On a hot Saturday in the middle of June, a crowd of white supremacists gathered in a town near Tampa to celebrate the arrival of a new summer and the emergence of a would-be leader in their movement — Kevin Alfred Strom.
With his thick black glasses and disheveled, graying hair, Strom resembled a middle-aged Harry Potter as his distinctive, nasal voice blared through a cheap PA system. He lectured those who'd come on the "real" reason the United States fought in both world wars — to facilitate the building of a Zionist state at the expense of foolish "American cattle" who didn't understand that their government was selling them out to Jewish interests.
The event, the Summer Solstice Festival, marked a special moment in Strom's long and dreary career as a professional racist and anti-Semite. He was finally coming out of the shadows after decades of thankless labor in the musty back offices of the neo-Nazi movement.
Strom had long played a key but subservient role to William Pierce, founder of the National Alliance — until recently the most important neo-Nazi group in the country — and then to Erich Gliebe, who was anointed over Strom as Pierce's successor, even though it was Strom, not Gliebe, who had created the Alliance's well-known weekly radio show; Strom who convinced Pierce to venture into the white power music business; and Strom who edited the Alliance's flagship publication in his role as the group's in-house "intellectual."
Now, at long last, it was Strom's turn to shine, to be shown respect, to be treated like a leader.
Last spring, Strom and other disgruntled Alliance principals were summarily expelled from the Alliance after they tried but failed to overthrow or curtail the power of the Alliance's current leaders. Soon after he was ejected, Strom formed his own group, National Vanguard, lifting the name from the Alliance magazine he had edited for years. When Strom left the Alliance, hundreds of other members left with him, most of them at least temporarily joining National Vanguard (NV). The Alliance's old Tampa unit, now an NV chapter loyal to Strom, organized the Summer Solstice Festival.
At this early stage, things seem to be going Strom's way, although Strom did not respond to requests from the Intelligence Report for comment. In its first three months, NV set up 15 chapters, even as the Alliance's membership rolls continued to decline. Strom has received clear support from other movement leaders, including neo-Nazi David Duke and Don Black, operator of the infamous Stormfront hate site. NV units from Boston to Denver have rented billboards and bombarded Internet message boards with propaganda, winning both attention and publicity. Disillusioned and angry over Gliebe's perceived failures as a chairman, several Alliance unit coordinators have defected to NV with their entire chapters. High-profile former Alliance member April Gaede, whose young twin daughters are the fastest rising act in white power music, has also signed on with Strom. Performing white supremacist folk songs under the name Prussian Blue, Lynx and Lamb shared a stage with Strom at the Tampa gathering.
Considering the NV's rapid growth spurt, Strom's powerful alliances with leaders like the charismatic Duke, and his long-standing reputation within the movement as a thinking man's neo-Nazi, it seems possible, even likely, that Strom may soon pick up where his one-time mentor Pierce left off as one of the most influential leaders of the racist radical right.
High School Fascist
Born in 1956, Strom grew up near Washington, D.C. His childhood and adolescence were set against the historical backdrops of the civil rights movement and the Cold War. Strom was raised a devout Lutheran, according to his ex-wife, Kristen Kaiser. His nickname was "St. Kevin the Good."
Strom decided when he was a teenager that communism was evil and that anyone who hated communism was good. One of Strom's high school teachers, who happened to be an extreme right-winger, discovered Strom's political leanings and recruited him into the John Birch Society, Kaiser said. It was in that far-right organization that Strom reportedly was first introduced to the National Alliance by Birchers who also belonged to the Alliance.
Strom began attending the Alliance's weekly Sunday night meetings in Arlington, Va., soon after William Pierce began holding them in 1975. Pierce had a Ph.D. and burned with hatred for communists and also for Jews and blacks. Strom admired him and was quickly indoctrinated with conspiracy theories about evil agents of the Zionist Occupation Government slowly destroying America.
