Bill Riccio headed a Birmingham, Ala.-area racist skinhead network responsible for at least two murders during the early ’90s, became a Klan officer after being released from prison in 1994, and regularly attended racist rallies in the years after that. As recently as 2007, Riccio said openly that he was still working to recruit young men into the white supremacist movement.
But now he’s been pronounced officially reformed.
That’s according to the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, which issued a “certificate of pardon” last year proclaiming that Riccio “has so conducted himself as to demonstrate his reformation and to merit pardon with restoration of civil rights.”
The certificate is not what most people would consider a real pardon — it does not wipe out his criminal record in any way.
What the state of Alabama calls “pardons” come, in effect, at two levels. The easiest to achieve for those convicted of a felony is the restoration of voting rights, which people meeting certain basic conditions (like having paid any court-ordered restitution) automatically qualify for if they apply. The higher level allows felons to regain some, or in rare cases all, of their other civil and political rights — including the right to hold office, to serve on a jury, and to possess guns.
Riccio, now 52, won back his voting rights in 2006. He then applied for the reinstating of the other rights he lost because of his seven convictions, which ranged from firearms violations to civil rights and obstruction of justice offenses. Because he would not comment for this story, it’s not known why he made his application, but it may have been that he wanted to regain the right to possess weapons. In any event, in April 2008, the Pardons and Parole Board did reinstate some of his rights, although the board did not give him back the right to own firearms.
Officials said that complete case files are closed to the public, so the full reasoning of the board in describing Riccio as “reformed” is impossible to know. However, Pardons Supervisor Keith Ray said the board takes into account an applicant’s social history, including information gathered from interviews with family members, neighbors and employers. As for Riccio’s apparently ongoing white supremacist activities, “I’d say that if they knew, that would have had some bearing on the decision. … They take these pardons extremely seriously.”
At the height of his power in the early ’90s, Bill Riccio recruited troubled teenagers and young men to join his skinhead crew, which was called White Aryan Resistance (WAR) and later renamed Aryan National Front. He indoctrinated them with hate at the ramshackle “WAR House” he rented just south of Birmingham. Several of his followers perpetrated a series of killings and assaults targeting homeless black men in Birmingham.
After his release from prison, Riccio periodically attended white supremacist rallies and served as national chaplain of the Northern Georgia White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. In 2007, a few months before Riccio was granted his pardon, he told the Intelligence Report that he was still recruiting young people into the movement.
At least one law enforcement official who investigated Riccio in the ’90s dismissed the notion that Riccio had changed. “To believe he is reformed would be naïve,” Supervisory Special Agent Bart McEntire with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms told Hatewatch in an E-mail. “He is a chameleon and will disguise his true colors of hatred and anti-government belief.”