Chapter 2: Pierce’s Life and Accomplishments

Before we attempt to comprehend William Pierce’s ideology, it is probably necessary to have some understanding of the man’s life: How he was raised, how he was educated, and what dominate forces shaped his political beliefs. Pierce was a unique specimen in the white supremacist movement: He was highly educated, and at one time a tenured college professor. These experiences gave Pierce an intellectual background that most of his contemporaries lacked.
William Pierce was born on September 11, 1933 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was the first child in his family, having a single sibling, a brother. When Pierce was eight years old, his father, an insurance salesman, was struck and killed by an automobile. Pierce had to help his mother make ends meet as a child, and he later claimed that these hard times helped him to develop a tough, self-motivating attitude that greatly influenced his development: “I think this external discipline; this external control—being forced over a long period of time to do things I didn’t want to do but that were necessary to do—helped me develop self-discipline. A lot of children these days never learn that. It’s amazing how many adults can’t do that. They can’t stick at a job they don’t want to do” (qtd. in Griffin 2001 29). Pierce was shuttled around to the homes of various relatives across the South during his childhood. He mentioned that his family, being southern, was segregationist, and that he often saw African-Americans performing menial tasks around his neighborhoods (Ibid. 28). Pierce had an early interest in science, particularly chemistry. He claimed to have done well in school throughout his childhood. For his last two years of high school, Pierce was sent to a military academy in Texas. He described it as a maturing experience that further enhanced his self-discipline (Ibid 33). After graduating from school, Pierce was accepted to Rice University in Houston, Texas. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in physics in 1951. After working a series of jobs in the field of physics, Pierce returned to college at the University of Colorado in Boulder. In 1957, he married Patricia Jones, a mathematician whom he had met while in Los Angeles. It was to be the first of five marriages for Pierce. Pierce received his PhD in physics from the University of Colorado in 1962. That same year, he accepted a job at Oregon State University as an assistant professor of physics. He was granted tenure three years later (Ibid. 38).
During his career as a college professor, Pierce for the first time began to examine the issues of politics and race. It remains unclear what exact event (or events) sparked his interest in racial politics. Pierce saw several things on his own college campus that dismayed him. By the mid 1960’s, the civil rights movement was in full swing, with the accompanying relaxation of attitudes towards interracial associations and dating. This new openness may have been offensive to Pierce, who had been raised in a segregationist culture. Pierce’s background had also given him a strongly anti-Communist outlook; he mentioned that the emerging anti-war movement, along with its occasional pro-Communist statements, was deeply troubling to him (Griffin 2001 62).
During this time, Pierce read two works that were to have a profound effect on his political attitudes. The first was a short play by George Bernard Shaw entitled Don Juan Goes to Hell. In the play, the title character travels to hell and has a long discussion with the Devil (who appears in the form of a Jewish man). The Devil tries to tempt Don Juan into a life of personal gratification. Don Juan refuses, arguing that all men should devote themselves to the great purpose of the universe. Pierce later said that this play inspired him to reject individualism and embrace an ideology of self-sacrifice (Griffin 2001 51). This same work would also provide the basis for Cosmotheism, a pantheist religion created by Pierce. Cosmotheism would provide the ideological backbone for Pierce’s political ideals.
The second book that greatly influenced Pierce in this period of his life was Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Pierce first admired Hitler’s character: He believed that some great personal force must have indeed been at work for a disabled, homeless veteran to rise in the space of twenty-five years to the position of Chancellor of Germany (Griffin 2001 64). The book also provided Pierce with the basis for his political outlook. He embraced the National Socialist position on elitism and the failure of democracy. He also adopted Hitler’s obsession with race, and the protection of the purity of white blood. And Hitler provided Pierce with a collective enemy to which all of the problems of the white race could be ascribed: the Jews.
