The San Diego Union - Tribune
San Diego, Calif.
Oct 25, 2000
The two classrooms at Helix High were thoughtfully decorated by teachers who wanted the walls to complement their lessons on literature and history, particularly the often-forgotten contributions of nonwhite writers and soldiers.
Somebody didn't like it.
The rooms were ransacked and vandalized. A poster of two babies, black and white, was defaced. Walls were spray-painted with swastikas. Notes were left in drawers.
"The Ku Klux Klan is watching,” one said, “and we're not happy about what we see.”
The campus roiled.
One student was so worried about his teacher that he spent a night outside her house to guard her.
No one suspected Alex Curtis, a skinny kid in preppie clothes who had few friends. Never said much in class. Kind of invisible.
That was 1993. Eventually, school officials linked Curtis to the break-ins and expelled him. Four years later, he was convicted of using a La Mesa police insignia on hate literature.
Curtis is still mostly invisible to anyone unfamiliar with organized racism. But, in the netherworld of hate, he is a giant.
o o o
Curtis spends most of his time in what was the laundry room of his parents' house in Lemon Grove. Bright, articulate, clean-cut, he drives an older Porsche and sporadically studies history at San Diego State University.
But from the laundry-turned-office in this working-class, racially diverse neighborhood, Curtis has carved a niche in the hate movement that sets him apart from traditional racists.
Forget shaved heads and tattoos, white hoods and fiery rallies.
Curtis toils in isolation, spewing racism through a Web site, a magazine and a telephone hotline.
At 25, Curtis is among a new generation of leaders shaping hate in modern ways. They recruit through cyberspace and music, shun big meetings and encourage lone violent attacks to create an all-white nation.
Curtis is considered “a rising star among bigots” by the Anti-Defamation League. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a watchdog group based in Montgomery, Ala., recently named him as one of the nation’s six most prominent young hate leaders on the basis of its analysis of hate groups across the country.
The center also identified six pillars of the old guard, which included Neuman Britton of Aryan Nations and Willis Carto of Liberty Lobby, both of Escondido. San Diego County’s most famous racist, Tom Metzger of White Aryan Resistance, came close to making the list.
The designations mean that San Diego County can count itself among the top producers of influential racists. All but Carto appear to be active locally.
Some insiders say Britton, 74, in line to take over the national leadership of Aryan Nations, could move the group’s headquarters to his family’s Escondido home. The group recently was ordered to pay $6 million to victims of a beating by Aryan Nations security guards and is likely to be forced out of its Idaho compound at the end of the month.
Britton, who has melanoma skin cancer, has said that if the group moved to Escondido it wouldn't happen right away. Law enforcers dismiss him as too old and sick.
Metzger, who is 64 and lives in Fallbrook, still spreads his message and slam-dances with skinheads at white power rock concerts, even though he was bankrupted by a $12.5 million civil judgment for the beating death of an Ethiopian man by skinhead followers.
Although it is difficult to measure whether these leaders are having any impact in San Diego, statistics show that either more hate crimes are being committed or more are being reported.
The state recorded a 12 percent increase in 1999 over the previous year, while San Diego police tallied a 55 percent rise during the same period.
The mid-city region, which includes City Heights, Oak Park, Talmadge, the College Area, Normal Heights, Rolando and Kensington, appears to be targeted most frequently.
Among the most highly publicized hate crimes in San Diego County in recent memory: Latino laborers were terrorized by pellet-gun-toting white youths. A young black Marine was paralyzed by white men shouting racial slurs. A lesbian was sodomized by a man who, during the attack, said he was converting her to heterosexuality.
Authorities say it will be a few years before statistics will give a true picture of whether hate crimes are increasing. The numbers appear to rise and fall depending on police training and public education campaigns, both of which were bolstered in 1999.
Why are there so many hate leaders here?
"San Diego is a nice place to live,” said San Diego police Detective Jerry Stratton, the department’s hate-crime specialist. “It’s also one of the most diverse cities I know of. If you wanted to target an area, there are a lot of targets here.”
Southern Poverty Law Center spokesman Mark Potok, who helped create the list of national leaders, points to this region’s rapid population shift.
"Southern California has always been extremely high in terms of hate group numbers and strength of movement in general,” Potok said. “Southern California for years was very, very white and very conservative.
"Add to that immigration pressure from Mexico, and it raises the heat. There’s clearly a lot of ethnic mixing and conflict in California, more so than other places.”
Proximity to the border could also be a factor.
"There is an inordinate amount (of hate leaders) from Orange County down,” said Lawrence Baron, a Holocaust expert who chairs the Jewish studies department at San Diego State University. “Border towns, because of immigration, may attract more of this anti- immigrant sentiment.”
