Until he was indicted in San Diego last week on charges of harassing a Jewish congressman, a Latino mayor and two other officials, Alexander James Curtis thought he was one of the smartest racists around, smarter than the police and the federal government.
Curtis, a 25-year-old former honor student, and three other defendants were charged as the ringleaders of a group that between 1997 and 1999 allegedly smeared anti-Semitic graffiti on two San Diego synagogues and left leaflets, stickers and graffiti outside the offices of Rep. Bob Filner (D-San Diego); Art Madrid, mayor of La Mesa; Morris Casuto, leader of the San Diego Anti-Defamation League (ADL); and Clara Harris, former director of the Heartland Human Relations and Fair Housing Association. Filner told The Journal of his young staff's frightened reactions: "You keep seeing swastikas, pictures of Hitler, slogans like 'Jews Must Die' - people get scared because they know these people could have guns."
Curtis faces a maximum of 40 years in prison. He and the other defendants are charged with sticking the skin of a boa constrictor through the mail slot of Filner's Chula Vista office and other acts of intimidation. He publishes the monthly "Nationalist Observer" on the Internet and has a daily telephone broadcast in which he advocates biological terrorism and celebrates violent racists such as Buford Furrow, accused in the attack on a Jewish preschool in the San Fernando Valley in 1999, and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Curtis is an example of a new breed of racist who is able to exploit the Internet as a means of spreading messages of hate widely with minimum risk. "He's the 21st-century racist," Madrid told The Journal. "He utilizes technology. He has a different and more sophisticated strategy and m.o. than the old-timers. He uses the Internet extremely well, updating it frequently. He's very skillful and verbal about what he can and can't do within the law. He doesn't have the hobnailed boots or the ear piercings and leather jackets typical of the more Neanderthal skinheads. He looks normal."
David Lehrer, L.A.-based regional director of the ADL, points out that Curtis clearly capitalizes on the ability "to reach disgruntled souls across the country through the Internet and modern technology. It's a disturbing phenomenon. You don't have to go to a meeting, you don't have to get on a mailing list to be active in the hate movement. You just sit at your computer and you can get everything you need to know."One of Curtis' strategies is the "lone wolf theory."
"If you act alone, it's less likely that law enforcement will find out what you're doing," explains Tamar Galatzan, an attorney with the ADL. "In addition, if 10 people acting together can commit one crime, 10 people acting alone can commit ten crimes and spread the terror and the hate."
If a racist is caught, Curtis advises that they restrict themselves to five words when speaking to law enforcement: "I have nothing to say." Curtis has won some fame within the hate movement for the formulation of this strategy.
Curtis shuns the media as part of the strategy, choosing to remain inconspicuous and avoid drawing attention to himself. He doesn't believe in attending public meetings. "He wants people to stay as hidden as possible so they can attack and then disappear quickly,'" Galatzan says.
By advocating "unity" among his fellow racists, Curtis manages to avoid the internal and interorganizational feuding that exists in the extreme right.
"People like Curtis understand that the bully pulpit for extremists has been expanded into a whole new dimension that allows them to speak not only to the converted but also to spew forth their hate in the mainstream of the Web on a daily basis," says Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
"Their soapbox, which used to be a thousand 1-watt light bulbs, is now the equivalent of Sony's Times Square JumboTron," says Cooper.
Curtis has long been obsessed with Casuto and the ADL. "I first learned of him in 1993, when he formed something called the Lemon Grove KKK and sent me a note addressed to 'Morris the Kike Whale.' He burglarized and vandalized his high school with swastikas and racist epithets. He was arrested then, but he was still a minor," says Casuto.
Since that time, Curtis has harassed Casuto steadily over the years. "He puts pictures of me on his Web site, one of them a cutout photo of me superimposed partially into a garbage can, with him pushing on my head. A large swastika was placed on my front door window. We've had people coming into our office building affixing racist and anti-Semitic leaflets and smearing the door of my home with excrement," says Casuto. "At one point, Curtis expressed some degree of surprise that I 'haven't received a good dose of Aryan justice yet. But things have a tendency to come back at Jews, and with a vengeance. It's only a matter of time.'"
Curtis' rhetoric "reeks with violence," says Casuto. "It is filled with hatred against those Curtis calls the 'mud people': African Americans, Asians and Latinos."
Curtis' writings always portray Jews in the crudest terms and are replete with violent fantasies of their destruction. The Nationalist Observer Web site's "Tribute to Jewry" consists of a picture of "Jew York City" being destroyed by an atomic bomb under the caption, "the quickest way to exterminate 6 million vermin." His hero, of course, is Adolf Hitler: "Hitler and many of his men ... were brilliant Aryans and the closest we have seen to white saviors as you can get."
Having studied a variety of violent racists over the years, David Lehrer observes that even though Curtis is a more sophisticated and modern technological purveyor of hate, his message is a harkening back to the old-style racists, "almost shocking in its brazenness, in its longing for violence, in the vulgarity of its hatred."
In the 1970s and 1980s, Lehrer points out, "white supremacists tried to soft-pedal their bigotry and play to a larger audience when they spoke about immigration, using code words, avoiding these kind of vulgar epithets. The David Duke types who tried to camouflage what they meant. This guy, there's nothing subtle about it. He's up front."