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Photographing the National Convention of the National Socialist Movement

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The National Socialist Movement held their 2013 national convention in Atlanta, Georgia, protesting undocumented immigration and contemporary political policies. The NSM boasts of being the nation’s largest “white civil rights groups” and aligns itself with other like-minded individuals across the nation. Spanning across the majority of the 50 states, the NSM retains its presence through regional and local leaders.

Here’s a look at the convention and how I documented it through photographs earlier this year.

April 19 2013- Atlanta Georgia- Members of the National Socialist Movement prepare their attire for the banquet on the night before their march to the Capitol.  The 2013 NSM National Convention was geared mostly towards undocumented immigration and was during a memorable '50 Days of Nonviolence' in remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr.

Members of the National Socialist Movement prepare their attire for the banquet on the night before their march to the Capitol. The 2013 NSM National Convention was geared mostly towards undocumented immigration and was during a memorable ’50 Days of Nonviolence’ in remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr.

Kim Laurence, part of the Texas branch of the National Socialist Movement, stands in the hallway just outside of the banquet area, the night prior to their march on the Capitol.  Each year around the same time period the NSM gather for their national convention, while throughout the rest of the year local and regional leaders direct smaller campaigns and rallies in their hometown areas.

Kim Laurence, part of the Texas branch of the National Socialist Movement, stands in the hallway just outside of the banquet area, the night prior to their march on the Capitol. Each year around the same time period the NSM gather for their national convention, while throughout the rest of the year local and regional leaders direct smaller campaigns and rallies in their hometown areas.

It’s hard to really say how this project began, as if there was some intangible moment along the way that marked the beginning. I started toying with the idea of developing a type of project on this subject on and off in the later part of 2011.

Chris Drake gets a tattoo inside one of the hotel rooms while being told that he's late for his shift in parking lot security.  Chris Drake, formerly of the NSM now of the Old Glory Skinheads, participates in NSM events as a supporter.  After having an incident of a members car being smashed in, the NSM organized a structured watch shift to patrol the hotel parking lot.

Chris Drake gets a tattoo inside one of the hotel rooms while being told that he’s late for his shift in parking lot security. Chris Drake, formerly of the NSM now of the Old Glory Skinheads, participates in NSM events as a supporter. After having an incident of a members car being smashed in, the NSM organized a structured watch shift to patrol the hotel parking lot.

An NSM member stands on the steps of the Capitol, facing a group of anti demonstrators.  The number '14' signifies Hitler's 14 words- \"We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children.\" The number '88' stands for HH- Heil Hitler- where the letter H is the eighth letter of the alphabet.

An NSM member stands on the steps of the Capitol, facing a group of anti demonstrators. The number ’14’ signifies Hitler’s 14 words- “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children.” The number ’88’ stands for HH- Heil Hitler- where the letter H is the eighth letter of the alphabet.

Mr. Wright inspects his car alongside an East Point police officer after individuals believed to be \"anti fascists\" smashed in his windows. Prior to the rally, members of the NSM gathered in an undisclosed location to prepare for the banquet and the next day's events.

Mr. Wright inspects his car alongside an East Point police officer after individuals believed to be “anti fascists” smashed in his windows. Prior to the rally, members of the NSM gathered in an undisclosed location to prepare for the banquet and the next day’s events.

I had just started the Photojournalism and Documentary Photography program at the International Center of Photography in NYC and I knew that for the last 5 months of the program I would be focusing on developing a long term project.

An NSM member displays his tattoos.  Below the tattoo of remembrance of the bombing of Dresden, is written "Betrayal"

An NSM member displays his tattoos. Below the tattoo of remembrance of the bombing of Dresden, is written “Betrayal”

The National Socialist Movement's annual "Nationals" was held in Atlanta this year, and yielded significant turnout between anti protestors.  Strict attire and uniforms are required for much of the weekend's events, including pressed uniforms and proper display of patches/insignia

The National Socialist Movement’s annual “Nationals” was held in Atlanta this year, and yielded significant turnout between anti protestors. Strict attire and uniforms are required for much of the weekend’s events, including pressed uniforms and proper display of patches/insignia

Around the same time that the program was getting into gear, Arizona was preparing to present its Senate Bill 1070, which drove the issue of immigration to the front of the national debate.

Dan Lawrence and his wife Kim prepare for the nights banquet, and to go over protocol for the next day's rally.

Dan Lawrence and his wife Kim prepare for the nights banquet, and to go over protocol for the next day’s rally.

Kim Lawrence irons NSM related patches onto her uniform. Prior the the rally, the NSM gathers its members to go over protocol, rules, and instructions for the march the next day.  In order for them to keep their permit, they must abide by rules and guidelines set forth by the local police.

Kim Lawrence irons NSM related patches onto her uniform. Prior the the rally, the NSM gathers its members to go over protocol, rules, and instructions for the march the next day. In order for them to keep their permit, they must abide by rules and guidelines set forth by the local police.

SB1070 was the talking point for much of the country based on some of its controversial stipulations allowing local police forces to act as immigration enforcement — allowing them to use their discretion in requiring individuals who they deemed as possibly undocumented to show citizenship papers. It immediately peaked my interest, and I kept up with the bill as it moved its way through the state legislature.

Members of the NSM and KKK walk together on their way through the streets of Atlanta towards the Capitol.  State and local police units were dispatched to provide as a the mediator during the rally, as to ensure that no violence would ensue between anti demonstrators and NSM/KKK members.

