David Koenig, a police officer from Dayton, Ohio, was shot by Aryan Nations heir apparent Harold Ray Redfeairn in 1979, but escaped with his life.
Editor's note: On Feb. 28, 1979, Harold Ray Redfeairn, who has since become one of America's most infamous hate group leaders, set off on a crime spree that landed him in mental institutions and prison until 1991. Then 26, the Chicago native had already seen — and caused — plenty of trouble.
According to later court testimony, Redfeairn was discharged from the U.S. Army after going AWOL, then struggled to make ends meet while living with his mother and stepfather in Dayton, Ohio. They testified that Redfeairn tried to kill both himself and his mother during this time. His brushes with the law included jail time for a robbery.
But that was small change compared to what happened — and almost happened — beginning at 3 o'clock on a chilly February afternoon in Dayton, when Redfeairn robbed a Howard Johnson's hotel at gunpoint. Three hours later, Redfeairn — who now preaches the violent, anti-Semitic "gospel" of Christian Identity — arrived at Pete's Auto Sales, where he flashed his newfound wad of cash and convinced a reluctant salesman to take him on a test drive.
During the drive, Redfeairn stuck a gun in the salesman's chest and said, "Well, pal, this is the end for you." At Redfeairn's 1981 trial, Paul Bruns Jr. testified that he pleaded for his life in terror. "I kept begging and pleading and finally he just said, 'Turn around and start walking down the road.' He said, 'You look back, you are a dead son of a bitch.'"
Bruns felt lucky to survive. But several hours before dawn the next morning, Redfeairn was pulled over by a 22-year-old Dayton police officer for having no license plates on the stolen car. Ever since he testified in court about his violent encounter with the future neo-Nazi leader, the officer, David Koenig, has been reluctant to tell his story publicly.
But Koenig, who has since left law enforcement, recently spoke with the Intelligence Report about his chilling experience and the lessons he has learned since then about the threat posed by America's neo-Nazis.
INTELLIGENCE REPORT: What made you decide to become a police officer?
DAVID KOENIG: Oh, gosh, it's just what I always wanted to do. Nobody in my family was in law enforcement, but my dad was best friends with a Cincinnati cop. I went straight from high school to the [police] cadet program they had at the time in Cincinnati. I got laid off there, and that's how I ended up in Dayton.
IR: What had your police career been like up until your encounter with Ray Redfeairn?
KOENIG: Actually, I was only out of the academy three months. I was a patrol officer, city of Dayton.
IR: Do you remember what happened on March 1, 1979?
KOENIG: I pulled him [Redfeairn] over on a traffic stop for no license plates on the vehicle. It was around 3 in the morning, a cool night, snow melting on the ground. It had started drizzling when I went up to him. He didn't have any identification or anything.
There was a woman in the car, and he gave me a song and dance that this was his best friend's wife with him, and geez, how long is this going to take? He was right away nervous, but I think I was too young and dumb to suspect anything.
I took down the VIN [Vehicle Identification Number] number on the vehicle because there were no plates. Went back to my cruiser, and it ended up I didn't have any backup because the burglar alarm had gone off at a Brink's store and everybody else was out there. I called [the] Records [Department] to check information about the car and him and got put on standby. He'd given me a false name, Harvey Lee Jones.
While I was waiting, there were two times that he got out of the car, so I got out, and he kept going, "Jesus, this is my buddy's wife, how long is this gonna take," saying he didn't want to get caught with her, yaddy, yaddy, yaddy.
IR: And what happened then?
KOENIG: He came back a third time, but I didn't know it. I was still on standby, but I was starting to think, "OK, this guy's getting a ticket even though I can't find out anything from Records." So I was turned to open my briefcase on the passenger seat to get my ticket book out and didn't see him come back.
He opened up the driver's door, started firing. Evidently, he fired five shots. It was a .25-caliber semi-automatic. I had a [bulletproof] vest on, but because I had my left hand holding up the briefcase top, my side was exposed and it went through the gap between the panels.
The pain started right above my beltline, and as he was firing he worked his way up. Three of the bullets actually hit me, and two lodged inside. The first one hit above my belt, one hit the front panel [of the vest], then my shoulder, then my neck, then the last one hit the headrest.
The force of it knocked me across the front seat. He climbed in the car on top of me and was holding his gun at my head. I went to reach for my weapon and he was yelling at me not to do that.
