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Ten years after founder's death, key neo-Nazi movement 'a joke'

Ten years ago today, William Luther Pierce, the founder and leader of what for three decades was the most important hate group in America, died unexpectedly. Now, a decade after Pierce’s death, the National Alliance, which was once revered on the international radical right as a serious and effective organization, is a shadow of its former self — a joke on the larger neo-Nazi scene that is led by a man who has lost the respect of his former followers.

Last year, a balding, 46-year-old man slipped quietly into the men’s rooms of three Orlando, Fla., area biker bars, where he warily pasted “Bring Our Troops Home” stickers on washroom mirrors. From there, his secret mission took him to an upscale Irish pub and a seafood restaurant, where he again made his way to the men’s rooms and pasted up that sticker and another, “Stop Immigration!”

A few days later, Wendell Duke Witten detailed his daring exploits to fellow members of the neo-Nazi group he’d joined seven months earlier, and on whose behalf he had been propagandizing. “I will check [the stickers] in a week to see how many are still where I placed them,” he earnestly assured his comrades.

Welcome to the new National Alliance, once America’s leading hate group. Ten years after the death of founder William Pierce — a former university physics professor and radical intellectual with a major following both here and in Europe — the Alliance has been transformed from the nation’s radical-right powerhouse into a tiny band of small-time propagandists, criminal thugs and attention-seeking losers. Recruitment and income are dismal, and the group rarely makes the news. Its leader, fresh from a withering divorce from his stripper wife, is widely disrespected by his followers and does not even live at the group’s West Virginia headquarters.

And the revolutionary activities of the Alliance, which seeks to build a fascist state peopled solely by whites, have been reduced to a few bathroom stickers.

Not that the group isn’t dangerous. In the last decade, the organization that once prided itself on the quality of its members has been distinguished by the pure thuggery of its people. Since Pierce’s death, four Alliance recruits have been convicted or accused of having carried out at least a dozen murders. And that’s not all. Even many more humdrum members are distinguished by their criminality.

Take Wendell Witten, who battles for the Aryan race with stickers pasted in the men’s rooms of seedy bars and chain restaurants. Witten, who goes by the name Edmond W. Duke on the Alliance’s Resistance Web forum, is a registered Florida sex offender with convictions for aggravated assault and sexual battery that go back more than 20 years. His many tattoos include one that reads, “No Mercy.”

Ten years ago, the Alliance had 1,400 carefully selected and clean-cut members, a paid national staff of 17, and great respect in radical-right circles in America and abroad. Its publications, including a newsletter and a journal, set the standard on the extreme right, and its leaders regularly met with their counterparts in Europe. In Florida, it bought radio time and billboard ads. Between dues and income from its white-power music label, it was bringing in almost $1 million a year.

Today, the National Alliance is widely viewed as a joke.

Strange encounters: Willis Carto was an ally of Alliance founder William Pierce in the 1960s, but the two anti-Semites feuded for the next three decades. Carto was nevertheless invited to a number of Alliance events in recent years, including one where he edified skinhead Ryan Maziarka, the swastika-tattooed treasurer of the group’s current board of directors. The end result was the humiliation of Pierce successor Erich Gliebe.

“It’s a shame watching yet another organization collapse,” one poster lamented in a long thread about the group on the racist Stormfront Web forum this March. “There are hundreds of White ‘Nationalist’ organizations in the US — [but] not one is taken more serious[ly] than a street gang in LA. And most not even that serious[ly]. … Even the lowly negroid eclipses our best attempt at organization.”

‘Freaks and Weaklings’ Redux

Not long after the July 23, 2002, death of founder William Pierce, the Intelligence Report published excerpts from Pierce’s last speech, given on April 20 of that year. In his talk at one of the Alliance’s “leadership conferences,” Pierce mocked the white power movement, saying there was no such thing, and denigrated members of other neo-Nazi groups as “hobbyists, freaks and weaklings.”

Those words, which increasingly describe the Alliance’s own poorly screened recruits and hapless current leader, are coming back to haunt the group today.

Remarkably, Pierce's handpicked successor, Erich Gliebe, has managed over the last 10 years to hold on to power through a series of internal revolts, splits and personal attacks on him for his extremely weak leadership. But he has also taken the Alliance to a place where it has a membership of fewer than 75 people, has not published a magazine in recent memory, and is in desperate need of funds.

Things came to something of a head in 2010, when Willis Carto, a longtime anti-Semite who had feuded with 1960s ally William Pierce for decades, was invited to one of the Alliance’s leadership conferences. Carto gave a speech sharply criticizing Gliebe and arguing the Alliance was failing because of his leadership.

