After the unexpected death of William Pierce, the neo-Nazi National Alliance struggles to survive under new chairman Erich Gliebe.
At the end, he called in his inner circle one by one, dispensing orders from his deathbed as the darkness closed in around him. For 10 days this July, William Luther Pierce instructed his subordinates, working feverishly to try to assure the survival of his National Alliance, America's leading neo-Nazi group.
It was an old-fashioned death for a man who conceived of himself in decidedly old-fashioned terms — as a lord among serfs, an elite leader uniquely capable of leading "his people" to victory over Jews, "race traitors," and a whole host of other enemies.
The question in the mind of the dying Pierce was the same one that came to haunt followers and enemies alike after his July 23 demise: Could the National Alliance, a group built around a single man, survive that man's departure?
Pierce's death came at a critical moment. A quarter-century after birthing the Alliance from the rubble of a George Wallace youth support group, Pierce, 68, had finally remade his outfit into a remarkably professional organization. Much of the previous two years had been spent building up a talented staff, learning how to run a profitable business, and intensifying recruiting and propaganda.
By this spring, the Alliance was bringing in more than $1 million a year, had a paid national staff of 17 full-time officials, and was better known than at any time in its history. In just five days in June, Alliance members in 20 states distributed 70,000 leaflets.
Six days after Pierce's unforeseen death from kidney failure and cancer, a committee of his key staffers announced that the Alliance had found a new leader.
Erich Gliebe, the hard-edged former boxer who fought professionally as "The Aryan Barbarian," would be the new chairman, although all agreed that no one could replace Pierce, who was memorialized as "Our Eternal Chairman," comparable to Hitler himself.
"We have a leader," announced Billy Roper, the Alliance's deputy membership coordinator and a man many members had touted to succeed Pierce. "There is no crisis. There is no dissension, and there should be no factions."
'Freaks and Weaklings'
Although Gliebe is not expected to have the kind of total authority that Pierce enjoyed — the inner core of the Alliance's national staff is likely to act as a kind of collective leadership — his ascension was unsurprising.
He is considered smart and ruthless, even if humorless and without charisma. More importantly, he is the well-established manager of Resistance Records, the white power music label that has brought the National Alliance financial success and political attention.
Gliebe had also shown himself intensely loyal to Pierce, who viewed him as a son. That was made apparent once more at an April 20 "leadership conference" held at the compound, during which Pierce gave his last speech.
While some Alliance members were taken aback by Pierce's fierce attack on the "defective people" who make up other hate groups, Gliebe was not among them. Following Pierce to the podium of this highly secretive gathering, Gliebe launched into a harangue about the "morons" and "hobbyists" who inhabit other groups and sometimes even manage to slip into the Alliance.
"We have a great opportunity to really shape the future of our struggle and task at hand," Gliebe barked, "and to totally wipe out this make-believe world otherwise known as 'the movement.' As most of you know, there is no movement, although quite a few people out there think there may be."
Pierce returned to the podium to pound that message home to the 80 members who had been invited, many of whom had never met Pierce and were being vetted for possible larger roles in the future.
"To sum up," Pierce told them, "the Alliance has no interest at all in the so-called 'movement.' We're not interested in uniting with the movement, and we're not interested in competing with the movement for members. If anything, we should be grateful that the movement is out there to soak up a lot of the freaks and weaklings who otherwise might find their way into the Alliance and make problems for us.
"In this regard, I was sorry to note Aryan Nations and the [World] Church of the Creator [the two other major neo-Nazi groups in America] have, for all practical purposes, died in the last few weeks. I hope one or two replacement groups spring up to draw away from us the defectives." A Conflict Within
That kind of sneering analysis — which will come as a rude shock to the many hate groups that sent their condolences over Pierce's death — was not shared by all in the National Alliance.
Billy Roper, in particular, has worked hard to build alliances with the very groups Pierce and Gliebe despised. Roper brought racist Skinheads and other "white nationalists" to Alliance-sponsored rallies and even joined them in the streets of York, Pa., where they battled hundreds of anti-racists last Jan. 12.
That did not sit well with Pierce.
"There was this unity thing in the air for a while back at the beginning of the year," Pierce said at the April conference, "this idea that the freaks and sieg-heilers could somehow be a benefit to us, especially if we got in street fights with the Jews and reds and blacks. ... We are not strong enough at this time to effectively fight in the streets against the kind of opposition that could have been anticipated in York. ... We don't do that sort of thing."
Roper's outreach, along with his continuing ties to Skinheads and others who would never be allowed into the elitist National Alliance, has alienated him from other staff members who live on the group's isolated, 346-acre headquarters compound just outside Mill Valley, W. Va.
To them, Roper was ignoring a basic tenet of Pierce's — that the Alliance is a vanguard party, an elite group that will lead the "lemmings" of white America to ultimate victory. But that did not prevent Roper from emerging as the other candidate for chairman.
Indeed, Roper could be seen jockeying for position after Pierce's death, even boasting by E-mail that he'd been named "White Activist of the Year" by Volksfront, a small neo-Nazi outfit in the Northwest.
Roper's strength lies in the so-called "units" of the 1,500-member National Alliance located around the country — 51 chapters in 25 states — where his allies are concentrated.
