Kurtis Monschke and Other Racists Commit Violent Killing
A growing and increasingly important neo-Nazi group claims it opposes any kind of political violence. Could it be true?
By Heidi Beirich and Mark Potok
The hunt began with a trip to a couple of local businesses. They needed more beer, of course, an armload of 22-ounce tallboys and an 18-pack of Budweiser. That would be the fuel. But they didn't forget to buy the baseball bats.
The foursome headed out as the cool of the evening set in. Sucking down beer and carrying their two new bats, they made their way to an area they knew well, a secret world of street people who congregated under a highway bridge in Tacoma, Wash.
They knew what they were looking for, as several of them told police later — a drug dealer, preferably a black one. But the first black man they saw, walking by with a white woman, drew a machete when the menacing group of racist Skinheads approached. The brave young warriors dropped that plan fast.
Then they spotted Randy Townsend.
David Nikos Pillatos, 19, dealt the first blow, smashing the homeless white man with one of the bats as Scotty James Butters, 20, began to punch him. With Pillatos' second swing, the bat splintered across Townsend's face. Then Tristain Lynn Frye, 22 and the only female present, began to kick the fallen man. Pillatos found a 40-pound rock and dropped it on Townsend's head.
It was then, according to statements later given by the three to police, that Kurtis William Monschke, 19, joined in. Noticing that Townsend was breathing, Monschke laid into his victim with the second bat before lifting and smashing his head onto a railroad track.
Randall Mark Townsend, a gentle, 42-year-old man afflicted with paranoid schizophrenia, never opened his eyes again. He lingered in a coma for 20 days after the March 23, 2003, attack, but in the end his battered body succumbed.
The ringleader, prosecutors said, was Monschke. He had recently been named head of the Washington chapter of Volksfront, a Portland-based neo-Nazi group whose Web site describes drug dealers as "the lowest form of vermin." The same site ran a 2002 essay calling for capital punishment for dealers.
Prosecutors said the attack was meant to lift Monschke's status in the white supremacist movement and to earn Frye a pair of red shoelaces, with the red signifying the drawing of blood.
This June 1, a jury agreed, finding Volksfront's Washington state leader guilty of aggravated first-degree murder. Monschke was sentenced to life without parole.
Monschke himself seemed to back up the prosecution's version. Before the trial, in letters that were opened by jail personnel, he pleaded with Jake Laskey, head of Volksfront's "POW Affairs Department," to be listed as a "prisoner of war."
But then he heard that Volksfront had put up a remarkable new statement on its Web site, disowning Monschke and calling for the death penalty in his case. Volksfront, it seemed, was determined to convey the idea that it was wholly nonviolent.
"[Is this] true or false?" an anguished Monschke wrote Laskey. "I understand people's disappointment and anger, 'civil suits transpire,' but damn! Sometimes our own people seem like the enemy... . [I]t's just confusion and selfishness."
Confusion and Selfishness
When Randal Lee Krager first started Volksfront in 1994, the Oregon Skinhead hardly looked like an advertisement for nonviolence. Starting at age 15 with a racially motivated attack on other teenagers in a local park in 1989, Krager had reportedly had 28 "contacts" with the authorities by 1991.
In 1990, he attended the civil trial of Tom Metzger, a Southern California neo-Nazi who specialized in particularly violent propaganda and who ultimately was found liable in the Skinhead beating death of an Ethiopian student in Portland in 1988. Then 16, Krager told a reporter that Metzger was a "cool guy" and "one of the nicest guys you'd ever meet."
In 1992, Krager viciously attacked a black man. As he was being sentenced to a three-year prison term for that assault, Krager screamed "fuckin' Jew pig" at officers of the court, according to an account by a local neo-Nazi leader.
Emerging in 1994, Krager inaugurated Volksfront, drawing his members from violent local Skinhead groups like the Youth of Hitler and East Side White Pride, the same crews that had been affiliated with Metzger's White Aryan Resistance. By the end of its first year, Volksfront had spawned a white power rock group, Intimidation One, that was named after Oregon's hate crime law and specialized in violent lyrics.
But Krager didn't stick around long. The same month he was released, Krager called a local antiracist Skinhead, Pan Nesbitt, and threatened to kill him. In early 1995, he pleaded guilty to first-degree intimidation and served another 14 months.
A Volksfront poster, apparently produced around this time, captured the spirit of the organization. Headlined "TAKE BACK YOUR STREETS," it depicted a white Skinhead using a bat and boots to beat three black men, respectively labeled "rapists," "muggers" and "drug dealers." The message was hard to miss.
Krager, with a swastika tattooed on his neck and F-E-A-R inked on the knuckles of one hand, wasn't alone. Other Volksfront members were also known for their terror tactics, including founding member Troy Harlow, who pleaded guilty to a federal charge of conspiring to deprive a black man of his constitutional rights by burning a cross in his yard in 1996. Harlow served a year for that crime.
In 1998, with police heat turned up on Volksfront because of its continuing association with criminal violence, the group suddenly seemed to disappear. Its Web site now says that Volksfront went "underground" that year due, in part, to "police and governmental pressure."
When it reappeared publicly in 2001, it had adopted a new line on violence entirely — it said it was against it. Krager explained to a local paper, the Willamette Weekly, that he had done "a lot of thinking in prison."
Today, Volksfront claims on its Web page that it "discourages" violence — even as it recognizes that "force must be sometimes used if we are to remain a free people."
"[K]icking in someone's head will not make them our political allies. ... We know that violence created by stupidity or machismo will and can destroy organizations." But, it adds, "if you choose to attack us it's at your risk."
It's not hard to understand potential motivations for the new views supposedly adopted by Krager. As a youngster, he had witnessed the trial of Metzger and his son for their roles in urging on the violence that culminated in the murder of Ethiopian student Mulugeta Seraw.
The suit, brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on behalf of Seraw's family, resulted in a $12.5 million verdict against the Metzgers and their organization. It wrecked the group and, to this day, Tom Metzger still has to pay the Seraws a portion of his income each month.