The strength and weakness of this study of neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan is the inability of the author to keep his subjects at arm's length.
Social psychologist Ezekiel (Univ. of Michigan; Voices from the Corner) is involved with his subjects. He challenges their assumptions. He gives them rides, follows their progress, shows concern. He confronts them with his Jewishness to test their reactions. He tells them that his goal is "to understand the sense the person's life makes to that person.'' Ezekiel admits that the results of this nonscientific approach are personal and idiosyncratic. At his most muddled and frustrating, Ezekiel reveals less about the white supremacists he's interviewing than about his own liberalism. But there are also remarkable moments when Ezekiel's candor and directness lead his subjects to respond in kind. Tom Metzger, infamous leader of the White Aryan Resistance, admits that he uses hatred as a political tool in lieu of power and money; Richard Butler, eminence grise of the Aryan Nations, says that Jews were created by the mating of Eve and the Serpent in the Garden of Eden. But the most powerful parts of the book are Ezekiel's portraits of the mostly teenage members of Detroit's neo-Nazi Death's Head Strike Group. The author follows some of these subjects for years and treats several with great sympathy, though none have managed to turn their lives in more positive directions. Ezekiel argues that most of these impoverished and uneducated young people from dysfunctional families "were members in this extreme racial group because membership served a function, not because they had to enact their racism.'' He concludes that society must share the blame for their racial hatred and ruined lives.
A sometimes muddy book that virtually ignores the historical and cultural roots of American racism, but that succeeds in taking the reader deep inside the racist mind.