By Ryan Deto
PITTSBURGH — During a Nov. 12 symposium on domestic terrorism at Duquesne University, an analyst at the FBI said the Pittsburgh region has now “become a hub for white supremacy” and that it is “important to understand that it is here.”
Considering that the white nationalist group Patriot Front marched down Boulevard of the Allies last weekend, the Ku Klux Klan distributed mailers in Greene County last month, and there have been other self-described militia groups meeting in the area, sporting symbols linked to white-nationalism, acknowledgment from the FBI is a positive sign for those looking to combat hate groups.
However, declarations that Pittsburgh is a new hub for white supremacy ignore decades of history and scores of documented cases of white supremacists gathering and organizing over the years.
Former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Dennis Roddy has written about extremist movements in the region for decades. He says Pittsburgh has always been a hub for white supremacy.
“No, this is not new,” Roddy, a former Corbett administration speechwriter and Republican political consultant said. “Just because the FBI is noticing this now, doesn’t make this new.”
Roddy was a reporter for 40 years, and he attended his first KKK rally as a reporter in Fayette County in 1979. He said the rhetoric he heard then was not much different than what he heard among neighbors growing up in Johnstown.
But it’s not just rural parts of Southwestern Pennsylvania where white supremacy has had a significant presence.
The National Alliance, which the Southern Poverty Law Center says “was for decades the most dangerous and best organized neo-Nazi formation in America,” grew out of the Youth for Wallace group that backed Governor George Wallace’s 1968 presidential campaign. Wallace was a pro-segregationist and considered one of the most openly racist presidential candidates of the post-civil rights era.
According to the New Orleans Daily States-Item, Youth for Wallace transitioned to the National Youth Alliance (a precursor to NA) during a conference held at a motel in Monroeville in 1969. A Neo-Nazi figure head was a distinguished guest at this conference.
“The KKK have had a presence here since in the 1920s,” Roddy said.
Other documented instances of white supremacy include a KKK rally held in Butler County in 1998, which was organized by a Mount Oliver man, who threatened to hold another rally in Pittsburgh in 1999.
In 2000, a Neo-Nazi was charged with killing a skinhead in Mount Washington. In 2000, Richard Baumhammers targeted racial and religious minorities in a two-county spree across the Pittsburgh region, and killed his Jewish nextdoor neighbor, two Asian restaurant workers, an Indian grocer, and a Black martial arts student. Baumhammers had a history of mental illness and trafficked in far-right ideologies.
Not to discount the Tree of Life shooting in 2018, in which the alleged shooter had a history of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-Semitic posts on social media.
Beyond documented instances of white nationalism and white supremacy from decades ago, it’s evident that groups like Patriot Front have been recruiting for years. They posted stickers and fliers in Brookline and Lawrenceville in 2018.
And Roddy said it’s not just extremist groups and lone wolves that showcase the white supremacy’s strong presence in Pittsburgh. He says large institutions also have evident support of anti-immigrant movements, specifically Pittsburgh’s Colcom Foundation.
The Colcom Foundation was started by Mellon heiress Cordelia Scaife May, who has provided funds to some of the most prominent figures in white nationalism since the beginning of the modern-day anti-immigrant movement. Colcom continues that legacy today, as the foundation is the biggest funder of the county’s largest anti-immigrant hate groups, the Federation for American Immigration Reform and the Center for Immigration Studies.
Even though these ties have been reported for years, Roddy says there are still several groups in the region accepting funds from Colcom.
“The Allegheny Conference is taking money from the biggest anti-immigrant group in the country,” Roddy said, calling out the region’s biggest pro-business group.
Roddy says that white supremacy has always been here in Pittsburgh, but the region only really takes notice when a rally takes place or a violent event. But he says it’s “the people in suits doling out that money to keep the idea alive” that really worries him about white supremacy’s continued presence in the region.
“It has been laying here for a long, long time,” Roddy said. “Hooray for the FBI, but what … are they going to do about it?”
Ryan Deto is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared.