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Richard Barrett

Richard Barrett is the founder and leader of the Nationalist Movement, a white supremacist organization based in Learned, Mississippi. While the group has never enjoyed significant influence on the far right -- due in part to Barrett's reluctance to share the spotlight -- it has been able to attract a steady (if small) number of aggressive skinheads. An attorney and tireless promoter, Barrett is best known for staging well-publicized rallies, often following legal actions that uphold the group's free speech rights. He has repeatedly drawn large crowds of counterprotestors, some of whom have responded violently. Since the mid-1990s Barrett has extended his legal battles to the Internet arena, successfully waging a campaign to have Web pages characterizing members of his Nationalist Movement as “haters” taken down.

Richard Barrett
Born: 1943
Residence: Learned, Mississippi
Ideology: White supremacy, ultranationalism, anti-Communism
Extremist Affiliations: Nationalist Movement (founder and leader)
Publication: All the Way (newsletter)
Notable for: Well-publicized rallies, often following legal actions upholding his group's right to demonstrate, which draw large and sometimes violent crowds of counterprotestors.

The Making of a Nationalist

Richard Barrett (b. 1943) was raised in New York City and East Orange, New Jersey. His account of his childhood suggests that he learned bigotry at an early age:

It was not the cold blizzard of 1949, but the pounding hailstorm of Puerto Rican, Negro and Jewish immigrants upon our community which made that winter so severe....A massive influx of foreign-born suddenly...rent the neighborhood apart....In no time at all, one could hear Yiddish more than English spoken in many public places.... Kidnappings and murders were mentioned in hushed whispers, chilling us all to the bone.

He attended nearby Rutgers University, then served in the Vietnam War with the United States Army. A partisan of the American South, particularly Mississippi ("Mississippians were endowed with an unconquerable anti-communist spirit because they had to perennially guard against a takeover by Negroes...."), he moved to the Magnolia State in 1966. He later received a law degree from Memphis State University in Tennessee.

Once in Mississippi, he began organizing anti-integrationist, anti-civil rights and a variety of "patriotic" and pro-white "heritage" events. For more than a decade, he organized an annual dinner honoring white male athletes called "Spirit of America." The gathering enjoyed the support of United States congressmen, governors and local politicians as late as 1984 (long after Barrett's racist views were publicly known), in part because he was successful in promoting the event as a celebration of civic values.1

The Commission

Having achieved local notoriety, he ran for governor of Mississippi in 1979, but received only two percent of the vote and finished last among six candidates. Three years later he self-published a 435-page autobiography, The Commission, which the Nationalist Web site called the "textbook blueprint on Nationalism." The book's jacket went further, declaring it "the most important book of our time" and stating that Barrett was "a man whose name will be written in lightning across the pages of American history." Despite his self-mythification and purple style,2 Barrett's basic ideas were clear -- he advocated the "resettlement" of "those who were once citizens" to "Puerto Rico, Mexico, Israel, the Orient and Africa." Contending that non-whites, especially blacks, were inferior ("the Negro race... possess[es] no creativity of its own [and] pulls the vitality away from civilization"), he also advocated sterilization and abortions of the "unfit."

Activism

In 1984, Barrett again ran unsuccessfully for office in Mississippi, placing second with 9,500 votes in a United States Congressional race. He described the campaign, in which he ran against three black candidates, as a choice between "the cotton boll and three lumps of coal." While still based in Mississippi, in 1987, he served as the attorney for the Forsyth County Defense League, a group formed in Georgia to defend members of the local Ku Klux Klan who were charged with violence against civil rights marchers. The following year, in January, he led a parade of 65 demonstrators, of whom 40 were robed Klansmen, through Forsyth County. Law enforcement estimated that only about 12 of the members were local residents, a ratio that reflects Barrett's practice of importing nonlocal activists to demonstrate about local issues (Forsyth County was nearly all white, and black community leaders had recently led marches for integration). During the event, Barrett and other white supremacists signed "The Forsyth County Covenant," a 12-point document that argued, among other things, that "America's heritage as a free, white, Christian, English-speaking democracy . . . must be advanced" and that "all efforts to make us a bi-lingual, bi-sexual or bi-racial society must be defeated."

Barrett returned to Georgia that summer to help lead a white power demonstration at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, along with veteran racist agitators Ed Fields (founder of the National States Rights Party) and J.B. Stoner (former chairman of Fields's group). The march was stopped by policemen when they feared that hostile counterdemonstrators could turn violent. Barrett also began cultivating skinheads in 1988, hosting a "Warrior Weekend" of paramilitary training in December at his home. While the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported that a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. was used as the target for rifle practice, only a few teenagers attended, and the training turned out to be in the use of .22-caliber weapons.

