'There's a race war going on': Nazis come to Trayvon Martin's town

The city where an innocent black teenager was killed is now a magnet for white supremacists. Guy Adams reports from a community in crisis


Say what you like about neo-Nazis, they certainly know how to exact a shine from black leather footwear. Antony Antonio’s lace-up army boots were glinting menacingly in the streetlights as he strode through Sanford late on Tuesday.

The heavily tattooed 33-year-old skinhead had driven two hours from Hernando County, on Florida's western coast, to reach this suddenly newsworthy city north of Orlando. He intended to spend his night "on patrol" with fellow volunteers from the National Socialist Movement (NSM), the nation's largest white-supremacist group.

"We're here because we got some calls from concerned citizens of Sanford's white community," he said. "We're going to be doing patrols, driving and walking around, to make sure there's nothing violent going on, or anything getting out of hand. It's been on the news about a race war going on, and people are worried. So we want to be sure that white residents of the area feel safe."

The "race war" Mr Antonio was talking about involves the public's reaction to the death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager who was shot and killed as he walked through one of Sanford's many gated communities on the evening of 26 February.

Late last night, after weeks of protest and a controversy that has touched the nation and inspired commentary at every level of society, up to and including the White House, prosecutors announced that murder charges had finally been laid against Martin's killer, a neighbourhood-watch volunteer called George Zimmerman.

As America digested the news, Sanford braced itself for controversy. And if violence were to erupt on its streets, Mr Antonio and his colleagues, dressed in black faux-military outfits, intended to be there to pick up the pieces.

On Tuesday, his "unit" of two men and a woman had walked and driven around Sanford's residential neighbourhoods seeking to prevent "revenge attacks" on members of the white community. When they couldn't find any caucasians in need of protection, the group filled their time by distributing leaflets.

One such missive informed locals that "while you were sleeping" the NSM had been conducting a "neighbourhood watch" and "securing a future for white America". Another, plastered with swastikas, expounded on the organisation's policies; they involve being anti-drugs, anti-tax, anti-homosexuality and against "race mixing and non-white immigration".

As of today, there are, according to the NSM, roughly two-dozen uniformed white supremacists "patrolling" the city in trucks and cars. Some (but not all) of them are carrying firearms. They insist they are not looking for trouble, but are instead seeking to provide a counterbalance to the Black Panthers, a militant black-power organisation which arrived in Sanford a week ago.

Even before the prosecutor's press conference last night, the city felt ready to ignite. Earlier this week, shots had been fired into an empty police car parked near the scene of Martin's death. The following day, television interviewers asked local Mayor Jeff Triplett to sum up the mood on the streets. "Are we a kindling box?" he responded. "Sure!"

Mr Antonio's contribution to this merry civic atmosphere, during the time The Independent spent with him, included showing off his organisation's flag, which might have been designed in the era of Adolf Hitler, and teams the Stars and Stripes with swastikas.

At one point, Mr Antonio strode to a statue of an eagle on the waterfront opposite Sanford's City Hall. Then he unfurled the large banner and, in full view of several black passers-by, performed what he described as his "Sieg Heil", a Hitler salute. "We don't want to provoke, or to create havoc," he claimed.

Mr Antonio's colleagues declined to be interviewed or photographed, saying it could cost them their jobs. He had no such qualms. "I'm in construction and that isn't an issue. I joined NSM for a reason and, you know, I really don't mind showing people what I stand for."

On the other side of America's racial divide, extremist opponents of Antonio and his organisation are also publicly embracing an agenda.

Last week, Mikhail Muhammad, leader of a militant organisation called the New Black Panther Party, arrived in town saying that he was seeking 10,000 black men to form a militia to find Mr Zimmerman. He offered a bounty of $10,000 (£6,200). Asked whether he was inciting violence, Mr Muhammad said: "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. If the government won't do the job, we'll do it."

It was reading about those threats that inspired Jeff Schoep, the "commanding officer" of the NSM, to send his own foot soldiers, including Mr Antonio, into the town.

With charges now laid, court appearances to come, and a blockbuster trial several months away, Sanford is likely to inspire fiery rhetoric from Messrs Schoep, Muhammad and Antonio for a long time to come.

Killer charged with murder as Florida awaits showpiece trial

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions
Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions