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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.


 
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  • MissyMuzo

    These people are not socialists, they are facists! Do they even know what ‘socialist’ means??

  • John

    America has a funny way to interpret freedom…..

  • http://twitter.com/kofteburger Mehmet Kıvanç Özel

    Americans in general don’t seem to know what Socialism actually means

  • http://www.matthewpautz.com/ Matthew

    Orange Fanta – The facists’ choice!

  • tyrohne

    Fundamentally what is the difference? They both ultimately use extreme forms of policies and laws to enforce a codified set of morals and behaviors that are anathema to the individual’s rights.

    The extreme right and the extreme left exist as mirror images of each other. The only difference is in the trappings.

  • Cochese

    I’m extremely confused as to how a swastika is the symbol for a Socialist movement.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bryan.phippen Bryan Phippen

    It’s a misnomer, Socialist has absolutely no meaning in the title. Just like German Democratic Republic (East Germany), was neither democratic, nor a republic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1434450073 Emily Mueller

    What do you mean? They have the right to live as they see fit, and so do I. Even if I think they are horribly wrong, that doesn’t negate that right. Freedom is not dependant on how someone’s beliefs make me feel. How is that “funny?”

  • Naresh

    I think you need to look up “freedom” in the dictionary. I am an immigrant and totally opposed to what these people preach, but I have to respect their freedom because that is what this wonderful country is built upon.

  • DamianM

    They are Nazis. period

  • http://twitter.com/gabesturdevant gabe sturdevant

    Imagine the irony if the cars windows that got smashed was a Honda.

  • http://twitter.com/abdoujaparov Keith Willoughby

    “Nazi” is an abbreviation for the German form of “National Socialist Party”, the proper name of Hitler’s organisation. It is a misnomer, though – the original party had socialist ideals, but they lasted about 5 minutes after Hitler took it over.

  • patches

    actually Nazi stands for national socialist. Hitler nationalized industries and the property of enemies of the state- Jews etc. On September 1 1939, Hitler allied with Stalin’s Union of Soviet SOCIALIST Republics plunged the world into a bloody war that killed 60 million people. The point is fascists and communists get along GREAT when it suits them. Both are totalitarian systems and you would do well to despise them both for the enemies of freedom that they are.

  • patches

    Do you know how I know I am free? I have a gun just in case the bastards in the pictures above show up thinking they are taking me to the gas chambers.

    There will always be outcasts and losers like this but the great news is our society allows them to devolve to their highest and best use: prison inmates.

  • Jemson

    “Fanta originated as a result of difficulties importing Coca-Cola syrup into Nazi Germany during World War II due to a trade embargo.[2] To circumvent this, Max Keith, the head of Coca-Cola Deutschland (Coca-Cola GmbH) during the Second World War, decided to create a new product for the German market, using only ingredients available in Germany at the time”

  • http://twitter.com/Jimmu87 Jan Kowalewski

    Any kind of hateful movement, racist and extremal right or left wing group should be banned. The modern world developed democratic system to prevent people from murders and devastation like in WWII.

  • http://twitter.com/abdoujaparov Keith Willoughby

    Socialism is no more totalitarian than capitalism is. The UK under Clement Atlee was socialist and not totalitarian, for one example of many.

    Hitler and Stalin did not get on great. They loathed each other. Hitler was a virulent anti-Communist who made an alliance to buy time, whilst continuing to plan the extermination of the Soviet Union and its people.

    The Nazi party was founded on socialist ideals . . . but not by Hitler. He dropped the socialist planks of their manifesto as soon as he’d completed his takeover. Common ownership of the means of production was anathema to him.

  • Seth

    That works until popular opinion shifts your point of view to right or left of center… then do you want to be banned?

  • ennuipoet

    Really folks? Really? Are we so bereft of historical knowledge that we do not know that Nazi is an English appellation for National Socialist German Workers’ Party? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_Party

  • Daniel Thomassin

    Bonjour moi personnellement les groupes extremis me fond peur !!il y a déjà assez
    d’injustice en se monde pour que ses personne prétende inculqué des conviction idéaliste néfaste au generation future. mon Père pendant la deuxieme guerre mondial à était torturée par les nazi et envoyer aux travau forcé ;Par chance avec des amis de diverse nationalité il à pus s’évader;Rentré en France dans état de santé grave !! il et rentré dans la Résistance. Pour moi chacun a ses conviction mes
    les nazi je les Maudit (plus jamais CA!!!!

