LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jeff Hall proudly flies the swastika flag and talks of a breakaway white nation. Dan Schruender once handed out fliers honoring Hitler’s birthday and writes a blog that features photos of Nazi officers.
But you’d never know it from looking at the ballots in the Southern California communities where the men are running for local office.
Hall, a 31-year old plumber, is listed only by name in the race for a seat at the water district. And Schruender, 50, lists himself as a former teacher running for school board.
The two candidates have emerged in low-profile races in the recession-battered region east of Los Angeles, which has seen a rise in hate group activity as minorities moved from the cities to the spacious suburbs that were once farmland.
“The Inland Empire unfortunately is a hotbed for hate,” said Joanna Mendelson, investigative researcher for the Anti-Defamation League in California. “During the last decade, we’re seeing a demographic shift and with that often comes an increase in racism and hatred and bigotry.”
Last year, Hall’s group led a small protest over a day labor hiring spot that was met by a much larger counterprotest. He also rallied outside a local synagogue.
Hall said he wants the Western Municipal Water District in Riverside to use more recycled water and create incentives for conservation.
But as southwest regional leader of the Nationalist Socialist Movement — considered by the ADL to be the country’s largest neo-Nazi group — Hall said voters who cast a ballot for him Tuesday are also accepting his views on race. He advocates the creation and secession of an all-white section of the United States.
“I fly the swastika,” he said. “I don’t hide that. I don’t water it down.”
It’s not the first time neo-Nazis or white supremacists have run for political office in the United States, and the current candidates are far from the highest profile. Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke won a seat in Louisiana’s state Legislature in 1989 and later ran unsuccessfully for governor and president.
In Tuesday’s elections, the Anti-Defamation League is tracking several such candidates, including White Aryan Resistance founder Tom Metzger, who is running a write-in campaign for Indiana’s 3rd district Congressional seat, and Billy Roper, a write-in candidate for governor of Arkansas and founder of the group White Revolution. Another candidate being watched is New York 18th Congressional District candidate Jim Russell, who is running as a Republican, but was renounced by the local Republican Party in September over an essay he wrote against racial mingling.
Hate groups have become more active as Riverside and San Bernardino counties have grown more diverse, but still have few followers. The National Socialist Movement has fewer than 100 members in California and several hundred nationwide, said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
In 2009, about 38 percent of residents in the two counties were non-Hispanic whites, according to the annual American Community Survey. That’s compared to 49 percent during the last decennial census taken in 2000.
Schruender wrote on his blog that running for office — even if he loses — is a first step toward gaining political power. The former Aryan Nations member and self-described ultraconservative had an English teaching credential from 1995 to 2005 but says he became disgusted with the educational system and quit teaching. He now repairs mobile homes.
Schruender said he wants to push children to work harder in the predominantly Latino district and doesn’t see whites as superior, even though his blog features Nazi propaganda and slurs against Jews.
“It would be ridiculous for me to even try to favor whites over others, it would be just ridiculous and absolutely undoable because of the racial demographics,” he said.
Community leaders — while reluctant to give the men publicity — welcomed recent coverage of the candidacies in local newspapers, hoping voters will pay attention even though the races are far down the ballot and overshadowed by state and Congressional campaigns.
“It is an obscure office,” said Kevin Akin, the chair of the Peace and Freedom Party in Riverside who has been blasting out emails to warn voters about Hall. “I think he wants to get a lot of votes and then he’s going to claim the people who voted for him support his Nazism.”
Some voters acknowledged they hadn’t heard of the candidates’ background. Others said they would not cast a ballot for a neo-Nazi — something Hall said he hopes might change in the secrecy of the ballot box.
“We’ve got enough hate going on in the world now without letting someone like that slip in,” said Dell Roberts, a 74-year old Riverside resident.
Hall has done little to campaign other than printing $20 in business cards and issuing a statement on his group’s website. He doesn’t believe all races are equal but said he would represent everyone in the community if elected.
“Nothing is going to be different about my water or a minority’s or anyone else’s under the sun,” he said.
Neither candidate has submitted a statement to the registrar of voters and nothing on the ballot indicates their work with neo-Nazi organizations. Nor have they attended community forums where other candidates have debated.
“He’s not even serious about this,” Lacey Kendall, one of the six candidates for the Rialto school board, said of Schruender.
Some residents fear well-meaning voters might cast a ballot for the men without knowing anything about them — especially in a year when the electorate seems poised to punish incumbents.
“People who don’t file a candidate statement, people who don’t give electoral information, folks should look at that and say … chances are they’re hiding something,” said Chani Beeman, a board member for the Western Inland Empire Coalition Against Hate.
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