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Experts say violent bigotry worse

A boy, maybe 7 years old, is photographed in a Nazi salute before a backdrop of Confederate Stars and Bars. A North Carolina militia leader, pictured in fatigues, insists that a hot summer is caused by a Jewish conspiracy to alter the jet stream. A white supremacist group's handbill depicts a black man in cross hairs and reads, "If it ain't white, waste it."

These are images of American hate presented yesterday in Towson by national experts on the future of law enforcement and domestic terrorism.

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The experts delivered an alarming assessment of the state of violent bigotry in the United States to an audience of 700, mostly law enforcement officers from more than 100 agencies and from as far away as Indiana.

They said a newly uncovered alliance between white supremacists and some well-armed, anti-government citizen militias is creating a greater threat than ever.

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On top of that, the experts said, hate groups are joining ranks on the information highway by communicating through computers, and trying to recruit the naive young and disaffected.

"That these issues have been too long ignored and trivialized contributes to the position we find ourselves in today," said William L. Tafoya, an FBI agent and criminal "futurist" who nearly a decade ago led a panel that predicted an increase in domestic terrorism by 1995.

"The only way to drive the cockroaches out is to turn the lights on, pull the baseboards out and expose them for what they are."

Dr. Tafoya was one of three experts to address the seminar at Goucher College, "The Impact of Hate in the 20th Century and Beyond." The conference, the fourth, was sponsored by the Baltimore County Police Department, Maryland State Police, U.S. Attorney's Office for Maryland and several crime prevention groups.

It also attracted school security specialists, prosecutors and human relations professionals from six states and the District of Columbia.

Hate crimes cited ranged from Cain's slaying of Abel to the Nazi Holocaust and the Oklahoma City bombing. Robert C. Nielson, director of risk management for the University of Maryland Baltimore County and former police chief at the university, said "ethno-violence" on college campuses is increasing as the number of foreign students rises.

Baltimore County Police Chief Michael D. Gambrill said hate crimes are down slightly in his jurisdiction. "Hate incidents" discussed yesterday varied from name-calling to vandalism, but the focus was on large-scale violence carried out by organized groups.

Danny Welch, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Klanwatch Project, said the potential for violence has increased because some groups are dressing up their hateful beliefs as a new kind of religion, and are forming links with some more militant militias.

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"To me, when you mix this segment of haters with another group armed to the teeth, it's a volatile mixture," he said.

Mr. Welch said the warning signs were increasingly evident leading to the April 19 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. "We were shocked by the magnitude, but not really shocked that it occurred," he said.

The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center said it has tracked violent extremist groups for more than a decade. In October, the group says, it wrote to Attorney General Janet Reno to describe the dangers posed by a growing number of citizen militias.

This week, Morris Dees, the organization's chief legal counsel, wrote to the legal officials in states throughout the country to take action to shut down paramilitary groups.

In a letter Monday to Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., Mr. Dees wrote: "Although we have not identified any militias in Maryland, these groups are spreading rapidly. Your state could easily have groups that we have not detected."


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