“These damn niggers. I had one almost run me off the road a minute ago. They ought to send every last one of them back to Africa.”
That’s how Dave Hall, a native of Prestonsburg, Ky., first introduced himself to Pastor Harold Ray Redfeairn, head of the Aryan Nation, one of the most violent hate groups in the country.
For weeks the Aryan leader had been hanging out at the bar Hall frequented with his motorcycle gang. Determined to meet the notorious pastor, Hall devised a plan to introduce himself by spouting blatantly racist remarks. The plan worked — Redfeairn invited him to an Aryan church to hear his hate group’s message.
It’s been 13 years since that introduction, an exchange Hall recalls before an audience of mostly African-American high school students at Kentucky State University, a historically black college.
Before describing some of his more gruesome experiences with the hate group — like witnessing the beating of a black man whose tooth was lodged in an Aryan member’s military boot — the burly, bearded, tattooed former biker prefaces his speech: “I would like all in attendance here today to know that I am not a racist, nor have I ever been a racist.”
Before joining the neo-Nazi organization, the 350-pound, 6-foot-4 Hall was recruited to be an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hall had previously worked with the FBI as an informant on drug cases, and he was willing to help take down this violent hate group.
For three years, Aryan Nation leaders believed Hall was a trusted member — he traveled across the country with the group and was embedded in its inner-circle, preaching a hatred of Jews, blacks and other “mud races.” While Hall was immersed in a role pretending to be a foot soldier for white supremacy, he provided federal agents with information that foiled assassination attempts and helped build a case that eventually toppled the organization.
For years Hall has been sharing his story at national conferences on domestic terrorism and at FBI training sessions. Last Saturday, he returned to his home state to speak at the ACLU of Kentucky’s annual Youth Rights Conference.
Now living in seclusion due to threats of retribution, Hall warns that despite successful civil lawsuits and criminal prosecutions against hate groups, they continue to pose a serious threat.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are 11 official, well-organized hate groups in Kentucky, which has significantly fewer racist organizations than some neighboring states. There are 23 hate groups in Ohio, 30 in Missouri, and 38 to the south in Tennessee; most of the organizations are associated with neo-Nazis, skinheads and the Ku Klux Klan.
Earlier this year, the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet released a report suggesting hate crimes in the commonwealth had declined. The annual study found Kentucky law enforcement agencies reported 56 “hate-related incidents” in 2007, a 13 percent decrease compared with the year before. The latest numbers provided by Kentucky State Police, however, suggest a recent spike, with reported offenses rising to 65 in 2008.
Despite the fluctuation of documented hate crimes, state officials say it’s important to realize these numbers do not accurately reflect the prevalence of such incidents.
Morgan Ransdell, general counsel for the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, an agency tasked with helping enforce state anti-discrimination laws, says the majority of victims don’t report hate crimes because they do not believe the perpetrators will be caught.
“Very often hate crimes are the most cowardly, and the perpetrators can’t be identified. People don’t think it’s going to go anywhere with police,” he says. “The cases that provide results are (cases) where people either know the perpetrators or there are witnesses.”
According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, about 56 percent of hate crimes are never reported. Even among documented offenses, only about 19 percent are validated by police and prosecuted as hate crimes.
In 2000, the Aryan Nation was bankrupted by a $6.3 million civil lawsuit spearheaded by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s chief legal counsel, Morris Dees, who was targeted for assassination by the group. When the case went to trial, Hall’s cover was blown, and he was in danger.
Near the end of his recent speech at Kentucky State, Hall tells students that his mother used to say, “When you dance with the devil, the devil doesn’t change — the devil changes you.”
It has been a decade since the biker-turned-informant was considered an active member of the Aryan Nation. Although he continually repeats that he harbors none of the group’s racist ideology, Hall admits it has been difficult to shed all the indoctrination and daily brainwashing.
“Being an Aryan Nation member, you’re not allowed to watch sports because of the black and Puerto Rican players,” Hall says. “It took me at least four years until I could watch a football game and enjoy it. I used to love ‘Good Times,’ ‘Sanford & Son’ and ‘The Cosby Show.’ And I would howl at those. And to this day, I cannot watch and enjoy them. Hopefully, I’ll get to a point where I can watch and enjoy them again.”
Without regretting the work he did for federal authorities, Hall laments that it cost him a normal life. When the case was closed, Hall voluntarily went into seclusion; he now lives at an undisclosed location. He has no friends and only visits family twice a year. Over the past three years he’s been visited only twice, both times by his landlord.
It’s a lifestyle that has taken a toll.
“I don’t like people around and I don’t like being around people,” he says.
Occasionally, Hall’s face will reappear on hate group websites referring to him as a federal informant. His picture is usually accompanied by death threats.
“The best reason I can give you why I did it is that I have at least 15 bi-racial nieces and nephews,” he explains. “And I thought if I could do this and successfully take this group down, it would give them a better world to grow up in.”
Still, the prevalence of militias and hate groups shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“They pose a threat in every way imaginable … it only takes one man with the vision, the drive and chutzpah to pull something off,” Hall says. “How many Timothy McVeighs are left out there? It’s only a matter of time before somebody else tries something like that.”