William Pierce, America's most important neo-Nazi for some three decades until his death in 2002, was the founder and leader of the National Alliance, a group whose members included terrorists, bank robbers and would-be bombers. Pierce was the movement's fiercest anti-Semitic ideologue and he built the Alliance into a money-making machine through its hate music business, Resistance Records. Pierce was also the author of the race war novel The Turner Diaries. The book has been called "the bible of the racist right," is known to have drawn many into the movement, and was a key inspiration for Timothy McVeigh's 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
In His Own Words
"After the sickness of ‘multiculturalism,' which is destroying America, Britain, and every other Aryan nation in which it is being promoted, has been swept away, we must again have a racially clean area of the earth for the further development of our people. … We will not be deterred by the difficulty or temporary unpleasantness involved, because we realize that it is absolutely necessary for our racial survival."
— "What is the National Alliance?", National Alliance website, undated
"[T]he 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 [World] 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."
— Pierce's final speech, National Alliance leadership conference, April 2002
"If the protagonist learns something or comes to believe in something, if he changes his ideas, the reader tends to do the same thing, he changes too. So what you have is a powerful teaching tool, a persuasive tool."
— Pierce, quoted in a biography of him called Fame of a Dead Man's Deeds, on the power of narrative
William Luther Pierce's bigoted attitudes toward people of color were inculcated at an early age. He was born in Atlanta into an Old South aristocracy that included his mother and her ancestors. His great-grandfather, he has said, was governor of Alabama and attorney general of the Confederacy during the Civil War. According to a fawning biography of Pierce by University of Vermont Professor Robert Griffin, Fame of a Dead Man's Deeds: An Up-Close Portrait of White Nationalist William Pierce, he grew up in a Southern household during segregation with older relatives who treated a black servant like a virtual slave.
Pierce graduated from Houston's Rice University in 1955 with a bachelor's degree in physics. He worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory before attending graduate school, first at Caltech and then at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he earned his Ph.D. in physics in 1962. He taught physics as an assistant professor at Oregon State University from 1962 to 1965. It was during that time that Pierce became concerned by the threat to the white race that he believed was posed by the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, and he joined the John Birch Society, a right-wing group that once accused President Eisenhower, among many others, of being a communist.
The John Birch Society, which generally rejected anti-Semitism, turned out to be too namby-pamby for Pierce. In 1966, he quit a job as a senior research scientist at a Connecticut aerospace firm to join George Lincoln Rockwell's American Nazi Party (1959-67). Upon buying a printing press, Pierce become editor of the party's National Socialist World. After Rockwell was assassinated the following year, Pierce continued to work with the remnants of the group, which by then was renamed the National Socialist White People's Party. In 1968, Pierce became an official of Youth for Wallace, an organization supporting Alabama segregationist and former Gov. George Wallace's bid for the presidency. Willis Carto, already one of America's leading anti-Semitic activists, also joined the Wallace group and in 1970 he and Pierce reconfigured Youth for Wallace into the National Youth Alliance (NYA). But the two men had a major falling out, and each claimed to be the new group's leader. In 1971, Carto accused Pierce of stealing a mailing list belonging to Carto's anti-Semitic Liberty Lobby organization. Pierce had written to those on the mailing list, attacking the Liberty Lobby's leaders, including Carto. Eventually, Pierce won control of the NYA, which was limited to people under age 30 and focused on activities on college and university campuses.
In 1974, Pierce dropped the age limit and reorganized the NYA as the National Alliance (NA), which he would lead until his death in 2002. The NA, which aimed to be a vanguard party capable of leading the "lemmings" comprising the white masses to revolutionary victory, adopted the slogans "Free Men Are Not Equal" and "Equal Men Are Not Free." Effectively a Leninist in terms of tactics, Pierce was not interested in winning his battle through electoral successes. He wanted his vanguard to lead the white masses to power, something that could only come after a period of ethnic cleansing that Pierce referred to as a "temporary unpleasantness," the seizure of state power and creation of all-white nations.
