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John L. Smith On The Rise Of White Supremacist Groups In Las Vegas


(KTNV 13 Action News via AP, File)

This Sept. 22, 2016, file photo taken from video from KTNV 13 Action News shows Conor Climo during an interview while walking a Las Vegas neighborhood, heavily armed. Climo, a white supremacist who told an undercover FBI agent about his plans to firebomb a synagogue or attack a Las Vegas bar catering to LGBTQ customers has been sentenced to two years in prison. Climo apologized before U.S. District Judge James Mahan sentenced him Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, to prison followed by six months of home confinement with electronic monitoring.

A Las Vegas man who talked about joining a white supremacist group to burn down a synagogue was sentenced to two years in prison last week in federal court.

Conor Climo will also serve three years of supervised release as part of his plea agreement.

With increasing activity from white supremacists and other right-wing extremists, Las Vegas appears to have its share of these groups. Is Climo more of a one-off or is he part of a troubling trend?

Contributor John L. Smith looked into the Climo case and some of the other groups. He noted that Climo had an association - even if it was just in his own mind - with the Atomwaffen Division, a group that both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League have called neo-Nazis. 

Smith said that these types of groups are both real and part of the section of the internet dedicated to fomenting a hardcore worldview.

“That’s not illegal. You can believe whatever you want in our country, but you can’t act on all of it. That’s, of course, what authorities found,” he said.

A local TV station spoke to Climo a few years ago when he was walking around his neighborhood with an AR-15 style rifle. Smith said that's not illegal in Nevada, but it is illegal to start gathering ingredients to make Molotov cocktails, which is what Climo did. 

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He pled guilty to weapons charges in February and admitted to discussing his plan to attack a synagogue and an LGBTQ  bar with an undercover FBI agent.

Smith said there has been an uptick in the attention the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have given to white supremacist groups and their online activities. 

“You don’t want to make too much of it, because it is one person," he said, "It’s not the biggest white supremacist bust of the year, probably of the month, with the Boogaloo Boys and all of the different groups that have sprouted up and have become emboldened by current politics.”

While Climo's case is just one person, Smith pointed out that one person can do a lot of damage in just a few minutes, something the people of Las Vegas know all too well.

Beyond that, Smith said the idea of a lone wolf carrying out an act of violence is only part of the story. He said when you scratch the surface there are more people agreeing with extremist views and willing to carry out attacks.

He said they're part of a movement that doesn't have one person or a group of people leading it. Instead, it's people with a common belief system.

For instance, during the summer, three men associated with the Boogaloo Boys were arrested on charges that they were planning to disrupt a Black Lives Matter protest.

Smith said there is not information that Climo was associated with those three men but they are connected in their ideology.

“They both have a certain component part. They favor a violent reaction to the government. A violent overthrow,” he said.

The Boogaloo Boys say they're not anti-Semitic, Smith said, but “take them at their word if you wish."

He said while anti-Semitism might not be part of their official stance, when they act out, “They act out against minorities. They act out against synagogues. They act out against sexual minorities. That’s the activity. They gravitate in the same direction.”

Ballot Question 1 

Ballot Question 1 would have changed the way the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents is supervised.

Voters rejected, by a slim margin, the idea of giving more oversight of the board to the Legislature.

Smith said the defeat of Question 1 could be seen as a failure, but it can also be seen as a reminder to regents that people are watching them.

He said that it is one thing if a TV or radio station does a story about embarrassing moments from members of the board of regents and another thing when people are willing to change the state Constitution because of what the board is doing.

“It’s quite another thing when people are willing to put money and a lot of sweat equity into not just reminding you but stripping away that constitutional protection that basically insulates you from much scrutiny,” he said.

If the ballot question had passed, the Nevada Legislature would have had more oversight of the NSHE board.

“If the university system is going to progress, if it’s going to grow the way it needs to grow to help diversify the economy and kind of grow the next generation of Nevadans, it has to be better organized and it has to be really focused,” Smith said.

Smith believes there are areas of the system that do need oversight and scrutiny. He also believes this vote should put a little fear into the regents, noting that some regents have been dedicated to improving education and some have "been there for the party."

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John L. Smith, contributor

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