Using love to counter flags of hate

Published March 28, 2006

Momma Kat picked up Old Glory from a chair and taped it to the side of the champagne-colored Pontiac Bonneville parked in the driveway. Somebody had dropped off the flag and two dozen red roses the night before.

From her angle, she could see both the red, white and blue and the Nazi flag flying on the trailer next door. Quite the contrast. Something in my chest thumped when I saw the swastika.

Two flags flew at the trailer at 9321 Teak St. in western Pasco County on Monday afternoon. The other, the stars and bars of the Confederacy. On the trailer a sign read: "Redneck Boulevard." This is an address where hate lives.

Deputies had removed swastikas as part of their investigation of a knife attack early Thursday. But the symbols returned in defiance as authorities tried to solve the mystery of who killed a 17-year-old boy and slashed a woman with a knife.

Speaking of contrasts, there was this in the Griffin Park neighborhood Monday.

After Kris King died, his friends turned his Bonneville into a makeshift shrine. They covered the trunk with religious candles. A white sheet secured with adhesive covered the roof of the car. Friends and well-wishers wrote messages to Kris in purple marker.

"You were the only friend of mine who didn't judge others," one note said.

Over the past few nights, teens have gathered in Momma Kat's back yard to hold a bonfire in King's memory. They're afraid of the people who might have killed him but are determined to honor his memory. Momma Kat is afraid too. So she hesitates to give a more complete identity. Two neo-Nazis, John A. Ditullio and leader Shawn Plott, were questioned about the attack, although no one has been charged.

You can't walk into this neighborhood without feeling sorry for the neighbors who have to endure these symbols of hatred.

In addition to the ample display of Nazi symbols outside the trailer, investigators found pictures of Adolf Hitler inside the trailer. There was also a poster that read, "Six million Jews weren't enough. Send more to the oven."

It's not illegal to fly a Nazi flag; it's not illegal to preach hate. Sometimes you wish it were.

Plott and his neo-Nazi friends are very familiar to local law enforcement officials, who have been monitoring them for a while.

"This group is at the bottom of the food chain," Pasco Lt. Robert Sullivan said.

They're offshoots of the Aryan Nation. About 70 to 100 known neo-Nazis are in Pasco County. Their numbers are small, but they're zealous in their recruiting efforts.

About six months ago, the Pasco Sheriff's Office got calls from the orderly suburbs of Wesley Chapel, where folks awoke one morning to find neo-Nazi recruitment fliers next to their morning papers. Knowledge and ignorance sat side by side.

As I visited the neighborhood, a former neo-Nazi recruit turned defector stood outside near the shrine to King. David Dirolf said he spent four months last fall living inside the compound.

After he fell in love with a girl in the neighborhood, he left. Momma Kat, as the kids in the neighborhood call her, took him in, just in time for Christmas.

Judging from the quick return of the swastikas, it seems the neighborhood could use a few more Momma Kats.

--Andrew Skerritt can be reached at 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is askerritt@sptimes.com