At 9:02 on the morning of April 19th, 1995, the front half of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was demolished by an earth-shaking blast. The building’s imposing columns crumpled and its massive windows shattered. The first floor exploded up into the second, and the top seven floors of concrete and steel came crashing down one onto the other until the roof rested on the level of what had been the third floor. Cables and shorn girders spewed into the street. Gas, smoke, and dust clouded the sky. Scores of people, covered in blood, dust, and plaster and crying and confused, stumbled out of the building with shards of glass embedded in their skin and their bones broken. One man lay dead in a huge crater next to the building, his body in flames. Another man wandered around missing his left arm. A young woman ran back and forth screaming, “My baby is in there!”1
The Oklahoma City bombing killed one hundred sixty-eight people, including nineteen children.2 Oklahoma City Police Sergeant Lynn McCumber helped pull forty-nine bodies from the wreckage. But there was the face of a boy he had to leave behind that he says haunts him in his dreams to this day. Using an infrared camera, McCumber detected the shape of a small head and four fingers. He shined his flashlight into a crawl space and saw the open eyes of a child. “I crawled under the rubble and put the child’s head in my hand,” McCumber said later. “And I knew he was dead. And there was nothing I could do.”3
At 10:22 that same morning, April 19th, Oklahoma State Highway Patrol Trooper Charlie Hanger, a twenty-year veteran of the force, was driving along his stretch of Interstate 35 when he passed a bright yellow Mercury Marquis without a license plate. The old car, a 1970s model, wasn’t speeding and it wasn’t being driven recklessly; it just had no license plate.4
Hanger slowed down and slipped in behind the Mercury and pulled it over. As he stepped out of his patrol car and into the cool spring air, he felt a bit chilly in his short-sleeved brown uniform. The driver’s door of the yellow car parked up ahead swung open, and underneath the open door Hanger saw two lace-up black combat boots drop to the pavement.
Hanger froze for a moment behind his door, using it as a shield. Fifteen miles up the road two weeks before, a motorist had fired a 9 mm at a fellow trooper during a routine traffic stop like this one, and that was fresh in his mind. But then the driver of the Mercury up ahead stood up and started walking toward him and Hanger could see both his hands.
Hanger left his car, and the two men approached each other and met halfway between Hanger’s patrol car and the yellow Mercury. The driver was pale-complexioned and young, in his twenties, and he was dressed in a black windbreaker and faded black jeans. As they stood close together alongside the highway, Hanger had to look up to meet the eyes of the much taller man. A light wind blew.
“I stopped you because you weren’t displaying a tag,” Hanger said.
The driver looked back at where the license plate should have been and said that he hadn’t had the car long, and that is why there was no tag.
Hanger asked to see the bill of sale.
“I don’t have it with me,” the driver replied.
Hanger asked to see his driver’s license.
The man reached his arm around into his back pocket and pulled out a camouflage-colored billfold and slid out his driver’s license and held it out to Hanger. Hanger took it, but his eyes weren’t on the license. They were riveted on something else: a bulge under the man’s left arm beneath the partly-zipped windbreaker.
Hanger told the man to use both hands and slowly open his jacket, and the man started to pull down the zipper the rest of the way. “I have a gun,” he said.
“Get your hands up and turn around,” Hanger ordered.
When the man turned around, Hanger took out his revolver and held it to the back of the man’s head. “Walk to the back of your car.”
“My weapon is loaded,” the man said as they walked toward the car.
“So is mine,” said Hanger.
When they reached the Mercury, Hanger ordered the man to place his hands on the trunk and spread his legs, and the man complied. Hanger reached around inside the man’s jacket and pulled out a black .45-caliber Glock military assault pistol. In the chamber was a Black Talon “cop killer” bullet which mushrooms when it gets inside someone’s body. In the clip were thirteen rounds of hard-ball, high-velocity ammunition.
“I also have a knife,” the man said calmly. He didn’t seem nervous or angry at all, unlike so many in a situation like this.
Hanger removed the knife from its brown leather sheath, handcuffed the man, walked him back to the patrol car, and put him in the passenger seat. The man’s license in hand, Hanger called back to the dispatcher to check on whether the man, a Timothy James McVeigh, was wanted on any outstanding charges or had a criminal history. The dispatcher called back and said no. Hanger then asked the dispatcher to check on the Mercury. When the dispatcher called back it was on a cell phone because there was so much radio traffic about an explosion down in Oklahoma City. He reported that the previous owners of the car were a couple from Arkansas.
