Previously a top-ranking officer in the National Socialist Movement, the country's largest neo-Nazi group, Hiecke said in an interview last week he planned to resume delivering fliers to houses soon. "A two-person crew can do 2,500 fliers in about two hours, but you have to be organized," he said. He also plans a "meet and greet" barbecue at his house Sunday to welcome "whites only" who favor separation of the races.
In recent months, Burlington County Freeholder Joanne Schwartz has pushed for the establishment of a human relations commission to learn more about Hiecke's group and other hate groups in the area. "The commission can do a whole investigation and bring to light that this guy is around here. Now it's operating under the cloak of secrecy. . . . If he's a threat, we need to know that and what we can do," she said.
The Burlington County prosecutor's spokesman said hate-group activities were monitored "as necessary."
The Southern Poverty Law Center ranks New Jersey fourth in the nation in the number of active hate groups, trailing only California, Florida, and Georgia. There are 44 groups, including the Atlantic City Skins, a skinhead group mostly rooted in the Shore area, but more recently spreading to suburbs such as Marlton and Browns Mills.
Mark Potok, editor of the law center's Intelligence Report, said little was known about the Advanced White Society, the newest hate group in South Jersey, other than what was reported on its website and in media accounts. Its first hate-mail distribution was held in 2012 in an African American neighborhood in Sicklerville, Camden County, Potok said.
"What they do is they sell all kinds of stuff, such as shirts and literature, and you can apply to join and pay $10 a month in dues. They essentially have a fascist program," Potok said, adding that they use fear and the issue of immigration to recruit followers.
The Anti-Defamation League also issues warnings about the group, saying it is mostly active in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The ADL says the group also distributes literature to homes in Virginia, Delaware, and Tennessee.
Hiecke, who calls himself the founder and CEO of the group, insists it is nonviolent and law-abiding. Its main purpose is to promote segregation by distributing fliers, establishing an Internet presence, and holding meetings and protests, he said. But when asked how many members there were, he said: "That's nobody's business. It's really nobody's business how many or who they are."
An arborist who trims trees, Hiecke, 42, single father of a teenage daughter, organizes the group's activities out of the home where he grew up. Though he uses a Birmingham post office box as an address for the group, he lives on a remote, one-lane road in Southampton, a rural community that borders Birmingham. His mother also lives there.
Several signs at the entrance to the road and in front of a small row of houses warn people not to trespass.
Hiecke said he screens people before they are allowed to join and won't accept anyone on parole or probation. He said he was open about what his group does but did not want to indicate the strength of his membership, other than to say it's more than 100. "I don't need the government poking at us under a microscope for no reason. . . . There's no reason for anyone to know how big we are," he said.
Hiecke said he had received death threats, adding that was one of the reasons he left the National Socialist Movement to start the new group.
He said the neo-Nazi organization was not "security-conscious" and would publish names and addresses of members, subjecting them to harassment.
In 2012, when Hiecke was the group's "chief of staff," he helped organize a march at the Statehouse in Trenton. Police said 50 protesters wearing uniforms and swastikas showed up along with 300 counterprotesters. Tensions erupted, and police had to break up the crowd, according to published reports.
David Snyder, head of the Jewish Community Relations Commission in Cherry Hill, said the activities of these groups are intimidating and can cause problems between ethnicities and races. Even the dissemination of literature, he said, is unsettling because people want to feel they belong in their community.
Snyder, who sits on the Camden County Human Relations Commission, said such bodies are useful because they can air the concerns of the public and serve as the eyes and ears of a community to head off problems.
Gloucester County also has a Human Relations Commission.
Schwartz said she first suggested the commission in December after receiving calls from residents upset over the mailings.
But her proposal became the subject of internal discussion, she said, because former Freeholders Director Joe Donnelly said he preferred an advisory committee or council and current Director Bruce Garganio said he also wanted to explore something other than a commission.
Donnelly and Garganio were unavailable for comment, but county spokesman Eric Arpert said they would prefer to "reenergize" the Human Relations Council instead of creating a new body. Arpert said there was no difference between a commission and council.
Jim Peeler, who heads the state's Human Rights Council, said the county council had been dormant for several years. After receiving complaints from the public and after the hate mail was distributed, the freeholders are taking a closer look at reactivating the body, he said.
"Having a commission or council is a way to bring people of different races and ethnicities together," Peeler said. "It uses education as a tool and brings out an understanding that discrimination is wrong."