The End of Volksfront?
BLUE ANCHOR, England — In the rolling farm country of southwestern England, amid the quiet fishing villages and marshes that surround the Victorian resort town of Minehead, there is a beautiful old inn by the sea. Some 300 years old, it contains a pub, restaurant, meeting hall and several rooms for rent. Until this fall, it was being transformed into a halfway house and eatery for British veterans of the war in Afghanistan who are encountering difficulties rejoining civilian life.
The newly renamed Smuggled Retreat, known for years as The Smugglers Inn, was to be the second residential facility in an ambitious program started by a foundation called Afghan Heroes and, since officially kicking off this June, had already begun taking in veterans. It was even graced this summer by a visit from a pair of Hollywood stars, Ashton Kutcher and his sweetheart, Mila Kunis.
But the inn by the sea had a secret.
Photo from the Afghan Heroes blog and Facebook page.
For almost a decade, the facility has been run by a man named Simon Curtis, a longtime entrepreneur in the hospitality industry who agreed to continue as both landlord and restaurant and pub manager for Afghan Heroes. Unknown to most of those around him, Curtis once served as security for Ian Stuart Donaldson, the iconic leader of the British band Skrewdriver and a primary force in the creation of the racist skinhead movement. He has remained an active white supremacist for decades and is still the “Captain at Arms” for the British division of a neo-Nazi skinhead group founded in Portland, Ore., that is known as Volksfront (VF).
The three-story building that was just beginning to serve recovering British soldiers has been haunted by well-known Volksfronters like Brad Trappitt of VF Australia, Daniel Del Rio Gonzalez of VF Spain, Kim Bertrand of VF Netherlands, and many American VFers. Part of the inn’s second floor is a hall that just this summer was hung with racist banners and has been home to VF meetings known as Althings, gatherings typical of racist neo-pagans. The restaurant, famed for local delicacies like pork and fennel pie, has served neo-Nazi hardliners.
The rich farmlands of Somerset County in southwestern England are the backdrop to a beautiful coastline that draws large numbers of tourists every year. They also are the setting for a 300-year-old inn that was long an outpost in a U.S.-based neo-Nazi network known as Volksfront.
Until October, when questions about Curtis from the Intelligence Report caused a storm within Afghan Heroes, the building in the village of Blue Anchor was a major outpost in an extended global VF network that included at least half a dozen country chapters, plus land and businesses, in Europe and Australia. Until last year, when the U.S. part of VF collapsed, that network was linked to 17 VF chapters in as many American states. But now, with the revelation of the inn’s ownership and other details about VF activities abroad, the last remnants of VF may be dead.
Certainly, its future in Blue Anchor is in doubt.
“I wasn’t aware of any of this,” said a clearly shaken Denise Harris, who created the Afghan Heroes foundation after her son was killed in 2009, when the Report first described Curtis’ affiliations to her. In the following days, Harris got a lawyer, met with her board of trustees, and severed her ties with Curtis.
“As a result, we are closing the Smuggled Retreat and withdrawing our belongings from there,” she told the Report. “Thank you for raising this matter with us. It came as a complete shock and our decision will involve the charity in some considerable disruption, but we believe it is the right action to take.”
Happier days: Until this fall, The Smugglers Inn, renamed Smuggled Retreat, was to be the latest facility to serve returning British veterans of the war in Afghanistan.
Building an Empire
Volksfront was formed in prison in 1994, while founder Randal Lee Krager was serving a 27-month term for putting an African-American man into a coma with a single punch. When Krager got out later that year, he wasn’t free for long. Weeks after his release, he threatened to kill a Portland anti-racist skinhead and was sent back to prison for another 14 months. He was released in 1995.
The group was known for its highly visible violence, especially around its hometown of Portland. That wasn’t much of a surprise — after all, its unquestioned leader, Krager, had had 28 “contacts” with police by the time he was 18. But in 1998, due to what Krager called “police and governmental pressure,” Volksfront essentially went underground, only resurfacing in the public eye in 2001.
