For half a century, 'Wild' Bill Hoff was an angry icon of the Neo-Nazi movement. But there was one thing he could never admit
Sheldon Hoff contemplates a picture of his late brother.
On Dec. 8, 2006, William Hoff Jr. — the man known to his friends in the violent world of white supremacy as "Wild Bill" — died outside Enoree, S.C., after turning accidentally into the path of a tractor-trailer. To his comrades, Hoff, 71, was an elder icon, so revered that he had just been named the vice presidential candidate of the National Socialist Movement, one of the country's largest neo-Nazi groups. To most of the rest of the world, Hoff was a uniformed Hitler worshipper, a man known for his membership in many of the leading radical-right groups of the last 50 years and for his participation in anti-minority violence, including a 1969 plot to murder a roomful of civil rights activists. But to his family, Bill Hoff was "Billy" — a highly intelligent and sweet but wildly misdirected child, an alcoholic who grew up playing with black and Jewish kids but went into a racial fury when he'd had a few drinks, a man who routinely told tall tales to friends in the white supremacist movement. And there was something more. When Hoff's siblings began to look into the family's past, they uncovered a bombshell — a secret that could have destroyed "Wild" Bill Hoff in the eyes of his pals. In an interview, one of Hoff's brothers, 64-year-old Sheldon Hoff, discussed his sibling and the long, strange trip of his life as a racist.
INTELLIGENCE REPORT: Sheldon, could you start by describing your brother's childhood in New York City?
SHELDON HOFF: Billy was born in Brooklyn in 1934. Among six siblings, there were four brothers — Donald, Billy, Barry and myself — and he always was our protector. We grew up in a very tough neighborhood; we didn't know it was the ghetto until we moved out years later. It was down near the waterfront, and there were blacks, Hispanics, whatever, living there. We spoke a little bit of Italian here, a little Yiddish there. We grew up smelling other peoples' foods, their cultures, and appreciating it all. We had black and Hispanic friends at our house playing basketball. One of Billy's high school friends was Floyd Patterson, the boxer [a black man who famously captured the world heavyweight championship in 1956 and again in 1960].
INTELLIGENCE REPORT: How do you think your brother first became an open racist?
HOFF: Billy didn't finish high school. He wanted to join the Navy, so he quit. The military was very important to him because it was a way he could show my father that he was a man — I remember him talking about that.
He was there for a year or so, a couple of years, but he got into a fight with a black man and was charged with assault and the black man wasn't. I don't know the whole story, but he was sent to the brig and then discharged. He thought it was very unfair. And our family feels this is when he got this attitude against black people. He came home from the Navy with this attitude, although as long as my father was alive — he died in 1958 — Billy didn't do or say anything.
One time after my father's death, when I was 14 or 15, he woke me up one time and put a rifle in my hand and told me we were going out to "kill some niggers." When he was drunk, he was out of his mind. It drove him mad — violently mad. Later, I used to go out and see him in bars. He was just a powder keg, all the time.
INTELLIGENCE REPORT: When did he first get involved with organized white supremacy?
SHELDON: After my father died, the National States Rights Party started. [Editor's note: The white supremacist NSRP was formed in 1958 by J.B. Stoner, who was later convicted of a bomb attack, and Ed Fields, editor of its Thunderbolt newspaper. The group, based in the South, ultimately fell apart in the late 1980s.] Billy became the director of it in New York City.
He was just busy at the typewriter after that, going full blast. He went to a lot of demonstrations. He was known. He did a lot of speaking and he did a lot of writing. He was a great organizer — too bad he wasn't using what he had in a positive way. He could have done great things. He was very intelligent; he learned to speak German from tapes, and he spoke it fluently. He had such a mind.
Later, the American Nazi Party came in, and the Ku Klux Klan soon followed. [Editor's note: The American Nazi Party, led by former naval commander George Lincoln Rockwell, was active from 1959 until 1967, when Rockwell was assassinated by John Patler, a disgruntled follower, in Arlington, Va.]
I remember one time, when he was still with the National States Rights Party, he told me to go down to the train station. Out of the subway came three or four storm troopers in full uniform. One was Rockwell. Another was John Patler. And Roy Frankhouser [a long-time activist in the Klan and related groups] was there. I knew them all. I met them all. When they came to our house and took off their jackets, my mother told my brother, "These people have to leave."
