DETROIT - Racial tensions are running high across the country, from the NFL's national anthem controversy to a white supremacy group suing Michigan State University to the recent violence in Charlottesville.
Law enforcement experts said hate groups are seizing the opportunity to increase membership.
One of the largest white power groups in America is headquartered in Southeast Michigan. It's an organization the Local 4 Defenders have exposed before, and now Kevin Dietz took a look at how the National Socialist Movement is going mainstream to recruit new members.
Jeff Schoep, of Roseville, is the leader of the National Socialist Movement. You can find him close by wherever and whenever trouble is brewing.
Before the violence in Charlottesville, there was a push and a plan by a man from Michigan.
"This is historic," Schoep. "This is something we don't see every day. All these organizations are coming together."
A Metro Detroiter who runs what many people call the largest white power organization in America spoke out on a recruiting video.
"This is not about the uniform you wear, the colors you fly, it is about the color of our skin," Schoep said. "It is about standing together united."
Schoep lives on a quiet street in Roseville.
"We are stronger than ever," Schoep said. "We are rising."
On his Twitter page, Schoep was promoting and recruiting people to go to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The rally turned into a riot and resulted in one death and multiple injuries.
In the aftermath, Schoep tweeted, "It was an honor to stand with you all in Charlottesville this weekend." He called rally participants "true warriors."
The National Socialist Movement is nothing new to the Local 4 Defenders. In 2005, they went deep undercover, transforming from reporter to potential new recruit for the neo-Nazi group.
While in disguise and undercover, the Defenders attended a recruitment picnic, where little children danced and blew bubbles as hate music blared in the background.
We were invited to attend an NSM recruiting rally in Lansing. The National Socialist Movement wanted everyone to be there, so they put the word out for as many people as possible.
The Defenders also went to another one in Toledo. It turned ugly quickly as protesters, police officers and neo-Nazis were covered in tear gas as rubber bullets were fired at those refusing to stop the violence.
The Defenders' final stop while undercover was a trip to Kentucky for the national conference. The message of hate was front and center as bands blared racist music, neo-Nazis gave speeches and there was a celebration over a swastika burning.
That was then. This is now.
"You'd better understand, this is a war for our survival," Schoep said.
Schoep is still in charge, but has the NSM going in a different direction. Last year, he removed the swastika in favor of a ruin as its organization symbol. This year's new recruitment video calls the NSM America's premier white civil rights organization. The mission is fighting for white civil rights.
"We're not about hate," Schoep said in the video. "We're about love for our people. This is a cause that's deep to our heart. To our folk, it's inbread in our system. It's engrained in us. It's something we fight truly for what we believe in."
Members have been asked to dress in polo or button-down shirts and khakis, switch from heavy boots to tennis shoes and cover up racist tattoos. Out is the term neo-Nazis, and in is the term "identitarians."
"They're not looking like people who are on the fringe of society anymore," said Heidi Budaj, of the Anti-Defamation League.
She said it's a marketing ploy people need to reconize and resist.
"It is easier, especially for somebody who is naive, to get caught up in this new, softer approach, and by the time they realize what this ideology is, they've already been indoctrined," Budaj said.
Is Charlottesville a sign of worse things to come? Former Eastern District of Michigan U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade said we'd better pay attention.
"People have the right to protest," McQuade said. "People have the right to express ideas, no matter how distasteful they may be to us."
She said police need to be present, suggesting separating rally groups from protesters and arresting those who incite violence. She believes new laws addressing hate groups are long overdue.
"There are a lot of good protections on the books to protect us from foreign terrorists," McQuade said. "There are not so many laws to protect us against domestic terror threats."
The NSM is pushing for unity among all white power groups. They recently made an alliance with a faction of the Klu Klux Klan. They called this year's conference the largest ever, and show no signs of slowing down.
"They cannot stop us," Schoep said. "This is just the beginning. This is the start of the revolution for our people."
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