Storefront’s activities low-key until wreck
The Times Picayune, Aug. 1, 2003
By Karen Turni Bazile, St. Bernard/Plaquemines bureau
Neighbors and officials expressed surprise Thursday after learning that a white supremacist church has been quietly operating out of a nondescript storefront on a main thoroughfare in Chalmette.
The activities in the one-story pink brick building at 209 E. Judge Perez Drive came to light Wednesday after a Chalmette man lost control of his car and smashed into the building, strewing racist and anti-Semitic paperback books around the wreck site.
Francis Dardis, 59, the driver of the 1996 Mercury Grand Marquis that ended up inside the building, suffered minor abrasions and was treated at Chalmette Medical Center. No one else was injured.
The property, although it still bore the sign of a long-closed home improvement center, is owned by the New Christian Crusade Church and is the headquarters of the Christian Defense League, two shadowy white-supremacist groups operated by James K. Warner of Chalmette.
A leading figure in underground hate circles since making a name for himself in the early 1960s, Warner was a founding member of the American Nazi Party and started the group Sons of Liberty, which sells racist and anti-Semitic literature by mail. He founded the New Christian Crusade Church in 1971, said Cathy Glaser, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
Warner moved to Louisiana in 1976, Glaser said, and served as an officer in the Ku Klux Klan with longtime ally David Duke, the former Klansman and state representative who lost a runoff for governor to Edwin Edwards in 1991. Duke signed as a witness to Warner’s 1977 marriage to Debra Coleman Warner, who unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the St. Bernard Parish Council in 1995.
Although Warner has described the Judge Perez storefront as a church administrative building used for church meetings, neighbors of the New Christian Crusade Church said Thursday they see little activity at the building. Gatherings are nil, neighbors said, and they say they have noticed only about three employees coming and going, along with a steady stream of postal trucks delivering and picking up packages.
“I was shocked to find out what was going on next door,” said Chuck Camp, who owns Parkview Cleaners, which operates a branch next to the building.
A man at the wreck scene who didn’t identify himself said Wednesday that the business should be referred to as the Southern Home Improvement Center, the name on the sign in front. But representatives of the Southern Home Improvement Center in Slidell said the Chalmette building has not been used to sell home improvement supplies since 1990.
In fact, in September 1991, the New Christian Crusade Church, with Warner as its president, bought the property for $70,000 from Peoples Bank & Trust Co. of St. Bernard after it had been sold at a sheriff’s sale, public records show.
The owner of the home improvement company said Thursday that he sent employees to building to remove the old sign as soon as he heard about the wreck and learned about the current activities in the building.
“If they were trying to pass it off using our business name, I find that offensive,” said the owner, who asked that his name not be printed.
Chalmette resident Shawn Kael, 38, who works at the nearby Chalmette Packing Co., said he was surprised to learn that a white supremacist church was headquartered three doors down.
“That makes us all look bad because everybody in this parish is not like that even though we may have that reputation,” Kael said. “I think (white supremacy) is ridiculous. We have got enough tension in this world. That’s why I am raising my children to not be racist.”
Councilman Joey DiFatta, who owns a jewelry store several blocks east on Judge Perez, said he assumed the building was empty.
“It always look deserted,” DiFatta said. “Obviously they have a right to run their business/religious operation, but it’s not something I put stock in.”