When I was 14 or 15, Billy actually talked me into putting on a uniform one time. I had always admired my brother growing up, and we talked about my joining the NSRP. One day, he took me and a friend — the only two people in his "youth group" — to Manhattan, to Union Square, where Jewish people were having a gathering. We got into the middle of the crowd and took our jackets off. Billy put up a hand in the air to do a sieg heil. And right then, we were grabbed and dragged off by the FBI. The FBI took our names and told us to get lost.
I went home and the next day my friend and I took those uniforms back to him and told him, "This isn't for us." That was the extent of it for me. But Billy kept on going. It just kept on building.
INTELLIGENCE REPORT: Did your brother engage in violence during this period?
HOFF: In the '60s, I remember waking up one night with a brightness coming from across the street into my window. Here was a burning cross, on someone's lawn in Brooklyn! Then, another time, there were some people down the street who were anti-Vietnam War advocates. They told me they were afraid of Billy because of the things he was saying. They said that one day, some sort of substance came in through their air conditioning unit that was burning their eyes; they thought Billy was putting some kind of tear gas in there. He had all these things going on.
One time, in the middle of the night, the police came to our house saying that someone was firing a gun at a train in the subway system. They started searching the house and they pulled a gun out of our kitchen closet; it looked like a .32 or a .38. One of them asked whose it was and we said, "We don't know" — we never had guns in our house. And he said, "Take this and get rid of it before the FBI comes." He had me take the gun and bury it. This was a policeman!
By the time Billy came home, the FBI — or maybe it was the state police — was there. Billy was drunk, and he was just going wild. They took him out in a straitjacket and had an ambulance take him to Bellevue [a New York hospital famous for its psychiatric ward]. He stayed for a couple of days and begged my mom to get him out, and she did.
They never could prove it was him who fired at the train, which was full of night travelers, mostly black people. Even though they never proved it, I'm telling you it was Billy. I know because he told me. He's dead now, and this won't affect him.
INTELLIGENCE REPORT: What about you during this period? This was the 1960s.
HOFF: I have a brother, Donald, who marched with [Martin Luther] King in the civil rights movement during the '60s. I dropped out — I don't know how else to say it. I wasn't satisfied with how things were going in this country, with how we treat each other. A light went on for me. My hair was growing long, I had the beard, and I had the tie-dyes. My brother had the granny glasses. Billy saw us. He would call us to say that we were taken over by the reds, we were communists, whatever the words were. We just let that go. We still loved our brother.
INTELLIGENCE REPORT: He finally got into serious trouble in the late 1960s.
HOFF: Billy was arrested in 1969. He was charged with a plot to kill leftist opponents [civil rights activists] on Aug. 12. This was in The New York Times!
My brother told me later that it was C-4 [plastic explosive] or something like that they planted. He cooked up nitroglycerine in the basement of my parent's house while we were sleeping. He was down in the basement making bombs!
We recently got information about a state policeman who infiltrated Billy's group. He supposedly talked my brother into planting the bomb. My whole experience with my brother and the authorities is that it seemed like they were reluctant to do anything to him. It's almost like they were backers. The guy who was the undercover agent said later on that he identified with my brother in a way.
Billy served six years in Attica [Correctional Facility in Attica, N.Y.]. He was there for the  Attica riots [in which 39 people died]. He actually received money for that. He told me he was the head of the white power group there.
Billy had a lot of stories about how he was the head of a lot of people. He lived a life of lies, not even exaggerations. Pure lies. He said on the radio that our father and an uncle brought him into the Klan. That is so far from the truth. He said he was a mercenary in Angola. That never happened. He said our parents were interned like the Japanese, that they were chased out of South Carolina by Jews and Communists. My mother was never even down there. From start to finish, it was science fiction. I think he was trying to build a character. He wasn't happy with himself.
INTELLIGENCE REPORT: What happened when he got out of prison?
HOFF: We thought, "Okay, good, now it's all going to change." He was on parole, so for a little while things were quiet. But once that was over, he just went back to it again. He calls me into his room, and he's in his dirty sheets [Klan robes]. Those are filthy sheets. And it continued until the day he was dead — until he died last year.
I moved to Berkeley, Calif., in the 1970s and lived there 17 years. I worked for an alternative newspaper, The Berkeley Barb, and sort of lost touch with Billy physically. But we always spoke on the phone. I knew he was trying to expand, trying to find new members.
