When Shelly Niemeyer found racist fliers in her upper-middle-class St. Louis suburb, she was horrified and couldn't believe anyone in her community would agree with the message. But one of the people behind the fliers says maybe Niemeyer doesn't really know her neighbors.
"That's where our members come from," said Shaun Walker, chief operating officer of the National Alliance, whose fliers have been showing up with new frequency in people's driveways, mailboxes, newspapers and even children's trick-or-treat bags in middle-class neighborhoods from Arizona and Colorado to New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Virginia over the past four months.
Most recently, residents of towns all across eastern Nebraska have reported waking up to find messages inside plastic bags weighted down with white stones on their lawns.
And Walker said those fliers — touching on issues such as immigration and race relations — distributed in neighborhoods where professionals live have brought many new members to the white separatist organization, which the FBI has called one of the most dangerous hate groups in America.
"They're trying to recruit a different kind of member from within these communities, people who might appear to be liberal but are disillusioned," said Devin Burghart, a researcher with the Center for a New Community, a faith-based group that tracks white separatist organizations.
When Niemeyer found the flier on her lawn, it took her a minute to realize that it was from white separatists and not about a missing child, she said. But when she did she wanted to know more about the group, even though she felt uncomfortable going to its Web site.
Her mind was not changed by what she found.
"It said, 'Distribute these in neighborhoods that would be receptive,' " she said. "That was even more disturbing to me, that somebody would consider our neighborhood receptive to this."
The description of disillusioned might fit "Chuck," a doctor who asked that ABCNEWS not identify him further. He said he used to consider himself a liberal but joined the National Alliance four years ago, after seeing a television interview with the group's founder, William Pierce.
"I started out like most people, a bubble-headed liberal, but over the years I started to realize our policies weren't working," he said. "I started trying to find out why, did a lot of research. It starts to dawn on you that we're fed a lot of propaganda and once you start going, you just keep going and wind up in the radical right."
The group has seen unusual growth over the last three months, since it began distributing fliers in Colorado warning white women that they would get AIDS if they had sex with black men, Walker said. The campaign was unleashed after news of allegations that NBA star Kobe Bryant, who is black, had sexually assaulted a white woman in a Colorado resort hotel.
"That was the biggest response we've had from a flier in our 33-year history," Walker said.
He declined to tell ABCNEWS how many members the National Alliance has or how many new members had joined since August. When asked if ABCNEWS could interview one of the new recruits, he said only members who are "ideologically sound" were allowed to speak for the organization.
He disputed the claim of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that monitors what it calls "hate groups," that the National Alliance has been losing members and is facing financial problems because of that. Instead, he said the group's demographic has been changing — and that is part of the reason its fliers are showing up more often.
"The alliance used to be an older organization," he said. "Since 1999, the age group has dropped dramatically. They're in their 20s, and they're much more active on the street."
Part of the draw for younger members might come from the National Alliance's Resistance record label, which markets white supremacist heavy metal bands. According to Burghart, however, the record label has also sparked a rise in skinhead groups operating independently.
"What's important about the National Alliance is that through the late '90s they helped to energize the neo-Nazi rock scene with Resistance," Burghart said. "They helped inspire it and now these groups have spun off and they're operating independently."
Both Walker and Chuck dispute the use of terms like "neo-Nazi" and "hate group" to describe the National Alliance. They say they are not about hate, and don't condone violence against other races; they just want to separate the races.
"That's why we're white separatists," Chuck said. "We want our own homeland, our own country, our own defensible borders, and then we'll be fine. We can stay in our country and they can stay in their country."
The National Alliance targets particular issues it believes will touch a nerve with a broad cross-section of people, such as concerns about immigration or opposition to affirmative action or even to the war in Iraq — which the group opposed because it believes it was fought in defense of Israel.
Fliers on these subjects are a way to draw people in who might not have thought that they shared any of the group's vision, Walker said.
People often join the National Alliance because they agree with it on one issue — immigration or race mixing, for example — but they don't yet "understand" how things are all related, Walker said.
"Maybe they understand the Jewish issue, the power they have, but maybe he's dating an Asian woman," Walker said. "He understands the Jewish issue, but not the race issue."
Chuck said that he was one of those people who came to the organization for one issue — his belief that his children and other white youngsters were unfairly penalized for their race by affirmative action programs.
The National Alliance does not have any organized education program for new members like Chuck.
Walker said the group had tried to create a formal process — he called it a "leadership academy" — but "we never got too far with it."
Instead, unless they live in one of the areas around the country where local chapters have regular meetings, new members are encouraged to learn about the issues and the National Alliance ideology on their own by reading certain authors who the group believes have important messages, Walker said.
For Chuck, the education process started when he saw the TV interview with Pierce, who died last year. Then he started reading material on the Web site, and was impressed by Pierce's ability to explain complex issues in a way that he said made them easy to understand.
But still he had reservations. He said he had heard bad things about the National Alliance, and Pierce was referred to as "the most dangerous man in America" on the television program where he was interviewed, so Chuck decided he wanted to see for himself.
He visited the National Alliance headquarters in Hillsboro, W.Va., and met Pierce, the author of The Turner Diaries, a book about a white separatist revolution that inspired Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
"I kind of believed all the bad press, that they were Nazis marching around in uniforms," Chuck said. "I met people from all over the country and I'm telling you they're regular people, they've got families and they're worried — some of them are downright scared. They're worried that it's going to get so bad that blacks are going to start mass killings of whites. If you don't believe me, you need to look at Rhodesia and South Africa."
The FBI, though, has a different assessment of the National Alliance, one that is shared by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Center for New Community.
"They're some of the most serious folks," Burghart said. "They're not what we would call Hollywood Nazis. These are the real deal."