William Luther Pierce III was born on September 11, 1933, in Atlanta, Georgia. That makes him older than I thought he was. He looks good for his age. His father, William L. Pierce II, was born in Christianburg, Virginia in 1892, so he was forty-one at his son’s birth. Baby William’s mother, Marguerite Pierce – born Marguerite Ferrell in Richland, Georgia – was twenty-three. Pierce describes his mother as “a homemaker who dabbled in poetry and art.” She is still alive, living in a nursing home and suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. William senior owned and operated an insurance agency, which kept him on the road much of the time. He was hit by a car and killed in 1942 when young William was eight-and-a-half years old.
The Pierce family was completed when a son, Sanders, was born three years after William in 1936. Sanders works as a consulting engineer in the Midwest. Sanders and his wife attended a conference Pierce held for members of his organization, the National Alliance, at the property while I was there. I had the impression that the conference was an occasion for Sanders to pay a visit to his brother and that he wasn’t there for the conference business. Politics didn’t come up in the conversation, at least when I was around him, and I didn’t see him interact with the conference participants. Sanders is tall, 6’2” or so, blue-eyed, wears military-style glasses, and has short, well-kept gray hair. He is quite striking in appearance, a handsome older man. In manner, Sanders struck me as quiet, reserved, and formal; perhaps the word distant applies. He has the same halting speech pattern his brother has. I was surprised to learn that Sanders is Pierce’s younger brother by three years. In appearance and bearing I would have guessed that he was three to five years older. I couldn’t hear what the two brothers, both tall and big-boned, said as they huddled together for five minutes or so when Sanders was about to depart the conference, but my impression was that they are cordial but not terribly close. In all the time Pierce and I talked, Sanders’ name never came up. When we discussed his childhood, and his later years as well, it was as if Pierce were an only child.
Pierce’s father moved his insurance business from Atlanta to Virginia when Pierce was four. Pierce was sick with “childhood diseases” – he didn’t elaborate – and missed school the first year. He attended the Norfolk, Virginia public schools until his father was killed, and then his mother moved the family to Montgomery, Alabama, where she had grown up. From that point on, money was tight Pierce told me, although his father, as might be expected being in the insurance business, did leave them some insurance money.
While in Montgomery the Pierces lived with a relative, a man named Gaston Scott, who was the State Highway Commissioner in Alabama. Pierce describes Scott as “a tough son of a bitch to live with.” Pierce remembers Scott having a black convict who in effect was his slave, serving as a valet and cook for him. Pierce, his mother, and brother moved to Dallas, Texas a year later, where his mother, who had been able to find work as a secretary, was able to purchase a modest home for the family.
Pierce told me that he was raised “in a normal way for those years.” He was expected to earn his own spending money as soon as he was old enough and he had a newspaper route and took on odd jobs. He was taught self-discipline and to take responsibility for himself. He learned to accept the consequences of what he did or failed to do, and not to expect mom and dad or the government to bail him out if things weren’t right or if he made a mistake.
He said as a kid he learned to do things that he didn’t want to do but that nevertheless needed to be done. “I remember after my father died, this was during the war and my mother was making about twenty-five dollars a week working as a secretary, and things were a little tough. My mother expected me to do my part, and so I got that newspaper route. Now, I really didn’t like that route. I had to get up at three o’clock in the morning, in the winter, in freezing rain, and when the wind was blowing. I really wanted to stay in bed. But I had to get up, get on my bicycle, and ride through a lot of times bitter weather to the corner where I would pick up my bundles of newspapers. I’d fold up the newspapers and stick them in my bag and walk my route and then come back to the house. I did that for three, maybe four years right after my father died. In the summers I did odd jobs – cutting grass, painting fences, and so on – to earn money for my own expenses. At that time I was interested in buying chemicals and test tubes and flasks and electronic stuff, but I didn’t want to be a burden on the family.
“I also had chores to do. Every Saturday, I washed clothes. We didn’t have a washing machine. We had one of those washing boards – it was a wooden contraption – and I washed the clothes with it in the bathtub. I wasn’t a willing worker. I wasn’t interested in any of it. I wanted to read my books and do my hobbies. But I did the work, and as I think back on it, it was a good experience for me. 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.”
Pierce said he always did extremely well in school academically. He skipped a grade in elementary school and achieved top grades in high school. He went to public schools until his last two years of high school, when he attended an all-boys military school in Texas. He describes himself as a smart-alecky student. He did things like correcting the football coach who was teaching his science class on some of the concepts.
