Louis Ray Beam Jr.: Racist Leader Headed for Downfall?
When he was in Texas leading Klan protests against Vietnamese shrimpers, he offered an "in-service" on "the right way to burn a shrimp boat." In the days that followed, unknown arsonists torched at least two Vietnamese-owned boats.
Hours after he taught a guerrilla warfare class at an Idaho neo-Nazi compound, a series of seven arson fires burned much of a nearby downtown. Police said the arsonist likely attended the class, but no one was ever arrested.
After allegedly plotting to overthrow the government, he was charged with seditious conspiracy in a major federal trial — and acquitted on all counts.
But now, Louis Ray Beam Jr., the fiery orator and racist organizer who has done as much as any other to animate the radical right, is facing another kind of battle.
After taking on his fourth ex-wife in an Idaho custody dispute, Beam found himself accused in court of sexual molestation regarding the very girls whom he had sought to see more of.
If a Texas criminal investigation finds the charges have merit, Beam may find himself facing a trial that could put an end to his career.
For three decades now, Louis Beam has been a leader and principal theorist to some of the most frightening people in America.
He popularized the concept of "leaderless resistance" used by a series of extremist criminals who arguably included Timothy McVeigh.
He was one of the very first to try to bring extremists into the computer age, and even used his computer skills to popularize an "Aryan" point system for assassination.
Recently, he has spent large amounts of time in Costa Rica with a close friend, a major marijuana-smuggling fugitive.
"He's one of a half dozen people who have shaped the white supremacy movement since the Vietnam War," said Leonard Zeskind, a long-time expert on the radical right. "He has been accorded the venerated status of a movement elder."
Louis Beam won't talk to "prostitute" reporters. But he denies through his attorney the allegations of "sexual abuse or misconduct" in the trial record of the custody dispute he initiated last year.
Still, if the charges stick, Beam may be fatally discredited in the movement he did so much to build.
Beam, 55, has always been something of a mystery figure, dropping out of sight for months or even years at a time, only to resurface at some key event or venue.
He shuns public attention, operating instead in a shadowy world where racist ideologues rub shoulders with men who kill, terrorize and steal.
Nevertheless, largely because his essays are so widely circulated and he is such a hero to so many, it is possible to glean a sense of Louis Beam, one of the very angriest of angry white men.
A Life of Violence Begins
Louis Ray Beam was born Aug. 20, 1946, in the hardscrabble East Texas city of Lufkin. He was the oldest of four children born to Lewis and Madeline Beam before the couple divorced. Although race relations in East Texas historically have been poor, family members say Beam's siblings did not follow his racist path.
Little is known about Beam's early life. But by the time he was 20, Beam had joined the Army at a time when the Vietnam War was white hot.
After serving 18 months, much of it as a door machine gunner in helicopter gunships, Beam returned home full of rage — at "communists," but even more so at the U.S. government. He brought with him several medals including the Distinguished Flying Cross.
When he and other GIs returned, anti-war protesters "threw blood in our faces and feces on our caskets," Beam wrote in one essay. "No excuses will change that," he said. He blamed anti-war dissent on "the very people who sent us over there."
For decades after, Beam would blame the government for his alleged exposure to the chemical defoliant Agent Orange, continuing war flashbacks, and a case of post-traumatic stress syndrome that he says has caused a sleep disorder.
Officials judged him totally disabled and now, according to records in the custody case, he lives on $1,603 a month in benefits from the government he despises.
Like thousands of others, Beam came home with a burning anger that would not go away. Unlike most of them, his rage was aimed at a whole array of enemies.
"There seems to be no end to it all," he said of the lingering effects of Vietnam. "I wonder if stress can be defined as wanting to machine-gun all the people who sent us over there, along with the ones who spit on us when we returned?"
He also spoke of the joys of killing your enemy, writing in an essay titled "Body Count" that he had worried about leaving Vietnam "without wracking up 50 kills."
"It looked to me like he relished the idea of killing," recalled Randall Williams, an anti-racist investigator who came to know Beam later. "A .50-caliber machine-gun does pretty horrible things to people, and I don't see how a normal person could enjoy that in the way that Beam professed to."
In 1968, the same year he returned, Beam joined up with the Texas chapter of the United Klans of America, the Alabama-based group headed by Robert Shelton that was behind much of the violence directed at the Civil Rights Movement.
Sometime in the early 1970s, grand juries in Houston indicted Beam in the bombing of the left-wing Pacifica radio station and a machine-gun attack on local Communist Party headquarters. The charges were eventually dropped.
Beam went to the University of Houston from 1974 to 1976, majoring in history, although he did not graduate as he sometimes has claimed.
How to Burn a Shrimp Boat
Soon, Beam's activities seemed to accelerate. He worked to recruit Klan members at Fort Hood, a sprawling Army base in central Texas. (In early 1979, Beam and Duke were escorted at a Klan rally in Euless, Texas, by several soldiers wearing fatigues and armed with rifles.)
During the same period, he was arrested for lunging at Deng Xiaoping in a ritzy hotel when the Chinese leader visited the state — and he was also elevated by Duke to grand dragon, or state leader, of Texas.
When the Pentagon moved to hinder the Klan's recruiting of soldiers, Beam turned to the Texas Emergency Reserve — the paramilitary unit of the Texas Klan.
As he had earlier with other Klansmen, he taught guerrilla war techniques to reserve members at a secret Klan paramilitary camp near Anahuac.
Later, while training his men on land near Fort Worth, Beam was arrested for trespassing and ultimately sentenced to six months probation.
At the same time, Beam's operated his Public Information Bookstore in the gritty, working-class Houston suburb of Pasadena.
"I remember seeing videotapes of him instructing his recruits," said Williams, who was the founding director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Klanwatch project. "The lectures were about how you get people into the 'kill zone,' and then it's maximum firepower, just, 'Kill, kill, kill!' He's the kind of guy who, if he were in the military saying that, you'd be concerned about his mental health."
In early 1981, a group of white shrimp fishermen in Galveston Bay, Texas, asked Beam and his Klan to support them in their struggle against Vietnamese refugees who had begun to fish the same Gulf of Mexico waters.
Beam responded enthusiastically, telling a large crowd that they were going to have to get back the country "the way our founding fathers got it — with blood, blood, blood."
Someone had brought an old skiff to the rally with the words USS Vietcong painted on its hull. "This is the right way to burn a shrimp boat," Beam shouted as he torched the boat to the roar of the crowd. "This is in-service training."
In the next weeks, crosses were burned in the yards of the Vietnamese and their supporters. The owner of a marina where some Vietnamese boats had docked was threatened and received Klan cards in his mailbox.
At least two Vietnamese-owned boats were destroyed by arsonists. And on March 15, the conflict became national news when well-armed Klansmen and others rode a shrimp boat around the bay, displaying a hanging human effigy and firing a blank from a cannon.