Salt Lake City Olympics and the Extremist Threat
Domestic Extremists Eye the Winter Games
Operatives of Osama bin Laden conducted "meticulous" surveillance of Salt Lake City, the online magazine Salon recently reported. The revelation that Salt Lake City might be a target of bin Laden is cause for concern for those officials tasked with security for the 2002 Winter Olympics, whose opening ceremonies begin on February 8. The specter of Olympic terrorism has haunted planners of the games ever since 1972, when a group of Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and killed eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.
Yet foreign terrorists are not the only extremists to target Olympic games. At the last games held in the United States, in Atlanta in 1996, a terrorist set off a bomb in Centennial Park that killed one spectator and injured others. The prime suspect in that bombing is fugitive Eric
Rudolph, a domestic extremist wanted for allegedly bombing a number of sites, including gay bars and abortion clinics.
“Let’s begin working on ideas for how we can hijack the attention of the world’s media during those two weeks.”
Billy Roper of the National Alliance.
There are many reasons why groups may target the Olympics. The Olympic games are symbols of multiculturalism and globalism. Moreover, many prominent multinational corporations
sponsor the games. However, many groups may target the Olympics simply because the world's attention is focused there. For the 2002 Olympics, Salt Lake City officials expect so many protesters that they took the unprecedented step of setting aside sites and parade routes for protests and demonstrations.
Groups announcing plans to protest in Salt Lake City include animal rights activists, prison reformers, gay rights advocates, anti-abortion activists, and many others. This includes some very controversial groups such as Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church whose anti-gay rhetoric is exemplified by his web site, godhatesfags.com. Ross Anderson, Salt Lake City's mayor, has said that his biggest concern is anarchists. But other troublesome groups are also eyeing the 2002 Olympics, including neo-Nazis and other white supremacists.
National Alliance: "Milking the Mainstream Press"
One of the first hate groups to consider targeting the Olympics was the National Alliance (NA), the largest and best-organized neo-Nazi group in the U.S. The NA is headed by William Pierce, author of The Turner Diaries, a novelized blueprint for an armed revolution that has inspired a number of terrorists, including Timothy McVeigh. In 1999, Pierce expressed boredom with the Olympics, telling his shortwave radio audience that he "found it difficult to become very excited about the Olympics…ever since basketball became one of the official Olympic sports." However, as the Salt Lake City games approached, some of his followers began to see opportunities to exploit the Olympics.
The primary lure of the Olympics was free publicity. In August 2001, a member of the NA's Salt Lake City unit sent an e-mail to Billy Roper, one of the group's leaders, in which he proposed using the Olympics to gain attention for the National Alliance. "Please inform everyone of this," he asked Roper. "We need people here, we need ideals…We can milk the mainstream press for a millions [sic] $ worth in advertisement if we work this right."
Roper liked the idea and forwarded the proposal on to the National Alliance's e-mail list. "I would like every NA member who can do so to schedule a vacation for themselves during the Winter Olympics," he wrote. "Let's begin working on ideas for how we can hijack the attention of the world's media during those two weeks." List subscribers responded enthusiastically, urging the NA to set up a committee to coordinate the activities and to rotate members in and out of the city so the NA could have a presence for the whole Olympics. "Damn fine idea!" responded David Pringle, the National Alliance's Alaska leader. "It's an especially good place for us because the NA already has some local infrastructure there…We need to hit them like a ton of bricks!" Colorado members also quickly committed themselves to go. Discussion of planned activities on the mailing list trailed off, but Roper confirmed in November that protests were still planned and gave contact information for people who wished to participate.
The extent to which National Alliance members from around the country may actually travel to Salt Lake City is unknown; it is certainly difficult and expensive to arrange travel and lodging for any Olympics. But the NA does have, as David Pringle acknowledged, an active Salt Lake City unit, which by itself could plan and carry out attention-getting or even disruptive activities. The NA had long been interested in the Beehive State.
In March 2000, for example, out-of-state NA members mailed literature to residents of Grand County, Utah, following the arrest of a man charged with assaulting an interracial couple at a convenience store. The mailings encouraged support for the defendant. Because of the publicity surrounding the case, the judge had to move the trial to another county.