A story Pierce read as a boy that made an impression on him may give an indication of Pierce’s conception of himself when he was young, and now as well. It is “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Andersen. The emperor in the Andersen tale marches in a public procession stark naked, but nobody along the street acknowledges what should be an obvious and startling fact. Rather, they say, “How incomparable are the Emperor’s new clothes!” and go on about how well they fit and so on. Finally things are brought to a screeching halt when a little child cries out, “But he has nothing on!”1
During the time I was in West Virginia, Pierce brought this Andersen story into our conversations several times with reference to whatever it was we were talking about, some political or social issue. I asked him what the story meant to him. He said it represented a kind of childish innocence. The child saw this amazing thing, and he didn’t realize that he wasn’t supposed to say anything about it. Pierce speculated that this child had a weaker social instinct than others. He didn’t have the same pull to do and say what he was supposed to or that was acceptable. He was more independent, more prone to make up his own mind about reality, more likely to question things. This child was less bound by the idea of “when in Rome” and less hesitant to be dissident. When Pierce was describing the child I believe he was describing himself. I think he sees himself now as an adult crying out: “Look at what is happening! Don’t you see?”
Pierce said that when he was an adolescent he wasn’t a very social person and lacked social graces. He didn’t socialize much. He had a few friends who shared his science interests and that was about it. He never ran for class officer or anything like that. As for girls, he was interested in them but felt very awkward around them. He said he wasn’t philosophical or political at all then. He didn’t think about social problems in those years.
As a teenager, Pierce was mainly interested in science: building model rockets and radios and reading science fiction. He immersed himself in magazines such as Popular Science and Popular Mechanics. “Those science-type hobbyist magazines,” he told me, “were full of mechanical and electronic gadgetry of every sort you can imagine. They had how-to-do-it stuff: how to get by if you don’t have the recommended ingredients, here’s a substitute that will work just as well, and so on. They had instructions on how to build snares for survival trapping – every sort of thing you can imagine. I notice that the magazines kids read these days are more verbal and less action-oriented than the kinds of things I read when I was a kid. Now kids read more science fiction and fantasy writing, and that is OK, I did a lot of that myself, but in general it seems the things they read now push them to be more vicarious and passive than the kinds of things I read back then. There’s a guy in Arkansas by the name of Kurt Saxon – that’s a pseudonym – who used to publish a magazine called Survivor, and I noticed that virtually all his material was facsimiles of those old Popular Mechanics and Popular Science magazines from back in the ‘40s. Sometimes he would write a brief introduction. I do think there has been a change in the way kids approach the world, or at least a lot of them. They are playing video games and watching television instead of building things and getting outside and dealing with nature.”
Pierce says his mother had a bigger influence on him than his father had; his father was away on business so much and died when he was so young. Pierce describes his mother’s ancestors as members of the aristocracy of the old South. Her great-grandfather was governor of Alabama and Attorney General of the Confederacy during the Civil War. After the war, the family lost their genteel status and lived a working-class existence. Her mother – Pierce’s grandmother – Marion Watts, was a schoolteacher who married an “Irish rake” who left her when Pierce’s mother was quite young. She then married a boarder at their home, whom Pierce describes as a Jew who had moved to Montgomery from New York City. Pierce’s mother found her stepfather obnoxious and detested him, and felt betrayed when her mother married him. Pierce’s mother saw him as pushing the family even further outside the pale of upper-tier white society.
I asked Pierce whether he thought that his mother’s disdain and resentment toward her Jewish stepfather to any degree accounts for his own animosity toward Jews. He said he didn’t think so because his mother hadn’t told him how much she detested this man until eight years ago from her nursing home bed.
Pierce’s mother was driven to improve her circumstances once she got out on her own. She was interested in graphic arts and wanted to go to art school. But there wasn’t the money for it, so she was clerking in a store when she met Pierce’s father. She always regretted not becoming an artist, poet, or novelist, Pierce said. Pierce remembers her painting the tops of card tables when he was a child. Pierce describes his mother as “competent” in the arts and writing, only that. He showed me some of her drawings. I considered them to be more than competent. In fact, I found them to be really quite good. As I looked at the drawings seated in a chair as Pierce stood above me, I pictured this very old woman in a nursing home and I became sad at the thought that she wasn’t able to pursue her passion when she was young and able.
