On the 110th anniversary of Hitler’s birthday, twelve Littleton, Colorado high-school students and one teacher died in a hail of automatic gunfire and shrapnel from homemade bombs. Their executioners were their classmates and neighbours, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris.
Within hours of the shooting, the national media descended on Littleton, a suburb of Denver, and attempted to answer the question: how did this tragedy happen? An evolving portrait of the killers emerged on TV and in newspapers over the next two weeks.
At first, they were described as intelligent, hardworking, relatively law-abiding computer nerds. Soon a more sinister picture emerged.
The boys were “misfits,” leaders of a Trenchcoat Mafia that listened to German rock music and hated jocks and people of colour. They wore clothes with Nazi insignia. They made death threats to other students. Klebold kept a diary filled with racist, anti-Semitic and Nazi references.
And they singled out Isaiah Shoels, an African American athlete, and shot him in the face during their murderous rampage at the school. They also picked out Kyle Velasquez for execution.
TV commentators urged the public to listen to their children and to learn how to recognise the warning signs of psychiatric illnesses in teenagers. President Clinton and the organisation Ceasefire renewed their calls for gun control. Preachers exhorted parents to “take responsibility” for their families. School administrators considered outlawing trenchcoats.
Lost in the rush for quick fixes is the realisation that the teenaged killers in Littleton, Colorado had a political illness, not a psychiatric one. They were adolescent fascists, set on the path to destruction by a well-funded international adult movement.
Nazis target alienated youth for recruitment. The rampage by the teenaged killers in Littleton was not the first of its kind.
In 1980, a youth named Gundolf Kohler walked into an Oktoberfest beer garden in Munich and detonated a bomb that killed dozens of people and injured more than 200. Kohler was a member of the Hoffman Militia, a German version of the survivalist militias in the U.S.
In 1992, two young Nazi skinheads firebombed the home of a Turkish family in Molin, Germany. Two children and their grandmother died in the blaze. The youthful killers in this case had been in contact with an American neo-Nazi group.
After the Molin deaths, Ingo Hasselbach, a former Nazi recruiter in eastern Germany, renounced white supremacism. He wrote in the New York Times (April 26, 1995), “Extremist groups in America and Europe create a climate through printed propaganda and computer networks that encourage young people who might be antisocial to go over the edge and commit violent acts…The rightwing… movement is a loose network of people with a great deal of hatred and potential for violence, and all over the world they are constantly exchanging information. Indoctrination is a slow, careful process, in which leaders like I used to be incite newcomers step-by-step.”
Klebold and Harris must be seen in a larger social framework than that provided by their family histories, school problems or wardrobe preferences. They were the ideal cannon fodder for grown-up Nazis.
Scapegoated and abused at their high school, they looked, consciously or unconsciously, for an ideology that put them on top, that gave them power. And they found it in neo-Nazi German rock music and the ideology of white supremacy. Klebold, whose great-grandfather was Jewish, separated himself from this heritage in his embittered need to be superior to someone.
Colorado’s history of ultra-right violence. These are not the first politically motivated murders in Colorado.
In 1984, Alan Berg, a Jewish talk-show host, was gunned down outside his home by members of The Order of the Silent Brotherhood, an Aryan Nations offshoot. In 1997, over a one-week period, racist Denver skinheads executed an African immigrant at a bus stop, shot and paralysed a nurse who came to his aid, and also ambushed and killed a policeman.
Among the far-right groups and spokespeople who call Colorado home are:
- The Coors family which bankrolls National Empowerment Television, whose director William Lind has noted, “If we are going to rescue our culture, we need a lot more hate.”
- Focus on the Family, which played a major role in the passage of Amendment 2, a state anti-gay law.
- The Posse Comitatus whose members were arrested in 1982 for conspiring to kill two federal judges and to blow-up the Internal Revenue Service building in Denver.
- Pete Peters, a Christian Identity radio preacher, who is credited with launching the U.S. militia movement in the 1990s.
These political influences provide the backdrop for the Columbine killings. While the adult leaders of some of these groups generally limit their hatemongering to words, young people are more likely to use fists, knives, guns, Doc Marten boots, and bombs.
The solution is collective action. The prescription for the political illness of fascism is education and community mobilisation against the Hitlerites and in support of all those targeted by them.
Justin Norman, a Black athlete at Colombine High, told Emerge magazine: “I saw swastikas and stuff that said ‘White Power.’ The janitors would come in later and clean them off.” School officials apparently ignored signs of fascist activity like these.
Instead of closing their eyes, administrators, teachers, students and parents need to recognise and talk frankly about the dangers posed by fascist organisers in their midst or on the internet. When youth come to school in swastika- emblasoned clothes, the response should be teach-ins and school assemblies on what Nazism means and why the whole student body has an interest in taking a stand against racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-communism, and ultra-nationalism.
And advocates of white supremacy in the wider society should be met by community protests and rallies.
United Front Against Fascism (UFAF), a Seattle-based coalition of unionists, feminists, people of color, Jews, gays and radicals, has successfully picketed numerous white supremacist events over the last 10 years. Most recently, UFAF organised protests exposing Ku Klux Klan recruiters in Auburn, Washington and the Nazi rock band Blood Axis, led by Michael Moynihan, which was scheduled to play at a Seattle club as part of a tour last year. The international publicity initiated by UFAF forced Blood Axis to cancel appearances in both the U.S. and Europe.
In order to prevent future massacres here or abroad, let us honour the dead at Littleton with a growing determination to combat the fascists who are trying to recruit our children.
Guerry Hoddersen is co-founder of United Front Against Fascism and an analyst of modern fascist movements in the United States and Europe.