The resurgent neo-Nazi Skinhead group Volksfront claims it has renounced violence — but the actions of its members and its past violent rhetoric and crimes tell the real story.
The hunt began with a trip to a couple of local businesses. They needed more beer, of course, an armload of 22-ounce tallboys and an 18-pack of Budweiser. That would be the fuel. But they didn't forget to buy the baseball bats.
The foursome headed out as the cool of the evening set in. Sucking down beer and carrying their two new bats, they made their way to an area they knew well, a secret world of street people who congregated under a highway bridge in Tacoma, Wash.
They knew what they were looking for, as several of them told police later — a drug dealer, preferably a black one. But the first black man they saw, walking by with a white woman, drew a machete when the menacing group of racist Skinheads approached. The brave young warriors dropped that plan fast.
Then they spotted Randy Townsend.
David Nikos Pillatos, 19, dealt the first blow, smashing the homeless white man with one of the bats as Scotty James Butters, 20, began to punch him. With Pillatos' second swing, the bat splintered across Townsend's face. Then Tristain Lynn Frye, 22 and the only female present, began to kick the fallen man. Pillatos found a 40-pound rock and dropped it on Townsend's head.
It was then, according to statements later given by the three to police, that Kurtis William Monschke, 19, joined in. Noticing that Townsend was breathing, Monschke laid into his victim with the second bat before lifting and smashing his head onto a railroad track.
Randall Mark Townsend, a gentle, 42-year-old man afflicted with paranoid schizophrenia, never opened his eyes again. He lingered in a coma for 20 days after the March 23, 2003, attack, but in the end his battered body succumbed.
The ringleader, prosecutors said, was Monschke. He had recently been named head of the Washington chapter of Volksfront, a Portland-based neo-Nazi group whose Web site describes drug dealers as "the lowest form of vermin." The same site ran a 2002 essay calling for capital punishment for dealers.
Prosecutors said the attack was meant to lift Monschke's status in the white supremacist movement and to earn Frye a pair of red shoelaces, with the red signifying the drawing of blood.
This June 1, a jury agreed, finding Volksfront's Washington state leader guilty of aggravated first-degree murder. Monschke was sentenced to life without parole.
Monschke himself seemed to back up the prosecution's version. Before the trial, in letters that were opened by jail personnel, he pleaded with Jake Laskey, head of Volksfront's "POW Affairs Department," to be listed as a "prisoner of war."
But then he heard that Volksfront had put up a remarkable new statement on its Web site, disowning Monschke and calling for the death penalty in his case. Volksfront, it seemed, was determined to convey the idea that it was wholly nonviolent.
"[Is this] true or false?" an anguished Monschke wrote Laskey. "I understand people's disappointment and anger, 'civil suits transpire,' but damn! Sometimes our own people seem like the enemy... . [I]t's just confusion and selfishness."
Confusion and Selfishness
When Randal Lee Krager first started Volksfront in 1994, the Oregon Skinhead hardly looked like an advertisement for nonviolence. Starting at age 15 with a racially motivated attack on other teenagers in a local park in 1989, Krager had reportedly had 28 "contacts" with the authorities by 1991.
In 1990, he attended the civil trial of Tom Metzger, a Southern California neo-Nazi who specialized in particularly violent propaganda and who ultimately was found liable in the Skinhead beating death of an Ethiopian student in Portland in 1988. Then 16, Krager told a reporter that Metzger was a "cool guy" and "one of the nicest guys you'd ever meet."
In 1992, Krager viciously attacked a black man. As he was being sentenced to a three-year prison term for that assault, Krager screamed "fuckin' Jew pig" at officers of the court, according to an account by a local neo-Nazi leader.
Emerging in 1994, Krager inaugurated Volksfront, drawing his members from violent local Skinhead groups like the Youth of Hitler and East Side White Pride, the same crews that had been affiliated with Metzger's White Aryan Resistance. By the end of its first year, Volksfront had spawned a white power rock group, Intimidation One, that was named after Oregon's hate crime law and specialized in violent lyrics.
But Krager didn't stick around long. The same month he was released, Krager called a local antiracist Skinhead, Pan Nesbitt, and threatened to kill him. In early 1995, he pleaded guilty to first-degree intimidation and served another 14 months.
A Volksfront poster, apparently produced around this time, captured the spirit of the organization. Headlined "TAKE BACK YOUR STREETS," it depicted a white Skinhead using a bat and boots to beat three black men, respectively labeled "rapists," "muggers" and "drug dealers." The message was hard to miss.
Krager, with a swastika tattooed on his neck and F-E-A-R inked on the knuckles of one hand, wasn't alone. Other Volksfront members were also known for their terror tactics, including founding member Troy Harlow, who pleaded guilty to a federal charge of conspiring to deprive a black man of his constitutional rights by burning a cross in his yard in 1996. Harlow served a year for that crime.