When the Intelligence Report informed Afghan Heroes founder Denise Harris (left) of the neo-Nazi activities of inn owner Simon Curtis (with pink tie), she broke her agreement with him and ended her foundation’s work at the 300-year-old facility in southwestern England.
Remarkably, Krager officially renounced violence at that point, saying that “violence created by stupidity or machismo will and can destroy organizations.” But whether that was Krager’s real intention or just a ploy, it was not to be.
In 2003, Kurtis William Monschke, who headed a Washington state probationary chapter of VF, led a group of three racist skinheads who beat a homeless man to death under a Tacoma bridge. The skins’ wolf pack had originally sought a black drug dealer — VF’s website at the time called dealers “the lowest kind of vermin,” and the group had called for their capital punishment — but was scared off by the first black man it found and killed a white man instead.
In the following years, VF expanded, adding chapters in various states and also starting to make friendly contacts with racist skinheads overseas. With respect to its new chapters abroad, Krager made all significant decisions, but each national chapter was allowed its own leadership. Every country chapter had its own patch, worn on the left sleeve of members’ bomber jackets. International members were expected to attend U.S. events and Americans attended European VF Althings, most held at Simon Curtis’ Smugglers Inn. Californian Scott Marquart, also the contact for VF’s Liferune Industries, handled sales of VF paraphernalia abroad.
In 2008, a kind of war developed in the U.S. between the dominant skinhead group Hammerskin Nation and VF, which was becoming increasingly important (more below). It quickly spilled over into Europe, where VF Portugal publicly denounced Hammerskins in their country, as well as in Australia and England.
Sources with intimate knowledge of VF said that the group’s American leaders — together with Kirk Barker of the United Kingdom, who ran that country’s VF chapter and also handled all European communications for the group — made a plan to take on the Portuguese Hammerskins, who had tried to take patches from VF Portugal members at gunpoint. Armed members of Spain’s VF chapter were slated to go to the home of, among others, Portuguese Hammerskin leader Mario Machado (who is now in prison), to force the group to shut down, first in Portugal and later in Spain. But the Spanish VF chapter failed to deliver, and a short time later the leaders of the Portuguese Hammerskins were arrested on drug charges.
The battle moved to England, where VF members successfully attacked British Hammerskins and confiscated their patches. Eventually, VF had eradicated the Hammerskin presence in both Portugal and England. Battles still cropped up elsewhere — Welf Herfurth, a member of VF Australia who had used his six-figure income to fund VF projects, was jumped at a Blood & Honour show there in retaliation for Portugal and England — but it was essentially over.
In 2009, meanwhile, Krager left the U.S. for Afghanistan, where he went to work as a civilian contractor to the armed forces. He would not return to the U.S. permanently until 2011, but the VF presence abroad continued to expand.
By this summer, that included chapters in Australia, England, Germany, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain, with a probationary chapter in Canada, along with official supporters in Croatia, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Scotland.
VF also ran two online overseas businesses, Pirate 28 and Heathen Noise Productions, that sold racist music and paraphernalia. And its members or associates, in addition to The Smugglers Inn, owned land and a bar near Melbourne, Australia, and a gun store, Surplus Army Supplies Alternative Way of Life, in Redruth, not far from Blue Anchor. That store is run by Dave McDonald, a VF prospect until earlier this year and a former member of Combat 18, another neo-Nazi British group.
But now the whole overseas apparatus of VF may be collapsing. In October, immediately after being contacted by the Report, Simon Curtis pulled down his Facebook page, where he used the name simoncurtis88 — the 88 being neo-Nazi code for “Heil Hitler,” as “H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet — along with all other references to his VF work. Barker, the head of the British VF, did the same, vaporizing the online presence of his group and other overseas chapters.