Members who were there describe Gliebe as almost paralyzed during the attack and say he did not respond or try to defend himself. Instead, Jim Ring, a longtime member who some see as the group’s real leader, took Carto aside later and ordered him and his entourage off the group’s West Virginia compound.

Many were shocked Gliebe had even invited Carto, who is not an Alliance member, and Gliebe later claimed he had not done so. But that was contradicted by the pre-printed program for the conference, which included Carto’s name.

Gliebe, despite frequently suggesting that he is writing from the Alliance’s headquarters, has not been back to West Virginia since — and the group never held the 2011 edition of its annual leadership conference there. (As a matter of fact, no one at all lives at the compound near Mill Point any more. A couple of members visit weekly to deal with the mail and other necessary tasks.) He lives in North Royalton, Ohio, near his mother, and reportedly works a few hours each night as a poorly paid custodian at a local product development and manufacturing firm.

He is now widely seen, to use Pierce’s word, as a “weakling.”

Pierce also despised what he called “hobbyists” or “Hollywood Nazis,” routinely mocking those who dress up in faux Nazi outfits. But Gliebe has been more forbearing — or perhaps just less attentive. This March, a man named Sean Michael Woodcock joined the Alliance, where, using the name Sean K98, he posted photos of himself at an event hosted by the Aryan Nations, one of the competing neo-Nazi organizations Pierce had belittled by name. He also posted pictures of his collection of World War II uniforms and memorabilia, along with hundreds of boxed dolls and toys from the Star Wars movies. “Don’t mind the Star Wars stuff,” he wrote.

That kind of “hobbyism” isn’t limited to Sean Woodcock. Another member, Joe Ross, reportedly left the Alliance $10,000 when he died around 2003. But a photo has since surfaced of Ross posing in full-blown Nazi regalia, sieg-heiling before a flaming swastika at Nordic Fest, an annual white-power concert long put on by the thuggish Imperial Klans of America at its Kentucky compound.

Even Jim Ring, the California Alliance leader and longtime member who is the group’s most dedicated remaining activist, held a 2009 party to celebrate the führer’s 120th birthday. Two years later, he posed with his son, Connor Ring, who had just joined the Alliance, while brandishing a Nazi SS officer’s dagger and a thick, gold necklace chain incorporating the Alliance life rune symbol — just the kind of garish display that Pierce despised and routinely attributed to black “ghetto” culture.

The Alliance has devolved into something Pierce would have been appalled to see. But its failings today are not limited to its members’ low-rent activities. It has also become known for the murderous nature of many of its people.

Crime and the New Alliance

Last year, after a lengthy investigation, federal agents arrested a Washington state man named Kevin Harpham, who that January had planted a deadly anti-personnel bomb laced with rat poison on the route to be taken by about a thousand Martin Luther King Jr. Day marchers in Spokane. (The bomb was discovered and dismantled before it went off.) When the Southern Poverty Law Center said it had evidence that Harpham had joined the Alliance several years before, Gliebe hotly denied that the man had any affiliation with his group. But after Harpham pleaded guilty, drawing a 32-year prison term, prosecutors entered Harpham’s Alliance membership card into evidence as part of a sentencing memorandum.

Shortly after Harpham’s attempted mass murder, federal agents arrested a former Arizona Alliance member, Jeffrey Harbin, for manufacturing pipe bombs and grenades that were apparently intended for use against Latino immigrants. They had been designed, a prosecutor said later, so as to “maximize human carnage.” Harbin’s father, Jerry Harbin, had for years been the Alliance coordinator in Phoenix. This February, the younger Harbin was sentenced to two years in a plea deal.

But that just begins to cover Alliance-related criminality. Consider:

•In October 2002, Alliance member Samuel Compton was one of three men who attacked an innocent bystander who was watching the men in a bar fight in Phoenix. Compton, a 20-year-old with “White Pride” tattooed on his back, and the other two stomped to death 20-year-old Cole Bailey, who was himself white, with the steel-toed boots favored by racist skinheads. After accepting a plea agreement, Compton was sentenced to 22 years in prison.

Samuel Compton (left) and Jason McGhee, between them responsible for the murder of five people, are emblematic of the new National Alliance.

•In March 2006, Alliance member Jason McGhee and two other men stormed into a farmhouse frequented by young people in Cumming, Ga., and stabbed or shot four people to death and wounded three others. Officials say the men apparently were responding to an insult that one of them had suffered at the house earlier. McGhee pleaded guilty last December and was handed four consecutive life sentences plus 100 years. The local district attorney said she believes McGhee, who has agreed to testify against his alleged confederates, did all the shooting and stabbing. (In 2001, McGhee and another man were arrested for yelling racial slurs and firing guns at a group of schoolchildren but were not prosecuted because the victims would not testify.)

