Richard J. Cotter, a pillar of the establishment, leaves a small fortune to the neo-Nazi right, shocking many who knew him.
Though Richard J. Cotter wasn't much of a political activist during his lifetime, he has made some waves upon his death.
Cotter was 81 when he died two years ago. He had gone to Phillips-Exeter Academy and then to Harvard for college and law school. He befriended John F. Kennedy, served in the Second World War, and was once an assistant attorney general of Massachusetts. Friends knew him as someone who loved horses and nature.
Apparently, though, he hated Jews. Stunning even the friend he asked to execute his will, Cotter left a windfall of $650,000 to several neo-Nazi groups. Executor Donald Smith is now hoping to prevent $500,000 of that from going to the white supremacist New Christian Crusade Church (NCCC) in Chalmette, La.
"I always knew he was a conservative guy," says Smith, who had known Cotter for 50 years. "But not someone who thought the world would have been a better place had Hitler won the war."
Cotter's $5.4 million will seemed typical enough at first. Most of it went to his show horses, to charities including a local conservation group, to friends and to his only surviving relative, a niece in Brooklyn. But Smith wondered why half a million dollars were earmarked for a small church in Louisiana, when Cotter had lived his whole life in Massachusetts.
To his amazement, Smith learned that the NCCC pastor was James K. Warner, who helped to found the American Nazi Party and had close ties with KKK leader David Duke.
Surprised, Smith started investigating the other recipients. William Pierce, who received $25,000, leads the National Alliance, America's premier neo-Nazi group. The Confederation of Polish Freedom Fighters, which received another $25,000, is described by Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates as a Massachusetts anti-Semitic group.
And then there's Ernst Zundel, author of The Hitler We Loved and Why, who may put his $100,000 bequest towards years of legal bills. The German neo-Nazi has been living in Canada since 1958, but he may be forced to leave now that his citizenship application has been conclusively rejected by the Canadian Supreme Court. He is considered a "threat to the safety and security of Canada."
Kathleen Pyle, who tended Cotter's horses for 23 years and inherited his house, was shocked to learn that he supported Nazism. She wept as she explained that he was too soft-hearted even to put down his sick horses. "The man I knew was kind, generous," she said. "A decent man."
Yet Cotter's niece Diana Chabrier said that his extremism was not something he tried to keep secret, and that his bookshelves were full of neo-Nazi propaganda. NCCC pastor Warner claims that a representative of the church had met with Cotter twice a month for 15 years and that Cotter knew exactly what sort of organizations he was funding.
"He didn't pick our names out of a phone directory," Warner said.
Reluctantly, Donald Smith has executed most of Cotter's will. But he found a special provision to the NCCC bequest — the church had to qualify for tax deductible donations under IRS regulations, or else its share would be distributed among several other charities.
Doubting that Warner's church qualified, Smith has refused to pay out its share. In November, one of the other charities filed suit to prevent NCCC from receiving any of the money. The case is pending.
Why a lawyer who seemed entrenched in the American establishment got turned onto organized racism, no one seems to know. As Ms. Pyle said, "I guess everyone has their own little secrets."