Challenging Bigotry, White Supremacy, and Antisemitism

Berlet has attended meetings held by right–wing patriots, armed militia activists, White supremacists, Holocaust revisionists, the Ku Klux Klan and neo–Nazis. Berlet has confronted leaders of these groups on radio and television talk shows, including a memorable exchange with the late White nationalist minister Bob Miles on the Oprah Winfrey program. He chastised TV host Charles Grodin on his CNN program for being an apologist for patriot movement leader Bo Gritz; and confronted a right-wing Colorado state senator, Charles Duke, while appearing with him on ABC’s Nightline. He is known for his willingness to challenge the right on Internet newsgroups and other online services. A persistent critic of Lyndon LaRouche, Berlet has been sued twice by the LaRouchians for his characterization of them as a conspiracist neo–Nazi political movement engaged in illegal fundraising schemes and run by a lunatic cult leader. The LaRouchians eventually lost both cases.

He was among the first researchers to warn of the attempt by antisemitic and White supremacist hate groups to recruit financially–strapped Midwest farmers in the late 1970s and early 1980s. PRA (then named Midwest Research and based in Chicago) helped expose a growing White racist coalition linking farm belt hate groups such as Aryan Nations and the Posse Comitatus, the urban racist skinhead movement, the Ku Klux Klan, and neo–Nazi groups. As a result, Berlet and his colleagues received the Chicago Citizens Alert Willie Baker Award in 1987 for advancing racial justice.

During this period, Berlet and his family lived for ten years in the Southwest–side Chicago neighborhood of Marquette Park, where the White racist coalition sought to inflame existing tensions over integration into naked race hate and violence. Berlet and his wife, Karen, were part of a multi–racial community group fighting the resulting rash of racist hate crimes including physical assaults and the firebombings of Black families’ homes. Eventually they helped build a broad coalition of community leaders that stepped forward to rally the neighborhood against the hate groups and interrupt their outreach to youthful recruits. Berlet has helped other neighborhood, community and political groups fight back attempts by organized hate groups to exploit prejudice. While monitoring Klan/Nazi rallies in his neighborhood, Berlet was injured twice: while helping rescue a Black youth being beaten by racist thugs, and while photographing an attack on anti-racist protesters.

In 1985, Berlet co–founded the Public Eye BBS, the first computer bulletin board system designed to challenge the information circulated by the KKK and neo–Nazis on racist and antisemitic bulletin boards. In the 1990s, Berlet spent an hour personally briefing Senator Carol Moseley-Braun (D-IL) on hate groups in the military. He was subpoenaed (but not called to the stand) as an expert witness in the trials of John Salvi, convicted of killing and injuring staff at reproductive health clinics outside Boston; and Terry Nichols, convicted of involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing.