Chapter 1 The Enduring Influence of William Pierce

William Luther Pierce, the founder and leader of the National Alliance (NA), died at his mountain home on July 23rd, 2002. His death was noted by many. Those in the white supremacist community mourned the loss of an important theoretician and leader. Victor Gerhard, an NA member writing for the racist skinhead group Hammerskin Nation, called Pierce “America’s most famous and influential pro-White activist” (Gerhard 1), and noted that “ The [National] Alliance became known for its professional approach to White activism, for energetic recruiting and innovative ways of spreading the Alliance’s message” (Ibid. 4). Billy Roper, Pierce’s main spokesperson, idolized his deceased leader: “Although he died of natural causes, I am convinced that if there is a Valhalla, there is a bench waiting for him there.” (Roper 1). Others in the white racist movement for the most part voiced similar sentiments.
Civil rights organizations, as might be expected, were not as admiring in their reports. Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center declared: “He was an evil man. This is a man who made mass murder dinner conversation. He created a group that over the last 25 years has left a trail of blood across this country. The National Alliance is an organization that has spawned bombings, mass murder, and all matter [sic] of mayhem” (Teaching Tolerance 1). The Anti-Defamation League released a press report voicing a similar opinion, saying, “Pierce’s legacy is one of anti-Semitism, racism, and terror that reaches beyond the membership of the National Alliance” (ALD Obituary 1).
The mainstream news organizations attempted to remain somewhat more objective, concentrating their obituaries on the predicted effects of Pierce’s passing rather than examinations of his character. The New York Times observed that “[Pierce] died as the leader of another racist group, Richard Butler of the Aryan Nations, is seriously ill, leaving a leadership void in the small but violent world of racist organizations” (Johnston 1). The Washington Post quoted a Southern Poverty Law spokesperson as saying: “Mr. Pierce’s death is a significant development because the group has no clear heir apparent…The problem for this group is that it is a group that is built around one man, William Pierce” (AP 2).
Some might consider it ironic that for all the attention given to him, William Pierce was a rather unassuming figure. He was a tall man, standing at six feet three inches, but was gangly and bookish in appearance. He wore thick glasses, and his unkempt hair gave him a disheveled look. He was by all accounts a poor orator, speaking in a monotone that would occasionally spike into a shrill pitch when he attempted to hammer home an important point. Pierce was also known as an introvert. His biographer, Robert Griffin, related a story in which he and Pierce were invited to dinner at the home of a young couple. About halfway through the meal, Griffin became annoyed at the silence of his friend, and turned to give him a reproachful look. Griffin said Pierce looked “shrunken and vulnerable”, unsure of how to take part in the conversation (Griffin 2002 9). This hardly seems to be the type of man described by Pierce’s supporters: a heroic, astute figure leading the white race to its inevitable victory. Nor does it gel with the picture of Pierce as a screeching demagogue, inciting his followers to acts of hatred and violence. Pierce lacked the charisma of his idol, Adolph Hitler. In fact, he could be a difficult person to relate to on a personal level. But his writings had a logical, consistent, and almost academic tone about them. These are rare qualities in the world of the American far right.
The most influential of Pierce’s written works is by far The Turner Diaries, a tale of race war and the coming apocalypse. The novel has served as a blueprint for many white supremacist groups’ violent activities, and its influence on the American racist right can hardly be overstated. In particular, one NA member took The Turner Diaries as a literal manual for action, with ultimately fatal results.
In the early 1980’s, a young man of some promise made himself known in the ranks of the NA. This man, Robert Mathews, was handsome, physically fit, and possessed a forceful personality that drew in those around him. He quickly became one of the NA’s top recruiter’s in the Pacific Northwest, and caught the attention of Pierce. Mathews addressed the NA annual conference in 1983, receiving the only standing ovation given to a speaker that year (Flynn and Gerhardt 95). Mathews was particularly drawn to The Turner Diaries, and came to feel that the time was ripe for the beginning of a racial war in the United States. In late 1983, Mathews began to assemble a team of men from the ranks of the NA, the Aryan Nations, the John Birch Society, and various Ku Klux Klan groups. Mathews dubbed his new organization the Order, after an elite group of racial warriors depicted in The Turner Diaries. Over the next several months, the Order would carry out a series of robberies. Most spectacularly, the group mounted several successful armored car heists, netting approximately four million dollars in cash. A portion of the robbery loot was allegedly distributed to various white supremacist groups, including the NA (Ibid. 272). The Order was also responsible for a murder. A Jewish radio talk show host from Denver, Alan Berg, was killed apparently because of anti-racist statements he made on the air. Mathews himself was killed during an F.B.I. raid on his hideout in late 1984. The Order then rapidly collapsed. Today, those in the American neo-Nazi movement look at Mathews as a martyr and hero. The Order came closer than any other organization to literally fulfilling the racist fantasy of The Turner Diaries. But others have also taken inspiration from the book, and with much more devastating consequences.