After graduating from high school, Strom paid the bills by working as a broadcasting engineer while he continued to labor for Pierce. When Pierce acquired and moved onto some rural property in West Virginia in 1985, Strom used his technological prowess to help set up the compound's telephone and alarm system.
Strom ascended to the role of right-hand man. According to Kaiser, his favored status within the Alliance was a source of great pride to Strom, who clearly looked up to the Alliance founder. Kaiser said that Strom was never close to his own father, a verbally abusive alcoholic who hanged himself when Strom was in his 20s. "I think Dr. Pierce became his father figure," Kaiser told the Intelligence Report.
Kaiser first met Strom in 1987. Pierce played matchmaker, introducing her to Strom even though she was married at the time to a man named Joseph McLaughlin. By 1988, her marriage to McLaughlin had disintegrated, and Strom helped her move out. Kaiser and Strom were married in 1990. Pierce conducted the ceremony.
That same year, when Nelson Mandela came to Washington in a highly publicized visit, Strom was arrested outside the South African Embassy for assaulting a police officer during a pro-apartheid rally. The officers who searched Strom found detailed sketches of Techworld, a downtown office building that happened to be adjacent to the Washington Convention Center, where Mandela was scheduled to speak.
Nothing ever came of the sketches. Pierce hired a lawyer for Strom and the assault charge was dropped.
In 1991, Strom and his wife moved into a home near the National Alliance compound in West Virginia and took their places in Pierce's court.
Veggies and Mozart
Strom was a strict vegetarian, Kaiser said, who never drank or used drugs. But he did have some Howard Hughes-like qualities. When he ate, he would only eat one food at a time and would never allow the different foods to touch each other or mix in any way, much like his philosophy on interracial dating. Strom was an extremely controlling husband, said Kaiser, who forced her to abstain from meat, forbade her to wear blue jeans, and predetermined her favorite music — Mozart.
There was no point in debating Strom on any issue, she said.
"If you disagreed with him, he'd literally keep you awake until you agreed with him," Kaiser said.
According to his ex-wife, Strom was a packrat who kept stacks and newspapers and magazines scattered throughout their home.
"You couldn't walk through his living room," Kaiser said.
For all his quirkiness, Strom proved invaluable to Pierce and the Alliance. Strom hatched the idea in 1991 to launch a weekly talk radio show called "American Dissident Voices." Strom produced and hosted the shows and negotiated with AM stations across the country to air the program. In the pre-Internet early '90s, "American Dissident Voices" provided a major vehicle for the Alliance to spread its message and drum up support. Every week, thousands of white supremacists across the country — and later, via the Internet and shortwave, around the world — listened to Strom's diatribes on the evils of Jews and minorities.
The same year he got the show going, Strom ingratiated himself to Revilo Oliver, a classics professor at the University of Illinois who, like Pierce, was considered an intellectual heavyweight within the neo-Nazi movement.
One of the founding members of the John Birch Society, Oliver once wrote, "Aryans are a small and endangered minority on this planet, but how many members of our race seem to have even an inkling of that fact?"
Trouble in Paradise
Strom and Kaiser first met Oliver in March of 1991, when the couple paid homage to him in a visit to his home in Illinois. Strom took his first-born son to visit the aging racist again in 1993, and Oliver put Strom in charge of archiving his academic writings on race. Then in 1994, Oliver killed himself.
"Hitler shot himself, [neo-Nazi leader Ben] Klassen shot himself, and Oliver shot himself," Kaiser noted in an Aug. 10, 1994, entry in her diary, right after Strom told her Oliver was dead. "Kevin's father killed himself. It seemed to be the suicide rate was high amongst people Kevin admired."
Just prior to Oliver's suicide, Kaiser said, Strom had sunk into a depression that only deepened with the death of his hero. At first withdrawn, Strom eventually began openly voicing his growing displeasure with Pierce. He felt underappreciated and underpaid.