I reached over and keyed the radio mike in the car, cause he was yelling all kinds of stuff at me as he's sitting on top of me. When he realized I was holding the mike and told me to let go of that, I started fighting with him.
He dropped his gun, got off of me, got out of the car. I got out behind him, switched channels to put out my assistance call. I remember I had sighted him [in Koenig's gun] when I blacked out. He was climbing into his car.
IR: What was Redfeairn saying when he was on top of you in the cruiser?
KOENIG: Oh, the normal: "You fucking pig, you think you're so bad now, eh?" That line sticks with me. Everything else I don't know.
IR: What happened after you blacked out and he sped away?
KOENIG: He proceeded to wreck the car. He was half a block to a block up the street and hit a tree. He got out and hid in a cemetery.
The woman [who testified that she had only met Redfeairn shortly before the incident] stayed around. The other crews responded, but they never found him through the search. The woman gave somebody else's name at first, blamed it on somebody else. She later recanted and told them the true name.
I don't know what time it was in the morning, but they were about to call off the search. An officer was taking some equipment back to the safety building, and he noticed this car in front of him with a guy in the passenger seat who kept turning around looking at the police cruiser. He felt that something just wasn't right about it.
He pulled the car over, got the driver in the back and said, "Something seems strange here. Who's that with you?" And the guy says, "Oh, that's just my stepson, Harold Ray Redfeairn." By this time they had his name, so the officer knew he had to call for assistance and they got him arrested.
IR: We left you lying by the cruiser. What was the next thing you remember after that?
KOENIG: When I came to, I got on the radio and started putting out a description.
Turns out they couldn't find me at first, either, because when I collapsed, I ended up kind of halfway under the cruiser and the responding crews couldn't see me. They saw my cruiser with the door open and the lights on, so they figured I was out there somewhere getting my ass beat. They went all throughout the neighborhood, looking for Redfeairn and me.
When I came to and started putting out a description, the dispatcher asked me where I was and then they found me at the cruiser. I don't know how long that took.
IR: Sounds like you had a remarkable presence of mind, despite what was going on.
KOENIG: They say you always go back to your training.
IR: And your training was pretty fresh in your mind at that point.
KOENIG: Yes, exactly.
IR: What kind of recovery process did you go through?
KOENIG: I was in the hospital for about a month. Because the first bullet went in the side, went all the way across and tore up everything, they basically had to rebuild my stomach.
IR: How did your family deal with all this?
KOENIG: I wasn't married then. It was my parents and sisters. My mom still doesn't talk about it, my dad doesn't say much, but I know they went through a lot. They were at the hospital every day.
And for the first couple of days, they weren't even sure I was going to make it. But they knew if I got out [of the hospital] that I was going to go back. I was off work for about two months before I went back.
IR: You went back on patrol?
KOENIG: I did. They put me on the 3-to-11 shift rather than the midnight shift, though, and they put me with a partner. I can remember the first day we were out, I told him, "I've got to make a traffic stop and I've got to do it by myself." So my partner stayed in the car. Had to get back on that horse.
IR: And after that?
KOENIG: Spent eight and a half more years on the force.
IR: Making a lot of traffic stops, no doubt.
KOENIG: Yeah. But none like that one.
IR: Had you ever heard of Redfeairn, the Aryan Nations or the neo-Nazi movement before this happened?
KOENIG: No. Actually, I don't think it even came up until he actually went to prison. It never came out in the trial or the proceedings.
IR: Redfeairn was not tried for your attempted murder, or for the robberies, until 1981, more than two years after the shooting. Why did it take so long?
KOENIG: Because he was found incompetent to stand trial initially. They blamed it on his upbringing, the religious fervor of the aunt who raised him. He heard voices and all that.
[Editor's note: In court, psychologists also testified to Redfeairn's lifelong pattern of mental illness. Redfeairn, they said, was a paranoid schizophrenic with frequent hallucinations and persistent delusions, including a belief that he was chosen by God to engage in violent battle with the Devil "at the time of Armageddon." These fantasies had been helped along, they said, by Redfeairn's Pentecostal upbringing.