Pierce’s first move into organized political activity came in 1962 when he joined the local chapter of the John Birch Society. The Society, which still exists today, is a far right organization that focuses itself on vast conspiracy theories, usually involving Communist plots. Although a small organization today, in the early 1960’s it was still a powerful force in the American Right. The Society has often been accused of harboring subtle racist and anti-Semitic dogmas (Lipset and Rabb 266-67). Apparently, these dogmas, if they existed, were entirely too subtle for Pierce: “If the Bircher’s were going to stress the communist aspect of the civil rights movement, why were they unwilling to look at exactly who these communists were? I said to them, ‘Why don’t we deal with the fact that so often these people are Jews?’...Why, I asked them, are the columnists in the newspapers who are sympathetic to the civil rights agenda so often Jewish?” (qtd. in Griffin 2001 85). Disgusted with the lack of racial consciousness within the Society, Pierce quit the organization after only a few months (Ibid.).
Later in 1962, Pierce saw a news broadcast which covered a tumultuous speech given by George Lincoln Rockwell, the head of the American Nazi Party (ANP). Impressed with Rockwell’s brazen presentation of National Socialist ideals in the face of jeering crowds, Pierce wrote him a letter. Several weeks later Pierce received a response, and the two men began a lengthy correspondence (Griffin 2001 87). In 1964, Pierce attended a convention of physicists in Washington, D.C. The ANP’s headquarters was in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, and Pierce traveled there to meet Rockwell in person. The next year, 1965, Pierce made the decision to leave academia and pursue his political activities. He resigned his tenure at the University of Oregon and moved his family to Connecticut, where he took a job as a senior research scientist at an aerospace firm. His wife found work as a math teacher. Pierce made weekly trips to Alexandria to observe how Rockwell ran the ANP, although he claimed he never officially become a member (Ibid. 113).
Rockwell was himself an interesting figure. He had founded the ANP in the late 1950’s, after a long career in the military and a failed effort at working as an independent graphic designer. Brash and quick-witted, Rockwell seemed to thrive on controversy and media attention. The ANP often held public demonstrations in which Rockwell and his men would wear brownshirts and swastika armbands while waving Nazi flags. Rockwell seemed to enjoy addressing hostile crowds, verbally sparing with the audience while attacking the civil rights movement and the supposed Jewish control of the media. His headquarters in Alexandria was usually occupied by several of his “storm troopers”, who acted as his personal security force and worked on ANP projects.
Pierce remarked that he was not greatly affected by Rockwell’s ideology (Griffin 2001 101). While he admired Rockwell’s bravery, Pierce felt that the ANP was far too sensational to ever become a serious political force in the United States. In 1966, Pierce approached Rockwell with the idea of publishing a scholarly journal of National Socialist thought. Rockwell approved of the idea, and suggested the title National Socialist World (NSW). Using ANP printing equipment, Pierce edited and released the first issue of National Socialist World in the summer of 1966. The journal was interesting in that it was clearly modeled after professional academic journals. Pierce described it as an intellectual journal of National Socialism (NSW vol.1 1). The journal contained a letters column, featured articles, and book reviews. It certainly bore a striking difference to the thuggish image put forth by the ANP’s public demonstrations. Meant as a quarterly, six issues were published, the last in 1968.
National Socialist World was a unique publication. No American white supremacist group, before or since, has attempted to publish a journal that was intended to be taken seriously as a tool of academic research. Its uniqueness was reflective of its editor, a man with a strong academic background who attempted to bring an intellectual element into the normally semi-literate field of American National Socialist thought.
Pierce’s push for a more professional ANP may have had some impact on Rockwell. In early 1967, the group changed its name to the less confrontational National Socialist White People’s Party (NSWPP). Around the same time, Pierce wrote that the new organization would shift its focus from publicity seeking to cadre building (NSW 5 33). Rockwell himself would not live to see the new organization develop. On August 25, 1967, he was shot to death in a laundry-mat parking lot by a disgruntled former member of the NSWPP (Griffin 2001 112).
Control of the organization passed to Rockwell’s second in command, Matt Koehl. After Rockwell’s death, Pierce officially joined the NSWPP and contributed a colum to the Party’s newspaper entitled “Lessons from Mein Kampf”. But friction soon developed between Pierce and Koehl. Pierce continued his push to change the Party into a professional National Socialist organization. Koehl was something of a Nazi fundamentalist, preferring to dress in Third Reich regalia while basing his political decisions almost wholly on what he read in Mein Kampf (Griffin 2001 115). Pierce may have also grown tired of working under the direction of others. He quit the Party in 1970, and became associated with an organization called the National Youth Alliance (NYA), which would eventually be transformed into the NA.