Law enforcement officials around the county who monitor the activities of hate groups say the few meetings that are held are not particularly well attended.
Yet police are not encouraged by estimates that only 5 percent of hate crimes are committed by members of organized groups. They are worry that hate groups are tapping into anti-immigration sentiment and white fear via the Internet.
The result could be loners turning to violence.
San Diego police officers, who five years ago might not have responded to instances of racist literature found in a neighborhood, now show up for every call.
"It reflects a recognition that the individual who commits these types of acts poses a potential threat to the community,” said Morris Casuto of the local Anti-Defamation League.
The District Attorney’s Office filed 23 hate-crime cases against 30 people in 1999. So far this year, the number is 21.
"Last year we prosecuted more hate crimes than Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas combined,” said Hector Jimenez, a hate- crime prosecutor. “But that only illustrates that we are doing a better job in the reporting, investigation and prosecution of hate crimes.”
Curtis said that he taught himself to be a racist, that his mother and father — a high school journalism teacher and an engineer who owns his own business — do not share his views. They declined to discuss their son.
For fun he goes for a spin in his Porsche, takes a walk or watches his favorite movie, “Scarface.” He said he doesn't have a lot of friends, and he doesn't have much money. He has worked minimum-wage jobs but was unemployed for most of the summer.
He boasts of having the world’s only daily racist update — a recorded phone commentary of his views on hate crimes and race- related news from around the globe. Curtis uses a faux-announcer voice to record his message.
On his Web site, he recently named the teen-agers charged in the beatings of field workers in Carmel Valley as “Aryans of the Month.”
Curtis declined to be interviewed but agreed to answer a reporter’s questions, one or two a day, via e-mail. Over a period of months, he wrote sparingly about his parents, his expulsion from Helix High School, classes at SDSU and his racist philosophies.
"Most of my ideas come to me instinctively, and I express them as honestly and forthrightly as I can,” Curtis wrote. “For instance, while I watched the news about Littleton (the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado), I did not feel remorse. Instead I was ecstatic and prayed that the shooters were open racists.
"Almost every magazine or group tries to deny their hate and soft- pedals their racism,” Curtis wrote. “I attack my enemies, such as the U.S. government and Jews, without compromise.”
Curtis is a staunch advocate of terrorism by single attackers. He praised last year’s shooting spree at a Los Angeles Jewish Community Center on his Web site.
Helix High officials said that when Curtis was in school he stole a list of student addresses and used them to send hate mail to parents, alerting them to their children’s friendships with members of minorities.
In 1997, while attending SDSU, Curtis pleaded guilty to illegally using a La Mesa Police Department insignia and phone number on hate fliers. The fliers said La Mesa is turning into a “nonwhite sewer” and urged people to work with police to identify “criminal minorities” and “interracial couples.”
While Curtis and other purveyors of hate are toiling beneath the public’s radar, hoping their message seeps into the mainstream, efforts to thwart them are not so invisible.
San Diego County law enforcers were among the first in the nation to create a hate-crime prosecution unit, first to have a countywide protocol for responding to and investigating hate crimes and first to designate hate-crime specialists in each San Diego police or sheriff’s station.
Deputy District Attorney Jimenez is working with state officials to create a database for law enforcers that would enable them to share information about racists suspected of crimes, much like a system used now to track suspected gang members.
In the military, where tens of thousands of young sailors and Marines in San Diego County are ideal targets for insidious propaganda, officers are taking steps to educate ranks of all races about the underground hate network.
Camp Pendleton’s commander, Brig. Gen. Bradley M. Lott, worries that impressionable Marines could be targeted by recruiters for hatemongering.
"I have a responsibility to protect my force,” Lott said. “I'm always looking to find out what’s out there, what’s going to hurt them. We have naive 18- and 19-year-olds. Have we ever told them about this?”
Lott invited a former skull-busting neo-Nazi skinhead to deliver some straight talk to hundreds of leathernecks in July.
Despite the heat, T. J. Leyden wore a long-sleeved shirt to cover the 29 racist tattoos on his arms, chest and back.
What he didn't hide was his past as a hatemonger who beat, shot and stabbed people of color. He now uses his experiences on behalf of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles to warn the military, law enforcers and students about the movement’s recruiting techniques and operations.
During Leyden’s speech, the Camp Pendleton Marines sometimes nodded in agreement and sometimes challenged him. Did he feel remorse for what he has done in the name of hate?
"Sometimes I don't sleep thinking about the old times,” Leyden said. “I will receive a punishment for the sins I've committed.”
Did he still fight feelings of hatred?
"I'm a work in progress,” Leyden said, “It’s kind of like being an alcoholic, but there’s no RA — no Racists Anonymous.”