In contrast to his more intense and hard-driving mother, Pierce’s father was more easy-going. Pierce said that although he never had a close relationship with his father, he didn’t consider it a bad relationship and he didn’t feel any resentment or sense of abandonment about his father being gone so much with his work or dying so soon.
Although Pierce’s father was more casual about things than his mother, he did have an adventurous streak. Before Pierce was born, he served on an ocean-going cargo ship and survived a mutiny by a gang of mestizos and Hispanics. He wrote a chapter in a book about the incident, and Pierce read it as a teenager.
The book, entitled Ocean Tramps, is made up of the first-person accounts of the adventures of supercargoes, as they were called.2 Supercargoes were government representatives who advised and assisted the masters of steamships and sent reports of ships’ operations back to the Shipping Board in Washington. Pierce’s father’s contribution to the Ocean Tramps collection is called “Incommunicado.” It recounts the tale of an uprising by the ship’s engine crew – “a gang of Chileans and Mexicans” – while the boat was docked in Uruguay. Pierce senior describes them as “dark mulattos with long scars across their faces.” Eventually, Uruguayan marines rush on board the ship and arrest the engine crew, but not before Pierce’s father had killed two of them in a gun battle.
I asked Pierce what reading the story had meant to him. He replied, rather tersely I thought, that he had identified with the kind of life described in his father’s account, and that like his father he is drawn to adventure. He didn’t seem to want to say anything about his father beyond that, so I dropped it there.
Pierce’s military school experience his last two years of high school had a big impact on him. “Allen Military Academy in Bryan, Texas was not a really first-class school, the kind with chandeliers and fine furniture and traditions that go back a hundred years and all that. I’m sure the boys who went to the elite boarding schools in New England had a different experience from the one I had. But then again maybe the interpersonal dynamics were pretty much the same. Did you see the film Scent of a Woman with Al Pacino? It was centered in a high class boarding school for rich boys in New England, and I recognized the same interpersonal dynamics I remember from Allen Academy.”
Pierce’s reference to Scent of a Woman reminded me of a film I had seen, White Squall with Jeff Bridges, which was about some boys from advantaged backgrounds who had gone out on a boat on the ocean to learn sailing and had had a life-altering experience. I mentioned the film to Pierce, and he immediately took out some catalogs he uses to rent or buy films, I’m not sure which, and looked in them to see whether White Squall was listed. I was struck by his immediate interest and response to my brief description of the film. This kind of thing happened later on with books I had read, people that I had come across, and so on. Pierce is extremely curious about the world.
After Pierce found that indeed the film was listed in the second catalog he consulted and indicated to me that he would order it, he continued to tell me about his military school experience. “I was a sort of nerdy kid without social skills,” he said. “I really hadn’t had much experience with people. I was interested mostly in ideas, my chemistry experiments, radios and electronics, reading science fiction, and becoming an astronaut someday. I was very naive about people. And suddenly there I am in military school crammed in with a whole bunch of guys. It was like Lord of the Flies: the old social rules and restrictions were gone. I lived in a dormitory, and it was sort of like the warden of a prison takes the key and goes home for the night and it is up to you to survive.
“I was in there with pretty much a cross-section of people. Some of the guys I went to school with were very fine, intelligent, and sensitive people whom I kept in touch with after I graduated. And there were a lot of ordinary guys, and there were some real losers and nasty s.o.b.’s in that place. Some of the boys’ parents couldn’t deal with them, so the parents sent them to this school. There were kids in there because they had gotten into trouble with the law and their parents had convinced a judge to send them to this military school instead of locking them up.
“I like privacy and quiet and just a few friendly people around me, and military school for sure wasn’t that. But looking back on it, I can see that it was a valuable educational experience for me. It was a crash course in human nature. I learned about the various types of people, what they are really like, and how to size them up. I saw that there are vast innate differences in people, that basic distinctions in human quality are simply a fact of life. I improved my ability to understand and judge people while I was in military school. I got so that I could recognize certain signs in people, certain traits, and evaluate them on the basis of those signs. And I learned something about survival. I learned to take care of myself emotionally and psychologically. I became generally stronger and more independent.
“I traveled around selling books the summer after my first year at Allen Academy, and that got me out with new people and situations. One of the guys I went to military school with sold books for an outfit in Nashville, and he persuaded me that it was a good way to make money. So I did it with him and another guy from school. We went door-to-door selling bibles, cookbooks, children’s bible readers, one-volume encyclopedias, that kind of thing. In fact, the first place we were sent was just north of here, Elkins, West Virginia.”