Winning the Right to March; More Marches

Forsyth County attempted to prevent Barrett from marching again in 1989 by insisting on a $100 fee for a parade permit. Barrett sued, ultimately arguing successfully -- and memorably -- before the Supreme Court that the county had obstructed his right to free speech. (He had pledged to question black justice Clarence Thomas's fitness to sit on the court if Thomas had questioned him. "The day will come when there will be only Americans on American courts," he said he would have told the justice. While Thomas maintained his customary silence, Barrett's fevered rhetoric drew repeated rebukes from the other justices.) Later in 1989, Barrett demonstrated in Atlanta against the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, claiming that he would lead 1,000 marchers through the city. He was able to rally only seven supporters, but attracted 1,500 counterdemonstrators -- largely because his grandiose claims led civil rights leaders to view the event as a bellwether for the city's black community. Some of these protestors attacked the National Guardsmen and Atlanta police officers who were attempting to maintain order.

In the same vein, he twice attempted to rally support for the Los Angeles Police Department officers who beat Rodney King, stating that he felt "safer because there are men like the 'Gallant L.A. Four.'" His first rally, in June 1992, one month after the officers were acquitted, drew six followers and 300 counterdemonstrators to City Hall in Simi Valley, California (where the trial was held), and was halted when Barrett and the police were pelted with soda cans. His second attempt, three months later, was similarly a fiasco -- he attracted one supporter, 150 counterdemonstrators and 300 police officers. When asked where his supporters were, Barrett sounded defiant. "Let them ask how many people were on the back of Paul Revere's horse," he said. "I don't know. But I know he had a message of freedom."

Barrett's efforts during this time were not solely devoted to legal battles and public demonstrations. Along with publishing his monthly newsletter, All the Way, he also created a television show called "Airlink," consisting of 34 half-hour videos to be broadcast on public access channels. The program often featured interviews with far-right figures discussing subjects like neo-Nazism, immigration and the skinhead movement. Barrett claimed that, at its peak, "Airlink" appeared on 30 stations nationwide.

Another Barrett rally fizzled in 1994 when he traveled to Boston to hold an anti-gay demonstration in May after a veterans committee chose to cancel its annual St. Patrick's Day parade rather than include gay groups. Staging his appearance in South Boston, an area riven by racial tension since the busing riots of the 1970s, he again failed to attract local support. Along with 14 followers, and surrounded by 800 police officers, he marched for a mere 15 minutes along a Boston sidewalk (having been denied a parade permit). He then delivered a 45-minute address and returned home. "We did what we said we were going to do," he insisted. "We broke the ban on the Bill of Rights. You can call Richard Barrett the civil rights leader of the country."

Other Activities cartoon
  • Back in Mississippi, Barrett spearheaded a movement to support Byron de la Beckwith, who was convicted in February of 1994 for the 1963 killing of Medgar Evers, a regional leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Barrett collected 4,000 signatures demanding that Mississippi Governor Kirk Fordyce pardon Beckwith, whom Barrett called "the prisoner of an affirmative-action jury," but the governor refused to meet with Barrett.

    Undaunted, in September 1994, Barrett, along with members of the Ku Klux Klan, led a march in Alabama calling for Beckwith's pardon. The two dozen marchers also rallied in support of Hulond Humphries, the principal of Randolph County High School, who had been fired for threatening to cancel the senior prom if mixed-race couples attended.

  • On July 4, 2000, Barrett led an "Independence From Affirmative Action Day" march through Morristown, New Jersey. The unsurprising results: he and eight followers paraded down the streets in front of 300 counterdemonstrators. Police protected Barrett from members of the crowd who attempted to cross the barricades and attack him. At an appearance in Morristown the following year, two alleged followers damaged his sound equipment, resulting in an altercation. The Nationalist Movement’s Web site has posted photographs of Barrett wrestling with one of the men over the caption: “Single-handedly walloped anarchist Matthew Sheard, who had attacked the podium.”

  • During the past several years, Barrett has repeatedly denounced other white supremacists, particularly those who advocate "lone wolf" guerrilla tactics and condemn the type of public activism in which Barrett specializes. He assailed Tom Metzger of White Aryan Resistance, for example, and engaged in a long-running feud with Alex Curtis, then the leading Internet advocate of such tactics. Curtis's arrest in November 2000, and subsequent imprisonment for civil rights violations, did not seem to lessen Barrett's antagonism; the Nationalist Movement's newsletter included several articles insulting and ridiculing Curtis -- suggesting that he should apologize for "following the path of communism" -- in its April 2001 edition.

  • By threatening legal action, Barrett has been successful in having more than two-dozen web pages that characterized members of his Nationalist Movement as “haters” removed from the Web sites of colleges, organizations, and state and local law enforcement agencies.

Barrett's Future

Barrett's influence on the white supremacy scene has never been strong and continues to dwindle. His ability to insert himself into and inflame local controversies, however, along with his willingness to fight First Amendment issues in court, have kept his profile high. Reporters expect him to give offensive speeches and to enrage crowds, and he seldom disappoints. While he has been derided for his extravagant self-regard -- his group's Web site provides a form for visitors to nominate the Nationalist Movement for the Nobel Peace Prize, for instance -- he also has an acute sense of cultural fault lines and has skillfully heightened civic disagreements across the country. For this task, he does not require a large following, just publicity and opposition. Whenever Barrett decides to take to the streets, local officials and law enforcement must deal with increased anxiety in the community and the possibility of violence.

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