About the last thing we need is a lot of heavy breathing over the ragtag bunch of neo-Nazis expected to creep into the nation's capital today. Originally founded as the Knights of Freedom, they now parade under the banner of the American Nationalist Party. Either way, they certainly don't rate a crowd at their march to the White House this afternoon.

The American Nationalist Party is at bottom an Internet-created and -fueled, third-rate hate group starved for attention and eager to recruit more warm bodies with weak minds.

Oh, sure, the members are into all of that "Aryan peoples" and "white rights" stuff. And they can toss around the rhetoric of bigotry with the most virulent of racists. But numerically speaking, the American Nationalist Party couldn't fill the Lincoln Theatre. Its claim of 10,000 members is pure fiction. Those numbers are about as bogus as the Teutonic heritage of the group's founder and leader, Davis Wolfgang Hawke, who, according to the Anti-Defamation League, is neither German nor originally Davis Wolfgang Hawke.

The ADL says big, bad neo-Nazi Davis Wolfgang Hawke is actually a college student who was born Andrew Britt Greenbaum. In the parlance of today's helping professions, Hawke is a young man with some unresolved issues.

When Hawke's birth name was uncovered earlier in the year, said the ADL, this latter-day neo-Nazi leader -- who once told his followers, "We have suffered enough under the iron heel of Judah. We have encountered their lies, their money-lending, their jack-booted ZOG [Zionist Occupied Government] mercenaries and their oppression" -- was ridiculed by other hate groups for trying to hide his Jewish background. But Hawke denies his Jewish heritage, claiming he is the product of an affair that his mother had with a German and that Greenbaum is his stepfather's name, which was mistakenly entered on his birth certificate. The ADL says Hawke's mother denies his allegation. It's all so pathetic.

What is, however, neither sad nor trivial is the fact that Hawke-Greenbaum, a senior at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., is only 21 years old. That makes him the same age as Benjamin Smith. You remember Smith. He's the World Church of the Creator white supremacist who, before killing himself, went on the Fourth of July weekend shooting spree that left 11 blacks, Jews and Asians either dead or wounded in Illinois and Indiana.

Hawke is also a contemporary of 27-year-old World Church of the Creator leader Matthew Hale, who incidentally refers to blacks, Hispanics and Asians as "mud people" and keeps the Israeli flag as a doormat.

What makes Hawke, Smith, Hale and many of their ilk stand out is not their racism, antisemitism or their embrace of neo-Nazi ideology. It's their youth.

The ADL says the American Nationalist Party is dominated by men under 25. Along with many of the nation's other hate groups, the American Nationalist Party also seeks disciples among the young. And while precise numbers aren't available, extremist groups apparently are winning some converts as they crank up their Web sites with hate messages targeted at children.

It wasn't supposed to turn out this way.

During my youth, when Old South members of Congress signed the "Southern Manifesto" denouncing the Brown school desegregation decision, when the National Guard blocked a 15-year-old black girl from entering all-white Central High School in Little Rock, when mobs pounced on black and white freedom riders at the Greyhound bus terminal in Montgomery, Ala., whenever we heard about the killing of an Emmett Till or the murders of civil rights workers such as James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, we reassured ourselves with one abiding, comforting thought: that it was all a matter of time.

The day would come -- so we told ourselves -- when the wild mobs, the mounted sheriff's deputies, the Kluxers and the respectable downtown bigots in starched white shirts who kept the oppression going would finally grow old and die. And with their passing, their brand of meanness, which perpetuated segregation and discrimination, would go with them.

Silly me.

I know now what I didn't know then: that there is no such thing as winning a permanent victory against bigotry. Every American generation must be prepared to enlist in the battle against intolerance and prejudice. It's as true for us today as it was for past generations that fearlessly stood up and spoke out against hate and discrimination.

The presence of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups is a reminder of this continuing challenge. They must be exposed, isolated and marginalized. But don't waste your time at the American Nationalist Party rally.

Washington-area residents itching to register their abhorrence of what that group stands for should join Mayor Anthony Williams, Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin and local community and civil rights organizations at the Lincoln Memorial for their counter-"Respect Rally." Or contribute to Project Lemonade, launched by the Anti-Defamation League and others to raise money for victims of racist violence.

But leave the neo-Nazis to themselves. Besides, Davis Wolfgang Hawke, or whatever he calls himself, is caught in his own private hell. You recall Jasper, Tex., where James Byrd Jr., a black man, was chained to a pickup truck by a 24-year-old avowed white supremacist named John William King and dragged until his head and right arm were torn off? According to the ADL, this is what Davis Wolfgang Hawke had to say:

"I would like to take this brief moment to publicly express my full and unswerving support for a man whom we should all admire and hail as a white hero. That man is John William King. . . . Now don't get me wrong or think I don't care about the life of the poor negro James Byrd Jr. I definitely think that John King should have been convicted, but only of cruelty to animals! No white man should ever be punished for ridding the world of a negro -- They are not human, but filthy, disgusting beasts!"

And he's only 21 years old. What a pity!

The writer is a member of the editorial page staff.