In 1968, Willis Carto, leader of the ultra-conservative (and most would say anti-Semitic) Liberty Lobby founded Youth for Wallace, a group aimed at mobilizing support for George Wallace’s presidential campaign on college campuses. In 1969, Carto rechristened the group as the National Youth Alliance, and turned its operations over to Louis Byers, a young man from the Washington, D.C. area. The stated goal of the NYA was to oppose the activities of subversive leftist groups on college campuses, particularly the Students for a Democratic Society (FBI #1 8). Many of the group’s members quit after Byers’ took the NYA in a more overtly white supremacist direction (Ibid. 14). Byers showed himself to be an ineffective leader, and by 1970 the group was $40,000 in debt (FBI #3 20). Pierce, having recently left the NSWPP, made contact with Byers and took over the publishing of the NYA organ, Attack! Pierce quickly became the primary leader of the organization, and Byers had ceased active participation in the NYA by 1972 (FBI #4A 29). Pierce severed the group’s connection to Carto, but took Carto’s mailing list for his own use. Carto sued both Pierce and Byers for the alleged theft, though the case was eventually dismissed (FBI #10 92).
In these early years, Pierce’s writings had a violently revolutionary tone, reflecting the insurrectionist feeling common among young persons in the tumultuous period of the late 1960’s. He ran a series of articles in Attack! entitled “Revolutionary Notes”, in which he detailed subjects such as urban guerrilla tactics and the manufacture of explosives. This brought the NYA to the attention of the FBI, who began monitoring the group in 1970 (FBI #2B 17). By this time, Pierce had quit his regular job to devote himself completely to the NYA. He lived off of his wife’s income, plus the donations from the group’s supporters and revenues generated by the sales of Attack! Pierce slept at the NYA headquarters in Washington, only driving home to see his family on the weekends (Griffin 2001 119).
In 1974, Pierce decided that he should move away from a youth-oriented approach and attempt to build a solid, professional adult organization. To that end, he shortened the group’s name from the National Youth Alliance to the National Alliance and opened it to adult membership. He also toned down the militant rhetoric of the group, adopting a strategy of cadre building in the hopes of eventually assembling a solid core of men and women who could function as disseminators of NA propaganda. In 1978, Pierce changed the name of the NA organ from Attack! to National Vanguard (NV) to reflect his continuing move away from sensationalist, vigilante rhetoric. The NA had been a small group to begin with, but throughout the 1970’s its membership steadily dropped. By 1977, the group was estimated to have approximately 100 members. Given the small size of the group and its move away from the advocacy of immediate armed revolution, the FBI closed its investigation of the NA in that same year (FBI #12A 10).
The one event that gave Pierce some level of fame in far right circles in this period (as well as much-needed funds) was the publication of The Turner Diaries in 1978. The book (written by Pierce under the pseudonym of Andrew Macdonald) was originally published in serial form in Attack! and National Vanguard. Pierce later said he felt the story was written in a rush, and that it did not represent his best writing (Griffin 2001 147). Regardless, it proved to be a seminal work for the American far right. The book details the exploits of the Organization, a group of white Americans who secretly organize themselves against the perceived Jewish-controlled government in Washington. The Organization launches a campaign of terrorism meant to disrupt the lives of white Americans and force them to chose sides. In the end, the Organization’s worldwide revolution is a success, and an all-white world is created. The book is written in rather pedestrian prose, but those who study military topics will probably take interest in the detailed descriptions of bomb manufacturing and urban warfare tactics. The Turner Diaries remains Pierce’s best-known work, and its popularity gave him a level of respect in the white supremacist community that few others could rival.
In the late 1970’s, Pierce began to formulate his own set of religious beliefs, which he called Cosmotheism. The NA held weekly political discussion meetings in Washington, D.C., and Pierce noticed that some of the attendees seemed to be searching for a spiritual basis for their political ideology. He began to hold separate meetings for these persons, and the twenty or so individuals involved began to refer to themselves as the Cosmotheist Community Church (Griffin 2001 187). Pierce was always quite careful to keep his religious and political activities separate, at least in public. No mention was made of Cosmotheism in the pages of Attack! or National Vanguard, and the Cosmotheist pamphlets Pierce wrote in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s were published anonymously.