The text that made Pierce famous, however, was his novel of race war, The Turner Diaries, published in 1978 under the pseudonym Andrew MacDonald after first being serialized in the NA publication Attack! The NA boasted that the book was a "Blueprint," a "Handbook for White Victory." Pierce told his seminal story through two years of diary entries by his white supremacist hero, Earl Turner. Turner carries out orders for the Organization, an underground group struggling against the System — an anti-white, anti-gun U.S. government that continually puts more restrictions on its citizens. Using "detonators, timers, igniters and other gadgets" built by Turner, the Organization spawns vicious warfare between blacks, Jews and whites as it takes over the country, city by city. The violence is unforgettably vivid. Turner describes slicing the throat of a Jewish shop owner "from ear to ear," murdering a Washington Post editor with two shotgun blasts, and watching starving blacks barbecue and eat white children. By the novel's end, Turner is working for an elite survivalist group called the Order and plotting a suicide mission — flying a crop-duster plane strapped with a warhead into the Pentagon, the System's last remaining military stronghold. "Two-thirds of the troops around the Pentagon are niggers," Turner writes in his journal, "which should greatly enhance my chances of getting through."
Pierce's novel has inspired many a terrorist. In 1983, the NA's Pacific Northwest leader, Robert Mathews, joined with three other Alliance members and, later, some 20 other people, to create The Order, a white supremacist terrorist group. Based on the group portrayed in The Turner Diaries, Mathews' gang ultimately robbed some $4 million from armored cars. Declaring "War in '84," members of The Order murdered a well-known Jewish talk show host, Alan Berg, in Denver. (The first person on their hit list was Southern Poverty Law Center co-founder Morris Dees. They abandoned that attempt due to high levels of security.) Later that year, Mathews was killed in a shootout with the FBI. Pierce hailed his martyred acolyte, saying Mathews "took us from name-calling to bloodletting."
In 1995, Timothy McVeigh, aided by Army pals Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier, blew up the Oklahoma City federal building, killing 168 people, including 19 children. The day before, according to officials, McVeigh called an NA recorded message line seven times. When McVeigh was arrested, police found excerpts from The Turner Diaries in his car. After the attack, which was patterned on a similar bombing depicted in The Turner Diaries, Pierce predicted, or maybe hoped, that resentment of Jews, minorities and others would lead to terrorism "on a scale the world has never seen before." In 1998, before three white men in Texas beat and dragged James Byrd Jr. to death behind a pickup truck, one of the men, John King, reportedly announced, "We're starting The Turner Diaries early." There are many other cases, as well, where killers were said to be inspired by the novel.
In 1989, Pierce's publishing arm, National Vanguard Books, printed his second novel, Hunter, depicting the assassination of interracial couples, Jews and politicians. The book was dedicated to Joseph Paul Franklin, convicted of the sniper murders of at least two black men. That same year, on the 100th anniversary of Adolf Hitler's birth, Pierce editorialized that the Nazi leader was "the greatest man of our era." In 1991, Pierce began broadcasting a shortwave radio program, "American Dissident Voices," that was heard worldwide. Within months, it was carried by several AM stations.
In 1984, after several years in the Arlington, Va., area, Pierce paid $95,000 in cash for a 346-acre tract of land atop a small mountain in West Virginia, where he set up what would become the NA's permanent compound. He would build several structures on the land, including a building for his Cosmotheist Church, which housed the bogus religion conjured up by Pierce primarily as an unsuccessful tax dodge. It was from this compound that Pierce ran an empire that ultimately included sales of books, cassettes, music, and racist paraphernalia. The group created a system of monthly dues and produced a monthly update for its members, the National Alliance Bulletin. At its peak, around the time of Pierce's death in 2002, the NA had more than 1,400 dues-paying members.
The NA also served as a launching pad for many white supremacist terrorists. Besides the Order members, in 1996 officials arrested NA member Todd Vanbiber in Florida after a pipe bomb he was building exploded in his face. After Vanbiber was sentenced for federal firearms violations, other NA confederates testified that the Vanbiber gang had robbed three banks and donated at least $2,000 to Pierce. A week before the first anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, Larry Shoemake opened fire on a black neighborhood in Jackson, Miss., killing one person and wounding seven others. Relatives said he was inspired by Pierce's writings.
