I met Jeff Hall at a parking supermarket 11 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. I had driven there in a Dodge truck I had borrowed, hoping to mingle, and I immediately noticed the big black-eyed man pacing back and forth while talking on his cell phone. An Iron Cross tattoo was standing on the back of his shaved head.
I made sure when I approached. “Hi, I’m the photographer,” I said. He looked at me without making any eye contact and murmured something about the need to wait for other means. Then, with a slight smile, he said, “A good truck, I take my wife’s shit.”
I spent the next year documenting the National Socialist Movement (NSM), based in Detroit, of which Hall was a member. He wanted to get a vision of leading a group organized around the ideals and rhetoric of white nationalism in an American country, entering nothing into the “post-racial” era that many expected to be inaugurated by the Barack Obama elections.
Hall was the head of the NSM’s west coast unit. A five-person unemployed parent plumber who bought groceries from his family with food stamps, was charismatic and politically active in his community; Once in office for the office with the Municipal Water District of Western Rivers of California and securing 33 percent of the votes.
From the supermarket parking lot, Jeff took me, a two-member HBO crew and a local television station to a motel near the highway, where 25 NSM members gathered. These are the members who traveled out of state. Some were sitting in their rooms with doors open; Others hung the ramp of the second-floor walkway that runs along the bottom of the building. There were some women and a handful of teenagers.
The other media professionals took some sharp interviews and left. Then the atmosphere gradually relaxed. A big guy covered with tattoos made a run for beer, Fox News played in the background and the members have gone adrift on different pieces. I tried to make myself as invisible as possible and spent the afternoon and evening photographing them.
The following morning, the NSM met in the motel lobby in preparation for a walk to the steps of the City of Los Angeles to protest against illegal immigration. The atmosphere was militaristic, intense and different from the one of the previous afternoon.
The group leader spoke, encouraging everyone to do their best. Dressed in German Nazi uniforms, they all seemed a little taller, the back a little straighter. Hall exhorted them to “do nothing and finish everything” as if it were a preparation for a conflict.
Climbed by dozens of policemen, the group walked to the steps of the room. The streets were blocked and a 100-foot-deep security perimeter was installed.
When the NSM approached, they were greeted by hundreds of angry counter-demonstrators who beat them at least 40 to one. The group stood on the steps and took turns in the microphone, shouting their messages at “illegal who came to the border living in welfare and taking our jobs.”
I heard some passersby supporting their efforts in a low voice, including a 45 year old white man who encouraged them to “keep up the good work.”