“It sounds as if being on your own in military school was a maturing experience for you.”
“Yes, I think it was, and I think the maturity level of young people is a particular issue these days. One of the most debilitating aspects of our society in recent times is the fact that kids wait too long to get out on their own – to take on any responsibilities, to take any real chances. You read old stories, and a young person fourteen years old or so leaves his family and village and sets out in the world to earn his fortune. He’s on his own. That kind of thing doesn’t happen anymore. In the past, a boy in his teens was expected to make adult decisions about things and be responsible for his actions and pull his own weight. I’m particularly taken by the number of soft, whiny, ineffectual young men around these days, especially in universities, and by how many people are in their thirties and still living at home with their parents. That’s destructive.”
“Did your time in the military school shape your ideological or political outlook?”
“No, it was more a lesson in human nature. I didn’t start to form my ideological or political views until I was in graduate school, and then things escalated in that direction after I got my Ph.D. and during my time on the faculty in physics at Oregon State University. I did change my religious perspective while I was in military school, however. At least in a negative sense I did – I stopped being a Christian. I had had a Presbyterian background growing up. Especially from fourteen to sixteen, those years, I saw myself as a Christian. Christianity had provided me with answers, it had been my frame of reference.
“In military school they made us go to church. You could go to whatever denomination you wanted to, but you had to go. I tried out a few of them. I found the Baptist service to be dry and unconvincing, but I liked the Catholics because they put on a colorful show. They have practiced it for a thousand years and more and they have it down pat. It really impressed me, which I guess is what it was designed to do, impress the clientele. I found the Catholic priest to be inaccessible, though.
“On the other hand, I could relate well with the Episcopal priest, a roly-poly German fellow named Father Schwerdtfager. Every Sunday after the service I would go to his office and put him through the wringer. I’d ask him all sorts of questions about religious doctrine and so forth – how do we know this is so? do we have any evidence that this is so besides what this person wrote down? those kinds of questions. I wasn’t trying to be a smart-ass, give him a hard time or anything. I really wanted to know. Father Schwerdtfager tried very hard to keep me in the fold: he talked about faith and so on. But it didn’t work. I came to realize during our talks that Christianity wasn’t for me. I completely dropped out by the time I was seventeen or so. Unintentionally, Father Schwerdtfager helped me gain an early emancipation from Christianity.”
Pierce talked about the first summer after graduating from military school. “My feeling toward the world, my outlook, changed after I graduated from military school and was getting set to go off to the university. I worked in the oil field that summer as a roustabout. I dropped a four-inch pipe on my hand, injuring it. That knocked me out of that job, and I spent the rest of the summer working at a shoe store as a salesman. As I look back on it, I can see that that summer was a big transition for me. I don’t know how many other kids experience this, but you’ve been to school for twelve years, you have been a minor, subject to other people, and then you graduate and you feel like you are in a different world. You are your own person and you are going out in the world now, and you’ve got much more responsibility for yourself than you had in the past when you were in school. You’ve got to make more decisions. I remember I had this feeling, ‘Boy, I’m becoming an adult.’ It must be the way it is in Indian tribes after they go through the rites of passage.”
After graduation from military school in 1951, Pierce entered Rice University in Houston, Texas on a full academic scholarship. He majored in physics at Rice and graduated with a bachelors degree in that field in 1955. He was helped along financially by the insurance his father had taken out before he died in the traffic accident. From that policy Pierce received a check of $117 every month until his twenty-first birthday. In those years, that was enough to pay for his lodging and expenses.
Pierce told me that college students of his day were different from the way they are today. Back then, he said, college students were expected to act like adults. Now they are more childish and immature. There is a softness about today’s university students. Pierce pointed out to me that in the nineteenth century Harvard students mastered Latin and Greek so that they could write verse in those languages. You don’t find that level of study and discipline these days, he said. There has been a “degenerative change,” as he puts it, in both the students and the schools they attend.
While at Rice, Pierce became very interested in outer space. He studied the 1920s and ‘30s work of the German pioneer of rocket flight, Herman Oberth. Oberth solved many of the theoretical problems involved in using rocket propulsion for interplanetary travel. Oberth’s best-known book is Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen (The Rocket into Interplanetary Space), which Pierce read in German. Pierce has corresponded with Oberth’s son in California and did some editing of a book Oberth wrote after World War II.