In his biography of Pierce, The Fame of a Dead Man's Deeds, University of Vermont professor and white nationalist sympathizer Robert Griffin wrote that Strom often appeared to have "worked more under Pierce than alongside him, and never really with Pierce in a truly bonded way."
"From what I have picked up from Pierce," Griffin wrote, "his relationship with Strom was more akin to that of like-minded colleagues than fused brothers. "
For her part, Kaiser found Pierce arrogant and condescending. Still, despite their growing bitterness, the couple continued until 1995 living on Pierce's West Virginia compound, where they'd moved after a period living in a nearby town. Strom first started talking openly about leaving several weeks before the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995, Kaiser said.
The day after the bombing, Strom was really worked up, she recalls. He made her help him take several boxes of papers and tapes to Stanton, Va., where they threw away the materials at various Dumpsters at different retail stores in the town.
Not long after the bombing, Strom told Pierce that he wanted to leave the compound. Pierce, needless to say, was displeased.
Strom and Kaiser relocated to Rochester, Minn., in November 1995. Strom chose the city because its population was 95% white. Kaiser found that once she was off the compound and was no longer forbidden to read newspapers or watch television, she began having doubts about the white supremacist movement as well as her marriage to Strom.
In 1997, Kaiser, who had begun work as a real estate agent, was fired from her job on her birthday, when her employer found out "just who and what Kevin Strom is," according to one of her diary entries. His letter to the editor of a local newspaper had been published that day.
That same year, the second of the Stroms' three children was diagnosed with autism — a genetic weakling, according to the neo-Nazi code. Strom blamed Kaiser for their son's disorder and left her, taking their first son and the baby born in 1996 with him. He also stopped working for Pierce, claiming the Alliance founder owed him money. Strom was initially granted custody of his children, moved to Texas and began home schooling them. But Kaiser eventually won full custody.
Return to West Virginia
During his years away from West Virginia, Strom's only visible connection to the movement came through his personal Web site and his frequent postings on various Usenet groups. Strom used his Web site in this period to promote Oliver's essays by posting them for the masses to read. He also displayed some of his more controversial interests in a section of the site labeled "feminine beauty," where Strom posted pictures of attractive white teenage girls, many in bikinis. Heavily favored were photos of a fresh-faced Brooke Shields astride horses.
"The beauty of the women and girls of our race has inspired our greatest poets, artists, and writers throughout history," Strom wrote. "It should also inspire our senses of chivalry and of honor, for if anything is sacred, our girls and women are, and they must be protected from the degradation and degeneracy that is inherent in multiracialism. Girls and women of all ages will be presented here from time to time." Strom solicited the site's visitors to offer their own soft-core submissions.
Three years after Strom's marriage failed, Pierce welcomed his prodigal lackey back to the West Virginia compound.
Soon enough, Strom remarried, though his taste in women, or at least the women Pierce approved for him, had apparently changed. Where Kirsten Kaiser was meek, docile and obedient, Elisha is outspoken, assertive and combative. She is the closest thing to a feminist that exists within the white power movement. Unlike Kaiser, whose wardrobe was dictated by Strom, she wears whatever she wants, including tight jeans. She long ran her own Web site, "A Woman's Voice." Soon after Strom's remarriage, the pin-up shots of young girls on his Web site were removed and replaced with pictures of ancient sculptures.
With his new wife at his side, Strom pushed the Alliance to delve into new areas. Pierce soon approached Todd Blodgett, a Washington consultant who controlled shares of the white power record label Resistance Records, and offered to buy him out. Blodgett, who agreed to sell and also to broker shares held by others, now says that it was clear from his discussions with Pierce that the idea of getting into the white power music business originated with Strom, who saw a ripe moneymaking opportunity for the Alliance as well as a way to reach out to the next generation of racists.
The Alliance's investment in Resistance Records turned out well, at least initially. Resistance soon became quite profitable and, as a result, the future of America's leading neo-Nazi organization had never seemed brighter. But it quickly darkened with Pierce's unexpected death in July 2002. With their famed founder gone, the Alliance's principals passed the torch to Erich Gliebe, a former boxer who had fought as "The Aryan Barbarian." Kevin Strom, despite his important ideas and his years in the trenches of the neo-Nazi movement, had been bypassed.
