Against the Wall: National Alliance Beset with Problems

The most important hate group in America is sinking. The National Alliance, the neo-Nazi organization that has produced and influenced more violent criminals in the last three decades than any other, may soon be facing irrelevancy.

In the last year, membership has plunged from around 1,400 to fewer than 800 who still pay their dues. The staff, once the largest of any hate group in decades, has been cut by nearly half. Income from selling white power music and paraphernalia, which with dues was said to be bringing in more than $1 million last year, has dropped to the point where the Alliance spends more than it takes in.

Alliance chapters in Boston, Dallas, Georgia, Maryland, Memphis, Phoenix and Southern California are falling apart or have been reduced to a few staunch holdouts. And a pitched battle for control of the National Alliance and its 423-acre West Virginia compound is under way.

"[T]he National Alliance appears to be well on its way to dissolution," wrote Wayne Sims, who was a key editor at the Alliance's National Vanguard Books until running afoul of the Alliance's current leadership this summer. "[G]rand as it was until July 2002, [the Alliance] has been stripped of its spirit and will, I think, soon lose its solvency. I recommend that its members find or create another group."

The group's fortunes have fallen fast. When Alliance founder and long-time leader William Pierce died on July 23, 2002, the organization was doing better than at any time since its founding in 1974. It had developed a successful business model, and was regularly adding staff to Resistance Records and National Vanguard Books, the chief income-earners for the group.

Its prestige, maintained by Pierce's essays, commentaries on current events and broadcasts over the Internet and shortwave radio, reached all the way to the European radical right. The Alliance was in the streets and in the news, and its members were never more optimistic.

Today, all of that seems little more than a distant memory. Since former boxer Erich Gliebe was named chairman six days after Pierce's death, the Alliance has been plagued by vicious internal battles and almost daily attacks from outside right-wing radicals. It now seems possible the Alliance could completely founder.

The Descent Into Darkness
The trouble began with Gliebe. Although he had earned Pierce's respect, bringing Resistance Records to profitability in a couple of years and making his Cleveland unit the most active in the country, Gliebe was no Pierce.

Where Pierce was a former university physics professor and an intellectual capable of bringing in recruits through his writings, Gliebe was a one-time tool-and-die maker who was hard-edged, humorless and remarkably clumsy in his dealings with other members.

Three months before Pierce's death, on April 20, 2002, both men spoke at the "leadership conference" Pierce held for some 80 leadership candidates. In speeches that were meant to remain private, both men pilloried members of other hate groups, with Pierce calling them "freaks and weaklings" and Gliebe parroting his words.

In September, the Intelligence Report revealed details of those speeches, setting off a storm among racist Skinheads and others who had been attacked by the Alliance leaders.

The brouhaha had serious consequences, as it was these Skinheads who were the chief customers of the Alliance's Resistance Records operation. Soon, many white supremacists were boycotting the label, even as more and more Alliance members went public with criticisms of the "elite" nature of their organization.

At the same time, Gliebe fired the group's deputy membership coordinator, Billy Roper (see profile Revolting in Arkansas), largely because Roper favored alliances with Skinheads and others, and in fact had worked hard to build those bridges. The firing signaled that Gliebe was taking a hard-line position and would brook no opposition to his policies. Soon, a number of other key activists and leaders began to trickle out of the group.

It didn't help when Gliebe went on the offensive, bitterly attacking Roper and the others who had left and then completely denying the Report's account of the leadership speeches as a "disinformation effort."

Although some may have believed him, 80 leading members of the Alliance had heard the speeches in question. It soon became widely known that Gliebe was perfectly willing to lie to his members.

The Alliance was already doing less well than was commonly believed. National Vanguard Books, which in 2000 had been grossing some $20,000 a month, was only making half that at the time of Pierce's death — almost entirely a result of the same books being sold more cheaply through online bookstores. At the same time, the Alliance was having to recruit more and more energetically, and with less selectivity, just to replace the members who were leaving every week.

By December 2002, a net membership decline had begun that has only picked up speed since. Even today, Alliance officials do not know the full extent of their losses. That's because hundreds of members who simply stopped paying their dues have been left on the membership rolls in the hope that they will return. This fall, the Alliance finally sent out letters asking members why they had stopped paying.

Gliebe faced a hard road. He had to reinvigorate the group, renew his followers' loyalty to the Alliance and its new leaders, and bring back Resistance and National Vanguard Books as profit centers.

Instead, as the next months played out, the Alliance chairman made a number of mistakes in judgment, alienating many inside the group just as a remarkable series of events threatened to destroy him.