The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Monday, December 18, 1995              TAG: 9512180028
DATELINE: FAYETTEVILLE                       LENGTH: Medium:   96 lines


The soldiers accused of killing two black civilians here had no memberships in racist organizations but thrived in a subculture targeted by such groups, neo-Nazi experts say.

While the Army believes only a few Fort Bragg servicemen hold hostile supremacist views, the suspects were unnoticed by authorities inside the world of skinheads, most of whom are not racists.

Networks of racists groups often involve former and current military personnel and have targeted Fort Bragg and base skinheads through literature and even a toll-free number on an off-base billboard, according to observers.

``In a place as broad as Fort Bragg, there's no question that if these groups can inspire young people with military training and weapons, that would be a prize attainment, even if they latch on to only two or three people,'' said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

Pfc. James Burmeister and Pvt. Malcolm Wright are charged with murder in the Dec. 8 deaths of Jackie Burden and Michael James. The black woman and black man were found shot to death at close range along a dirt road in Fayetteville.

A third soldier, Spc. Randy Meadows, is charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Police believe Meadows drove a car containing Burmeister and Wright, who got out of the car and confronted the victims.

The white soldiers picked their victims at random and because of their race, said police, adding that the suspects were not members of any racist groups.

Police discovered a Nazi flag and racist literature in the mobile home where Burmeister often stayed off base. Most of the literature came from the Church of the Creator, a now-defunct organization based in western North Carolina that preached racial hatred.

Authorities also found three black flight jackets with the white power patches typical of neo-Nazi skinheads inside a car owned by Meadows, the Fayetteville Observer-Times reported Sunday.

Officials at Fort Bragg disclosed Friday in personnel reports that Burmeister earlier this year was found wearing Nazi medals under his uniform. They later investigated him for brawling with a black soldier and for hanging a Nazi flag in his barracks room.

The Army is conducting an inquiry into white supremacist activity at Fort Bragg and last week ordered a service-wide investigation into troop connections with extremist and racist groups.

At Bragg, military police are conducting surprise base inspections, confiscating flight jackets and Doc Marten boots, the uniform of the skinhead subculture, according to The News & Observer of Raleigh.

Army officials say that despite the reports and other evidence, nobody on the command staff knew of the suspects' off-base activities.

``Could we have been? I wish we had been,'' said Maj. Rivers Johnson Jr., spokesman for Fort Bragg's 82nd Airborne Division, where all three soldiers were based. ``But there's nothing to indicate that anybody had any knowledge of those activities.''

Only a small percentage of skinheads are racists, said Bob Smyntek, the owner of Purgatory, a punk-rock dance club that caters to the skinhead subculture.

Burmeister and Wright attended the alternative dance club a handful of times, Smyntek said. Nonracist skinheads, also known as SHARPS (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice) despise racist skinheads.

Skinheads wear closely cropped hair just like most soldiers, making them even harder to notice from other servicemen.

``It's a well-known fact that racist and nonracist skinheads go together like water and oil, and we get a lot of nonracist skinheads in here,'' said Smyntek, who estimated there are between 200 and 300 skinheads in Fayetteville. Fort Bragg said they know of about 20 people out of 43,000 soldiers on base that hold violent racist beliefs.

One of the racist skinheads' biggest inspirations is William Pierce, the leader of the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi organization based in Hillsboro, W.Va.

``Pierce has a strong influence because of his writings and teachings,'' said Samuel Kaplan, director of the North Carolina-Virginia office of the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks racist groups.

The National Alliance this spring rented a billboard just outside the base's gate. It said: ``Enough! Let's Start Taking Back America!'' and left a toll-free number.

The April issue of the National Alliance Bulletin reported that the billboard had been a successful way to find new members, noting that North Carolina ``continues to be an excellent recruiting area for the Alliance.''

As a result of the billboard, the Anti-Defamation League sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno last week asking her to explore whether the National Alliance had a hand in the Fayetteville murders.

Pierce distanced his group from the killings.

``We have never been involved in any sort of violent activity,'' Pierce told The News & Observer by telephone from West Virginia. ``We really believe that multiculturalism is a failure, that eventually we're going to have to have a homogeneous, white society.''