Hanger told McVeigh he was taking him in on charges of carrying and transporting a loaded firearm and driving without a license plate and read him his Miranda rights. He asked McVeigh if he could search the car, and McVeigh said yes. Hanger left McVeigh in the patrol car and went over to the Mercury and nosed around a bit inside. After that, he came back to McVeigh and told him he had the choice of having the car towed at his expense or leaving it along the side of the road where it was. Either way, he could retrieve the car when he posted bond. McVeigh said he didn’t want the car towed.
“What about the envelope that’s sealed up on the front seat?” Hanger asked.
“Leave it there,” McVeigh answered.
Of course, Timothy McVeigh was the one. He was sentenced to death for planning and committing the biggest domestic terrorist attack in this nation’s history. The huge crater next to the building where the dead man lay burning was where a Ryder rental truck McVeigh had loaded with thousands of pounds of explosives had been before it was blown to pieces. His friend from the army, Terry Nichols, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and conspiring with McVeigh.
It all makes sense now, but in the immediate aftermath of the bombing very few people thought that someone like McVeigh, an American, one of us, could be responsible for such a horrible act. Almost everyone assumed that what had happened in Oklahoma City was the work of foreigners, and in particular Islamic terrorists. It had to be that. A truck bomb was their trademark method of attack. Undoubtedly they were angry about United States intervention in Middle East disputes, or perhaps they were bitter about the Gulf War. And they had done this kind of thing before, right here in this country. In February of 1993, just two years before, Islamic militants had bombed the World Trade Center in Manhattan, killing six people and injuring hundreds of others.
Typical of the early responses to the bombing was a CBS interview with former Oklahoma congressman Dave McCarty. McCarty said there was very clear indication that the Murrah Building bombing was the act of a fundamentalist Islamic group. He pointed out that there had been a PBS documentary called Jihad in America that had talked about the strong presence of Islamic militants in Oklahoma City. And then there were the reports coming out of several news organizations that witnesses had seen three men who looked to be of Middle East origin driving away from the Murrah Building just before the explosion. Secretary of State Warren Christopher announced that he was sending Arab language experts to Oklahoma City to assist in the investigation of the crime.5
Among the few who looked in other directions than abroad for who was responsible for the bombing were those who speculated that it could be the work of the Nation of Islam and its leader, the Reverend Louis Farrakhan. Then too, several reporters noted that the bombing came on the second anniversary of the fiery and deadly conclusion of a standoff between the FBI and the Branch Davidian religious sect in Waco, Texas. Perhaps some of the surviving Branch Davidians were involved in Oklahoma City.
What had happened in Waco began on February 28th, 1993 when, with three helicopters hovering above, heavily armed agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms launched what they call a “dynamic entrance” into the Mount Carmel center, a cluster of connected two-story wood buildings standing out in otherwise undeveloped land outside of Waco. The purpose of the BATF action was to serve a search-and-arrest warrant based on allegations that residents of the center, Branch Davidian members, possessed illegal firearms and were converting semi-automatic rifles into machine guns. Right away, a gun battle ensued. Most people have seen the television footage of BATF agents climbing a ladder to the roof next to second-floor windows of one of the buildings and an agent breaking in a window and entering the room. Then bullets can be seen coming through the walls from inside the room, and one of the agents outside is hit and scrambles back down the ladder. The firefight between the BATF and the Davidians ended with the retreat of the BATF force. Four BATF agents had been killed and twenty injured. Six sect members had been killed, including a child, and five had been injured.
The FBI was brought in and called upon the Davidians to come out of there. The Davidians refused, and a standoff began. The showdown between the FBI and the Davidians became a media event: the American public – the whole world – watched the drama unfold on television as days and then weeks went by with still no resolution. The Davidians’ leader, David Koresh, a man in his early thirties with the longish hair and unshaven appearance of a lead guitarist in a bar band, became an instant celebrity.
In the early morning of April 19th, after fifty-one days, the siege suddenly ended. Two specially-equipped Abrams tanks and four Bradley armored vehicles began punching holes in the flimsy structure and firing tear gas into the center in an effort to force the Davidians out. Around noon, smoke could be seen coming out of the structure, and then it started pouring out, and then there were flames and more flames, and then the entire center was engulfed in flames like a pile of twigs lit with a match.6
I remember where I was on that April morning in 1993. I was sitting alone in an airport waiting for my connecting flight. I looked up from what I had been reading and my eyes fell on a television set near where I was, and there taking up the whole screen was the image of the center ablaze. The sound wasn’t on, or at least I couldn’t hear it, and it seemed that no one around me was paying any attention. It was otherworldly and ominous somehow: I was by myself and people were reading their newspapers and magazines and talking and walking about, and there was this incredible picture on television, and I knew what it was and everything was silent. I remember then flashing back to a movie I had seen years before, Apocalypse Now, its last scene, where everything was burning.
