Vermont Academic Writes Fawning Biography of Late Neo-Nazi Leader William Pierce

A Vermont academic writes a fawning biography of America's late neo-Nazi leader

The Fame of a Dead Man's Deeds: An Up-Close Portrait of White Nationalist William Pierce
By Robert S. Griffin
1st Books Library, 2001, 434 pp., $23.35

Reading this book, one is reminded of the scene in a Marx Brothers movie when a flirtatious woman beckons to Groucho, "Come closer, come closer." Tapping his cigar, Groucho replies, "If I got any closer, I'd be behind you."

That pretty much sums up the relationship between white nationalist William Pierce, who died unexpectedly July 23, and his fawning admirer Robert S. Griffin, who has written an "up-close portrait" of America's most prominent neo-Nazi.

In the acknowledgements to The Fame of a Dead Man's Deeds, the author asserts that "Pierce cooperated fully and never once asked me to delete or change a thing." This is not surprising as there is very little, if anything, that Pierce would object to in the text. Much of Griffin's tome consists of tedious regurgitations of Pierce's own words. The book often reads like an autobiography.

Evidently, the two men got along quite well when Griffin, a University of Vermont professor, spent a month at Pierce's secluded white supremacist compound near Hillsboro, W. Va. Griffin also tagged along when Pierce traveled to Munich, Germany, in the fall of 1999 to attend a neo-Nazi political convention.

"I found him the most fascinating human being I've ever been around my life," Griffin told Legal Times in a recent interview. "He is a very honorable man of the highest character."

After his manuscript was turned down by mainstream publishers, Griffin peddled his labor of love as an E-book via the Internet. It quickly zoomed to No. 1 on the MightyWords bestseller list and a self-published print version came next.

William Luther Pierce, a former college physics professor, is best known for writing The Turner Diaries, the apocalyptic race-war novel that inspired Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and several other antigovernment extremists who emerged from the bowels of America's far-right, terrorist underground.

Griffin's book includes lengthy summaries of The Turner Diaries and another rabidly anti-Semitic novel, Hunter, in which Pierce glorifies the terrorist exploits of a white vigilante who murders interracial couples.

Griffin plows through familiar territory while tracing Pierce's career as a militant white supremacist. After a brief fling with the staunchly anti-communist John Birch Society in the 1950s and an apprenticeship with American Nazi Party chief George Lincoln Rockwell in the 1960s, Pierce launched what became the National Alliance, now the leading neo-Nazi group in the United States.

The National Alliance "is not a hate organization," Pierce declares, "but instead a group dedicated to the welfare and progress of our people."

Variations of the refrain that Pierce and his ilk are pro-white rather than anti-everybody else are repeated throughout the book. Griffin never challenges this canard or any other claims from Pierce. When Pierce asserts, for example, that "ethnic cleansing can be done without atrocities," Griffin doesn't see fit to ask how.

He ignores the fact that Pierce has written that his organization "will not be deterred" by what he euphemistically calls the "temporary unpleasantness involved" in creating a "white living space."

According to Pierce, acceptable measures include herding his opponents into "10,000 railroad cattle cars" and sending them into an "abandoned coal mine."

None of this prevents Griffin from casting Pierce as a deep thinker who grapples with profound philosophical issues. Pierce rejects Christianity as an alien religion, calling it "one of the major spiritual illnesses of our people."

But Jews remain the main target of his wrath. After reading Hitler's Mein Kampf, Pierce concludes that Jews are the scourge of mankind.

"If so truly a remarkable man as Hitler could be an anti-Semite, so too could William L. Pierce," says Griffin, who tries "to explain what Pierce and others find appealing in Hitler's pronouncements."

We are told that America's top neo-Nazi was fond of cats, not dogs, and that he frequently padded around his house in the nude. He watched James Bond movies. ("Sex and violence, that's what I like," Pierce chortled.) He always slept with a loaded gun by his bedside.

We also learn that Pierce married five times. He preferred immigrant women from Eastern Europe. He was sharp and condescending toward his last wife, who is identified with the pseudonym Irena, when he was not ignoring her. Irena was miserable living with the savior of the white race.

The author provides a few interesting details about Pierce's family history. His mother's ancestors were members of the aristocracy of the old South. His great-grandfather was governor of Alabama and attorney general of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Pierce's bigoted attitudes toward people of color were inculcated at an early age. He grew up in a Southern household with older relatives who treated a black servant like a virtual slave.

Pierce "cares a great deal about education," says Griffin, who buttresses Pierce's comments on political correctness in academia by assembling comments from several mainstream conservatives who apparently feel the same way.

At times it is difficult to discern whose ideas are being expressed in The Fame of a Dead Man's Deeds — those of Pierce or Griffin.

Without attributing this statement to Pierce, the author writes: "If white children are in a school with large numbers of black children, it is safe to bet that the curriculum, academic standards, and assessment mechanisms will have been adjusted to ensure that white performance will be brought back to the level of the black students."

One can almost feel the tears rolling down Griffin's cheeks as he describes his departure from Pierce's West Virginia redoubt at the end of the book: "Seventy or eighty feet down the dirt road, I stopped the car, paused a second, and then looked back up the hill, I guess to wave good-bye one last time — but Pierce had started back inside and was out of view."

The Fame of a Dead Man's Deeds is hardly a penetrating or critical study of William Pierce, but it does provide many details that will interest students of American neo-Nazism.

It also is a dangerous work, in the sense that Griffin's repeated self-identification as a college professor, along with his completely uncritical presentation of his subject, help to lend an air of legitimacy to the ideas of the late William Luther Pierce.