The Dalliance Ends
In the initial days after Gliebe took over, Blodgett said Gliebe and Strom seemingly got along. Although they were far from friends, Gliebe was smart enough to know that he needed Strom's help in leading the Alliance.
That's not to say that Strom's initial agreement to help Gliebe with the Alliance was based strictly on loyalty. Blodgett believes that part of Strom's motivation owed to a promise he said Gliebe made to the Alliance's board of directors that if they didn't have confidence in him after his first year, he would step down. That would have opened up the position for Strom to step in.
But despite his alleged promise and the board's rapidly deteriorating faith in his leadership abilities, Gliebe refused to step down. His egotism and financial mismanagement drove away dues-paying Alliance members in legions.
As prominent members such as David Pringle resigned and criticism mounted against Gliebe, Strom remained strangely quiet. The only hint of any disapproval prior to his coup attempt came in the form of a message he posted to Stormfront in 2004. Responding to a series of attacks on Gliebe, Strom replied: "The concerns that prompted this affair are most certainly not 'BS' — and they cannot be refuted. Efforts are being made by responsible parties to set things right."
As time moved on, Gliebe also began demonstrating contempt for Strom. Shaun Walker, the group's chief operating officer and a man deeply loyal to Gliebe, was given the green light to dock Strom $1,000 for being late with getting out the National Vanguard magazine in 2004.
Then came the coup attempt. In April 2005, Strom launched a petition drive among Alliance members demanding that Gliebe step down. Gliebe and Walker immediately cast him out. The Gliebe-Strom era was over.
Ironically, just days after Strom was expelled, Gliebe stepped down from his chairman position and appointed Walker in his place. By that time, Strom was well on his way to launching National Vanguard. In a crafty move, two days before he was fired, Strom had legally transferred ownership of the Alliance's Web site, www.nationalvanguard.org, to Elisha Strom's publishing company. He immediately began luring Alliance defectors.
Strom isn't the only expelled Alliance member to start his own group. Former Alliance official Billy Roper launched White Revolution. But Roper's outfit has nowhere near matched the burgeoning popularity of National Vanguard.
Blodgett gives Strom roughly even odds for long-term success. "I don't know what [Strom's] chances are to succeed," he said. "He's not as personable [as Gliebe]." But still, Blodgett allowed, "I think if there's anybody in the movement who could make a go of it, he could do it."
Strom, the only member of Pierce's inner circle who was considered close to Pierce in intellectual ability, shares Pierce's ability to impress followers with sheer bombastic intellectualism. But unlike Pierce, the author of the highly influential Turner Diaries, Strom may have trouble earning the admiration of the white racialist movement's more hard-core, radical elements. Some have criticized Strom for being too effeminate and yielding to his strong-willed wife. His detractors have nicknamed him "weenie."
In contrast to Pierce, who more or less openly called for the extermination of Jews, Strom seems to be at least superficially taking a less militant approach with National Vanguard. When a church in Virginia was torched in July after it endorsed gay marriage, Strom wrote an E-mail to a newspaper condemning the attack: "The arson ... hurt the cause of those who, like National Vanguard, believe that we should lawfully, intelligently, and responsibly advocate a return to healthy values."
It's not clear whether this approach will prove to be an effective strategy for Strom and National Vanguard in the long run. Strom's emergence as a leader is certainly partly due to the disarray that is afflicting the neo-Nazi movement in general, and the National Alliance in particular. A measure of how tenuous Strom's hold on power may be is clearly visible at the new National Vanguard Web site. At the very top of Strom's site, spotlighted in a way that might befit a Caesar or a Stalin, is a portrait of Alliance founder William Luther Pierce. At least for the moment, Strom's legitimacy still rests on the reputations of other men.