  • chubbs

    A lot of people here seem to know very little about history. Let’s be clear here. “Nazi” is just the abbreviation for the “National Socialist” party as it was called in Germany. Yes, it is an extreme right organization. Yes it uses the title “socialist”. This is not an American thing, it has been the title of the Nazi party since its inception.

    The party was founded out of an ideology that combined socialism with nationalism. Back during its creation, such combinations did exist. Though any practice of socialist ideology usually went hand in hand with some form of racist or nationalist edge. For example, the Nazi party were known for organizing unions and worker strikes… against Jewish factory owners.

    You have to remember that terms like socialism and nationalism are as clear cut as people think they are. Nor did they always have similar definitions. Nor does extreme right tendencies exclude certain elements borrowed from other ideologies. I’m sure the Nazi party would have no qualms about instituting universal health care for white people while abolishing affirmative action.

    Bottom line, “Nazi” = national socialist. That is what it has historically always been and has no particular bearing on what the movement preaches.

  • 54235356

    redneck idiots.. americans.. fat ugly dumb…..

  • kerFuFFler

    No, Hitler was NOT NOT NOT allied with the Soviets! The US fought along with the Soviets to crush NAZI Germany. It is true that the term “nazi” does refer to socialism, but Hitler was pretending to espouse views that were popular among the citizenry, and many Germans liked the idea of some socialism at the time. Once in power, Hitler’s policies were not remotely socialist. He was a fascist through and through.

  • http://twitter.com/abdoujaparov Keith Willoughby

    Of course Hitler was allied with the Soviet Union. Google the Ribbentrop/Molotov Pact.

  • Nthis

    While not 100% allied Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia did have a non-aggression agreement, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.

    Anyways, i’m sure you’re taking issue with the socialist label because you believe Hitler and the Nazis weren’t left-wing. So you call them fascist. Well, fascism blends left and right ideologies too. And being that, as you said, Socialism was popular in Germany at the time you’re just about saying Hitler was left-wing. Which many of his methods were. His, and the Nazis, crimes weren’t much different than what Stalin was doing. That’s the ‘socialist’ part imo.

  • Nthis

    The political spectrum ‘graph’ should be a circle for that reason.

  • Guest

    The definition of it, and it’s related branches, is different from what it has lead to once applied. For one, there’s always some sort of “purge”, driven by paranoia, of those who don’t go along with the system.

  • tyrohne

    couldn’t agree more..

  • harumph

    Not to be that guy but….*piqued.

  • tyrohne

    Hitler’s policies were not remotely socialist. He was a fascist through and through./endquote

    There’s very little difference except that AH’s belief’s were more about NATIONAL identity vs CLASS identity. Socialism hasn’t worked well, anywhere, but it very seldom halfway works in multicultural/heterogeneous societies. It works best in very homogeneous societies (Northern European, China, North Korea, Other than that both Socialism and Fascism use pretty much the same means to achieve their version of utopia.

  • heize

    Second to last picture fits definetlly in the journalism genre, and is an excellent example of using metafors to tell a story. I like it, I like all of them.

  • tttulio

    Agree. They just like the clothes.

  • http://twitter.com/abdoujaparov Keith Willoughby

    Well, if you’re going to define “socialist” as “the criminal things that both Stalin and Hitler did”, then yes, he was a socialist. Meanwhile, in the real world where words mean something, no, he wasn’t.

  • tyrohne

    capitalism cannot, by it’s definition, be totalitarian. WTF are you talking about?

  • patches

    Sorry but the Molotov von Ribbentrop agreement was real and until June 22 1941 they were allies. Stalin sold war material to Hitler. Virtually all global communists and groups sided with Germany during this period and did everything to defeat the allied war effort from french communist industrial sabotage, discredit US support for Britain etc. This is documented fact.

