Those of you who have been reading BarkingShaman since its inception (or who have gone back through the archives) may remember the post “Apparently I’m a Neo-Nazi Racist Skin Head,” which was prompted by a challenging conversation I had with a representative from the Southern Poverty Law Center. The reason for my phone call was that I had found a SPLCenter page which purported to show Neo-Nazi or white supremacist tattoos. Imagine my displeasure to find that the SPLCenter had runic tattoos listed as hate symbols. Not specific runes mind you, all it said was rune tattoos.
At the time I wrote “Apparently I’m a Neo-Nazi Racist Skin Head,” the essay stirred up a lot of emotional responses both in the comments section and in conversations I had with people who read BS.
Today I received an email from the gentleman I had spoken with at SPLC. I am not entirely sure how he happened across the post (I assume SPLC does a google search for their name periodically) but he wanted to share his impressions. I am reposting both his email to me and my response for those of you who are interested.
I just happened to see your Oct. 19 posting about the conversation you and I had about neo-paganism and neo-Nazism. I appreciate the mostly evenhanded tone of the post. A couple of brief things: I didn’t think it was fair to say we would assume you, or a group you mention, are neo-Nazi — we very clearly understand that there are non-racial heathens as well as anti-racist ones. I think it’s certainly false that we would “automatically declare” Asphodel to be a white supremacist organization. We never do that. We look carefully at the ideology of every individual organization that we list as a hate group. We have never listed Asphodel or, in fact, other such groups.
ON the question of what percentage of, say, Asatruers are racist, that’s obviously very open to debate. I believe did mention to you Mattias Gardell’s scholarly book on racism within the heathen scene, and he certainly estimates higher than 10%. In any event, that really is open to debate, although I suspect the percentage is substantially higher.
That’s all. I just happened to see the post today, many months later.
Director, Intelligence Project
-my response (and no, I am not going to post Mr. Potok’s email address)-
Thank you for your email and I also want to thank you for the time you spent back then talking to me on the phone. When I called SPL I did not expect to get an actual person on the phone, and certainly did not expect you to take so much time for our conversation.
Having gotten your email, I have gone back and re-read the BarkingShaman post and I want you to know that I did not intend to imply that the SPLCenter had actually declared Asphodel to be a hate group, but rather note that it could happen if the organization was judged on such things as heathen tattoos (Raven Kaldera has a large runic tattoo on his forearm for example). However, on reflection, I can see how I could be misinterpreted, so I have edited the post to reflect that that was not my intent while maintaining the integrity of the essay:
[ It blows my mind to think that the SPL Center could look at a group like Asphodel for example, and declare it to be a white-supremacist organization. If they looked at the leaders in the community though, they would almost certainly identify at least Raven and myself as neo-Nazis if they were basing their judgments on our body modifications. ]
Unfortunately, there are a great many people who rely on the SPLCenter to guide their concepts of who is or is not hateful. As our world becomes more complex it becomes harder and harder for an individual to hold a coherent picture of the totality of a problem as complex as hate groups in their head. That means that people may not choose to investigate further a declaration from SPL regarding who is or is not part of a hate group.
For example, had my mother (who has donated to SPL for as long as I can remember and reads pretty much everything you put out) seen the picture on your website of the rune tattoo with the description that it was a white supremacist marking, my own body modifications would have immediately become very frightening to her. The same could be said for a pagan or heathen with these sorts of marks who was applying for a job in which a tattoo would otherwise be acceptable. When an organization like SPLCenter wields as the degree of influence that SPL does, great care must be taken whenever generalities become involved.
Thanks again for your time both in our conversation and sending me an email,