Members of the NSM and KKK walk together on their way through the streets of Atlanta towards the Capitol. State and local police units were dispatched to provide as a the mediator during the rally, as to ensure that no violence would ensue between anti demonstrators and NSM/KKK members.

Mr. Wright inspects his car alongside an East Point police officer after individuals believed to be "anti fascists" smashed in his windows.

Mr. Wright inspects his car alongside an East Point police officer after individuals believed to be “anti fascists” smashed in his windows.

At this point in time I had always been interested in the sort of “political right” and had envisioned it being some sort of transcendental body of work like Christopher Morris’ “Americans”.

After the NSM and members of the KKK meet in a parking garage prior to the rally, a shocked bystander approaches and explains that "this is something I've never seen before".  The National Socialist Movement boasts of being the nation's "largest white civil rights groups".

After the NSM and members of the KKK meet in a parking garage prior to the rally, a shocked bystander approaches and explains that “this is something I’ve never seen before”. The National Socialist Movement boasts of being the nation’s “largest white civil rights groups”.

NSM members head down to the hotel lobby where the banquet is being held.

NSM members head down to the hotel lobby where the banquet is being held.

Chris Drake puts in time at the hotel's exercise room the night before the march on the Capitol.

Chris Drake puts in time at the hotel’s exercise room the night before the march on the Capitol.

After doing my research and fully immersing myself in the idea of the project, I began to reach out to several groups. After contacting group after group after group, and several months of emails and phone calls, I was granted an interview with one of the, at the time, regional directors of the National Socialist Movement. All in all it took about 4 months or so before I actually began shooting.

Members of the NSM and KKK walk together on their way through the streets of Atlanta towards the Capitol.

Members of the NSM and KKK walk together on their way through the streets of Atlanta towards the Capitol.

Each year at their annual "Nationals" the NSM seeks to unify with other local "white civil rights" organizations like the KKK.

Each year at their annual “Nationals” the NSM seeks to unify with other local “white civil rights” organizations like the KKK.

Each year at their annual "Nationals" the NSM seeks to unify with other local "white civil rights" organizations like the KKK.

Each year at their annual “Nationals” the NSM seeks to unify with other local “white civil rights” organizations like the KKK.

After conducting the interview, it was very difficult for me to get the access I needed to make the pictures I wanted. The interview was the only material I had until 2 months later when I was invited to the NSM’s national convention that was held annually in a different state each year.

Members of the KKK prepare their robes and attire prior to the rally.

Members of the KKK prepare their robes and attire prior to the rally.

Anti demonstrators protested against the message of the NSM and the KKK, yielding signs and megaphones to get their message across.

Anti demonstrators protested against the message of the NSM and the KKK, yielding signs and megaphones to get their message across.

2012’s national convention was held in Kentucky, and so I flew out with the same regional director that I conducted the interview with, among other members, and spent 3 days there in Louisville, photographing the banquet, rally, and the “in betweens” at the hotel. What I walked away with was a short multimedia piece.

NSM members jokingly try and taze each other after the days rally and after celebration at the hotel.

NSM members jokingly try and taze each other after the days rally and after celebration at the hotel.

Anti demonstrators wait outside of the parking garage where the NSM and KKK are located to protest the presence of the NSM and the KKK, yielding signs and megaphones to get their message across.

Anti demonstrators wait outside of the parking garage where the NSM and KKK are located to protest the presence of the NSM and the KKK, yielding signs and megaphones to get their message across.

Although I was content with what I walked away with, I knew it would take a much greater period of time to put to rest many of the wary looks I was getting in Kentucky. After keeping in contact with many of the members and subsequently completing another portfolio of some of the border patrol operations that the NSM participates in independently, I was again invited this time around for the 2013 convention in Atlanta, Georgia.

Members of the NSM go for a swim in the hotel pool after the rally on the Captiol.

Members of the NSM go for a swim in the hotel pool after the rally on the Captiol.

Immediately upon my arrival, the air was not as thick as Kentucky. I had some rapport built up with many of the members, including their ‘commander’, I had met at the last convention and during my time with their border guard unit in Arizona. Looking back on my previous bodies of work it’s obvious that the time that it took guided me to the place I needed to be to really only scratch the surface at the pictures I wanted to make, and the Atlanta convention is a subtle reminder of that to me.

A police officer overwatches the departure of the NSM and KKK members as they leave the parking garage.  Participants in the NSM rally included an individual from Austria.

A police officer overwatches the departure of the NSM and KKK members as they leave the parking garage. Participants in the NSM rally included an individual from Austria.

Members of the Knights of the Ku Klux Clan prepare their robes and attire just before marching towards the Capitol.

Members of the Knights of the Ku Klux Clan prepare their robes and attire just before marching towards the Capitol.

The images that I walked away with aren’t home runs, but they’re definitely a step up above the generic rally and swastika pictures that are rampant among projects like this. Although I know my project is not where I want it to be in the least, I know that I’m making progress.


About the author: John Milano is a photographer based in New York who’s currently freelancing for Newsday. He is passionate about social documentary work as well as conflict photography. Visit his website here.


 
  • Steve Jobs

    And after the convention they went back to making and selling meth…

  • http://twitter.com/ObscureStar Samantha Fear

    It looks like a furry convention with less creative costumes.