While serving as a soldier in the U.S. Army, Timothy McVeigh became engrossed with The Turner Diaries. He poured over the book constantly, and often tried to get other soldiers on his base to read it (Michel-Herbeck 59). After his discharge from the army, McVeigh was drawn into the shadowy world of the militias. He absorbed the paranoid anti-government teachings of the movement, and was enraged at the incineration of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, a tragedy he blamed on the federal government. After hatching his plan to destroy the federal office building in Oklahoma City, McVeigh made three phone calls to a NA representative in Arizona. He was planning to ask the NA for refuge after the attack. But the NA member was not at home at the time of McVeigh’s calls, and he was unable to make contact with the group (Ibid. 205). Many investigators have speculated that a passage in The Turner Diaries in which F.B.I. headquarters is destroyed with a fertilizer-based bomb directly inspired the bombing in Oklahoma City. Pierce himself denied such a link, pointing out that the bomb described in his book is of a different construction than the one McVeigh used, and that the fictional bombing in the novel is committed in an attempt to destabilize the government, not as an act of retribution (Griffin 2001 168). When McVeigh was pulled over and arrested shortly after the blast, an envelope containing several photocopied pages was found lying on the front seat of his car. Among them were excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, the writings of Samuel Adams, and The Turner Diaries. This, of course, brought quite a lot of attention to Pierce and the NA. Pierce denied any link to the bombing, and publicly distanced himself from the crime (Ibid. 170). But one wonders if he was not secretly pleased with the media attention his group received, along with the opportunity to further spread his message of racial separation.
A more recent act of murder that made national headlines can also be linked to Pierce’s writings. On June 7, 1998, three white men picked up a black hitchhiker, James Byrd, in Jasper, Texas. Two of the three white men were former convicts who had been associated with white supremacist gangs while in prison. After driving to a secluded road just outside of town, the three men beat Byrd, taunted him with racial slurs, and spray-painted his face black. They then chained him to the back bumper of their pick up truck, and proceeded to drag him to death along an asphalt road. The next day, Byrd’s remains were discovered, strewn out along several miles of the road. Police soon picked up the three killers, who confessed to the crime. One of the men, John William King, was sentenced to death. During the trial, one of King’s co-defendants mentioned a statement King had made to him just before the commission of the crime: “We’re starting The Turner Diaries early” (SPLC 1999 2).
The atrocities described above are only the most well known of the crimes Pierce’s writings have inspired over the years. Countless acts of vandalism, assault, and occasionally murder have been inspired at least partially by The Turner Diaries or other works of Pierce’s. His books and articles are considered to be essential reading by many in the far right, even by those who may disagree with some elements of Pierce’s ideology. Members of the Aryan Republican Army, which committed a string of bank robberies and bombings across the Midwest in the mid-1990’s, were required to read The Turner Diaries as part of their initiation into the group (CNC 24). In March of 1998, Federal authorities in East St. Louis, IL, raided the homes of members of a group calling themselves “The New Order”. The government claims that the men had made contact with both the Aryan Nations and the NA, seeking support for a planned string of robberies and bombings (Ibid. 23). If one combs the online bulletin boards of white supremacist organizations, they will find common references made to the “Day of the Rope”. This is an event depicted in The Turner Diaries in which Jews, judges, civil rights activists, and other “race traitors” are hung from lampposts by the thousands in areas that have been occupied by white supremacist forces. Racist skinheads seem to be particularly drawn to this image, as it fulfills the brutality and violent tendencies of their subculture.
Pierce maintained that the NA was a legal, non-violent organization. From the early 1980’s on, he publicly discouraged illegal acts by his members, saying that the time was not yet right for such action (Griffin 2001 223). In fact, the NA bars persons serving time in prisons or jails from joining the NA, except in “extraordinary circumstances” (NA recruitment flyer 2). However, some NA members have not followed Pierce’s advice and have violated the law in their efforts to forward their political ideals. As already mentioned, Robert Mathews and several other members of the Order were also members of the NA. Todd David Vanbiber was invited to attend a leadership conference for NA members in 1996. The next year, police arrested Vanbiber after a pipe bomb he had been working on exploded in his face, seriously injuring him. While it is unclear what exactly Vanbiber intended to do with his bombs, authorities believed he was associated with a shadowy group called The League of the Silent Soldier, which intended to wage a guerrilla campaign against the government (SPLC 1997 [1] 4-5). NA members are regularly arrested for minor crimes associated with their political activities. For instance, on December 7, 2001, two NA members were arrested and charged with ethnic intimidation, vandalism, and several other misdemeanors after they were caught placing NA stickers on public and private property (CNC 26).
Before preceding any further, we must address the question of the relevance of Pierce’s writings and activities. It might be at first tempting to dismiss him as a crank, so far removed from mainstream discourse as to render him irrelevant. The lengthy list of crimes detailed above is meant to convince the reader that many persons have in the past taken the writings of William Pierce quite seriously, and have committed horrendous offenses in attempts to turn his ideological visions into reality. To understand why these crimes have been committed, and to gauge the likelihood of similar crimes being committed in the future, we must first try to understand Pierce’s worldview. We must understand what goals he worked towards, and how he intended to achieve them. We must also consider how individuals in the white supremacist subculture will interpret and attempt to implement these goals. In the course of this examination, I intend to substantiate the following statement: William Pierce believed that contemporary Western society was irredeemably corrupt, and sought to create an all-white world through the use of terrorist and genocidal means.


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