Robert Killian's Years of Posing as a Neo-Nazi Biker Cost Him Dearly
For seven years, Robert Killian posed as a neo-Nazi biker named “Doc,” working his way slowly into the inner sanctum of violent white supremacists as part of a wide-ranging undercover investigation in central Florida.
This spring, his efforts paid off in a big way.
In March, six people who were either members or associates of the infamous Outlaws motorcycle gang and the 1st SS Kavallerie Brigade — the motorcycle division of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations — were arrested on charges related to drug trafficking and explosives. Teams of federal, state, county and local law enforcement officers rounded up the suspects at several residences in central Florida and Chicago.
Killian’s role in the operation, dubbed “Primitive Affliction,” was crucial. Among other things, he introduced two other agents into the secretive fold of the white supremacist bikers.
Killian, 52, never intended to go undercover when he joined the intelligence division of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in 2003 after eight years with the office and 16 years with other agencies. He had joined the unit as an investigator to monitor the area’s white supremacist groups and criminal motorcycle gangs after the former specialist retired.
He also never imagined that the danger, the strain of maintaining a racist alter ego, and the changes required in his lifestyle would destroy his personal life and ultimately contribute to the end of his marriage and loss of his family.
Making New Friends
Robert Killian (Photo by Octavian Cantilli)
So, equipped with a Harley he loved to ride and a familiarity with biker culture, Killian set out to meet and become friends with local Outlaws in Orlando as he perfected his biker persona. He had earned his nickname years earlier as a young paramedic, but it became even more appropriate later when he received a doctorate in cultural anthropology.
Killian’s first step was simply to “hang out where they hang out,” he told the Intelligence Report in an interview about his experience. “I began to just be close to them, to listen a lot and not say much. Shoot some pool, talk some motorcycles and let them get used to me.”
His patience bore fruit. Eventually, he was invited to “open houses” where both “civilians” and “non-one percenter” motorcycle clubs were welcome. (Outlaw bikers are often called “one percenters” because, as the story goes, 99% of motorcyclists are law-abiding citizens, while the remaining 1% live outside society’s norms as “outlaws,” often engaging in criminal activity.) After about a year, Killian was invited to more-exclusive, weekly open houses.
“That’s another level of trust, because that says they’re actually looking at you as ... being a member at some point,” Killian said.
At the same time, Killian was making contact with other extremists through social media. That’s how he met August Kreis, a “pastor” in the racist, anti-Semitic Christian Identity religion who headed up a splinter faction of the Aryan Nations, the granddaddy of most contemporary neo-Nazi groups.
After several online exchanges with Kreis, who had recently moved from Florida to South Carolina, the Aryan Nations leader asked “Doc” to join the group. Killian sent in his application, though it unnerved him. “It was like my undercover identity was hardly backstopped at all. It was full of holes. I really thought this wasn’t going anywhere, [that] he would realize that someone was trying to infiltrate. But I got a call from him welcoming me to their Aryan Nations.”
Killian’s fears about his cover escalated one night when Kreis told him to expect a phone call from the Aryan Nations’ deputy director. “I don’t want you to be nervous if you hear a police radio in the background,” Kreis told him. “He’s a cop.” That night, Killian received a call from James Elkins, an officer in Fruitland Park, Fla., just northwest of Orlando.
“This is not what I wanted to hear,” Killian said, “because here’s a guy that probably has access to many of the same databases I do.” The conversation went well, though, and his identity wasn’t compromised. (Later, in fact, it was Elkins’ affiliation that was revealed. After leaving the Aryan Nations, he joined several Klan groups and was discovered leaving racist leaflets at homes in nearby Bushnell. He resigned in 2009.)
By 2007, Killian was a bona fide member of the Aryan Nations faction led by Kreis. He also became an active member of the 1st SS Kavallerie Brigade, an Aryan Nations motorcycle division formed in part by members of the Outlaws who joined the neo-Nazi group in an unusual alliance.
But even as his undercover work was soaring, so was the pressure. Every time he walked out of the office, Killian had to transform himself into “Doc,” the racist biker. The strain of being two people at once ate away at Killian, though it wasn’t always apparent to him how much of a toll the work was taking. While he was procuring evidence that eventually helped lead to the 2012 arrests, his personal life was slowly collapsing.
“I didn’t feel like I changed my personality for the role, [but] maybe the role was starting to change my personality a little bit,” Killian said.
He was forced to learn new, unseemly behaviors — like laughing at the racist jokes told frequently by his new pals. He saw and heard details of crimes already committed and violence, even murder, being planned.
Killian’s family noticed the changes more than his colleagues. “[I] became more secretive, less trustful of everybody, including my chain of command and co-workers. Those relationships [were] getting distant in slow increments. And it wasn’t something I was prepared for.”
As he burrowed deeper and deeper into the world of extremism, something unexpected happened. Killian began to see his new “friends” as real people, not just as potential criminals or domestic terrorists — and with that came a certain amount of empathy. “I don’t know how to describe it other than [that] you start to know these bad guys at a level that you don’t normally see them. You’re starting to see how they interact with their children. You’re starting to see how they handle the loss of a family member. They’re treating you like a very close friend and even sometimes like a family member. But this is a bad guy who I’m eventually going to have to put in jail.”
