A Rogue Valley man recently released from prison after being convicted in a string of racially motivated assaults in 2003 now leads a statewide neo-Nazi group based in Phoenix.
Andrew Lee Patterson identifies himself as the state leader of the National Socialist Movement, Oregon Unit, and said he has been a "storm trooper, first class" with the movement for about six months. Other unit leaders from around the state selected him as leader based on his active involvement, he said.
The 29-year-old with a shaved head said he and his staff in Phoenix coordinate activity around the state, while a local unit focuses on recruiting and Southern Oregon issues — especially illegal immigration and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Patterson would not disclose membership numbers, either locally or statewide.
In recent weeks they have distributed fliers across the Rogue Valley and Klamath Falls calling for white pride and unity, denying the Holocaust happened and demanding that illegal immigrants return to Mexico so the white race doesn't become extinct.
Police across Southern Oregon have been watching the group for several months and have seen an uptick in activity in the past two to three weeks, Medford police Lt. Tim Doney said.
"We aren't out to interfere with anyone's political views, but we have some concerns because these people aren't strangers to police," he said. "The ones we have had contact with have a history of violent crimes, including assault and sex offenses."
While Patterson describes his group as a political party focused on education, the group is not on the Oregon Secretary of State's list of registered political parties.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a Montgomery, Ala.-based civil-rights organization whose Intelligence Project tracks hate groups, identifies the National Socialist Movement as the largest neo-Nazi organization in the country. The project's recent publication of "The Year in Hate" noted that in the past year the National Socialist Movement continued to favor handing out pamphlets, burning books, lighting swastikas, and hosting an annual "Hated and Proud" rock festival, but also increased "illegal invasion" protests targeting Latino immigrants.
The national immigration debate, the worsening recession, and Barack Obama's presidency all fueled growth in the number of hate groups in America, the center reported.
Just this month, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report warning that right-wing extremist groups, including white supremacists, have boosted recruiting and mobilizing efforts, fueled by those factors.
"In times of strain, we see groups like this gain a stronger following," said Stanislav Vysotsky, a sociologist at Willamette University who studies supremacist groups and community responses to them. "We are definitely seeing a resurgence of hate."
Patterson describes his group as "normal people with a legitimate cause — surviving as a race."
"People call me a hatemonger, but I care about my community, my culture and my race," he said.
He said he has been a part of what he calls the "white racialist movement" for 14 years.
"I started as a teen for the shock value, like a satanist or a punk," he said.
The fear and anger he provoked pushed him further toward hate, ultimately landing him in prison, he said.
In January 2003 Patterson and two fellow Oregon Army National Guard soldiers attacked two homeless men, calling them a "disgrace to the white race," and an East Indian motel owner in what police called hate crimes. Patterson said the motel owner was targeted because he had thrown one of Patterson's friends out of the hotel, not solely because of his race.
Patterson, who had been sent home early from a past peacekeeping mission in the Sinai for discipline problems, was discharged from the Guard after he was convicted of second- and third-degree assault in that case. His friend Chadwick James Ritchie committed suicide after the crime spree and the third soldier was convicted of intimidation and assault and dismissed from the Guard, too.
"I was ignorant and hateful when I started," Patterson acknowledged.
He said that years of reading in prison led him to the National Socialist Movement as a way to promote his race in a positive way.
Patterson is on post-prison supervision (Note: This sentence has been corrected; the original story incorrectly described the type of supervision Patterson faces since his release) until November 2011, and the parole board recommended that his parole officer consider imposing a condition that he have no contact with gang members or activity and be barred from possession of gang-related paraphernalia that advocates hate or violence toward others. Although the state released the general and recommended conditions of his supervision, Jackson County Community Justice declined to comment on the specifics.
Although Patterson said the National Socialist Movement rejects violence and criminality, self-proclaimed neo-Nazis attracted police attention in January. Two men — one with a red swastika armband and one with an SS tattoo on his neck — hit a man with a telescoping baton and shouted "Heil Hitler!" after the man asked them if they were drunk, a Medford police report said. Christopher Allen Ellis, 29, of Phoenix, was convicted of the assault and sentenced to 15 months in prison.
Patterson said Ellis and the other man weren't regular members of his group and the local movement distanced itself from them after the assault and a records check showed they weren't on the party rolls.
However, Bret Leon Murphy, who also uses the last name Court and is a deputy leader of the movement in Grants Pass, was with Ellis and others that night. The 33-year-old Murphy, who sports a swastika tattoo on the back of his hand, claims to have been involved in the movement since childhood and has convictions for car theft, identity theft and driving under the influence.
Murphy, the party's office manager Eric Wayne Harlan, 25, and Levi Dale Lucas, 21, were stopped by police on Monday as they distributed fliers in the parking lot of Red Robin in honor of Hilter's birthday. The three weren't violating any laws, but authorities worried about the possibility of violence, Doney said. Lucas has convictions for first-degree sexual abuses, failure to register as a sex offender and criminal mischief. Harlan has convictions for second-degree burglary, menacing and telephonic harassment.
Patterson said they distributed about 2,700 white pride fliers at parking lots "from Eagle Point to south Medford."
The group got a special event permit for a downtown rally April 5, but canceled it because members had other obligations, Patterson said. They had a barbecue at Cantrall-Buckley Park on Easter with swastika banners flying, but drew no complaints, and some members attended the April 15 anti-tax tea parties in uniform.
About a month ago, the group was asked to stop distributing literature at Home Depot in Phoenix, where a city ordinance bars distributing handbills without the permission of property owners except during special events, such as parades, Phoenix Police Chief Derek Bowker said. Store management complained and the group left without incident.
Patterson said a group was detained by Klamath Falls police for about an hour earlier this month after distributing fliers at parking lots, but no charges were filed.
Vysotsky noted that the lawful distribution of hateful recruiting messages leaves communities who want to oppose hate groups in a complex position.
"You want to prevent them from growing, but there is no catch-all prescription for the community," he said.
His research has found success in rallies or concerts planned to promote messages of unity and diversity and in direct confrontation to drive out bigoted or racist ideas.
The Medford Multicultural Commission and the Community Response Team connected with the Human Rights Coalition are both set to meet this week and weren't prepared to comment.
Doney suggested anyone who is offended should refuse the handouts the group offers and property owners can ask them to leave.
"Otherwise, just throw it away," he said of the messages.
Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.