The fire in Waco gutted the Mount Carmel center, reducing it to ashes. There were no efforts to battle the blaze. Seventy-six Davidians died in the inferno, including Koresh and twenty-five children.7
Kenneth Stern was the American Jewish Committee’s expert on hate and hate groups. When the details of the bombing started coming out, an eerie feeling came over him. It struck him that what had happened in Oklahoma City was remarkably similar to an incident in a book he knew about. It was an underground novel called The Turner Diaries. The book had been written back in the 1970s by an anti-Semite and racist who is still active by the name of William Pierce using the pen name Andrew Macdonald. Although few people among the general public had ever heard of the book, it was widely read by white supremacists and militia types. The Turner Diaries describes the racially motivated terrorist acts of a band of white American revolutionaries calling themselves the Organization against a corrupt federal government and its supporters referred to in the book as the System. The novel is made up of diary entries by Earl Turner, a member of the Organization and, eventually, its elite cadre, the Order. The incident in the Pierce book that drew Stern’s attention is one in which the Organization does immense damage to a federal building – in this case, FBI headquarters in Washington – with a truck full of explosives. The explosive used in the book was a mix of heating oil and ammonium nitrate fertilizer, just like what the government officials said was used to destroy the Murrah Building. This is just too much of a coincidence, thought Stern.8
Still locked, Timothy McVeigh’s yellow Mercury was put on a flatbed truck and hauled to an FBI warehouse near downtown Oklahoma City. Agents used a Slim Jam to pop the door locks. Wearing a Tyvek suit, protective footwear, and a double pair of gloves, Supervisory Special Agent Steven Burmeister picked the sealed envelope off the passenger seat and handed it to Agent William Eppright of the FBI’s Evidence Response Team. Eppright carried it over to a table that he had cleared away and covered with white sheets of paper. Wearing white gloves, Eppright opened the envelope by tearing along one end. He then removed the two stacks of paper, each folded neatly in thirds, inside. A note written in McVeigh’s distinctive backlash style lay on top of the stacks. It said, “Obey the Constitution of the United States and we won’t shoot you.”9
Eppright began looking through the contents of the envelope, which turned out to be typewritten sheets of paper and pages from books and magazines with sections highlighted with a yellow marker.
There was a copy of the Declaration of Independence.
There was a clipping that described the Battle of Lexington in the American Revolutionary War and told of the tremendous risks people back then took in defying the British. A section had been highlighted that described a coiled rattlesnake “which when left to exist peaceably threatens no one, but when trodden upon strikes as viciously and with as deadly an effort as any creature on earth.”
There was a quotation from American revolutionary figure Samuel Adams that said, “When the Government Fears The People, THERE IS LIBERTY. When the People Fear The Government, THERE IS TYRANNY.” Underneath the quotation McVeigh had written, “Maybe now there will be liberty.”
There was a warning against the present “mania” in this country to outlaw handguns.
There was an article on the siege at Waco from Soldier of Fortune magazine. The title of the article posed the question, “Executions or Mercy Killings?” McVeigh had highlighted the word “Executions.” He had also highlighted material from the body of the article: “Army spokesmen confirmed involvement of Green Berets in training some eighty ATF agents as part of final preparations for the bloody raid on the Branch Davidians’ religious compound.” “They deployed in a military manner against American citizens. They slaughtered eighty-plus people, committed acts of treason, murder and conspiracy.” “If the heat gets a little high they’ll throw us some yellow-living piece of shit bureaucrat to quiet us down, but all in all, they’ll get away with it.” “This country’s in trouble guys, bad trouble, and it isn’t coming from any street criminal.” McVeigh had slashed streaks of yellow through some phrases: “the foul ashes of Waco,” “power gone mad,” “they backed Lady Liberty into a corner and shot her in the head,” and “the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Gestapo of G-Men.”