Pierce realized that an American space program was coming, and he wanted to be part of it. He thought that becoming an Air Force pilot would be a good background to have to get into the space program when it got started. He knew that you had to be a university graduate to become a pilot, so he thought he would finish his degree at Rice and then go into the Air Force. Perhaps there was some way he could get involved with the Air Force while he was still attending Rice. He went to the Air Force recruiting office to check into the possibilities. The news wasn’t good. He was told that he couldn’t become a pilot with his poor vision, and besides that he was too tall at 6’4”. So he dropped that idea. He did eventually pilot his own plane, but his dream of soaring into outer space was never to be realized.
Pierce regrets that he didn’t give more time to studying the humanities while he was at Rice. One day I was with him when he was trying to come up with a quote from literature – a line from a poem perhaps – to use in making a point in one of his weekly radio broadcasts. “Let’s see, there’s Sir Walter Scott,” he said both to himself and me. “‘Breathes there a man with soul so dead that he has no place he can call his native home’ – or something like that. No, that isn’t really what I’m trying to evoke exactly. It’s close, but it isn’t really it. You know, when I had the chance to become educated” – now he was looking directly at me – “to become a cultured person, I blew it. When I was an undergraduate I took only the mandatory courses in English and history. It is not that I totally wasted my time, I’m not saying that. I mean, I had mathematics and physics courses to take. But I could have learned so much more if I had realized then the importance of these other things. If I had only paid more attention instead of going out with the boys and seeing how much beer I could drink. If I had only stayed home and read more.”
“When I was growing up,” Pierce told me, “I lived in a white America. When I went downtown to the big department stores and office buildings and so on, the faces were white. And that wasn’t just true in the places I grew up. It was the same thing in New York City or Los Angeles. For instance, in Los Angeles today, the infrastructure was been taken over by mestizos. The people who do the manual labor and much of the clerical work, and all of the waitresses and waiters and taxi drivers and bus drivers and garbage collectors and street repair crews – they are all Mexicans. How can you convey what it was like then to someone who was born in the mid-’60s and would be now in his mid-thirties. It would have been around 1975 before he would have noticed very much about what was happening around him, and by that time things had already begun to change greatly. I’ve even suggested to younger people that they go to the library and look at an issue of Life magazine from the ‘40s. I tell them to look at the group scenes – on the streets, or at sports events, or at political rallies, and so on. You don’t see minorities.
“When I was at Rice as an undergraduate, there were a few Jews who stuck to themselves, but everybody else was white. There was a sense of fraternity among us. I’m not talking about the football, rah-rah, our-team-win sort of thing. I mean, if you were a Rice man, that was something special. It made a difference while you were in school and later on in life. That kind of feeling is virtually gone today, even in the best universities. Now it is every man for himself. Society – white society anyway – has been atomized. Not completely, but the trend is clear to someone like me who is old enough to have lived through the change.
“We have a substantially different type of society now compared to before, and people’s attitudes toward society, their connections to it, their relationship to it, have changed. I’ve tried in what I have been saying and writing these last few years to get that point across. I have tried to convey to people what you lose when you lose the racial basis – the blood basis – for a society. I’m trying to do that without looking like just some kind of a nostalgia freak. I realize you can’t go back to the past. But we certainly can study the past to see what was good and bad and then be guided by what we learn when we design the future – that is, to the extent we are willing and able to design it.”
After graduation from Rice, Pierce spent a few months working at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, in New Mexico, where he was a member of a team attempting to develop controlled nuclear fusion. He then continued on to graduate studies at the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena. After a year at Caltech, Pierce accepted a position at the nearby Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where much of America’s interplanetary exploration program was developed, and worked in the area of rocket instrumentation. After fifteen months at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory he resumed his graduate studies at the University of Colorado, in Boulder, where he received first a master’s degree and then, in 1962, a doctorate in physics. All the way through his Colorado years he was awarded teaching and research assistantships, which covered his tuition and living expenses.
I asked Pierce to write out the topic of his doctoral study: “My doctoral research was on nuclear magnetic dipole and electric quadrupole interactions in a GaAs crystal. What that means is that I studied certain types of magnetic and electrical interactions between the nuclei of the various isotopes of gallium and arsenic in a gallium arsenide crystal with externally applied magnetic and electrical fields. With the extremely sensitive equipment I designed and built, I could ‘shock’ the atomic nuclei in a crystal into an ‘excited’ state and then watch them ‘decay’ to their ‘ground state’ by looking at the very weak radio-frequency signal the nuclei emitted while decaying. With this technique, one can learn many things about crystal structure and about the electrical and magnetic properties of the atomic nuclei in a crystal. Gallium arsenide is a material much used in modern semiconductor devices.”