In 1998, with police heat turned up on Volksfront because of its continuing association with criminal violence, the group suddenly seemed to disappear. Its Web site now says that Volksfront went "underground" that year due, in part, to "police and governmental pressure."
When it reappeared publicly in 2001, it had adopted a new line on violence entirely — it said it was against it. Krager explained to a local paper, the Willamette Weekly, that he had done "a lot of thinking in prison."
Today, Volksfront claims on its Web page that it "discourages" violence — even as it recognizes that "force must be sometimes used if we are to remain a free people."
"[K]icking in someone's head will not make them our political allies. ... We know that violence created by stupidity or machismo will and can destroy organizations." But, it adds, "if you choose to attack us it's at your risk."
It's not hard to understand potential motivations for the new views supposedly adopted by Krager. As a youngster, he had witnessed the trial of Metzger and his son for their roles in urging on the violence that culminated in the murder of Ethiopian student Mulugeta Seraw.
The suit, brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on behalf of Seraw's family, resulted in a $12.5 million verdict against the Metzgers and their organization. It wrecked the group and, to this day, Tom Metzger still has to pay the Seraws a portion of his income each month.
From an estimated 50 members in 2001, when it first reemerged, it has grown to approximately 100 serious members, many of them in a highly active Phoenix unit.Volksfront Rising
Randy Krager, now 30, is leading a resurgent Volksfront. The group that had virtually disappeared as the 1990s came to an end grew from five to eight chapters in 2003, spreading east to Pennsylvania and strengthening its presence in California.
"We've had a fairly constant flow of individuals with ties to Volksfront coming to Phoenix," said Michelle Lefkowith, a hate group researcher who works for the ADL. "There's quite a network developing between Oregon, Washington, California and Arizona. They seem to be a real up-and-coming neo-Nazi organization."
They are also an unusual one, in that they follow a political line very similar to that of Tom Metzger, the so-called "Third Position" or "Third Way."
In practice, that means the group claims to stand for working-class whites, rejecting capitalism as well as communism (though Metzger often lauded the former Soviet Union as a white workers' state), and angrily opposing non-white immigration. It backs unions, a fact underlined by Krager's activism in local construction unions.
And it embraces a racist version of Asatrú, a form of Scandinavian paganism dating to the Middle Ages.
This ideology has not stopped Krager, a scary-looking man of some 240 pounds, from maintaining a relatively nonsectarian stance and making alliances with many sectors of the radical right.
This January, in a park outside Phoenix, Volksfront hosted Aryan Fest, a major white power music event, and managed to win plaudits from most of those who attended. Among the racist stars who came were Richard Butler, the leader of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations; Metzger, who also spoke at a 2001 event hosted by Volksfront; Billy Roper, the head of a hot new group, White Revolution; and a large number of racist bands.
After the event, which featured heavy security provided by Volksfront, racists sung the praises of the group far and wide.
Krager's group also claims to have recently purchased a five-acre plot of land, apparently located outside Medford, Ore., from members of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations. Volksfront has said on its Web site that it intends to build a "folk homeland" on its acreage.
Volksfront seems to have profited from the troubles of other groups, among them the World Church of the Creator, which collapsed after its leader Matt Hale was convicted this spring of soliciting the murder of a federal judge (see Pontifex Ex).
Hard times in the Aryan Nations and the National Alliance, two historically large neo-Nazi groups, also may be driving new members into Volksfront.
"They are definitely a more significant player on the white supremacist scene with the decline of the National Alliance and the Aryan Nations," said Randy Blazak, a Portland State University sociology professor who has studied Volksfront and knows Krager personally. "They are trying to fill that vacuum."
Is Volksfront really nonviolent? As its posted remarks on violence suggest, the group manages to maintain a useful ambiguity on this critical question.
In 2001, the same year that it adopted its nonviolence language, Volksfront also announced to its members that it had created a special security database meant to track "enemy individuals and organizations." Photos and other personal data on antiracists were solicited for the database.
Given the history of Skinhead violence in Portland — one racist Skinhead was killed by an antiracist in the wars that convulsed the city in the early 1990s — this was widely seen as a serious threat by antiracists.
Intimidation One, the band that has been associated with Volksfront since its early days, issued a threat to antiracists the same year, suggesting that they click on a certain computer link to learn their eventual fate. The link brought viewers to a film that showed apparent World War II fascists sawing a man's head off with a knife — a film that is incredibly grotesque and frightening, even by neo-Nazi standards.
Krager claims great distance from Intimidation One, even though the band still plays regularly at Volksfront events and also distributes the group's literature. In addition, Intimidation One albums are distributed by Imperium Records — a white power music label whose Web site is registered to the same address as Volksfront's main page (along with Volksfront's publishing arm, Thule Publications).