Among the government agencies housed in the Murrah Federal Building was the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
And then there was something else in the material Agent Eppright had pulled from the envelope: photocopies of pages sixty-one and sixty-two from the novel Kenneth Stern had remembered, The Turner Diaries. These pages contained the fictional revolutionary Earl Turner’s diary entry of November 9th, 1991. In the entry, Turner discusses a mortar attack on the Capitol Building in Washington by his comrades in the Organization which had killed sixty-one, including two congressmen, one sub-cabinet official, and four or five senior congressional staffers. McVeigh had highlighted these sentences from Turner’s diary entry: “The real value of our attacks today lies in the psychological impact, not in the immediate casualties.” “More important, though, is what we taught the politicians and the bureaucrats. They learned this afternoon that not one of them is beyond our reach. They can huddle behind barbed wire and tanks in the city, or they can hide behind concrete walls and alarm systems at their country estate, but we can still find them and kill them.”
In William Pierce’s novel, The Turner Diaries, the events that set off the anti-government terrorist acts of Earl Turner were a series of brutish government raids on gun owners following the passage of federal legislation outlawing the private ownership of firearms. Turner reacted to the raids by blowing up a federal building with a fuel-oil and fertilizer bomb concealed in a truck. Not only was the composition of the fictional bomb almost exactly the same as the one McVeigh constructed and detonated, it was also almost exactly the same weight. It seems very probable that McVeigh saw parallels between the government raid on the Branch Davidians in Waco to enforce anti-gun laws and the gun raids portrayed in The Turner Diaries, and that McVeigh responded to what he saw as the unwarranted and violent assaults on gun owners in Waco the same way that the protagonist in Pierce’s book, Earl Turner, had responded to the heavy-handed crackdowns on gun owners by agents of the fictional federal government.10
Anti-Defamation League sources have reported that just days before the bombing, McVeigh mailed an envelope to his sister in Florida containing copies of the cover and selected pages from The Turner Diaries. He included a note that said she should be sure to read the back cover. On the back cover of The Turner Diaries at the top in bold black letters is the question, “What will you do when they come to take your guns?” And then the answer: “The patriots fight back with a campaign of sabotage and terror.” When McVeigh’s sister learned of her brother’s arrest in connection with the bombing, she burned the contents of the envelope.11
Incidentally, McVeigh’s accomplice in the bombing, Terry Nichols, also may have been influenced by the writings of William Pierce. Federal agents found a copy of another of Pierce’s novels, Hunter, in Nichols’ home. They saw few other books in the house. Hunter, written in the late 1980s, is Pierce’s follow-up to The Turner Diaries. It recounts the exploits of Oscar Yeager, who tries to “cleanse” America by killing interracial couples and Jews.12
In the weeks immediately preceding the bombing, McVeigh stayed at the Imperial Hotel off Route 66 near Kingman, Arizona. Several sources have reported that between April 5th and April 11th McVeigh made seven calls to a message center operated by a radical right-wing organization called the National Alliance. The chairman of the National Alliance is William Pierce. Two of the seven calls allegedly were patched through to Pierce’s unlisted number in West Virginia where he is headquartered.13
The Turner Diaries was the first piece of evidence introduced by the prosecution at McVeigh’s trial in Denver. During the trial, several of McVeigh’s friends told the court that he had mailed them copies of the book along with a note encouraging them to read it. One of them, Kyle Kraus, a buddy from McVeigh’s army days, testified that when he learned of the Oklahoma City bombing he was immediately reminded of scenes from the book and grabbed the copy McVeigh had sent him and took it to the local FBI office.14
McVeigh’s first contact with The Turner Diaries came when he was in the army and ran across an advertisement for the book in the mail order section of the survivalist magazine, Soldier of Fortune. McVeigh ordered the book and according to those around him at the time awaited its arrival with eager anticipation. When the book finally arrived, McVeigh became obsessed with it, reports his roommate William Dilly. “He took it into the field and read it for three weeks straight,” Dilly said. “He said it was really wild and tried to get me to read it.”15 Another friend of McVeigh’s, Brandon Sticky, said that McVeigh read and reread the book and was known for constantly carrying his well-thumbed copy of the small paperback around with him in his pocket.16
After leaving the service, McVeigh sold The Turner Diaries at weekend gun shows, often for less than his own cost. Fellow gun-show merchants said it was as if the contents of the book were his religion and he were looking for converts. “Mostly, McVeigh’s fervor came from The Turner Diaries,” a gun collector who crossed paths with him said later. “He was its greatest publicist. He carried the book all the time. He sold it at the shows. He’d have a few copies in the cargo pocket of his cammies. They were supposed to be $10, but he’d sell them for $5.”17 Apparently The Turner Diaries altered the course of Tim McVeigh’s life, as well as the lives of thousands of people in Oklahoma City. And to the extent that the Oklahoma City bombing is a memorable event – and even, in ways that are not clear to us now, a significant event – William Pierce’s self-published novel has become part of the history of America.
