White-power pamphlets, anti-Arab phone calls. St. Petersburg a haven for extremists? Not quite, police say.
By JON WILSON
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 9, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- The National Alliance, a white supremacist, anti-Semitic organization, has spread hate propaganda here several times in the past few weeks.
Muslims have gotten anonymous phone calls, berating them for their religious beliefs and presumed national origins.
Neo-Nazis are suspected of beating and harassing homeless people.
These recent episodes have upset and angered residents, but the police and others who monitor hateful people and their actions say there is no reason to believe St. Petersburg has become an extremist cauldron. In fact, groups such as the National Alliance often are top heavy rather than teeming with rank-and-file members. If there are any present in the city, their numbers are few.
Officials say spur-of-the-moment intent likely is driving much of the activity.
The alliance pamphleteers, who may see the Sept. 11 attacks as a chance to prey on fear and perhaps win converts to their cause, may not even live permanently in St. Petersburg, officials say.
"They aren't here in town. Members may live here sometimes, or visit, but the real strength is somewhere in the middle of the state, the folks who really kind of lead," said St. Petersburg police spokesman Rick Stelljes.
Nonetheless, St. Petersburg police and other agencies have been investigating.
At least four times since October, someone has distributed anti-Semitic and racist fliers in northeast St. Petersburg neighborhoods. The fliers bear the logo and address of the National Alliance, whose headquarters are in Hillsboro, W.Va. It has been described as one of the nation's most dangerous extremist groups, based on a member's involvement in a failed bombing scheme near Orlando four years ago.
The most recent reports came from residents of Venetian Isles and Riviera Bay, who said handbills showed up in their neighborhoods on Nov. 30. Some lay on the ground and some were placed on vehicle windshields. Some had been placed between plastic protectors.
"It's not only the nature of the message and the organization itself. They took the liberty of coming on our property," said an indignant Richard Davis, a Venetian Isles resident. He called police and his neighborhood association.
A few days earlier, Old Northeast residents reported that fliers had shown up there on the same weekend, possibly on Dec. 1, a national AIDS awareness day.
The messages were the same in all three neighborhoods: "Help stop the spread of this deadly disease. ... Don't have sex with blacks."
Another batch of fliers expressing anti-Semitic and racist opinion had hit the Old Northeast in October.
No one in any of the neighborhoods saw who delivered the fliers.
"The thing that's disturbing is that they're so low to stoop to this stuff at this very time, when tensions are pretty high. It's almost as though they want (other) people to be as miserable as they are," said Roy Kaplan, director of the Tampa Bay Chapter of the National Conference for Community and Justice.
Arthur Teitelbaum, Southern director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, said he has heard that fliers also have been distributed recently in Orlando.
And though the Tampa Bay area is no longer listed on the National Alliance Web site as having a chapter, Teitelbaum said it would be "a reasonable guess" that a chapter exists here.
"Its exact strength remains to be seen," he said. "These types of organizations tend to be very fluid in their membership, and they often have transition from one leader to another."
The terrorist attacks have sparked other unpleasantry.
Askia Aquil, director of Neighborhood Housing Services, said he has heard of numerous instances of harassment of Muslims and others. It comes via the telephone or in face-to-face encounters, he said.
Aquil, a Muslim born and reared in St. Petersburg, said an anonymous caller referred to him as "camel jockey" and said "I should go back where I came from."
Aquil said it is difficult to gauge how many harassment incidents have taken place.
"The Arab community and the Muslim community and the Middle Eastern community is so diverse and dispersed throughout the area, there's no one clearing house," he said. "It's only when you happen to encounter someone directly that you hear reports of an incident."
He said Middle Eastern store owners are an easy target and that he has heard of several incidents of name-calling and other verbal harassment.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Bruce Wright, who leads the Refuge, a Central Avenue church for the needy, said he believes that neo-Nazi groups were responsible in recent beatings and harassment of homeless people.
"Certainly, they'd be suspect," said Wright, who has seen skinheads -- young men with shaved heads who sometimes espouse white supremacist beliefs -- hang around concerts.
Especially at risk, Wright said, are "homeless folks of color."
Whereas skinheads have a reputation for confrontation and violence, National Alliance members are not known for street beatings.
Bruce Alan Breeding was identified several years ago by the Anti-Defamation League as a National Alliance regional leader based in Tampa. Calling himself Vincent Breeding, he has been a guitarist for a death-metal musical group.
Breeding, 33, also is a cyber warrior, operating Web sites and becoming a member of a variety of Internet news groups, where he has sometimes promoted National Alliance views. He has been the editor of the White Nationalist News Agency, an Internet digest linked to a white supremacist Web site called Stormfront.