Eventually, he moved down south. He was actually chased out of New York in the early 1980s. The JDL [the Jewish Defense League, an extremely militant anti-Nazi group that has produced a large amount of criminal violence] got on his case, going around to places where he worked and telling the boss that if they didn't fire him, they would picket the place. They went to his home and demanded that the landlord chase him out. That's why he went to South Carolina.
INTELLIGENCE REPORT: It was around this time that you began to look into your family history?
HOFF: We had asked my dad, "Who are we?" because everyone in our [Brooklyn] community was Jewish or Italian or Irish or German or something. We were Hoffs, but we didn't hear anything about any Germans in our family. He just said, "You're American." And I didn't understand it.
Years after my dad died, we started getting interested in our family history. We used to go down south when we were young, to the area around Summerville [in southeastern South Carolina], where my father's family is from originally. I remember my dad actually going over to the "colored" water fountain one time in the late '40s or '50s; I didn't think anything about it. There were some other things that were a little different. When we went down there, we went to a church in Monck's Corner where people were darker than us. It was a missionary church for Native Americans, we found out later. We were asking, "Who are we?" And we found all this rich background. We put two and two together.
INTELLIGENCE REPORT: What does that mean?
HOFF: We found out that my [father's side of the] family were mulattos! In some censuses, like in 1910, our family is listed as black; in others, they were white, but all the families around them were black. My forefather, Emanuel Rodriguez, came to this country in 1640 as a slave. He came to Virginia with an owner from Barbados, Frances Pott, and married a white indentured servant here. People would say, "Hey, 'Driguez, hey, 'Driguez," and soon they were just calling him Driggers. You can see documents where people are swearing that a relative of mine is white — "I swear that so-and-so Driggers is a white person and I know them," and so forth.
That name is a corruption, but it stuck, right up to now. If you go to Monck's Corner today, you'll see stores and everything with the name Driggers. Anyway, he was eventually able to buy freedom for himself and a couple of his children.
Basically, my family was intermarrying along the way. We come from a long line of Americans, of all types of people. We have in my family a Gypsy. I have cousins who were married to Filipinos way back in 1910, 1920. I'm a member of an Indian tribe, and so are all my children and my brother, Donald. One ancestor, in the 1800s, was the overseer of a plantation owned by a black man who had slaves; my ancestor was a mulatto. That just shows the insanity of slavery.
INTELLIGENCE REPORT: How did Billy take the news?
HOFF: It wasn't until about 15 years ago, when we had all our facts together, that we confronted him about the origin of our family and members of our family in the South that were dark, about our mixed background. I remember, he said to us, "I'm not interested in dead bones." That was the way he denied it. We kept sending him information, along with the rest of the family. So he knew what was going on. We didn't attack him. We were just hoping that this was going to change him. But that's not what happened. Billy just continued to do what he did.
INTELLIGENCE REPORT: Did his friends in the movement know anything about this?
HOFF: John Howard didn't know anything about it. [Editor's note: Howard was owner of the Redneck Shop in Laurens, S.C., a longtime Klan meeting hall, until its recent reported sale to the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, which Bill Hoff belonged to during his final years. Howard and Hoff were close friends.] I informed him recently about our background. We also told [John Taylor] Bowles [Hoff's running mate on the NSM presidential ticket] that my brother was of mixed blood while he was running as the great Aryan hero. He said, "There's probably a little bit of mixed blood in all of us."
They don't want to bring their hero down. This was a guy whose message was hate, and they need the hate to survive. I even wrote Minnesota [the NSM's national headquarters]. None of them want to talk about it.
We just wanted to expose them. I say it straight out now: the fascists aren't my favorite people. So if I get a chance to expose them, I will. I just can't stand back and watch, having a brother who went through that.
INTELLIGENCE REPORT: The final irony is that after you moved back from California you went on to Jamaica and married a black woman. Your biological children are biracial and your adopted son is black. And Billy never criticized you for any of that.
HOFF: My brother knew and he never said anything. When we moved back to New York from Jamaica in 1998, I started calling my brother to tell him about my family. I'm a father, and I'm proud of my children and my wife. I want to show them off. He wrote a letter to my son that was warm and loving and he gave this great advice in it. Billy knew my son was mixed, but all he gave was encouragement and love. He lived in a world that was split. But he was controlled by anger.
I wanted badly to say something public about our background while Billy was still alive, but I couldn't. These people aren't schoolchildren, and they might have hurt him. My family and I have been waiting for 15 years, keeping our mouths shut about this even though it goes against our core values. When he died, the second thought in my mind was, "Now I can tell the story." And now I have.