On September 24th, 1998, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith released a report entitled Explosion of Hate: The Growing Danger of the National Alliance.18 The ADL’s stated purpose is to combat anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice, and bigotry. The Explosion of Hate report began:
A new ADL investigation reveals that the neo-Nazi National Alliance (NA) is the single most dangerous organized hate group in the United States today. The NA sprang to national attention several years ago, when it was discovered that a fictitious incident in The Turner Diaries, a violent and racist novel written by the NA’s leader, might have been used as a model for the Oklahoma City bombing. Convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh was a devoted reader of The Turner Diaries, which features a bombing scenario that is eerily reminiscent of the April 19, 1995 blast. The book was also the blueprint for The Order, a revolutionary terrorist group that robbed and murdered its way to fame in the early 1980s. The ringleader of The Order [Robert Jay Mathews] was an organizer for the NA.
Now, the National Alliance has leaped to prominence again. In the last several years, dozens of violent crimes, including murders, bombings and robberies, have been traced to NA members or appear to have been inspired by the group’s propaganda. At the same time, the National Alliance’s membership base has experienced dramatic growth, with its numbers more than doubling since 1992. The group, headquartered near Hillsboro, West Virginia, is led by former University of Oregon physics professor and veteran anti-Semite William L. Pierce.
With 16 active cells from coast to coast, an estimated membership of 1,000 and several thousand additional Americans listening to its radio broadcasts and browsing its Internet site, the National Alliance is the largest and most active neo-Nazi organization in the nation. The group has also developed significant political connections abroad. In the past three years there has been evidence of NA activity in no fewer than 26 states across the country. The organization has been most active in Ohio, Florida, Michigan, New York, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and New Mexico.
Explosion of Hate goes on to say that while other extremist groups appeal to a narrow range of followers, National Alliance members vary widely in social class and age, from young skinheads to middle-aged professionals. Alliance members are organized into local units headed by coordinators named by Pierce, and in most cases meet regularly. Twice each year, Pierce invites fifty Alliance members to the West Virginia headquarters for a weekend conference.
The ADL report says that the National Alliance owes much of its strength to Pierce – whom it describes as well-educated, focused, and organized – and to his autocratic leadership style. Among Pierce’s activities is American Dissident Voices, a half-hour weekly radio program. The report notes that Pierce uses topics in the news as a springboard into hate-filled anti-Jewish, anti-black, and anti-government diatribes. American Dissident Voices broadcasts can be picked up in most of North America and Europe on short-wave as well as on local AM radio stations in parts of Arkansas, Texas, Alabama, New England, Florida and California. They can also be downloaded in written and audio form from the National Alliance’s Web site, and they are sent by email to selected individuals, reprinted in a monthly subscription publication called Free Speech, and sold in audio cassette form through the Alliance’s publishing arm, National Vanguard Books.
Audiocassettes of Pierce’s ADV programs are among an array of radical right-wing books and audio- and videotapes National Vanguard Books sells through a catalog it distributes widely.
In addition to the weekly broadcasts and book-selling activities, Pierce writes the copy for a members-only monthly National Alliance newsletter. There is also the irregularly published glossy magazine, National Vanguard, which the ADL report says attempts to intellectualize the Alliance’s racist and anti-Semitic agenda. The highbrow tone of National Vanguard contrasts sharply with the cruder, poorly-edited propaganda materials of other extremist groups and heightens the appeal the National Alliance has among those whom the report refers to as “better-educated bigots.”
Explosion of Hate notes that other murderers and terrorists besides Timothy McVeigh appear to have been inspired by Pierce’s violence-filled writings and pronouncements. In the 1980s a gang calling itself the Order, after the elite paramilitary unit in The Turner Diaries, went on a crime spree which included bombing a synagogue, murdering a Jewish talk show host, counterfeiting, and robbing over four million dollars in an armored car heist. The Order’s leader, Robert Mathews, was a member of the National Alliance and a recruiter for the Alliance who once spoke at one of the organization’s national conventions. Reportedly, Mathews told people that he was intent on being the catalyst for an uprising against the System like the one described in Pierce’s book.