Sean Woodcock’s paraphernalia collection typifies the “hobbyism” Aliance founder William Pierce despised.

•In February 2008, former Alliance member Jim Leshkevich, after writing that he was depressed over learning that his wife was having an affair, murdered her before killing himself in the couple’s West Hurley, N.Y., home. Officials say that Leshkevich, 52, beat and strangled his 55-year-old wife, Deborah, in their bedroom before hanging himself in their attached garage.

•In July 2010, former Alliance member William Dathan Holbert and his girlfriend were arrested in Nicaragua while trying to enter illegally and returned to Panama, where authorities say they killed at least six people. Officials in Panama said the couple kidnapped other U.S. expatriates, killed them, and then stole their property. Holbert confessed to five of the killings.

Alliance stalwart Jim Ring, joined by his son Connor last year, poses with Nazi SS daggers and gold jewelry.

These cases weren’t the only evidence of the propensity of today’s Alliance members and associates to criminality. Still another came up in October 2010, shortly after Gliebe’s humiliation by Carto at the last leadership conference.

On the Alliance’s Resistance forum, Gliebe lauded a speech at the conference by Michael David Carothers, who uses the alias Michael Weaver and who Gliebe had named the Alliance’s 2008 “Activist of the Year.” Gliebe said Carothers had delivered a “truly inspirational, high energy speech” and predicted that he would be invited back the next year — to the leadership conference that never happened.

Seven weeks after delivering that speech, Carothers drove a car up alongside a black man in Columbus, Ga., and attacked him with pepper spray. Last November, after a judge ruled that a jury could hear about a 1999 case in which Carothers had threatened three times to kill a 15-year-old girl, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year of prison, to be followed by nine years of probation.

Erich Gliebe hotly denied that domestic terrorist Kevin Harpham was a part of his group. That didn’t stop prosecutors from entering Harpham’s membership card into evidence when he was sentenced to 32 years in prison.

Winding Down

The Cleveland unit of the National Alliance, which Gliebe originally formed and still leads, reflects the general disarray into which the group has fallen. What was once a monthly meeting held in a large restaurant meeting room attended by dozens of members has diminished to half a dozen members, at most, gathering at a single table at Dimitri’s Restaurant in a rundown area of West Cleveland.

The meetings today are marked by complaining and bickering. One local member, David Daams, was attacked for not donating enough money. Another, Kurtis Kreit, has been ridiculed for his weight and not giving enough. Gliebe, who generally collects about $30 in donations at these meetings, has criticized others, including his ex-wife and North Carolina coordinator Robert Arnett, for a variety of reasons. A man who was Gliebe’s first recruit in the unit, Donald Myers Jr., recently began attending the meetings again, but mainly to complain about the state of the group. “The white race,” Myers now laments, “is not worth saving.”

The surfacing of this photo of late Alliance member Joe Ross has come as another embarrassment to the group’s leader.

When Pierce died in 2002, the Alliance was taking in about $18,000 a week in dues, donations, book and music sales. Today, sales at Resistance Records and National Vanguard Books are down to about $500 a week. The group’s Resistance music magazine has not been published in five years, and its National Vanguard flagship publication has not appeared in three. Gliebe has been promising for 10 years to publish Pierce’s last book, a collection of essays titled Who We Are, but has not done so — despite the threat that a major bequest to the Alliance will not be released by the estate’s executor until Who We Are finally goes to press.

And then there are the trees. Pierce, who originally bought the group’s West Virginia property, long treasured the ancient oaks, hickories and red maples that grew there, even forbidding his followers to cut trees to stoke the wood-fired stoves that heat the buildings on the compound. But now Gliebe has begun to sell those trees to a logging company that has already cut over the property twice.

It’s not clear how long the Alliance and its besieged leader can hang on in this atmosphere. But what is certain is the group is nothing like the tightly organized entity that William Pierce founded in 1970 and built into a real power.

“I was a member up until 2009 and believe me I held out as long as I possibly could,” wrote one poster on the Stormfront thread entitled “Erich Gliebe RUINED The National Alliance.” “Erich, you should really ask yourself why it is the NA is a mere shadow of its former self. You should be ashamed of what you have done to the legacy of William Pierce. … Why the hell would anyone join the NA in its current state? … Now all I can hope for is that everyone keeps his memory alive.”