Logo of the National Alliance in Utah
Local NA members were active in Salt Lake City even earlier. In February 2000, NA members twice distributed racist literature to Salt Lake City suburbs; they repeated the effort the following August and again in September 2001. The fliers called for a "racially clean area of the earth," with white schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces, and asked "white Utahns of good moral character" to give money to the NA. Six months later, Billy Roper boasted to the Deseret News that the NA had "slightly fewer members [in Utah] than there are state legislators." At that time, the NA had just sent mailings to every state legislator in Utah to protest an attempt by Utah legislators to pass hate crimes legislation. Salt Lake City NA members were active enough to start their own Web site where they criticized the "criminal ways, sub-human degeneracy, and cultural disease" that non-white immigrants brought to America. The NA also claimed credit for the defeat of the hate crime bill (the Web site is not currently active).
World Church of the Creator and Other Groups
National Alliance members are not the only extremists with an interest in the Olympics. In December 2001, the racist e-mail newsletter "Vox Candidi" contained a notice announcing a "white pride rally and march" on February 8 to coincide with the opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics. The organizer of the rally and march is Salt Lake City white supremacist Jack Gray. Gray is an active and prolific white supremacist who has associated himself with a number of white supremacist groups, from the National Socialist White People's Party (NSWPP) to the National Socialists of Utah to skinheads. In recent years he has been most visible as the Utah contact for the World Church of the Creator (WCOTC), a virulently racist and anti-Semitic group that uses the pseudo-religion of "Creativity" as a guise for its hateful ideology. The WCOTC is headquartered in Illinois and headed by Matt Hale, but has chapters in a number of states. In 1999, Jack Gray became the head of WCOTC's Salt Lake City chapter and began hosting a Web site and an Internet message board for the group (now defunct).
Gray not only advanced WCOTC propaganda through the Web, he and WCOTC member David Hall also brought Matt Hale to the Salt Lake City Public Library in June 2001 to speak. Hale told reporters that Utah was ripe for recruitment: "Wherever there are white people experiencing integration, there are potential supporters." He said WCOTC members would approach people in the streets and go to public schools. However, the public meeting was sparsely attended by only 25 people, few of whom seemed to be supporters. The presentation by Gray and Hall was inept and stumbling, although Hale assured reporters that next time things would go more smoothly.
Hale was less happy about Gray's continued relationship with the NSWPP, whose leader, Harold Covington, is disliked by most prominent white supremacists. As a result, Gray distanced himself from formal affiliation with Hale, claiming instead to lead the "Independent Creativity Movement of Utah." Interestingly, the lead article on Gray's "Creator's [sic] of Utah" Web site is a reprint of a Deseret News article about possible terrorist threats to the Olympics (he has reprinted other articles about Olympic security threats in the past).
Another extremist source that expressed interest in attending the Olympics was the Hitler Youth Standarte of Salt Lake City, which publicized on its Web site a "Pro-Olympic Counter-Demonstration Against the Red Front." It urged readers to call to "the ranks of the youth who will become the Stormtroopers of the future." The Web site-now defunct-appears to be the work of one young white supremacist from Sandy, Utah, who uses a variety of Germanic and Nordic names as aliases.
As "Wiligut Productions" (Karl Maria Wiligut was a Nazi interested in the occult), he even designed a propaganda flyer in December 2001 designed to attract skiers and snowboarders to white supremacy with the slogan "Nordic…it's the edge."
Protests and rallies involving white supremacists are particularly problematic for law enforcement officers because they are often deliberately provocative. Moreover, there are many groups that seek out racist events in order to counter-protest or even to initiate violence against the white supremacists. Hate groups generally welcome such tactics and responses because violent clashes help generate even more publicity and draw more attention to their cause. In addition, in recent years violent incidents have also sometimes occurred following extremist events or rallies. This happened when participants full of adrenaline due to the earlier event decided to attack minority members or other victims they randomly encountered.
Olympic security officials may thus have their hands full trying to maintain order while at the same time respecting constitutional rights of free speech and assembly, and assessing potential threats to the Olympics themselves. In light of September 11, Olympic security officials will be more vigilant than ever about safeguarding the public.
ADL has alerted law enforcement to notices of rallies, protests and other information posted on extremist group web sites and email lists regarding the Olympics.