In 1982 Pierce’s long-suffering wife, Patricia, divorced him, taking their two sons with her. Pierce said he had very little contact with his children after the divorce (Griffin 2001 39). Pierce quickly remarried, to a NA member named Elizabeth Prostel. The marriage lasted three years. After his second divorce, Pierce began to write to women who had placed classified ads in Eastern European magazines, a system sometimes referred to as “mail order brides”. He would marry three of these Eastern European women. Each marriage would last a couple of years before the women would grow tired of Pierce’s unusual lifestyle and leave him. (In addition, one must wonder if their achievement of full U.S. citizenship may have made their marriages to Pierce unnecessary.) Pierce’s fifth wife left him shortly before his death in 2002 (Griffin 2002, 9).
In 1984, Pierce purchased approximately 350 acres of land near Hillsboro, West Virginia, and moved the NA’s headquarters there the next year. Pierce paid $95,000 in cash for the property. Many persons have maintained that the money used for the purchase of the land was given to Pierce by Robert Mathews, and had come from the armored car robberies committed by the Order (CNC 18). Pierce denied this, claiming the money had been donated by a wealthy anonymous member (Griffin 2001 216). Pierce intended the new headquarters to function as an intentional community, a place where persons could come to live free of the corrupting effects of modern society: “There will actually be a place which we may think of almost as a very small country, less than a square mile in size, where some of our people can begin living in accord with our values and our principals 24 hours a day, every day; where children can be raised in accord with those values and principals. We’ll have a little country which is ours spiritually as well as physically” (qtd. in ADV 11/30/02 2). Pierce intended the new community to be a Cosmotheist one: “Our community on the mountain, on our little island, will be governed by the spiritual values that it is our mission to preserve. So it will be, essentially, a religious community” (Ibid. 5).
This attempt at constructing an intentional religious/racial community failed. As Pierce noted: “I thought people would come out here with me, or if not that, they would come along later...But it turned out that the rest of the world was not as ready for the move as I was, so the population has remained small out here” (qtd. in Griffin 2001 226). Rather than functioning as a small village for white supremacists, the property became the home of the five or six persons who formed the central core of the NA. The buildings on the property initially consisted of several small houses and trailer homes, as well as an office building and meeting hall. There have been allegations that paramilitary training has occurred on the site, but no strong evidence has been produced to back up these claims (Whitsel 126).
Buoyed by the popularity of The Turner Diaries and the increasingly sophisticated operation at the NA’s headquarters, the group experienced significant growth throughout the late 1980’s: By 1992, total NA membership was estimated at 1,000 persons (ADL 1988 1). In 1989, Pierce published his second novel, entitled Hunter. The book describes the exploits of Oscar Yeager, a vigilante who stalks and murders interracial couples in the Washington, D.C. area. Yeager eventually makes contact with a white supremacist group called the “National League”. Through the League, Yeager works towards the racial consciousness-raising of the white public through peaceful means, while still carrying out his terrorist campaign with the help of a racist FBI official. At the end of the book, Yeager learns of a nationwide plot by black militants to carry out a pogrom against the white population. Yeager does nothing to stop the attacks, knowing that the thousands of white deaths that will result will help to ignite racist feelings among white Americans, and thus help to hasten the coming race war.
Hunter is a difficult book to get through. Unlike The Turner Diaries, which for the most part functions as an military adventure novel, Hunter is mostly comprised of long-winded speeches given by the characters on the proper course the white revolution must take. Given Pierce’s unremarkable prose, the resulting work is quite tedious. (Pierce, however, felt that it was a much better written book than The Turner Diaries [Griffin 2001 247].) Hunter has never achieved the great popularity of Pierce’s first novel. But in some respects it is more chilling, in that it seems to advocate the random murder of interracial couples and other “undesirables”, as opposed to complex schemes of revolutionary terrorism. It is perhaps telling that Pierce dedicated the first edition of the book to Joseph Paul Franklin, a racist serial killer (and former NSWPP member) who is currently on death row in Missouri (Teaching Tolerance 1).
