Richard Schmidt: Ohio White Supremacist Arrested, But Neo-Nazism is On the Rise
This week marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s historic "I have a dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. How far has the country progressed since that iconic speech?
While there has undoubtedly been progress toward his dream, we are still far from achieving it. There is a dangerous sort of hatred that still exists in the country.
FBI agents recently arrested Richard Schmidt, 47, a suspected Ohio white supremacist with a felony conviction for manslaughter on charges of marketing counterfeit goods from China. What they discovered, however, was more than just low-quality NFL jerseys.
The agents who searched Schmidt's sporting goods store, Spindletop Sports Zone, and four trailers full with a cache of weapons that included AR-15 assault rifles, Ruger and Sig Sauer semi-automatic pistols, bulletproof body armor, high-capacity magazines and ammunition. They also found evidence of Schmidt's ties to the neo-Nazi movement and seized a video of a national convention of the neo-Nazi National Socialist movement, bumper stickers of the National Alliance party (another neo-Nazi group), paraphernalia from the "Waffen SS," Adolph Hitler's Nazi military force in Germany, and a frightening "Jewish 500" list with the names of Jewish and NAACP leaders in Detroit.
One page even included the name of Scott Kaufman, the chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, who was stunned when federal agents showed up at his office.
As a convicted felon, Schmidt is prohibited under federal law from buying firearms. He was charged with murder and felonious assault in 1989 after killing a Hispanic man and shooting two others with a semi-automatic pistol in a traffic dispute. After serving 13 years in prison, Schmidt returned to Toledo in 2003 and formed a nonprofit called the "Vinland Preservation League" to push environmental and historical preservation.
According to Mark Potok from the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks hate groups around the country, the group found an entry that appeared to be from Schmidt on a neo-Nazi website a few years ago under the Yahoo profile "Vinalander 101" who declared his plans to set up a "historical preservation" group. Potok also noted that the word "Vinland" likely came from the "Vinland Social Club," a dormant neo-Nazi skinhead group.
In this case, Schmidt was charged with three counts of illegal possession of firearms, ammunition and body armor and one count of trafficking in counterfeit goods in the indictment this week. He does, however, stand as a frightening example of white supremacist hatred that still exists in parts of the nation.
According to experts, hundreds of white supremacist groups still exist and are experiencing a "resurgence" through several deadly domestic attacks.
Last year, 40-year-old Wade Michael Page, a "frustrated neo-Nazi" shot and killed six worshipers in a horrific shooting at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin. His tattoos of white supremacist symbols and decade-long interest in the neo-Nazi "hate music" scene made it painfully clear that the nation has not moved beyond the existence and terror of hate killings by white supremacists.
Just a few days ago, a Colorado judge was forced to go into hiding after informants warned that the 211 crew, a white supremacist gang, put a "hit" on the judge's life for his role in the investigation of the killing of the Colorado's prisons chief, Tom Clements.
Sadly, these hateful domestic attacks are not likely to go away anytime soon.
With the changing makeup of America, experts who track these groups have warned that the number of radical hate groups has increased in recent years. The KKK had between 3000-5000 active members in 2012, a membership that has substantially increased after the election of President Barack Obama in 2008.
According to Jack Levin, a professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University, a flagging economy and the election of the country's first black president could be some of the factors behind this resurgence.
"During tough economic times, the credibility of mainstream, conventional institutions and leaders declines dramatically and what happens is that more and more Americans have given up resolving their problems in the middle and have gone to the extremes," said Levin.
Jeff Schoep, head of National Socialist Movement, said "interest has spiked up" in the neo-Nazi group.
"Historically, when times get tough in our nation, that's how movements like ours gain foothold," said Jeff Schoep, head of the National Socialist Movement. "When the economy suffers, people are looking for answers ... We are the answer for white people."
Race and diversity are intricately woven into the American experience and are an essential part of the "melting pot" that is the United States of America. And even though it has been 50 years since that inspiring speech on the steps of the Lincoln memorial, it is crucial for us to acknowledge the fact that there is still work to be done towards it and keep marching on.
King's eldest son, Martin Luther King III said it best: "We've got a lot of work to do but none of us should be any ways tired," he said. "Why? Because we've come much too far from where we started."