White backlash against Jena demonstration

Supremacist Web sites, blogs very active

town mayor is quoted as a supporter

September 25, 2007|By Howard Witt | Howard Witt,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

HOUSTON -- No sooner did tens of thousands of African-American demonstrators depart the racially tense town of Jena, La., last week after protesting perceived injustices then white supremacists flooded in.

A neo-Nazi Web site posted the names, addresses and phone numbers of some of the six black teens and their families at the center of the Jena Six case and urged followers to find them and "drag them out of the house," prompting an investigation by the FBI.

Then the leader of a white supremacist group in Mississippi published interviews that he had with Jena's mayor and the white teenager who was attacked and beaten, allegedly by the six black youths.

In those interviews, the mayor, Murphy McMillin, praised efforts by pro-white groups to organize counter-demonstrations; the teenager, Justin Barker, urged white readers to "realize what is going on, speak up and speak their mind."

Over the weekend, white extremist Web sites and blogs across the Internet filled with invective about the Jena Six case, which has drawn scrutiny from civil rights leaders, Democratic presidential candidates and hundreds of bloggers. They are concerned about allegations that blacks have been treated more harshly than whites in the criminal justice system of the town of 3,000, which is 85 percent white.

David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, announced his support last week for Jena's white residents, who voted overwhelmingly for him when he ran unsuccessfully for Louisiana governor in 1991.

"There is a major white supremacist backlash building," said Mark Potok, a hate-group expert at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group in Montgomery, Ala.

"I also think it's more widespread than may be obvious to most people."

Controversy over the Jena Six case has been percolating for months but exploded into national view Thursday when a crowd of at least 20,000 peaceful demonstrators from around the country marched through the central Louisiana town.

They came to support the six black high school students who were initially charged by the local prosecutor with attempted murder for attacking Barker, a white classmate who was beaten and knocked unconscious last December. The charges were later reduced to aggravated second-degree battery.

The incident capped months of racial unrest after three white students hung nooses from a tree at the high school. School officials dismissed the noose incident as a prank, angering black students and their parents and triggering a series of fights between whites and blacks. The whites involved were charged with misdemeanors or not at all; the blacks drew various felony charges.

McMillin has insisted that his town is being unfairly portrayed as racist -- an assertion the mayor repeated in an interview with Richard Barrett, leader of the white supremacist Nationalist Movement and who asked McMillin to "set aside some place for those opposing the colored folks."

"I do appreciate what you are trying to do," Barrett quoted McMillin as saying. "Your moral support means a lot."

McMillin declined to return calls seeking comment yesterday.

Barker's father, David, said his family did not know the nature of Barrett's group when they agreed to be interviewed, adding, "I am not a white supremacist, and neither is my son."

But Barrett said he explained his group and its beliefs to the Barker family, who then invited him to stay overnight at their home on the eve of last week's protest march.

Howard Witt writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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