In 1962, it was on to Oregon State University to become an assistant professor of physics. Things must have gone well for Pierce at OSU, because he was promoted to associate professor and granted tenure in the space of only three years. In the university system’s professorial hierarchy, there is just one more step up from associate professor, and that is full professor. Tenure is permanent status as a faculty member. For all practical purposes, tenure means job security for life. Things were happening fast for Pierce, for it is typical for a new faculty member to take six years to achieve associate professor and tenured status. That is, if the individual achieves it at all; the initial years of an academic career are a probationary period during which a new faculty member’s capability and productivity are assessed by other faculty and administrators. Many people don’t ever make that step up to associate professor or become tenured faculty members. They are denied promotion and tenure and replaced by new people who embark on the same climb. Pierce had made it to the peak, so to speak, and he did it by the age of thirty-two. If he had chosen to do so, he could have remained a university professor – a highly sought-after position – and lived the comfortable life of a tenured senior faculty member for the rest of his life. Of course, he didn’t choose to do that.
While at Caltech, Pierce met an undergraduate student by the name of Patricia Jones and fell in love. He and Patricia were married in California in 1957 when Pierce was at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Patricia’s field was mathematics. She received a master’s degree in mathematics at Oregon State after she and Pierce moved to Oregon when he joined the OSU faculty. When the Pierces moved to Connecticut in 1965, Patricia taught math to General Dynamics employees. Pierce had decided to leave the faculty at Oregon State to take a job as a senior research scientist at Pratt & Whitney Advanced Materials Research and Development Laboratory in North Haven, Connecticut. He told me that the money was better at Pratt & Whitney and that he wanted to finance the writing he planned to do – at this point he had a book in mind – in the areas of culture and politics, which had come to take a central place in his life. He said he realized that the direction his thinking was taking him would in all likelihood rule out conventional publishing outlets and that he needed to get himself into a position to be able to finance the publication and distribution of his writings himself. For that he would need more money than he was making at Oregon State. People with his science background could make two or three times more in private industry than what universities were paying at that time.
The Pierces spent a year in Connecticut and then moved to the Washington, D.C. area when Pierce left the field of science to take up the race-centered work that he has pursued ever since. Patricia joined the math faculty at Mary Washington University in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Pierce’s marriage ended in divorce in 1982 after twenty-five years.
Pierce’s twin sons, Kelvin and Erik, his only children, were born in 1962. Kelvin is an aerospace engineer and building contractor. Kelvin’s wife is an architect. Erik earned a degree in music but then switched over to the field of computer science. He now heads a team of computer programmers. Kelvin is an avid hang-glider. Pierce has very little contact with his sons. He mentioned seeing Kelvin a couple of years ago when Kelvin came to visit in West Virginia. He never talked about his children when I was with him. Pierce wasn’t expansive when discussing that first family and obviously wants to keep this part of his life private, so I didn’t press him on it. I know that he has one grandchild and that Patricia has remarried, but that is all I know.
There have been four marriages for Pierce since his divorce from Patricia. Pierce is very self-conscious about his five marriages. When I asked him to tell me the dates of his marriages and to say a bit about each of the women he married, he looked distressed and said, “You aren’t going to go into all my marriages are you?” I said that the book I had in mind was primarily about his ideas and public life but that it was also about him and the interplay of the public and the personal, and that his marriages were a part of that. He was silent a second or two and then went down the list.
First, there was his marriage to Elizabeth Prostel in 1982, the same year of his divorce from Patricia. Pierce describes Elizabeth as a woman who worked in the National Alliance office he had set up in Arlington, Virginia just outside Washington. This marriage lasted for three years, breaking up when Pierce moved his operations to West Virginia. Pierce told me that Elizabeth balked at moving to “such a wild area, with no running water and so on.”
After his divorce from Elizabeth, Pierce started “playing the personals columns.” He said he put ads in Washington, D.C.-area publications and would travel the two hundred miles from West Virginia to meet the women he would contact in this way. One of the women he met in this fashion was newly-arrived to this country from Hungary. Her name was Olga Skerlecz. Olga lived in Connecticut, and Pierce drove there to meet her. Olga was a musician is related to Baron Ivan Skerlecz, a prominent Hungarian political figure in the early part of this century who at one point was Banus (governor) of Croatia.3 Pierce and Olga hit it off, and they were married in 1986. This marriage – number three – lasted until 1990. Olga left Pierce and West Virginia for “greener pastures in California.” Pierce says he doesn’t know where Olga is now.
