WASHINGTON — A tall, extra-hot mocha in his hand and a .380-caliber pistol on his hip, Bill White sat near the window of a Starbucks in Roanoke, Va., last month and discussed his political predicament as the leader of one of the nation’s more established neo-Nazi groups.
Bill White, the leader of a neo-Nazi group, last month in Roanoke, Va. He said his group was planning to deliver leaflets condemning Senator Barack Obama, but he was arrested last week.
“Right now,” said Mr. White, the head of the American National Socialist Workers Party, “we’re facing the potential of a half-black candidate financed by Jewish money going up against a white candidate financed by Jewish money, who are both advocating the same policy. So you’ve got two terrible choices.”
On Friday, about three weeks after that interview, Mr. White was jailed on suspicion of making threats against a juror who was on a panel in 2004 that convicted a white supremacist of plotting to kill a federal judge.
So stands the state of organized racism in 2008, paralyzed and at a crossroads in what would presumably be a pressing moment of action — the possibility that Senator Barack Obama will become the first black president — but has so far not been.
There have been sporadic reports throughout the country of Obama signs vandalized with swastikas, windows smashed at local Obama campaign offices and racist pamphlets dropped on doorsteps. Overt and thinly veiled racist comments about Mr. Obama have been caught on camera at rallies, and a Republican women’s group in California — the Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated — has made headlines for a flier that showed Mr. Obama’s face on a faux food stamp that also included watermelon and fried chicken.
But party officials and organizations that monitor hate groups, always concerned about the specter of violence, report far less activity from the more traditional sources of open racism late in the race than they had expected.
“What we really haven’t seen is white supremacists really rallying over an Obama presidency,” said Mark Potok, the director of intelligence at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. “Hate groups are in a more or less stunned position right now; they haven’t been able to figure out how to proceed just yet.”
Some attributed the relative lack of activity so far from white supremacist groups and other sources of racial attacks to the same cultural shifts that led the Democrats to become the first major party to choose a black presidential nominee.
“It’s not like we’re finally reaching Martin Luther King’s promised land,” said Michael Gehrke, the research director for the Democratic National Committee, whose unit monitors such activity, “but as a political force, they’ve been marginalized.”
In one sign of shifting mores, James Knowles, a former Ku Klux Klan member who was convicted in a 1981 lynching, said in a Discovery Channel documentary by Ted Koppel that Mr. Obama was a potentially acceptable candidate. “People need to vote for him because of his ideas and the veracity that he displays in what he does, and not because he’s African-American,” Mr. Knowles said.
There have been only sporadic reports of racist mailings, though Democrats say they are on the lookout for more. And there has been scant evidence that Mr. Obama’s candidacy has helped hate-group recruitment, unlike the recent debates over immigration policy, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
White supremacist leaders, while threatening some political action before Nov. 4, similarly attribute their relative lack of activity this year to demographic and societal changes they cannot stop. But they also point to a Republican candidate, Senator John McCain, whose liberal immigration views and staunch support for Israel are against everything they stand for.
On top of that, the leadership is plagued by scandal and infighting in the absence of a unifying group like the Ku Klux Klan, which is no longer pre-eminent even among open racists, or figures like the former K.K.K. leader David Duke, whose power waned after he was convicted on fraud charges early this decade. (Mr. Duke has, in fact, written positively about the prospect of Mr. Obama’s being elected, though arguing it would stir a white backlash and “result in a dramatic increase in our ranks.”)
“There’s a real problem,” Mr. White said in the interview last month, “in what’s called the ‘white movement.’ One, there’s a lot of people who are just mentally ill, and we deal with those a lot. No. 2, there are people who have serious sexual problems.”
Mr. White, 31, who says he has a following of at least 1,200 people, considers himself a reformer in the white movement. A landlord of low-income tenants of all races, he devotes as much of his energy to attacking rival leaders he hopes to purge from the supremacist leadership as he does attacking Jews and blacks.
His Web site recently featured a blog post reporting that a fellow white supremacist, Curtis Maynard, was “married to a mestizo and raising half-breed children.” (Mr. Maynard, in turn, has written that Mr. White is “a Jew and an agent of the A.D.L. and S.P.L.C.,” the initials of the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.)
Mr. White’s Web site abruptly went offline this month. On Friday, The Roanoke Times reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had seized his computer equipment as part of the investigation that led to his arrest. Mr. White told the newspaper he had posted the address of a juror who served on the panel that convicted the white supremacist Matthew Hale of plotting to kill a federal judge in Chicago. But the newspaper quoted him as saying he had not called for any particular action against the juror. Arrested late Friday, he is being held without bail.
Another leader, Alex Carmichael of the League of American Patriots, has sued Mr. White for linking him in an article to what Mr. White called the “pedophile sex network” of Kevin Alfred Strom. Mr. Strom, the head of the now-defunct white supremacist group National Vanguard, was released from prison this fall after serving time for possessing child pornography.
Last month, Mr. Carmichael’s group became the first to deliver racist leaflets about Mr. Obama, distributing them to homes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania in a small effort that drew wide news coverage.
In the interview last month, Mr. White said his group was planning a similar but larger effort. With a donation of about $8,000 from a supporter in Michigan, he said he was planning to print and distribute to white working-class neighborhoods 20,000 copies of his party’s latest magazine, The Nationalist Socialist. The newest edition has on its cover a photograph of Mr. Obama with a rifle’s crosshairs focused on his head and a headline using a racial slur and seemingly calling for his assassination. Mr. White said the cover was satirical and pointed to a subheading that read, “Negro Deification and the ‘Obama Assassination’ Myth.”
As of last week, there were no reports that the magazine had been distributed, and it was unclear how Mr. White’s arrest would affect his plans.