Born in the USA
In the United States, Volksfront had been on shaky ground for many years, dating back to the period of its battles with the Hammerskins. Even then, it was clear that Krager was anxious to settle the dispute. In 2008, he called Richie Myers, the de facto leader of Hammerskin Nation, asking if he wanted to continue the conflict.
The answer was apparently yes — in December of that year, Hammerskins invaded the Portland home of Justin Martin, the vice president of VF. In October of 2009, during an annual Hammerskin concert called Hammerfest, members of the same group came to the Lakeland, Fla., home of Mike Lawrence, the VF officer in charge of the East Coast, beat him up, and demanded his VF paraphernalia.
That same month, there was another confrontation — this time, incredibly, at a speech given by Holocaust denier David Irving at the luxurious Ritz Carlton hotel south of Palm Beach, Fla. In what witnesses described as an unprovoked attack that had nothing to do with Irving’s speech, John Kopko, a member of the Crew 38 support group for the Hammerskins, and VF member Christopher Nachtman fought each other with knives in a public battle that sent both men to the hospital.
In December 2009, Hammerskins also showed up at a Pensacola, Fla., event known as Martyr’s Day — it commemorates the death of Bob Mathews, founder of the terrorist group The Order, who died in a 1984 shootout with the FBI — looking for a fight. But David Lynch, who led the racist American Front skinhead group and was friendly with both sides, managed to calm the waters and forestall violence.
Time to hang them up? A photo of Volksfront garb at a neo-Nazi gathering is reminiscent of the heyday of the racist skinhead organization. More recently, Volksfront founder Randal Krager burned his own jacket and other group paraphernalia, and an unknown number of other ex-members may have done the same.
At the same time, VF members were suspected in a number of ugly incidents. Perhaps the most sordid was VFer Daniel Feltmate’s arrest on charges of kidnapping, domestic battery and written threats to kill or do bodily harm to a family member in connection with the kidnapping, for three days in 2009, of his former girlfriend, Lindsey Bierschenk. Feltmate was in jail for three months, but the charges were then dropped. VF members also were suspected in other assaults, including the still-unsolved March 2010 shooting of Portland anti-racist activist Luke Querner, who was left paralyzed.
But the violence did not stop VF from continuing to build its U.S. network, even as the overseas VF network expanded. By the late 2000s, VF was running four online U.S. businesses — Upfront Records, Free Your Mind Productions, Liferune Industries and ROA (Race Over All) Publications. In addition, VF members bought six acres in eastern Oregon, meant to be the start of a new white homeland. In 2007, Krager orchestrated the purchase of more than 10 acres in Fredericktown, Mo., where VF built its headquarters building, which was dubbed the Samuel Weaver Memorial Hall. And VF member Richie Graves, with financial help from the group, opened a Sunrise Beach, Mo., gym called the Body Shop Fitness Center.
All told, a well-placed source told the Report recently, “Between acreage plots, merchandise and cash, VF is easily in the six-figure ballpark” of assets.
In late 2009, Krager, who is a heating, ventilation and air conditioning specialist, was hired by a civilian contractor in Afghanistan. When he departed, as shown in E-mails hacked by opponents of VF, he left the U.S. organization in the hands of Corey “Spider” Miller, VF’s security chief and Krager’s designated heir; Justin Martin, the group’s vice president; Paul Alfich, VF’s treasurer; and Brad Galloway, head of the VF Vancouver chapter in Canada. Within months, however, Alfich and Galloway were dropped from VF’s leadership core.
Krager told his members that with respect to “the current bullshit” – the feud with the Hammerskins — “nothing should be said publicly about the problems, because of reds and police monitoring everything. If the situation changes drastically while i [sic] am away you’ll have to make the best decision you can.”
With Krager out of the country, the feud with the Hammerskins died down. Increasingly, the overseas units of VF operated on their own; by 2012, Barker, who ran VF’s European communications, was no longer consulting Krager. Activity in the American units, meanwhile, dropped off until the summer of 2012.
Then came the shooting in Wisconsin.