According to Scott Britt, a former racist Portland Skinhead, Thule Publications at some point endorsed the 1984 "Declaration of War" penned by Bob Mathews, leader of the terrorist Order group that gunned down a Denver talk show host and robbed some $4.1 million in armored car heists. (Mathews was killed later that year in a Washington state shootout with the FBI.)
The declaration committed its backers to a "full and unrelenting state of war" against the government.
Volksfront also sells on its own Web site a compilation CD — featuring both Intimidation One and a band called Jew Slaughter — entitled "Martyrdom Volume One: Free Ken Mieske."
Mieske, whose street name is Ken Death, is in prison for carrying out the Seraw murder. Lauded by Volksfront as a prisoner of war, Meiske once wrote a poem called "Senseless Violence." Its words are to the point:
Line them up against a wall,
Shoot them, watch them die.
I love to hear the agony,
They vomit, scream and cry.
Volksfront, along with racist outfits known as Upfront Records and the Northwest Folk Alliance, sponsors a publication called The Folk Tribune: The Independent Voice of the White Working Class.
In a 2002 issue, Volksfront pays tribute to Hendrik Möbus, a German neo-Nazi convicted of the murder of a teenager. It angrily complains about the conviction of members of a local neo-Nazi band for assault and witness tampering. ("BEATING A PEDOPHILE IS NO CRIME," it says. "IT IS A PUBLIC SERVICE!")
It carries "Scum Watch," a feature with photos of anti-racist activists topped by headlines like "Criminal Jew" and "Traitor."
Volksfront's POW list also is instructive. Although it apparently won't be featuring Kurtis Monschke any time soon, its authors do not shrink from lauding others who committed similar crimes, saying that while they reject violence they understand that those in prison were motivated by "defense of our people."
Who are these Aryan heroes? David Tate, who murdered a Missouri state trooper and was a member of Mathews' terror gang; George Loeb, killer of a black Gulf War veteran; James Burmeister, an Army paratrooper who shot to death a black couple outside Ft. Bragg, N.C.; Wallace Weicherding, imprisoned for his role in a plot to blow up the Southern Poverty Law Center and every state capitol in America; Yori Kahl, who helped his father murder two U.S. marshals; and Nathan Thill, who shot a black man to death in Denver because he was "wearing the enemy's uniform" — his black skin.
The list goes on, including a whole roster of racist killers.
"Krager was in the [prison] system a long time and he came out a lot more sophisticated than he went in," said Lefkowith, who knew Volksfront well when she was an activist with an Oregon anti-hate group.
"But it's all smoke and mirrors. It's a way to put a kinder, gentler face on an extremely radical and violent organization. Numerous individuals associated with Volksfront have long criminal histories."
Helping Out With Hate
Randy Krager and his growing group may admire cop-killers and racist murderers, but they still insist that they have some real contributions to make to society. That was made crystal clear to Randy Blazak a few minutes before midnight one Saturday in late 2001.
Opening his electronic mailbox, Blazak found an E-mail sent to him in his capacity as a member of the state's Coalition Against Hate Crimes (CAHC) — a body that includes representatives of law enforcement, government, and civil rights, gay rights and religious groups, among other things.
"Greetings!" it began, and then, identifying its authors as "a group committed to ending violent and hate crimes," it politely asked for CAHC's membership rules.
The E-mail was from Volksfront.
"I think we would represent a currently unrepresented segment of our society on the issue of hate crimes and would therefore be a big asset," an anonymous Volksfront member wrote in a follow-up E-mail.
"On this matter we are completely serious and very interested. Please do not let your own preconceived notions of us interfere with the unique assets we bring to the work of ending hate crimes."
"It was an amazing request," said Emily Gottfried, the American Jewish Committee's representative at CAHC. "They weren't trying to join us because they believed what we believed. That was not their purpose. It was insane."
Whether or not Volksfront indeed had "unique assets" to bring to the battle against hate, it was not invited to join CAHC. Volksfront, after all, is working to turn the Pacific Northwest into an all-white Aryan homeland — an end it says it will reach by deporting people of color. Somehow, that didn't sound too tolerant.
The public's verdict may still be out on Volksfront's attitude toward violence. It's in, though, in the case of Kurtis Monschke, Washington state leader of the organization — even if Volksfront did put up a belated message disbanding all of its Washington operations because of "violations of organizational policy."
And the verdict in that case was guilty. (Pillatos, Butters and Frye, who testified against Monschke, pleaded guilty to lesser charges and are expected to be sentenced for their roles this August.) Many observers think that judgment could easily apply to Volksfront as well.
"Volksfront began at the hands of individuals who were involved in criminal activity," said anti-racist Eric Ward, a former Seattle activist who now works for the Chicago-based Center for New Community. "I have a hard time believing that such criminal activity will not continue.
"They can say that they are not involved in violent activity and they can condemn it, but it certainly seems to occur around them quite frequently. Violence is part of the social environment of Volksfront."