Mathews, who was killed by FBI agents in a shoot-out, has become a martyr and cult hero among right-wing fringe elements and a model for others who would follow his lead. The ADL report cites the statement of then-publisher George Burdi in his skinhead-oriented magazine Resistance invoking Mathews’ memory in the course of singing the praises of the National Alliance. Said Burdi: “The National Alliance is clearly the most forward-looking and progressive racialist organization in the world today, and it is no wonder that Robert Mathews endorsed them so whole-heartedly.” Another example, authorities say a white supremacist group calling itself the Aryan Republican Army and led by a man named Peter Langan committed twenty-two bank robberies and bombings across the Midwest between 1992 and 1996. Langan praised Robert Mathews and instructed his viewers to “learn from Bob.” Not surprisingly The Turner Diaries was required reading in the Aryan Republican Army.
The ADL report lists a number of recent crimes that can be linked in some way to Pierce and the National Alliance. Among them:
• In March of 1998, Dennis McGiffin and two others were charged with conspiracy to possess and make machine guns. FBI agents testified that McGiffin and the others were influenced by The Turner Diaries. They planned to form a “New Order’’ and talked of, among other things, bombing state capitols and post offices and poisoning public water supplies with cyanide.
• In 1997, Todd Vanbiber, a National Alliance adherent in Winter Park, Florida, pleaded guilty to illegally constructing and possessing explosives and was sentenced to six-and-one-half years in prison. At a sentencing hearing in October 1997, a cellmate testified that Vanbiber admitted he planned to use the bombs against African Americans attending Fourth of July celebrations. A Federal complaint against Vanbiber alleged that he had met with William Pierce at his West Virginia compound for two hours and while there donated one thousand dollars to the National Alliance and purchased seven hundred dollars worth of its literature.
• In December 1995, a black couple was gunned down near Fort Bragg in North Carolina in what prosecutors called a racially motivated killing. James Burmeister and Malcolm Wright, members of the 82nd Airborne Division, were convicted of the murders and sentenced to life in prison. Burmeister and Wright reportedly read National Alliance propaganda. Prior to these events, the National Alliance had been attempting to attract members among U.S. Army personnel at Fort Bragg. One of its activists, Robert Hunt, a soldier and recruiter for the Alliance, rented a billboard and used it to post an advertisement and local phone number for the organization.
• In April of 1996, Larry Wayne Shoemaker killed one African American and injured seven others in Jackson, Mississippi. According to his ex-wife, Shoemaker first encountered National Alliance propaganda in the mid-1980s, when he borrowed The Turner Diaries from a friend. She said her husband wasn’t the same after he read Pierce’s novel. “It was like an eye-opener for him,” she said. “There was a distinct difference in him.” Shoemaker soon began subscribing to Pierce’s monthly publications.
The Winter 1999 issue of Intelligence Report, published by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), included an article entitled “The Alliance and Its Allies.”19 The SLPC article centered on the connections William Pierce is establishing with political extremists in Europe. The Southern Poverty Law Center monitors extremist groups and has been successful in pursuing civil lawsuits against them. The SPLC’s most prominent member is co-founder and chief legal counsel, Morris Dees.
The SPLC article refers to Pierce as the best-known American far-right-wing figure in Europe. It points out that Pierce is in the unique position of standing above the fray of rivalries that have divided the European radical right for years. “The former physics professor has come to be seen in Europe as a man whom all factions can look up to, the legendary author whose two novels [The Turner Diaries and Hunter] helped spark the most violent U.S. domestic terrorist attacks of the last 15 years.”20 The article quotes Pierce as writing, “Cooperation across national borders will become increasingly important for progress – and perhaps even for survival – in the future.”21
In late 1997 I wrote Pierce a letter broaching the idea of writing a book about him and his ideas. In the letter, I said:
I’m not talking about anything authorized, that is to say, where explicitly or implicitly I have the job of fronting for you, making you look good, selling you. But at the same time, I wouldn’t be aiming to demonize you or set you up as a straw man to serve some agenda of my own. I also don’t want to play a game academics often play [I am a university professor], which is to stand above their subjects, as it were, and patronizingly critique them and make themselves look good in the process. What I do want to do is focus on the issues you raise and the ideas you affirm and your current activities within the context of the events and circumstances of your life, and to present it as objectively as I can. Whatever else comes through, I want who you are and what you are and where you have come from put out there for readers straight and true. I am not interested in exposés or inside journalism.