Although he saw the NA as being the only organization capable of leading the white people of the world to their proper destiny, Pierce would occasionally work with foreign and domestic groups whose aims he felt were compatible with those of the NA. This trend became more noticeable as the 1990’s wore on. David Duke, the prominent former Klansman from Louisianan, addressed several NA meetings (ADL 1998 17). The NA hosted rock music events in partnership with the Hammerskin Nation, a violent skinhead group based in Springfield, MO (CNC 20). Pierce had even friendlier relations with some overseas white supremacist groups, particularly the British National Party (BNP) in the United Kingdom and the National Democratic Party (NPD) in Germany. Both of the group’s web sites are listed on the NA’s site’s links page. In November of 1995, Pierce traveled to England to address a BNP gathering. Approximately 150 persons attended the event. After the trip, Pierce was officially banned from entering the United Kingdom (Ibid. 19). In 1999, Pierce traveled to Germany to attend a NPD conference and discuss business arrangements with the group (Ibid.). It is also worth noting that Pierce’s anti-Zionist writings have been popular in some circles in the Muslim world. Apparently unaware of Pierce’s wish for the destruction of all non-white cultures, his speeches are portrayed by these groups as being an honest American’s description of Jewish influence on culture and governments around the world. Hezbollah, the Shiite guerilla army operating in southern Lebanon, has posted several of Pierce’s speeches on its web site (ADL Update 1).
In 1999, Pierce purchased the struggling white power music distributor Resistance Records. It was a shrewd move on several levels. Together with NA member Eric Gliebe, who acted as Resistance’s manager, Pierce built the label into the largest distributor of white power music in the U.S. (CNC 10). In 2002, the Resistance catalog offered 610 different CDs (Ibid.). It provided a large, steady source of income, something the NA had never had before. In 2002, Resistance was estimated to have made $1.3 million in after-tax profit (Ibid. 9). Resistance deals mostly in “oi” music, a variant of the punk rock genre aimed at skinheads (Resistance also sells some folk, heavy metal, and country western CDs). The label’s companion magazine, also called Resistance, caters to a skinhead audience as well. This gave Pierce quite a bit of influence among the skinheads, a group the NA had little contact with before. And finally, Resistance gave Pierce another medium by which to introduce young persons to the white supremacist movement. While a teenager might be put off by the theoretical writings common in NA propaganda, he or she would be much more likely to accept a rock CD that contained white supremacist themes.
Pierce got off to a rocky start with the skinhead audience he was trying to woo with his acquisition of Resistance. The NA has always prided itself on being the most professional National Socialist organization in the United States. NA members favor suits and ties, rather than the robes of the Ku Klux Klan or the fascist uniforms of the World Church of the Creator. In the first issue of Resistance Magazine to be published under NA ownership, an article penned by an NA member had some harsh words for skinhead culture:
If Skinheads as they currently exist are the future of White resistance to Jew inspired barbarization of the Aryan race then we are doomed. You could best help the rest of us by committing suicide, thus putting you out of our misery. We don’t need you. You are useless latecomers and ignorant pretenders. Either join us grown-ups and accept adult supervision, or go away and quit screwing us over. Your current “help” is killing us (Peiper 9).
There was a predictable uproar in the skinhead community over these remarks, and Eric Gliebe eventually published an editorial apologizing to his readers, noting “Skinheads are a bright hope for the confused youth of today and we are here to help steer todays’ kids in the right direction” (Gliebe 2).
The incident was indicative of a dilemma Pierce faced throughout his career as a political organizer. Pierce clearly believed that the NA was the only group in the United States capable of saving the white race from the plots of the Jews. In addition to the ideological differences he had with other American white supremacist groups, Pierce felt that they were uniformly unprofessional and in many cases counterproductive to the cause. He maintained that the failure of the ANP (and Rockwell’s assassination itself) was the result of the “defective” persons that had been allowed to join the group (Griffin 2001 109). Shortly before his death, Pierce gave a speech at the NA headquarters during which he allegedly stated:
... the Alliance has no interest at all in the so-called “movement”. We're not interested in uniting with the movement, and we're not interested in competing with the movement for members. If anything, we should be grateful that the movement is out there to soak up a lot of the freaks and weaklings who otherwise might find their way into the Alliance and make problems for us. In this regard, I was sorry to note Aryan Nations and the Church of the Creator have, for all practical purposes, died in the last few weeks. I hope one or two replacement groups spring up to draw away from us the defectives (qtd. in SPLC 2003 1).