Since Olga departed, there have been two more Eastern European wives. Pierce is attracted to Eastern European women. They are more feminine than American women, he says. They don’t see it as demeaning to assume what he calls the woman’s role in marriage, which is homemaker. They don’t look down at the idea of trying to please a man. He says he finds them warmer and less neurotic than the women he dated after the breakup of his first marriage. Pierce says American women by and large are too spoiled, too soft. They have inflated material expectations and they don’t take to frugality, and they can’t deal with sacrifice and hardship well enough.
Wife number four was, like Olga, Hungarian. Her first name was Zsuzsannah – Sue for short. Pierce says he can’t remember her last name. He and Sue were married in early 1991, less than a year after his marriage with Olga ended. Pierce wastes no time between marriages. A video of Sue and Pierce together from early 1996 shows her to be a stunningly attractive, slim, dark-haired woman in her early- to mid-thirties.
Pierce told me he met Sue through an ad he placed in a Hungarian women’s magazine. He was very impressed with both the number and the caliber of people who answered his ad. There were university professors and medical doctors and engineers, Pierce noted. And these were attractive women too, he said. Sue had been a teacher in a technical high school before she came to this country to be with Pierce.
Sue left for Florida in mid-1996 and has remarried. Pierce said that she finally got fed up with living in a broken-down mobile home and with the seventeen-year-old car he was driving. (It has since been replaced by a late-model white Chevrolet Blazer donated by a National Alliance member.)
And now there is Irena, who is also Eastern European, although not Hungarian like Olga and Sue. I assume Pierce met her in the same way he met Sue, through an ad in a European publication. Irena came to West Virginia in mid-1997, and a month later she and Pierce were married. Pierce told me that Irena had been married for seventeen years to an actor in her native country who primarily did stage work. Irena had worked as an art teacher for twenty-five years before she came to this country. Her unframed watercolors are tacked up around the Pierces’ mobile home, and she has painted designs on its windows. She mentioned to me that “Bill” (I was always taken by Irena’s reference to Pierce as “Bill”; it was the only times I have ever heard him referred to as anything but “Dr. Pierce”) doesn’t want her to teach art in this country or attempt to sell her pictures here. He wants her to concentrate on her domestic responsibilities.
Irena spends her days alone at the trailer with three of Pierce’s cats. They are relatives of Hadley, I guess; Pierce explained the lineage, but it got by me. I don’t think Pierce relates much if at all to the three cats – Hadley is the one for him. I had the sense that Irena is not enamored of the cats and grudgingly endures them. Irena says she would like a television set in the trailer to watch the shows and to help her with her English. Pierce said he doesn’t want to have a set there because Irena would just sit around all day watching it.
Pierce comes back for dinner at 5:30 every evening and then goes back to the office at 6:30 to watch the NBC news and work. The times I ate with the two of them, Irena prepared elaborate and hearty meals complete with desserts. She said people in her country take time with meals. They don’t throw things together as she imagines most Americans do. I was taken by the fact that a glass of sugary Coke accompanied every meal at the Pierces’. It seemed incongruous somehow. I never asked about it. I suppose Pierce wants it. As I think back on it, I can’t remember whether Irena drank the Coke or not. The dinner table in the Pierce’s low-ceilinged trailer has a lace tablecloth. Irena expressed concern that the cats had torn it.
Irena showed me pictures of her art students back in her native country, who looked to me to be between the ages of seven and twelve. She said that she misses them very much and that they have sent her letters, a gesture that meant so much to her. She also showed me photos of her family and spoke of how close she is to a grown niece, an aspiring actress who looked to me to be in her mid-twenties. Irena has no children of her own. She showed me a picture of where she lived before she came to this country. It was in the second floor of her parents’ home. She occupied half and her brother had the other half. From the outside, her former home looked to be a large-enough and well-kept-up place. It was quite nice, actually.
Irena played me some recorded traditional music from her country. I was taken by the fact that one of the songs was the melody of a hit song called “Hernando’s Hideaway” from a Broadway musical of years ago. Evidently the composers of the Broadway score had, shall we say, adopted the traditional melody of this Eastern European country and used it for their own purposes. I noted that fact to Irena, but with her limited English she had difficulty understanding me and Pierce, in English – I assume he doesn’t speak her native language – attempted to explain to her what I was trying to say. I’m not sure she ever quite got my point.
