Far Right's Dilemma: Hate Jews or just blacks, Hispanics and Muslims?

The far right-wing, according to a recent issue of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report, is split among those who want to continue to blame the Jews for all the ills of the world -- in the spirit of Mel Gibson -- to those who hope to broaden their appeal by focusing on blacks, Hispanics and Muslims. In other words, those three are the same groups that are the much-preferred targets of the so-called "mainstream" nativist GOP that started building its majority in the 1960s by catering to disaffected white Southerners' hatred of integration and now still can't shake a fondness for pandering to anti-immigrant fears and racism, even if it might alienate moderate soccer moms and independents.

Meanwhile, while the GOP panders, the far right that fuels some of the nativism in "mainstream" right-wing circles is confronting its own divisions:

HERNDON, Va. -- For a gathering of people devoted to denouncing the inferiority of blacks and sounding the alarm about civilization-threatening Muslims, the biannual conferences thrown by the New Century Foundation, publisher of the racist newsletter American Renaissance, are decidedly genteel affairs. Men dress in suits and ties, women in formal business attire, and there are no uniformed skinheads or Klansmen to be seen. Large plasma television screens, Starbucks coffee spreads and fancy linens adorn the hotel meeting hall. Epithets have no place here.

Or at least they didn't. At the latest edition of the conferences that began in 1994, held this February at the Hyatt Dulles hotel, a nasty spat broke out that upset the gathering's decorum -- and may even shape the future of the radical right.

It began when David Duke, the former Klan leader and author of Jewish Supremacism, strode to a microphone after French author Guillaume Faye wrapped up a talk vilifying Muslims entitled "The Threat to the West." Duke thanked Faye for remarks that "touched my genes." But then he went one further.

"There is a power in the world that dominates our media, influences our government and that has led to the internal destruction of our will and spirit," Duke said, according to an undisputed account in The Forward newspaper.

"Tell us, tell us," someone in the back yelled.

"I'm not going to say it," Duke replied. Laughter began to fill the room, until a short, angry man leaped from his seat, walked up to Duke and began to curse.

"You fucking Nazi, you've disgraced this meeting!" he said.

And with that, Michael Hart, a Jewish astrophysicist and long-time attendee at American Renaissance conferences, headed for the door. As many as 50 people at the conference began to jeer and point at the rapidly disappearing Hart.

This extraordinary incident marked the beginning of an open rift between those on the radical right who see blacks, Hispanics and Muslims as the primary enemy, and those who say "the Jews" are ultimately behind every evil -- a split that has usually stayed just below the surface but now threatens a leading institution of American extremism. While in the past he has managed to bridge this divide mainly by ignoring it, American Renaissance founder Jared Taylor now must finally come to terms with the split. His dilemma boils down to this: Throw out the anti-Semites and try to build a larger movement with electoral possibilities like those increasingly seen in Britain and Germany; or openly join hands with the very energetic neo-Nazis even though that means the loss of any remaining shred of respectability.

"These are the makings of a major schism," wrote Shawn Mercer, co-founder and moderator of American Renaissance's AR List, an E-mail group. "If American Renaissance ultimately fails as a result of this donnybrook at the convention, it will be a sad, possibly fatal turn of events for the future of whites."

Similar worries might also be brewing among GOP strategists as well. Even if GOP activists rarely engage these days in the blunt racist name-calling of their brethren on the far right (not counting racist gaffes from the likes of Sen. George Allen), they too often appeal to similar if more muted impulses, and face their own strategic dilemma: On whom should they focus their appeals to hate?