For seven years while UNO criminology professor Pete Simi lived with and researched neo-Nazis, death threats against him and his family were common. “[It was] one of the things I had to get used to, in terms of doing interviews and hanging out,” Simi says. “‘If we ever find out you’re a cop, we’ll hunt you down and kill you. We’ll hunt down and kill your family.’” Simi’s brazen research was done in the name of his book, American Swastika , 176-pages of firsthand experiences compiled from 13 years of fieldwork involving American White Power groups. The book was recently named CHOICE magazine’s 2010 Outstanding Academic Title of the Year. Simi began studying the White Power Movement in 1997, while pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. He studied under sociology professor Robert Furtrell, who later co-authored the book, providing an academic background to Simi’s firsthand data. “It’s a fascination with something so exotic, so extreme, and I wanted to see if I could get a better understanding of it,” Simi says. As a white male, Simi didn’t have much trouble accessing the world of white supremacists. “When I was starting my research, it was during the early days of the Internet and at that time, a lot of the groups had P.O. Boxes,” he says. “I wrote them a letter and told them what I wanted to do and suggested I might be kind of sympathetic or at least willing to hear it from their perspective.” It wasn’t long before Simi found himself playing pool and having lunch with neo-Nazis. Although he was grateful for the access, Simi was uneasy knowing outsiders associated him with the group. “To other people who didn’t know what was happening, I was just one of the group, I was one of the neo-Nazis,” he says. “That’s a disturbing feeling.” Despite Simi’s objectivity, the book involves some disturbing material. A large section centers on children, detailing how members raise offspring according to movement principles, sometimes isolating them from children of other ethnicities and exposing them to White Power media. Some parents in the movement will even screen Disney movies for “liberal propaganda.” One family Simi lived with was particularly hardcore in their beliefs and even nicknamed their son “Little Hitler.” “He was a 5-year-old boy when I was living with them,” Simi says. “He’d been raised in that culture all his life and that’s what he knew.” An active member in the movement, the boy’s mother had given birth to him in prison. He was raised by his father, a neo-Nazi and a heavy drug user who later went to prison for attempted murder when the boy was three. Custody was then given to his paternal grandparents until his mother was released. “By the time he was five, he was running around listening to white power music and seig heiling everyone,” Simi says. “He was an aggressive little guy and had a lot of mental health problems. After he left his biological father’s home, allegations arose of physical and sexual abuse. There was a photo of him being given Mickey’s malt liquor, so it was a really unhealthy environment to say the least.” For Simi, choosing between being an innocent bystander and the desire to protect human subjects would often conflict. Simi recalls a situation at a WPM festival when a young Skinhead joined Simi’s group of friends and bragged about his latest hate crime. “He began talking about some of his friends who beat to death a gay person and had raped him with a baseball bat,” Simi says. “The police questioned him about some supposed criminal activity he hadn’t committed. But he was laughing because they didn’t ask him questions about a crime did commit, and that crime, he claimed, was butchering an African-American person with a hatchet.” After hearing this, Simi contacted a friend with connections to law enforcement. Luckily, no recent crimes had been committed fitting the Skinhead’s description. “One of the things that’s certainly true about folks in these groups is they do like to boast,” he says. “They like to tell these ‘fantasy stories.’ For them, that’s enjoyable.” Going to authorities certainly put Simi in a precarious situation. As did the publication of American Swastika , although Simi believes he gave the groups fair treatment in the book and doesn’t feel at risk. Even if Simi did experience a backlash, he’s willing to take that risk to educate others about the prevalence of hate groups in our own backyard. “The groups we are referring to come from within,” he says. “We can’t blame this problem on some alien influence or ‘foreign’ invaders. One of the reasons we tend to ignore these groups is because we are very uncomfortable with the idea that they are part of us and, in some ways, we are responsible for creating them.”

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