Klan in the 1920s.

She found that white women are increasingly being recruited into the white supremacist movement as a way for groups to remain discreet. She found the groups use women to help build a wider base by reaching out to their husbands, boyfriends and children.

“They’re being manipulated,” said Mark Potok, spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Bring in the pretty girls and the men will follow. It’s not so easy to put a swastika on a guy’s forearm and get him to chant ‘Death to the Jews.'”

While Potok said there’s no way to count the number of women in racist groups, he agrees with Blee’s estimate that the number of women in some groups now ranges 25 to 50 percent of the membership.

Blee found that women tend to join not because they subscribe to racist or anti-Semitic ideology, as men do, but for personal reasons. They will befriend a member of such a group, often without knowing it, and slowly begin to subscribe to the group’s beliefs in a cult-like fashion, she said.

And because the bond is based on relationships, a small number of women may even remain in the group despite differing beliefs.

“A number of women simply ignore the parts they don’t want to hear. They’ll tell me they take their kids to Jewish doctors, have abortions and let their kids play with African-American kids,” Blee said.

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