I am interested in where this culture and society is heading and how we live our individual lives, and what you and what you represent have to do with that.22
Pierce wrote back:
Your idea is an intriguing one. I am not convinced that the things I have accomplished to date merit a biography – although I always am trying to acquire more merit. From a practical point of view, if you succeed in getting a biography of me published and it is not a hatchet job, it should be helpful. Although you might be subject to pressure from your publisher to produce a book fitting a certain stereotype of me and my message. Anyway, it is a project that I am willing to discuss with you.23
I wrote back to Pierce that I wasn’t planning on writing a full-scale, detailed biography, bringing in multiple sources and perspectives and all. Rather, I was thinking of something akin to what goes on between a subject posing for a portrait and an artist. That is to say, the book would essentially be about him and me: the way he presents himself to me and the way I make sense of and render that presentation. I said I wanted to hear him talk about his life growing up and what he has done as an adult. I wanted to learn about the circumstances in society and the people and experiences and ideas that have had an impact on him. I wanted to become familiar with the books that have made a difference to him – I’d read them if I haven’t – and see if I can learn why they affected him as they did. I wanted to look at how his public life and private life have affected one another. I wanted to do those things in order to paint a picture of him, so to speak. So a portrait would be a more accurate way of referring to what I had in mind than a biography.
And, really, I said in the letter, I am not setting out to do a hatchet job on you. I am not intending to write a judgmental book; rather, I want to be a vehicle that will allow readers the chance to get a good look at you and to decide for themselves what they see. I told Pierce I would stay away from slanting or channeling people’s impression of him by tacking negative labels on him – neo-Nazi, anti-Semite, bigot, hater. However, he had to understand that after hearing what he has to say and reviewing what he has done with his life, readers may well decide that, indeed, those labels suit him. And as for publishers pushing me to fit him into a certain stereotype – he had mentioned that possibility – I told him that I was not going to bend reality for anybody.
I told Pierce that I wanted to meet him in person and talk more about this project and see if it seemed as if the two of us could work together. I said I thought a couple of hours with one another should give us a good sense of whether we ought to keep exploring this idea. Pierce said that was all right with him, and I went to see him in West Virginia. This was in the fall of 1997. We talked for two hours in the afternoon at his office in the National Alliance headquarters building on his three hundred forty-six acre plot of land. Basically, we got acquainted. He asked me about what things were like at the university where I am on the faculty, and we talked about university politics for a time. I thought the session went well. Pierce seemed open and unthreatened – I had expected more wariness, which would have been understandable – and he was congenial and expansive. At the end of that first meeting, we decided that I should come back and spend a full workday at the property.
A couple of months later – this was early 1998 – I came back and Pierce and I ended up talking for seven hours straight. Rapport was building between the two of us and, I believe, his trust in me and belief that I brought an adequate amount of competence and commitment to this book-writing endeavor. I took notes during our lengthy conversation and wrote down my recollections and impressions afterward, but I found that I missed much of what Pierce had said. I made a vow that from then on I would have a tape recorder with me. At the end of the day, Pierce invited me to stay for dinner with him and his wife Irena, so I got to meet her and see the trailer they share about five hundred yards up the mountain from the headquarters building.
About a month later, I came back for a weekend. At that point, I proposed that I spend a month during the summer at the property working on the book. I told Pierce that I wanted to conduct a series of taped interviews with him during that time. I said that three two-hour sessions per week should suffice. Plus, I wanted to go over materials – books, tapes, letters, papers, and so on. And I wanted to just generally absorb what was happening on the property and get a feel for the place and the people who lived there. Pierce said that was fine, and I spent from mid-June to mid-July of 1998 there living with one of Pierce’s assistants, a former business professor by the name of Bob DeMarais. Since that time, I have stayed in contact with Pierce. In November of 1999, I spent four days with him in Munich, Germany, where he had traveled to give a speech at a rally of the National Democratic Party. I think through all of this I have come to know him very well.