In adulthood, the psychologists testified, Redfeairn continued to have imaginary companions who spoke with him frequently, and he believed he was "in constant touch" with the Archangel Michael. According to his psychologists, when he committed the robberies and attempted murder, Redfeairn "was experiencing an acute psychotic episode," and therefore should not be held responsible for his actions.
His imaginary companions "had a whole lot to do with what happened in that car," Redfeairn's defense attorney argued. One psychologist added that Redfeairn, who did not testify in his own defense, believed "police were agents of the devil."]
After he was found incompetent, he was placed on a "civil commitment" to a state institution, which is what they do in Ohio. He ended up at Dayton State Hospital, probably a quarter-mile from where he shot me.
We started a process to re-indict him [when Redfeairn was about to be released from Dayton State Hospital in the fall of 1980]. He had "regained competency" and could stand trial now. We'd had the grand jury hearing, but they hadn't issued an indictment yet.
And then, as coincidence would have it, I was home on an off day, and a buddy of mine who was a detective stopped by. He was working, so he had his radio, and over the radio we heard someone asking downtown to pull a photo of Harold Redfeairn. Well, that caught both of our ears, so we made some calls and found out that he'd been on a work release program as part of his civil commitment, and had not returned. That helped prod along the issuing of indictments.
IR: At his trial in 1981, Redfeairn's attorney argued that he was not guilty by reason of insanity, right?
KOENIG: Yes. But that was rejected. The jury found him guilty on all counts. As I recall, he got four consecutive seven-to-25-year sentences.
[Editor's note: Redfeairn was originally sentenced to seven to 25 years on each of three counts of aggravated robbery and one count of attempted aggravated murder. One robbery conviction was thrown out during a series of appeals that didn't end until 1985, and the two others were reduced to four-to-25-year sentences, meaning that Redfeairn's maximum prison time amounted to 75 years.]
IR: Redfeairn had not even served his entire minimum sentence when he was paroled in 1991. How did you feel when he was released?
KOENIG: Not happy. Since I was still a policeman at the time, I kind of knew that the system does what it does, and doesn't really care whether you're happy or not. I had written letters for each of his parole hearings, and forwarded them to the prosecutor's office, but they did what they did.
IR: Redfeairn has had numerous run-ins with the law since his release. Have you and your family felt threatened at all?
KOENIG: My wife does now, but she didn't know me when I was a policeman. The way I figure it, to a lot of these guys, it's a game. They know the rules of the game and know if they screw with either a police officer or the complainant [who filed criminal charges against them], it just means they're going to do more and worse time, so they'll think, "OK, I got caught, did my time, and I'll go on to my next venture." Of course, that could be incorrect. Maybe it's just my way of dealing with it.
IR: Have you ever worried about Redfeairn's neo-Nazi comrades wanting to finish the job?
KOENIG: Not a whole lot, but I won't say it's never crossed my mind. I ended up leaving the Dayton ... and going to a police department near Cincinnati. I left there and relocated to work for a private employer. If you wanted to find me, you could, but it would take a little work to track me down.
IR: Redfeairn has said at least once that he regrets shooting you. Do you have any reason to believe he's sincere?
KOENIG: I have no idea. Prior to sentencing, the judge contacted me and said that Harold and his family wanted to meet with me. I saw no reason to do that. If he said he was sorry, it would have meant nothing to me, quite honestly.
IR: You must have learned a lot about the Aryan Nations and the larger neo-Nazi movement through the years. What do you know now that others could learn from?
KOENIG: That they don't respect law-enforcement officers. Other people do, to a certain degree. With them [the neo-Nazis], you're even a lower step than the common citizen because you're a cop. They have nothing holding them back, basically.
And they don't want to get caught. My shooting was that situation; they don't want to get caught.
IR: Should it tell us something about Aryan Nations and other neo-Nazi groups that a person like Redfeairn is poised to become their leader?
KOENIG: That they'll be all the more dangerous, toward everybody. There are some groups that espouse violence and never follow through. These neo-Nazi groups espouse violence, and they do follow through.
IR: In the twisted worldview that prevails in neo-Nazi circles, do you think that Redfeairn has an enhanced measure of credibility because he shot you?
KOENIG: I'm sure he does. It's like industry: When you rise to be president of something, they look to see what your background was. He's rising to the head of an organization that measures its accomplishments by measures that nobody else would even think would be credible. But it's in line with their beliefs and thought processes.