In 1999, Pierce made an important business investment, buying white power music label Resistance Records for some $250,000. The deal gave Pierce control of the label's CD catalogue, inventory, mailing list and publishing arm. In the next few years, Resistance came to dominate the white power music scene and also became the biggest moneymaker in the NA empire. Pierce added to that empire in 2000, after "national socialist black metal" musician and convicted German murderer Hendrik Möbus took up residence at the NA headquarters. Möbus' music label, Cymophane, was then transferred to Pierce's control. Three months after arriving at the compound, Möbus was arrested on an international arrest warrant issued in Germany. Pierce spearheaded a campaign to free Möbus and raised money to pay for his legal fees. Ultimately, however, Möbus was deported and jailed in Germany.
In 2001, in a major break with the past, the NA began to hold rallies and engage in other public activities like leafleting. Organized by Deputy Membership Coordinator Billy Roper, NA members joined, for the first time, with other white supremacists in front of the Israeli Embassy to protest Jewish influence in the U.S.
According to Fame of a Dead Man's Deeds, Pierce married five times. His first wife was Patricia Jones, whom he met while at the California Institute of Technology. They were married in 1957 and had twins sons, Kelvin and Erik, born in 1962. The marriage ended in divorce in 1982. Pierce was remarried that same year to Elizabeth Prostel, who worked for the NA. The marriage ended in 1985, when Pierce moved his headquarters to West Virginia. In Fame of a Dead Man's Deeds, Pierce talks of preferring immigrant women from Eastern Europe. He married Hungarian Olga Skerlecz in 1986, a marriage that lasted until 1990, when she left Pierce and West Virginia "for greener pastures in California." Pierce then wed a woman named Zsuzsannah, also Hungarian, in early 1991. They met through an ad that Pierce placed in a Hungarian women's magazine. Zsuzsannah left him for Florida in mid-1996. His last marriage, which lasted until his death, was with another Eastern European woman whom he married in 1997. He was sharp and condescending toward his last wife, identified only with the pseudonym Irena in Fame, when he was not ignoring her. Irena was miserable living with the savior of the white race.
In 2002, Pierce made his last public speech at one of the NA's secretive "leadership conferences" that were held twice a year at the West Virginia compound. Held on April 20, Hitler's birthday, Pierce emphasized the need to continue building a professional organization while rejecting alliances with other hate groups, whom he derisively mocked. For the 10 days before his unforeseen death from kidney failure and cancer on July 23, 2002, Pierce instructed his subordinates, and worked feverishly to try to assure the survival of the NA. Pierce died an old-fashioned death, appropriate for a man who conceived of himself in decidedly old-fashioned terms — as a lord among serfs, an elite leader uniquely capable of leading "his people" to victory over Jews, "race traitors," and a whole host of other enemies.
Pierce's 2002 death came at a critical moment for the NA. A quarter-century after birthing the group, Pierce had finally remade his outfit into a remarkably professional organization. Much of the previous two years had been spent building up a talented staff, learning how to run a profitable business, and intensifying recruiting and propaganda. Just before his death, the NA was bringing in more than $1 million a year, had a paid national staff of 17 full-time officials, and was better known than at any time in its history. Pierce's voice, broadcast via his "American Dissident Voices" Internet show, was being heard in Europe and the U.S. In just five days in June 2002, NA members in 20 states distributed 70,000 leaflets.
Six days after Pierce's death, a committee of his key staffers announced that the NA had selected a new leader. Erich Gliebe, the hard-edged former boxer who fought professionally as "The Aryan Barbarian," would be the new chairman, although all agreed that no one could replace Pierce, who was memorialized as "Our Eternal Chairman," comparable to Hitler himself. But Pierce's condescending and harsh words during his final speech doomed the group. His comments that other hate groups were filled with "freaks and weaklings," something first disclosed by the Intelligence Report, seriously undermined the group by driving away its customer base. Within a few months, infighting broke out among the leadership, and splits started to occur. By 2009, the NA had lost nearly all of its members, falling from a high of more than 1,400 to fewer than than 100, Resistance was losing money, and Gliebe was living in the basement of his mother's Cleveland-area home.