I have asked myself why Pierce agreed to go forward with the book project, and indeed he has been most cooperative. I have decided that the main reason Pierce has gone along with this book is that he thinks this is a chance to become known by a mainstream audience. He is convinced that to the extent he hasn’t been ignored he and his ideas have been twisted to serve the purposes of those who oppose him. Also, I think the fact that I am a university professor appeals to him. He has expressed frustration to me that the academic community pays no attention to him. I believe he hopes that something I will write will reach university people, both faculty and students, and contribute to him and his message being considered more seriously by that segment of society. And too, I believe the fact that I am an academic helps in another regard. Pierce was once a physics professor, and he and I have compatible personal styles. I am bookish and get caught up with ideas, and he is the same way. Simply, we relate well, and I think there is a personal payoff for him in a relationship with someone like me. And last, I believe I serve the need he has for someone to talk to about his life. It is a rewarding experience for just about all of us to have a listener who is truly interested in what it was like for us as a child, what happened when we were just starting out in our career, how we look at things today, and so on. It is rewarding to have someone who truly wants to hear more from us and doesn’t make judgments or bring the subject around to themselves. As the days and weeks went along, I noticed that Pierce seemed to look forward to our sessions, which were from 7:00 to 9:00 in the evenings after his long workday. It was at his suggestion that we talk consecutive evenings rather than the three times a week I originally had in mind.
As for what I wanted to get out of my contact with Pierce, I was looking for a way to deal with American culture and society in an overall, integrated way, and in an accessible and interesting way, and Pierce seemed to me to be a good vehicle for doing that. Pierce is concerned with it all and how everything fits together – history, philosophy, politics, economics, the media, education, men-women identities and relationships, childraising practices, and approaches to leisure – and that offered me the broad canvas, the inclusive frame of reference, I wanted. I didn’t think the fact that Pierce approaches these concerns from a position on the extreme end of the ideological spectrum was a drawback, because one of the ways to make better sense of what is going on at the core of American life, which is what I really want to do, is to contrast it with what is happening on its outermost edge.
A second reason I had for investing time and energy in this project is I thought I could be helpful to others if I were to report what had come out of my experience with Pierce. It is imperative, I believe, that we know the enemy, to put it that way, and I think the consensus view is that no one is a more threatening domestic enemy than is William Pierce. I had been given an opportunity to get close and learn how Pierce thinks and behaves and what accounts for him – how does someone like Pierce come to be? This is a opportunity, I thought, for people to hear from this man in his own words and to look at the world through his eyes. If we are going to deal with people like Pierce, it helps greatly if we understand them.
And a third motivation for me, one that developed as time went along: I find Pierce to be an absolutely fascinating character and his story to be a whale of a tale. And besides Pierce, in the course of putting this book together I came across a number of other fascinating characters, among them, George Lincoln Rockwell, Robert Lloyd, Revilo P. Oliver, Francis Parker Yockey, Savitri Devi, Elizabeth Dilling, Bob Mathews, and William Gayley Simpson. This cast of characters and their world was all new to me, and I have had the treat of a terrific, real-life movie for the year and a half I have been working on this book. I found that that alone has been enough to keep me going.
1 Mark Hamm, Apocalypse in Oklahoma: Waco and Ruby Ridge Revenged (Boston: Northwestern University Press, 1997), pp. 47-48.
2 For the number of deaths, see: Facts on File, May 18, 1995; and Cynthia Magriel Wetzler, “With Love, Oklahoma City,” New York Times, Section 13WC, June 18, 1995, p. 8.
3 “The Blast’s Fallout,” USA Today, August 4, 1998, pp. 1A-2A.
4 The material on McVeigh’s arrest has been drawn from Richard Serrano, One of Ours: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998), pp. 175-179.
5 Hamm, pp. 54-55.
6 Ibid., p.104
7 For the deaths at Waco, see Kathy Fair, et al., “Fire Engulfs Cult Compound,” The Houston Chronicle, April 19, 1993, p.1A.
8 Kenneth Stern, A Force on the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), p. 16.
9 The account of the search of the envelope is drawn from Richard Serrano, One of Ours: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998), pp. 217-220.
10 For a discussion of the phenomenon of modeling one’s life from fiction, see Jay Martin, Who Am I This Time? (New York: Norton, 1988).
11 See Stern, p. 118. Also, Anti-Defamation League, Explosion of Hate: The Growing Danger of the National Alliance, 1998 report, available online at the ADL web-site.
12 Anti-Defamation League.
13 Hamm, p. 198
14 Anti-Defamation League.
15 Hamm, p. 144.
16 Ibid., p.153.
17 Stem, p. 51, 192.
18 Anti-Defamation League
19 Southern Poverty Law Center, “The Alliance and Its Allies,” Intelligence Report, Winter 1999. Available online at SPLCENTER.ORG
22 Personal correspondence, Robert Griffin to William Pierce, July 26, 1997.
23 Personal correspondence, William Pierce to Robert Griffin, August 4, 1997.