Neo-Nazis say they are conducting heavily armed patrols in and around Sanford, Florida, and are "prepared" for violence in case of a race riot. The patrols are to protect "white citizens in the area who are concerned for their safety" in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting last month, says Commander Jeff Schoep of the National Socialist Movement. "We are not advocating any type of violence or attacks on anybody, but we are prepared for it," he says. "We are not the type of white people who are going to be walked all over."
Because nothing diffuses racial tension like gun-toting racial separatists patrolling an already on-edge community.
UPDATE: The Sanford Police Department says it has no evidence of neo-Nazis in the area. "We have not seen any neo-Nazis on patrol nor have we had any reports of them," Sgt. David Morgenstern says. He adds there have been no signs of the New Black Panther Party either.
Schoep, whose neo-Nazi group is based in Detroit, tells Riptide the patrols are a response to white residents' fears of a race riot.
A group called the New Black Panther Party recently offered $10,000 for a citizen's arrest of George Zimmerman, Martin's shooter. Schoep says the bounty is a sign that "the possibility of further racial violence... is brimming over like a powder keg ready to explode into the streets."
The patrols comprise ten to 20 locals and "volunteers" from across the state, including some from Miami, he adds. He couldn't specify what kind of firepower the patrols had with them.
"In Arizona the guys can walk around with assault weapons, and that's totally legal," Schoep says, referring to the group's patrols of the U.S.-Mexico border. "What I can tell you is that any patrols that we are doing now in Florida are totally within the law."
Asked if the patrols wouldn't just make things worse -- spark a race riot, for instance -- Schoep insists they are simply a "show of solidarity with the white community down there" and "wouldn't intimidate anybody."
"Whenever there is one of these racially charged events, Al Sharpton goes wherever blacks need him," Schoep says. "We do similar things. We are a white civil rights organization."
He goes to great lengths to contrast his organization with the New Black Panther Party, which he blames for scaring local whites and spurring the need for NSM patrols. Schoep admits the NSM and the Black Panthers are actually alike in that they are both racial separatists. But he sees a double standard in the government's treatment of the two groups.
"The Black Panthers have been offering bounties and all that," he says. "But if we called for a bounty on someone's head, I guarantee we'd be locked up as quick as I could walk out of my house."
Schoep is also quick to clarify he isn't taking sides in Trayvon Martin's controversial shooting. "That's for the courts to decide," he says. Besides, Schoep says, Zimmerman is not even white.
"I think there is some confusion going on," Schoep says. "A lot of people think that this guy who shot Trayvon was white... but he's half Hispanic or Cuban or something. He certainly doesn't look white to me."
To some, sending in the storm troops seems like a sure way to incite -- not prevent -- a race riot. But Schoep says that's way off base.
"We don't wish for things like that," he says. "But there have been race riots in Detroit and L.A.... So we know those types of things happen.
"You can either be prepared or you can be blindsided," he adds. "This way, if something were to touch off a race riot, we'd already be in the area."
Silverman's piece is high-minded criticism, indeed -- but it's wrong-headed and Luddite. We reported the claims of one group, updated the post as quickly as we got new information, and couched Schoep's claims as such. (Our only mistake: the headline and lead should have made it more clear from the get-go these were the group's claims. The rest of the story clearly made this point, however.) Mr. Silverman should join the Internet age in which posts such as ours develop and are updated in real-time. Mike Miller was the first journalist to interview Schoep about his group's claims, and he reported on them accurately. The Internet has allowed people to have a greater say in what news is important. This requires greater flexibility in reporting and storytelling. And that is exactly what we did in this case.