Irena had not been back to her home country since she had come to the United States to marry Pierce, a little over a year at the time I was there in the summer. I asked her whether she planned any visits to see her family, but, if I understood her reply accurately, her status in the United States – she didn’t as yet have a green card – did not permit it. Several times, I heard her express concern to Pierce about whether she was “legal” and would be able to stay in this country. While I was in West Virginia, Pierce drove her to the town of Elkins, about ninety miles away, to complete some paperwork around her status in this country. I had always assumed that if someone married an American citizen they automatically became a citizen, but that evidently isn’t the case.
Just about the only time Irena gets out is for trips to Hillsboro with Pierce in the Blazer to get the mail. He calls her on an intercom to let her know that it is time to leave and she walks down the mountain to meet him. She is very concerned about security and always takes her pistol along on the ride. As far as I know, Irena doesn’t drive. The only other times she was off the property that I knew about the month I was there was for the resident status paperwork and when Pierce drove her to Elkins for new glasses. Pierce told me that on Sundays Irena wants to go to the town of Lewisburg, about forty miles away, to shop and see a film, and that he sees it as an imposition on his work but that sometimes he takes the time to go. However, I didn’t notice them do that while I was there.
After my first dinner at the Pierces’, Irena said to me as I was leaving, “Thank you so much for coming. I am so lonely.” Pierce was standing close and heard that, and I assume it made him uncomfortable. He is a very formal and private man, and my impression is that it is important to him to maintain appearances.
As for the relationship between the two of them, Pierce is somewhat sharp and condescending to Irena at times and removed at other times. But then again there is affection between the two of them and playfulness. He’s sort of mock gruff, and she’s light and teasing, and they have fun. Pierce is very protective of Irena. From Pierce’s side I imagine that he feels cut off at times. Irena doesn’t strike me as a political person, and she really can’t respond or contribute to his ideas or projects. In fact Irena’s limited English makes it difficult as a practical matter to have an in-depth conversation with her about anything.
Pierce told me that he can’t live alone. He needs a woman’s warmth, sympathy, and softness, he told me. He said he will do combat in the world but he needs to come home to a woman. He told me how lonely he was in West Virginia before Olga came and then again when she left and before Sue came, and then again when Sue left.
There is one other very important being in Pierce’s life: Hadley the cat. Pierce dotes on Hadley. Pierce told me the story of getting Hadley seven years ago.
“Since the National Alliance started,” Pierce told me, “I’ve always had a bluepoint male Siamese. When I met Hadley he was six-and-a-half weeks old. I went to a Siamese kitten-breeding facility in Richmond [Virginia]. It is not a nice thing that the breeders are kept in cages and that they spend their lives there. That’s not a normal life for them at all. I told the woman who ran the facility that I wanted a bluepoint male. She went to the back room and came back with Hadley. Here, let me show you a picture.”
Pierce handed me a snapshot of a hand – I guess it was his – holding a tiny kitten. I looked at the picture for a moment and handed it back to him.
“Hadley and I hit it off right away. He climbed all over me, sniffed everything and checked me out and decided I was OK and went to sleep in my lap while I was talking to the woman. So I paid two hundred dollars for Hadley, and he went to sleep on my knee driving home from Richmond. Since then we’ve been together all the time. There’s this process of imprinting. To Hadley, I am his family. Cats are social animals, and Siamese in particular bond very strongly to people. And it works both ways. I appreciate Hadley. I like to watch him. To me, he’s a beautiful, graceful work of art. He’s a perfect piece of nature. Hadley appreciates me, not only because I feed him and take care of him, but because he needs the social contact I provide for him. And I think I need that contact too.
“Here are some more pictures. This is Hadley as a big boy. Hadley was neutered at the age of two because that’s the only way that one can live with a male cat unless you let him outdoors, and I didn’t want Hadley going out.”
1 Hans Christian Andersen, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” in Wonder Stories Told to Children (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976), p. 238.
2 W. L. Pierce, “Incommunicado,” in Edgar Williams, ed., Ocean Tramps: By Themselves (Baltimore: Norman, Remington, 1926), pp. 103-113.
3 There is information about Baron Skerlecz in Gabor Vermes, Istvan Tisza: The Liberal Vision and Conservative Statecraft of a Magyar Nationalist (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985). See pp. 103, 196, and 315.