    When he seized power Hitler’s “workers’ party (sound familiar?)” did have the support of 38% of the German electorate. Once he was in power, he abrogated the rule of law. Did he use the word socialism to give “respectability” to his totalitarian ambitions? Perhaps but that does nothing to change the fact that he allied with Stalin until it suited his purposes.

    1939-1941 is one of the great unforgivable sins of leftist ideology (the Gulag is the other). If you are a leftist, your ideological forebears literally rioted in the streets in support of Hitler and then instantly flipped sides when Stalin was betrayed.

    Hitler was totalitarian through and through. So was Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, the Kims, Saddam, a host of other monsters in in the modern age.

  • patches

    You need to study the period more. Hitler’s socialists marched through the streets with shovels and pickaxes. It was a centrally controlled economy with private ownership rights ethnic Germans only.

    The point is that once government has too much power, it can do whatever it wants to whoever it wants.

    Best to fear anyone or anything with too much power. You’ll live longer and freer that way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=554676479 Anthony J. Mitchell

    Republicans.

  • Fritz

    Thank you for pasting wikipedia, because most of us hadn’t worked out his joke or anything yet.

  • chubbs

    Capitalism, by definition, is private ownership of the means of production. You can rule over the mode of production with an iron fist or have a balanced democracy as long as the means of production remains in private hands. A capitalist system is a market system and can exist in a totalitarian state or anywhere really, as long as the state doesn’t directly own the means.

    Plenty of dictatorships preside over a capitalist market, as much as there are plenty who don’t.

  • http://twitter.com/Thrash_mtl THRASHM.TL

    of course they’re socialists, just not communists. they want social equity and rights for their nation.

  • http://twitter.com/Thrash_mtl THRASHM.TL

    an agreement upon which they divided europe and worked together

    that’s an alliance

  • http://twitter.com/Thrash_mtl THRASHM.TL

    swastika’s are symbols of NATional Socialism (which we refer to in english as ‘nazism’ for short)

  • tyrohne

    Pray tell, a totalitarian regime that allowed a Capitalist economy? I’m not saying they don’t exist in the abstract but I don’t recall a totalitarian regime that allowed market driven forces to exist.

  • http://twitter.com/Thrash_mtl THRASHM.TL

    thank the american education system lol

  • http://twitter.com/Thrash_mtl THRASHM.TL

    exactly. it’s a slippery slope. you cant just ban what you dont like.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Christopher-Caldwell/100003139274668 Christopher Caldwell

    Chile under Pinochet

  • chubbs

    Finance capitalism, as a form of global exchanges and stock exchanges are usually frowned upon by fascists and totalitarians, but market capitalism with private ownership of the means of production has been pretty common. Mussolini often hailed the “heroic capitalism” of fascist Italy, the goal of making an internal market which strongly prioritises a national market which is strong and provides for its citizens.

    This was in juxtaposition to what Nazis and Italian fascists often referred to as “supercapitalism” where banks and international financial institutions weakened internal market forces.

    Under totalitarian regimes, the means of production has to have a nationalist slant. It works for the state but isn’t owned by the state or nationalised unless it strays from the ideology of the state. A perfect example is modern Russia where private ownership of vast elements of the market sector exist, but the state remains hostile to foreign elements which get nationalized or dismantled through bureaucracy.

  • http://twitter.com/abdoujaparov Keith Willoughby

    There’s nothing about the common (or public) ownership of the means of production that inherently means the total control of the state over its subjects.

    The USSR under Stalin was both totalitarian and socialist. The UK under Clement Atlee was partially socialist but very much not totalitarian. Germany under Hitler was mostly capitalist (ie, the means of production were privately held) but totalitarian (ie, the state directed almost everything).

    As a thought exercise, it’s interesting to consider the UK under Churchill, 1940-1945. The state controlled the economy, the movements and activities of its subjects, their political activities, their diet, their newspapers, and pretty much everything else. The means of production remained firmly held by private hands, however.

  • http://www.facebook.com/adrian.karl.larsson Adrian Larsson

    They are in favor of the Government taking over banks and big industries so yea, they are socialists.

  • http://www.facebook.com/adrian.karl.larsson Adrian Larsson

    actully it wasnt.