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Within the graceful, sun-scorched hills of north-central Pennsylvania farm country, the Aryan Nations World Congress waged a strongman competition.

Contestants hefted a stone in the shape of Africa and lugged it back and forth until their arms nearly burst. Painted on the stone in red is “Back to Africa,” a statement of the group’s position on African-Americans. A thin man in his 20s surprised everyone by surpassing the day’s 22-lap record. He was dressed in the uniform of a racist skinhead: black T-shirt, combat boots, shaved head, sideburns.

Charles John Juba, 30, national director of Aryan Nations, joined in counting the laps in German: ” funfundzwanzig, sechsundzwanzig ” — twenty-five, twenty-six. Speaking German recollects Adolf Hitler’s reign. Later that day, the second of a three-day jubilee held at the end of July in Ulysses, Potter County, the congregants — mostly tattooed, beer-drinking white men in their 20s — planned to light a cross and a swastika.

Juba — a man the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “frightening” and “dangerous” — leads the eastern branch of Aryan Nations and plans to establish a new headquarters on a 10-acre farm in northern Pennsylvania.

The World Congress drew about 100 people from all corners of Pennsylvania late last month. It was the most recent hate rally held in the state and another reason why anti-hate groups keep a watchful eye on the Keystone State’s extremist groups.

The World Congress list reads like a smorgasbord of the extreme right: the Keystone State Skinheads, from near Harrisburg; the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, from Washington County; Juba, from Chester County, near Philadelphia; members of Posse Comitatus and the National Alliance; and several hate-rock bands. License plates reflected origins in Virginia, Ohio and New York.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremist groups, puts the number of Pennsylvania organizations at 27 — one of the highest counts in the nation.

The Anti-Defamation League says Pennsylvania is home to “a couple hundred core activists and three or four times that in hangers-on.”

Alarmed by the increase in racist, anti-government activity here, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission recently invited three men who battled the Aryan Nations in northern Idaho to speak in Pittsburgh; Greensburg; Coudersport, Potter County; York; and the Boyerstown-Reading area.

Speakers said extremist organizations such as Aryan Nations thrive in places that have been culturally isolated, are facing some population changes and are struggling economically. They warned against ignoring such groups.

“Silence is the welcome mat for hate,” said Ann Van Dyke, a civil rights investigator with the commission.

Teddy Dickerson, who lives near the Ulysses compound inhabited by August Kreis and family, witnessed the recent activities with dismay. The community has not rolled out a welcome mat for these neighbors.

“How are you supposed to react to a group that drives up the road in front of my house — on all the roads in Ulysses — flying a Nazi swastika flag?” Dickerson said.

“If they had done that in 1945, they wouldn’t get out alive. We had guys who died fighting the Nazis.”

How much of a threat?

Kreis’ presence in Ulysses since 1993 has resulted in lawsuits with neighbors, a hit-and-run that landed three skinheads in prison and two major rallies, including the one last month.

Now, many are asking how far the Potter County crowd can go toward resurrecting the ailing Aryan Nations. And, further, does their presence feed racist, anti-government activity in Pennsylvania and throughout neighboring states?

Juba said he can call to youth to lift Aryan Nations out of the ashes. Juba and his eastern branch of Aryan Nations divorced themselves in an angry war of words from the group’s Idaho founder, Christian Identity preacher Richard Girnt Butler, 84.

“The older men have sown the seed, and the seed has sprouted. It’s within me and within the youth,” said Juba, who speaks softly and smiles, even as he talks about joining with Palestinian sympathizers post-Sept. 11 to wipe out Jews.

Unlike past leaders, Juba said: “I’m not a minister, and I don’t pretend to be. I don’t believe that’s my calling. I consider myself a soldier. We’re in a state of war, and my race is dying.”

Guest speakers delivered an appealing message to the disenfranchised during the event in Ulysses. They included James P. Wickstrom, 59, of Michigan, a Christian Identity minister who leads the anti-government Posse Comitatus and who spent 10 years in prison for counterfeiting, and Hal Turner, 40, from New York City, who hosts a radio talk show for “straight white people.”

