Skip to main content Accessibility
The Intelligence Report is the SPLC's award-winning magazine. Subscribe here for a print copy.

National Alliance Founder William Pierce’s Writing Inspires Slaughter

National Alliance leader William Pierce's writings inspire violence, including a racially-motivated shooting spree in Mississippi.

JACKSON, Miss -- A drifting loner, he served in the Army and later became so enraged by the government's actions in the 1993 tragedy in Waco, Texas, that he built a shrine to the dead. He drew early inspiration from the work of National Alliance founder William Pierce, including Pierce's ode to hate, The Turner Diaries, a novel depicting a race war which whites unleash by using a fertilizer bomb to blow up a federal building.

But this outcast's name wasn't Timothy McVeigh.

It was Larry Shoemake, who gunned down eight black Mississippians in 1996, almost a year after McVeigh's ammonium nitrate bomb killed 168 people in Oklahoma City.

Although McVeigh's use of Pierce's book as a map for murder is widely known, the case of Shoemake — along with those of several less known people — shows yet again how Pierce's scribblings have spawned not only hatred, but death.

An only son born while his father fought overseas in World War II, Larry Shoemake seemed bright and full of potential as a youth. But in 1961, he quit high school and left to fight in Vietnam. When he returned, violence from that conflict spilled over into his marriage, with Shoemake repeatedly beating his wife until she finally left him. His next two marriages dissolved almost as quickly.

Shoemake dumped bosses even more often than spouses and was often unemployed. But he did manage to snag a role in the 1988 movie "Mississippi Burning," carrying the bodies of three slain civil rights workers.

It was, as his third wife would say later, Shoemake's way of trying to leave some kind of mark on history.

He later moved in with his mother, who'd been left alone since her husband's 1986 suicide. At his mother's 1994 funeral, Shoemake wept bitterly and later spoke of suicide.

"Unless I get killed by an automobile," he told relatives, "I'll choose my way out."

His Way Out: 20,000 Rounds
On the afternoon of April 12, 1996, one week shy of the first anniversary of the Oklahoma bombing, he pulled his pickup truck up behind an abandoned PoFolks Restaurant in Jackson. Larry Shoemake had chosen his way out.

No one knows the precise moment when Shoemake began to hate. But almost everyone who knew him agrees that he was never the same after he read a single book: The Turner Diaries. In that book and in the later novel Hunter, depicting the assassinations of interracial couples, Pierce gave Shoemake the scapegoat he'd been searching for — he had been the victim of a worldwide conspiracy by the government and the Jews.

"It was like an eye-opener for him," his third wife recalled. "There was a distinct difference in him."

Pierce's depiction of a race war where white Americans annihilate all other races became real to Shoemake, who began subscribing to the author's publications and stockpiling weapons. Convinced of Pierce's prophecies, Shoemake began talking of moving to a white supremacist commune in the Ozarks of northwest Arkansas.

Instead, he stayed in Jackson, preparing for his own private war.

Larry Shoemake pried open the back door of the PoFolks Restaurant and stacked up a load of items from his pickup: two assault rifles, a pump shotgun, a pistol, a .357-caliber Ruger, more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition, a gas mask and a jug full of gasoline.

After pouring a trail of gas around the restaurant's permiter, he secured a place from where he could fire his high-powered weapons. Then, clutching an AR-15 assault rifle, he began to fire relentlessly into a predominantly black neighborhood.

Birthdays and Bullets
D.Q. Holifield had come to town that day with his son to buy clothes for his birthday party. Hearing what sounded like a blowout, Holifield got out of his car to examine the damage. Shoemake ripped him apart with a hail of bullets.

Another storm of bullets was aimed at Holifield's son, Johnny, who was hit in the arm and thigh. When paramedics tried to rescue his dying father, Shoemake sprayed the ambulance with bullets, forcing them to flee.

Cherie McElroy saw Holifield go down at about the same time her car stalled. Hearing bullets zipping by, she frantically attempted to restart her car. Dead. She prayed and turned the key again. A bullet caught her in the shoulder. Her mother was hit in the hip. Once more, she tried the engine, and this time it caught. She sped to safety.

One of Shoemake's shots hit Pam Berry, a reporter for The (Jackson) Clarion-Ledger, in the neck. Another shattered James Lawson's left leg. His cousin, Darrien Jackson, was also injured, and so was Dorothy Grayson.

All but Holifield survived.

Shoemake continued his rampage for 40 minutes, shooting until the fire he set engulfed the restaurant. Flames shot higher than 100 feet. Before the conflagration could reach him, Shoemake placed his Ruger against his temple and squeezed the trigger.

Inside Larry Shoemake's home, police found 15 different makes of rifles, two shotguns, military manuals and another 20,000 rounds of ammunition. Combined with the weapons found in the charred remains of the restaurant, the arsenal's price tag was put at $50,000 — hardly affordable for a man who was perpetually unemployed.

A small inheritance from his mother "was nowhere near that," said Shoemake's niece, Lisa Robertson. Where he got the money "remains a mystery."

'The Final Ramblings'
It was the first of several clues that Shoemake may not have plotted alone. One neighbor spoke of "funny looking fellows" coming and going from Shoemake's house. And police found two walkie-talkies when they searched the place.

Any questions about motive were answered when authorities entered Shoemake's home. A Nazi flag had been carefully draped across his bed, along with his mother's Bible and a copy of Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler's autobiography. There was also a Confederate flag and a "shrine" to the Branch Davidians who died in Waco.

Throughout the house, Shoemake had left a series of notes. One read, "I say: Annihilation or separation! Who is crazy, me or you? We will see." Nearby lay a Pierce publication titled, "Separation or Annihilation."

And police found something else. It was a letter Shoemake had written to a friend a month earlier, but never mailed.

Hi, Kay. I'm baaaccck! Got my coffee and ready to ramble. We could call this, "The Final Ramblings of a Mad Man."

... I'm sliding down and the farther I slide the faster I slide, and there's no brush or tree limbs or rocks or anything I can grab and stop the slide and hold on to. I've been sliding for a long time and I'm getting close to the bottom and when I hit it will be a great relief to me. The sudden stop won't hurt.

[W]e have to act insanely to bring back sanity. I'm talking getting our guns and start pulling trigger on our enemies. Kill hundreds of thousands or more. ... They deserve to die. Now. ... Blacks is the problem. Its in their genes. ... The bottom line is: Separation or annihilation.

I think I'm about to run out of ink. That's not the only thing that's running out. ... I must go now and explore another planet, because I don't like this one anymore.

Love, Larry.

Jerry Mitchell is a staff writer for The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger. He is one of several reporters who covered the Larry Shoemake rampage.