That has led to speculation that if Roper is eventually kicked out, as seems possible, he could form a rival group drawn from his less ideologically "pure" friends around the United States. But that is not likely to happen any time soon, as the Alliance struggles to keep intact the organization that Pierce built.
Pierce, a former university physics professor, clearly foresaw the difficulties that could beset the group after his death. Robert Griffin, a sympathetic academic who wrote a 2001 biography of Pierce (see review), says Pierce worried that the Alliance was not well organized to perpetuate itself into the future. Griffin paraphrased Pierce as saying "that the pattern of one-man organizations — and the Alliance is that, really — is for them to fade away when their leader passes." The Growth Machine
Pierce's group was organized to be a self-perpetuating growth machine — "an ingenious combination of outreach and fundraising," in the words of one-time Alliance attorney Victor Gerhard, who Pierce fired in early 2001 but still lives near the West Virginia compound.
Pierce recruited in order to bring in monthly dues that could then be used to hire national staff members; then he used the staffers to propagandize in various ways in order to bring in more members.
"We communicate in order to recruit," is the way Pierce put it at this spring's leadership conference, held on the anniversary of Hitler's birthday. "We recruit in order to have the resources for enhancing our ability to communicate."
The danger of such a set-up is that it depends on the loyalty of men and women who belong to the Alliance's far-flung chapters — a loyalty that has long been directed personally to Pierce, a man who may not have been charismatic but who did provide a comprehensive vision of the world to his followers.
If Gliebe fails to win the same kind of personal loyalty — if he cannot make sense of the world for his members — he could soon start to lose members and dues payments. That in turn could spark layoffs of staff members and, eventually, the group's collapse.
But there is a keen interest in keeping the Alliance intact. For one thing, it has become the world's largest distributor of white power music through Resistance Records, which is a major profit center.
In addition, according to the Center for New Community, it controls five other white power labels — Cymophane, Johnny Rebel, Condor Legion Ordnance, WhitePowerRecords.com, and Unholy Records — and is the distributor for Vinland Records, the U.S. division of Nordland Records.
Under Pierce, the Alliance built up a remarkable multimedia operation that also has recently produced a new recruiting video, a racist but highly successful computer game called "Ethnic Cleansing," and a series of shortwave, AM, FM and Internet broadcasts.
In April, Pierce focused on the group's accomplishments, but also warned that such work depends on quality staffers.
"Too often in the past," he told the conference, "we have tried to build on sand and we've failed. Too often, we've tried to start projects with weak people. ... and then we've had to back off."
The professionalization of the Alliance's staff is not all that has changed in recent years. For decades, the organization struggled along, sometimes more and sometimes less successfully — but generally under the radar screen of the general public.
In the last two years, the Alliance has led public rallies at the Israeli and German embassies, openly distributed propaganda around the country in places as far-flung as Maine and Alaska, and generated a great deal of publicity. It now claims members in all 50 states. All of this has contributed to the growth of the group and its music and book sales.
"For all this build-up of market size and audience size," Pierce said, "we always try to do a better and better job of advertising and marketing. We try to use better methods, better psychology, and to do things on a larger and larger scale."
The result has been unprecedented expansion. The National Alliance is now one of the leading institutions of the radical right in the Western hemisphere.
'Marching Toward Their Graves'
Today, there are 17 members of the Alliance's national staff — up from about half that number two years ago — and they include experts in computers, Web site design, video game technology, shortwave broadcasting and film production, even a man who claims he taught space chemistry at Harvard (school records do not support the claim).
Sales of white power music have risen by a factor of four since spring 2001, and hits on the Resistance Records Web site are up almost three-fold. A major new building with seating capacity for 400 people, offices for 12 staffers and even a video production suite, is nearing completion.
The group's publishing operation, National Vanguard Books, is about to start up again in earnest. It has acquired expensive office and printing machinery, its own diesel power plant, a flatbed dump truck, a log-splitting machine and more.
Just months ago, these changes were the cause of much optimism.
It is possible that we are entering a new era," Pierce said at the April conference. "It may be that we are beginning to have at least a little influence on the world around us, even if we aren't getting credit for it. ... The rise of anti-Jewish feeling is a fact. The role of the National Alliance is something on which I can only speculate."
It remains to be seen whether or not the Alliance can hold together, both as a profitable business operation and as a political entity. Its purpose, however, is still clear.
"The aim of the Alliance, our ultimate goal, is to ensure the survival and the progress of our race and to guide that progress," Pierce told his audience this spring.
"We want eventually to be the policymakers for all of our people. We want to set race-wide policies and then do whatever is necessary to ensure that those policies are carried out. And we want to do that permanently."
Pierce sketched out his political program a little more bluntly in 1994.
"All of the homosexuals, racemixers, and hard-case collaborators in the country who are too far gone to be re-educated can be rounded up, packed into 10,000 or so railroad cattle cars, and eventually double-timed into an abandoned coal mine in a few days time," he wrote in an internal newsletter.
"All of these people simply don't count, except as a mass of voters. ... Those who speak against us now should be looked at as dead men — as men marching in lockstep toward their own graves."
As it happened, William Luther Pierce went to his own grave first.