These men believe the U.S. government tramples their constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of assembly, and that the government, media, businesses and financial institutions are manipulated by Israel.

“Do we really have the freedom to gather here today with all these state police cruisers out there?” said Wickstrom, gesturing toward the seven cars posted at the end of Kreis’ driveway and across the street.

Since Sept. 11, Turner said, white groups are joining forces, as was in evidence by the mix of people attending the World Congress.

“Things are coalescing,” he said. “Groups that previously fought are learning that as long as we’re OK on the white race issue, we can disregard the places where we don’t agree. This movement is going to get incredibly powerful very quickly.”

The Ulysses turnout does not compare to the heyday of Aryan Nations, but it was greater than expected, said Mark Potok, a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“It’s remarkable they got 100 people up there paying $35 each. That says something,” Potok said, adding that Wickstrom’s presence was significant. “He is capable of leading a dangerous organization.”

However, he said, “I don’t think there’s a chance the Aryan Nations will be reconstituted in Pennsylvania on the scale of northern Idaho. Juba’s a frightening character, but I don’t think Charles Juba is likely to lead a great renaissance of the Aryan Nations in Pennsylvania.”

The Potter County faction is appealing to a different demographic than in Idaho — younger and not rooted in a Biblical background, Potok said. But he cautioned against discounting the group.

“It’s a mistake to be passive in the face of these groups,” he said. “Kreis may not be able to reconstitute Aryan Nations, but he could often have unpleasant and violent people up there. There’s always the potential that one of these guys will start shooting.”

The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish advocacy organization, seems more alarmed about the Pennsylvania activity. The organization argues that the splintering of Aryan Nations leadership has set a dangerous stage.

“Several nascent Aryan Nations offshoots constitute a significant threat based on their increasingly virulent rhetoric and calls to violence on the Internet,” ADL’s Web site says. “You have a situation where former Aryan Nations leaders are engaged in a dangerous game of one-upsmanship.”

The splintering stems from a judgment two years ago that cost the Aryan Nations $6.3 million and its 40-acre compound in northern Idaho.

Drunken Aryan Nations members chased a mother and son down a public road at night, shot out their tire and assaulted them, said Norm Gissel, a Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, lawyer who initiated the suit. He said the pair were saved when another car came along and scared off the assailants.

Today, says the ADL, three splinter organizations appear to be attempting a rebound: the Potter County group, Butler and a small collection of followers in northern Idaho, and Harold “Ray” Redfeairn in Dayton, Ohio.

Redfeairn, who briefly held the title of national director, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he had resigned from Aryan Nations and returned to the Church of the Sons of Yahweh, which he claims is home to the true Phineas Priesthood. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Phineas Priests are those who feel called directly by God to engage in some terrorist act.

Butler is said to have repudiated the Pennsylvania group, but that distinction may mean little to the people living in and around Potter County.

An infiltrator

Michael Reid, who lives nearby in Tioga County, infiltrated Kreis’ group for 14 months as Michael Spencer before quitting and revealing his identity in mid-March.

He moved up to director of security and for a time, he said, he kept the organization’s weaponry in his home. It consisted of 12 guns, he said, including automatic rifles and AK-47 assault rifles as well as “hundreds, even thousands, of rounds of ammunition.”

Reid said the community has taken some small steps to counter the neo-Nazis’ influence, such as creating the Potter County United coalition of churches and educating leaders of the Potter and Tioga county school districts.

He infiltrated Aryan Nations last year partly because he did not believe enough was being done.

“I want to keep an eye on our assets, and our assets are our communities,” said Reid, a Methodist. “You can find out a lot about the devil if you take a walk into his lair.”

Reid said the group held regular meetings with members of the National Alliance and World Church of the Creator. The latter organized a rally in York in January that resulted in two dozen arrests.

Reid believes that every serious Aryan Nations member but Kreis, Juba and Joshua Caleb Sutter has switched allegiance back to Butler in Idaho.

“Islamic terrorism support and skinhead events is the only thing Kreis and his band are pushing these days,” Reid said, “and even that is failing, thank goodness for the fine people in this area.”

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