Back in the day: At a 1990s concert of the iconic racist band Skrewdriver, current Smugglers Inn owner Simon Curtis can be seen sieg-heiling (far left, face turned away) his comrades. Beside him, in a Skrewdriver security T-shirt like his own, is Kirk Barker (mouth open), who would later become the head of the United Kingdom chapter of Volksfront. At the rear, with a microphone, is Skrewdriver lead singer Ian Stuart Donaldson.
The Turning Point
On Aug. 5, 2012, a neo-Nazi named Wade Michael Page strode into a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., shot to death six people, badly wounded a police officer and, as police closed in, killed himself. Page was wrongly identified by ABC News as a VF member. But he had a connection — his girlfriend, Misty Cook, was soon revealed to be a VF member, the only patched American woman in the group.
Pressure from police and anti-racist activists — some of whom had repeatedly revealed the home addresses of Krager and his wife — mounted. And Krager, who now had several children and was approaching 40, came to a decision.
Days after the shooting, VF publicly denounced the attack as “an act of demented criminal cowardice.” The VF America website was pulled down and a notice citing harassment and government investigations left in its place. On Sept. 7, VF’s Wikipedia entry was edited by “Vfusa” to say that “Volksfront in the United States announced their dissolution in August 2012 via their website.”
By that time, Corey Miller, the second most important figure in VF America after Krager, had left. A source close to VF said this was critical: “Corey Miller leaving the organization and Randy Krager’s retirement as a result of frustration with the anti-racist harassment and having no viable replacement is what caused VF to disband.” Another said the shooting was only “a convenient scapegoat.”
Most VF members were shocked. Krager hadn’t bothered to inform Barker, his main European VF contact, of the shutdown. And, in the U.S., the group was still taking on prospects and planning a September 2012 Althing at its Fredericktown hall. But Krager vetoed that idea at the last minute, moving the event to the much smaller venue of Richie Graves’ Missouri home. It was a disaster. Police showed up. Graves and a Golden State Skinhead got into a fight. Krager told attendees to hide their VF material and go home. Enraged, Graves cut off his patch.
Krager now seems to be out of the game entirely — a shock to many, given that he had controlled the group tightly for years, ruling on who would get patched, who would be allowed to get tattoos, and other minutiae, both here and abroad.
He has sold a bar in Oakland, Neb., that he bought for VF. He hasn’t posted on racist websites in months. His wife Abbie Chelf, a racist activist herself who once ran the Folkish Women’s Front, stopped posting last April, too, after a total of some 11,000 entries on the racist Web forum Stormfront. At the same time, the Report has learned, Krager burned all the VF patches, flags and T-shirts he had.
And the last remaining leaders on the U.S. side have drifted away. Justin Martin, the vice president, told the Report he had left the group. “Volksfront just wasn’t getting anywhere,” he said. Mike Lawrence, the East Coast leader, renounced VF on Stormfront, saying he was turning to “folkish endeavors” after realizing that “the majority of the so-called ‘movement’ will forever be plagued with a collection of pedophiles, sociopaths, misfits and retards.” And Darralyn Lasater, the ex-wife of Richie Graves (who is now in prison), told the Report that the pair had tired of “constantly spending money for a bunch of idiots … and fucking morons.”
“It’s done,” Mike Lawrence told the Report.
Now, with the exposure of Simon Curtis and others overseas, it appears possible that the entire European end of the Volkfront organization is done as well. At press time, virtually all the overseas VF groups appeared to have gone silent, or at least underground, though it’s possible they will resurface — possibly as racist groups no longer affiliated with VF. Longstanding plans for an October 2014 blowout celebrating the group’s 20th anniversary seem to have stalled.
A source close to VF noted that former members are now regularly “derid[ing] the group or their former comrades.” And he offered an explanation: “Denouncing the group retrospectively is simply an effort on the part of the individual members to distance themselves from the sunken ship and any legal fallout that may ever come. But,” he added, “who knows?”