`Terrorist Next Door'
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Special to the Jewish News
aniel Levitas grew up with-
out experiencing any per-
sonal episodes of anti-
Semitism or racism.
"I grew up on the Upper
West Side of Manhattan,"
Levitas explains. "You didn't say
bad things about Jews. You didn't
say bad things about anybody."
But that changed when he moved to
Iowa in 1983, soon after graduating
from the School of Natural Resources
at the University of Michigan in Ann
Arbor. His experiences would lead him
to a career as one of the nation's top
researchers and activists battling anti-
Semites and racists.
Levitas, author of The Terrorist Next
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U-M graduate Levitas examines the history of the
homegrown militia movement and radical right.
Door: The Militia Movement and the
Radical Right (St. Martin's Books,
$26.95); will speak at the
Annual Jewish Book Fair at
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14,
at the Jewish Community
Center in Oak Park.
"The farm crisis hit and it
was an absolute social and eco-
nomic tumult," Levitas says of
his early career days in Iowa. "I
was living on a farm, milking
cows and organizing farmers to
fight against farm foreclosures."
He found himself working
side-by-side with Jewish organizations
trying to help farmers, but soon found
that other influential organizers were
preaching violent racist, anti-Semitic
and anti-government ideologies. He
was shocked and compelled to action
by the receptivity to extremism that he
found in rural communities.
"I'd be working on a farm, and having
dinner with folks I thought were great
people, and they would mention 'the
international Jewish conspiracy and how
there were 'good Jews and bad Jews.'"
Spurred To Action
After discovering where these ideas
were coming from, he co-founded
Prairie Fire to counter Christian
Identity groups like the Posse
Comitatus, who preached a violent,
whites-only pseudo-religion. Claiming
Jews controlled the government, groups
like the Posse tried to exploit the crisis
to build a hate-based, violent, anti-gov-
ernment movement and pitch an array
of useless pseudo-legal seminars and
What Levitas learned down on the
farm led him to Atlanta in 1989,
where he transformed the
National Anti-Klan Network
into the Center for Democratic
Renewal; and expanded his
expertise to the full range of
racist, anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi
Since 1993, he has testified as an
expert witness in state and federal
courts across the nations, while
researching his book and consulting
with communities and organizations
on everything from hate-motivated
violence to Holocaust denial, white
racist prison gangs and "white-core"
Much of The Terrorist Next Door is a
gripping historical examination
of those ideologies pitched to
rural America, ideologies that
formed the foundation of the
militia movement. Levitas
traces the emergence of white
supremacist paramilitary groups
from their roots in the post-
Civil War period, through the
segregationist violence of the
civil rights era to the present.
While he says he "inten-
tionally shied away from
making too many predictions," he is
particularly concerned about the tar-
geting of young people. And he cau-
tions us not to take too much solace
from the fact that many of the groups
have been weakened. You need to
measure these groups by more than
their membership; you must also look
at the strength of their ideas."
As he writes in the book's epilogue:
"In the post-Sept. 11 world, Americans
would do well to be on the lookout for
more hardened underground activity
on the part of hate groups as well as
more efforts by the radical right to
recruit and mobilize supporters based
on fear and distrust of Arabs, immi-
grants, Israel and American Jews."
Daniel Levitas speaks 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 14, at the Jewish
Community Center in Oak Park.