But despite his personal low estimation of other organizations in the American white power movement, Pierce occasionally found it advantageous to partner himself with some of them. As has been noted, the NA has worked with individuals such as David Duke for publicity purposes, and has associated itself with the Hammerskin Nation for logistical help in organizing rock concerts. To maintain these alliances, Pierce was forced to restrain his public criticisms of the white supremacist movement in public, while privately holding that his group was the only one capable of true victory.
In the spring of 2002, Pierce noticed that he was feeling weaker and more fatigued than he had in the past, and those around him commented that he looked thinner and more drawn than usual (Gerhard 4). A trip to a hospital in early July found that Pierce had developed cancer of the liver. He was admitted to a hospital in Beckley, West Virginia, where he underwent surgery and other treatments (Ibid. 1). After a brief period of improvement, it was discovered that the cancer had spread into his kidneys. Pierce decided to spend the last days of his life at his compound, and returned there on July 20th (Ibid.). He spent his remaining time composing a final will and testament, and advising other members of the NA on how he would like the group to proceed after his passing. Pierce died on July 23rd. There was some question as to whether the group would be able to avoid factional splits after the death its founder and only leader (ADL Obituary 1). Possible successors included Kevin Strom, a longtime NA member and friend of Pierce’s; Billy Roper, the NA’s media spokesman; and Eric Gliebe, the manager of Resistance Records. After a private funeral on July 29th, a tribunal of NA leaders selected Gliebe as the new director of the group (CNC 7). The predictions of the disintegration of the NA upon Pierce’s death seemed to have been premature: the group, at least initially, rallied around its new leader (Roper 1).
Today, the NA is a well-organized and well-financed group. Total membership in 2002 was estimated to be between 1,500 (SPLC Fall 2002 3), and 2,500 (CNC 4) persons. There are active “units” or “proto-units” in forty-three cities in the U.S., with five more in Canada (Ibid.). The demographic make up of the Alliance is varied. While obviously all white, the membership reflects a multitude of age groups and economic classes. Robert Griffin described the leadership of the NA as being predominantly persons in their thirties and forties, working class (often independent contractors), soft-spoken, introverted, and about 90% male (Griffin 2001 395-396). It is more difficult to get a clear picture of the makeup of the rank-and-file membership, but it appears that young persons are represented in greater numbers there. Pierce claimed that approximately 20% of NA members are women (Ibid.). Since the NA acquired Resistance Records, skinheads have been joining the group in larger numbers.
The NA enjoys an annual after-tax revenue of well over a million dollars (CNC 9). In 2002, the group employed twenty-one persons full-time, as well as a few part workers (Ibid. 12). With the increase in available monies as a result of the acquisition of Resistance Records, the infrastructure of the compound in West Virginia has been considerably expanded. There are currently eight main buildings on the site: four homes, a storage building, two office buildings, and a warehouse for Resistance Records, complete with a loading dock (Ibid. 8). One of the office buildings is equipped with a full recording studio, a video production room, and video duplicating faculties (Ibid. 10). There are also apparently several smaller structures on the property that serve as temporary lodgings for visitors to the compound (Whitsel 126). In addition to the previously mentioned Resistance Magazine, the NA continues to publish National Vanguard, an irregular journal detailing the Alliance’s ideology. The NA also maintains websites for Resistance, the Cosmotheist Community Church, and the Alliance proper. The NA website contains basic membership information along with an extensive collection of articles taken from National Vanguard. Pierce recorded a weekly radio show entitled “American Dissident Voices ” (ADV), consisting of Pierce’s own commentary. Today, the weekly addresses are handled by Kevin Strom of the NA, and are broadcast over short-wave radio as well as a few AM stations (SPLC 2001 4). Current ADV broadcasts are also archived on the NA website. Using these sources, as well as the older methods of flyers and public rallies, the NA has a wide variety of ways to expose the public to its racist message.


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