RENO - Militant Jews burned Nazi and Confederate flags in front of the federal courthouse Friday to rally against racism after five skinheads pleaded guilty in an attempted firebombing of a synagogue.
The protest organized by the Jewish Defense League attracted about a dozen people and prompted a counter demonstration across the street by six men who said they were white supremacists and friends of the five neo-Nazis who pleaded guilty.
The young white men who described themselves as the ''Reno skinheads'' unfolded Confederate and Nazi flags and raised their arms in Nazi salutes.
The two sides exchanged obscenities across the street, but there was no violence or arrests.
Leaders of the Jewish Defense League in Los Angeles had planned the flag burning to coincide with the scheduled opening of a trial for the men police say tried to firebomb a Jewish temple in Reno last November.
But Federal prosecutors announced Thursday that the five self-described white supremacists had pleaded guilty to a series of charges and face as much as 40 years in prison each.
''We are doing this to send a message to race haters everywhere,'' said Bill Maniaci of Reno, director of the Jewish Defense League's Western Region.
''Both flags are symbols of hatred,'' JDL International Chairman Irv Rubin said. ''The remnant of white supremacy is across the street.''
Rubin held a flaming Confederate flag high and yelled at the Nazi protesters across the street, ''Never again.''
Rubin urged Jews across the country to arm themselves in the face of growing violence aimed at Jews and other minorities.
The protest met with some criticism from local Jewish leaders, including the rabbi of the temple targeted with a Molotov cocktail Nov. 30.
''This does not represent the Jewish community here,'' said Rabbi Avraham Keller of the Temple Emanu-El.
''I don't want to be part of a community that teaches our children 'An eye for an eye,''' said Jolene Dunn of Reno.
Mary Wilson, a local leader of the NAACP, attended the flag burning to show solidarity for the minority community and ''fight intolerance.''
But the NAACP ''does not participate or advocate burning flags. The Jewish Defense League, that is their business,'' she said.
The Anti-Defamation League took a similar stand.
''They have every First Amendment right to do that and that right should be protected, but I still believe it is counterproductive and could just end up exacerbating tensions in the community,'' said Jonathan Bernstein, director of the ADL's central Pacific region based in San Francisco.
One of the neo-Nazi counter demonstrators said he was a friend of three of the five men who pleaded guilty. A plastic bottle filled with cement shattered a window, but the gasoline bomb that followed fell to the ground and burned only the sidewalk.
''Even if they did it, they shouldn't get 15 to 30 years in prison,'' said Jesse Doremus, 18, Sun Valley, Nev., who said he shared the group's views on white supremacy.
Another young man who led the white supremacists said he wanted to show support for his friends and protest the burning ''of our flags.
''There would be a lot more of us out here if they'd not give a guy 50 years for breaking a window,'' said the man who would identify himself only as Kyle from Reno.
Federal prosecutors said the five men who pleaded guilty - all in their teens and 20s - singled out the temple because of its religious affiliation and that the speedy resolution of the case was a sign of how serious the government takes such cases.
''Federal authorities will continue to deal harshly with individuals who violate civil rights laws by attacking houses of worship in Nevada,'' said U.S. Attorney Kathryn Landreth, based in Las Vegas.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden in Reno said the convictions ''serve notice that this type of hatred will not be tolerated in this community.''
Sentencing is set for Oct. 30.
Carl DeAmicis, 25, Christopher Hampton, 22, Scott Hudson 23, and Daniel McIntosh, 19, face up to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to a series of federal charges, including conspiracy against the rights of citizens. Joshua Kudlacek, 18, faces the lesser prison sentence because of his more limited role.
A grand jury indictment said the defendants were ''self-avowed 'skinheads' who advocated white supremacy and the oppression of black, Jewish and other minority persons.''
Most of them had swastikas or other Nazi tattoos visible during their court appearances.
Rubin said one of the men mouthed a threat to him in the courtroom.
''This was not done on a lark or because some guys drank too much beer. These are dedicated neo-Nazis. They planned and schemed to attack this temple for a long, long time,'' Rubin said.
Kudlacek pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the rights of citizens, damage to religious property and bombing property in and affecting interstate commerce.
The other four pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the rights of citizens, damage to religious property and using fire or explosives to commit a felony.
Hampton and Kudlacek are from Reno. Hudson is from Reno and Esparto, Calif. Police described DeAmicis and McIntosh as drifters who moved between Reno, Sacramento and Auburn, Calif.