By Julia Harte
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Burt Colucci, commander of one of the United States' oldest white supremacist groups, was arrested on Monday in a Phoenix suburb for pointing a loaded handgun at a Black man and threatening to kill him and his friends, according to police records.
The altercation began outside a hotel in Chandler, Arizona, after Colucci placed trash on the car of the African Americans and used racial slurs against them, according to statements police collected from Colucci, the Black people and an independent witness. Only Colucci was identified in the police report that was made public.
According to the police report, Colucci said he had merely brought his semi-automatic pistol into a "low ready" position, but the Black individuals said he had aimed it at them and threatened to kill them, and the witness said she had seen Colucci point the gun at the men. None of the parties knew one another, according to the report.
A Maricopa County superior court judge set Colucci's bond at $7,500 on Tuesday and permitted him to travel to his home state of Florida, but said he must return to Maricopa County no later than April 25 for his next hearing, according to court records. If convicted, Colucci faces at least three years in prison.
Two days before his arrest, Colucci led about 15 members of his group, the National Socialist Movement Corporation, in a rally at a park with ties to the African American civil rights movement in Phoenix. Clad in black uniforms and swastika arm-bands, the group shouted racial epithets at Black bystanders and challenged them to fight.
Colucci told Reuters in an interview the day before the rally that he estimated his group has around 100 dues-paying members, but said he does not keep electronic membership records to avoid identifying members of the group who prefer to stay incognito.
Colucci also told Reuters he wanted white people to "stand up for themselves" by, for example, feeling free to shoot Black people who made them feel unsafe in public places.
Members of the National Socialist Movement participated in the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned deadly when a car driven into a crowd killed a counter-protester, 32-year-old Heather Heyer. The group is a defendant in an ongoing federal lawsuit that Virginia residents brought against the rally's participants.
Since that rally, the National Socialist Movement's presence and reputation in the broader white nationalist movement has "dwindled exponentially" but can still "provoke feelings ranging from unease to fear" in communities where it is active, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
(Reporting by Julia Harte; Editing by Donna Bryson and Dan Grebler)