The feelings Killian experienced are, in fact, not uncommon among undercover officers.
“People have no idea of the stress that person is under twenty-four-seven,” Charlie Fuller, executive director of the International Association of Undercover Officers (IAUO) told the Intelligence Report. “Most [officers] are not equipped to deal with that. The real stressor is not just the two lives you’re leading. It’s the bad things you see and the betrayal you do. They’ve been your friends, and now you have to betray them. It eats at you while you’re doing it and it eats at you after you do it. It haunts you. You think ... it will never go away as long as I live.”
At the height of his undercover work, Robert Killian (right) joined the 1st SS Kavallerie Brigade, a neo-Nazi motorcycle gang headed by August Kreis (center). Another member was Brian "Dozier" Klose, who was arrested this March.
Sometimes, his wife would be with him. “It was like, OK, give her a nickname and don’t ever mention her real name and get out of there as soon as I can without arousing too much suspicion. But it was really starting to impact my day-to-day life.”
His wife was affected as well. “On the face of it, she handled it pretty well. I don’t think she really analyzed it too much until it really, really started to bother her,” Killian said. “She was the kind of person that saw the good in everybody, and as this progressed she started seeing people as bad and dangerous. And that really hurt her.”
As the investigation became more intense, the pressure was ratcheting up. Killian became short-tempered and even more distant from his family. To combat this slide, he came up with techniques to separate himself more cleanly from “Doc” when he was off duty.
“If I was wearing my biker vest and all this Nazi jewelry, I would take all that off before I would come into the house. And in my mind, I was telling myself this is how I was turning it off. Now, I’m going to be the ‘good guy’ and try to be the best stepfather and husband I can be.”
But it wasn’t so easy to turn it off in the evening and on again the next morning. The extremists didn’t keep regular hours. “Even when I was home and off, I would get a phone call from the Outlaws and Aryan Nations people and have to immediately go into the role. I’m sitting at the table playing Scrabble with my step-kids, and all of a sudden you have to run into the bedroom to talk to the national director of the Aryan Nations or some Outlaw calling you. It was the constant flicking of the switch, off and on, and it was starting to wear me down.”
The situation became difficult enough that by 2009 that Killian, with the help of his colleagues, began inventing excuses so “Doc” could slowly take leave of his Outlaws and Aryan Nations families. He faked a cancer diagnosis, giving him a reason to disappear for a few weeks at a time. Meanwhile, he was helping two other undercover officers he had introduced into this racist world solidify their investigations.
Unfortunately, a life-altering event forced Killian to rethink his undercover work. His wife left him and filed for divorce — something Fuller of the IAUO says happens all too frequently when officers go undercover for long periods.
Though Killian wanted to orchestrate his own exit from the racist scene, he couldn’t. Problems with security began to mount in 2010, so Killian and another agent scaled back, leaving only one agent undercover to finish the operation. Though Killian retired from the sheriff’s office in March 2011, he still had to be ready to become “Doc” at a moment’s notice to protect the remaining undercover agent. About five months after retiring, an Outlaw approached Killian’s ex-wife at a club and told her they were looking for “Doc” because he had introduced an undercover cop into the group.
Killian’s former supervisors and his FBI handler were concerned enough to videotape his statement to a Florida state prosecutor. “When it came down to it, it was like ‘here one day and gone the other.’ And at the same time I’m still running into these guys. They knew I was still in town.”
After the first arrests, in March, Killian knew no excuses would work if he ran into his former “brothers” at the local grocery store. His real identity had, in fact, been spelled out in the charging documents that were presented to the men who once considered him their friend. His days of dancing on the edge, walking that thin line, were finally over. And that led to a new kind of stress.
Said Fuller of the IAUO, “When [the operation] is over, you’re asking, ‘What do I do now? Where is my identity?’ Then you have to go back to shuffling papers at your desk. You can’t just turn that off.”
Retired, Killian is on his own. He keeps a low profile and stays on constant alert. “All I can do is be very careful with my surroundings and aware of who’s around me. I try to vary my routine as much as possible and just try to keep out of their sight.”
Killian hopes other officers who plan to go undercover don’t make the same mistakes he did. He advises, “Prepare yourself emotionally and mentally, and with your family. Have some kind of backup you can talk to and deal with the issues.”
Was it worth it?
“No,” Killian says matter-of-factly. “The price was too high. When I was doing [the] operation, I saw it as ‘oh, this is going to be huge.’ You know, we are going to eviscerate the whole Outlaws motorcycle club, or so I thought at the time — [and] just eliminate Aryan Nations forever as an important factor.”
That, perhaps, was an overestimation of what the investigation would yield. But the arrests did dismantle the 1st SS Kavallerie Brigade, which was being viewed within the Aryan Nations and Outlaws as a model of cooperation that could be adopted nationwide. And, as part of the broader operation, agents, including ones from Killian’s agency, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, arrested 14 members of the American Front, a violent, neo-Nazi skinhead group that was allegedly planning violence and engaging in paramilitary training on a heavily fortified compound in neighboring Osceola County.
While the arrests were major accomplishments in the fight against racial extremism and domestic terrorism, Killian paid a hefty price. He gave up his wife, his family, his sense of security and a 32-year-old career in law enforcement. On some days, it doesn’t seem like much of a win at all to him.