Because nothing diffuses racial tension like gun-toting racial separatists patrolling an already on-edge community, Sanford, Florida, is about to get just the support it needs after the Trayvon Martin tragedy: heavily armed neo-Nazi patrols.
The patrols are meant to protect "white citizens in the area who are concerned for their safety" during the backlash over Martin's killing by a neighborhood watchman, 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 tells Riptide. "We are not the type of white people who are going to be walked all over."
The Sanford Police Department "has not seen any neo-Nazis on patrol," says Sgt. David Morgenstern, a department spokesman. But Schoep, whose neo-Nazi group is based in Detroit, tells Riptide that ten to 20 locals and "volunteers" from across the state — including some from Miami — are actively cruising the Central Florida town. He declined to specify what kind of firepower they have or where they are driving.
"What I can tell you is that any patrols that we are doing now in Florida are totally within the law," he says.
A fringe group called the New Black Panther Party recently offered $10,000 for a citizen's arrest of George Zimmerman, Martin's shooter. Schoep claims his group is a necessary counterbalance.
"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."
Schoep is also quick to clarify he isn't taking sides in Martin's controversial shooting. Besides, he adds, Zimmerman is not even white.
"A lot of people think that this guy who shot Trayvon was white... but he's half Hispanic or Cuban or something," Schoep says. "He certainly doesn't look white to me."
To some observers, sending in the storm troops seems like a sure way to incite — not prevent — racial violence. But Schoep says that's way off base.
"You can either be prepared or you can be blindsided. This way, if something were to touch off a race riot, we'd already be in the area."