William Pierce: A Reminiscence
by Robert S. Griffin
DR. PIERCE HADN’T RETURNED my e-mails for two weeks, or was it three? Not like him.
And then his weekly radio program was a repeat. That gave me pause. I hadn’t ever remembered that happening before. I thought about how several times he had said to me, “I have no idea what I am going to do for the radio show this week. There is not one thing in my head.” “Put on a repeat,” I had suggested. “Oh no, I can’t do that,” he immediately came back. Getting out that radio broadcast every week was his responsibility and he was going to carry out his responsibility no matter what. And besides, the radio program gave him great personal satisfaction. No, no repeat shows.
And then another repeat. My stomach churned. I’ve got to call down there.
A Jeff Cotton answered the phone, no one I knew. Jeff told me about the cancer. Oh no. The day, I know now, was July 22, 2002.
The next day at my office at the university, my secretary buzzed: “It’s a reporter from CNN. He wants your comment on someone who died.”
My heart sank.
I met William Pierce in 1997 when I contacted him proposing that I write a book about him. After a series of written and in-person exchanges, he agreed to cooperate with the project and I wrote the book, The Fame of a Dead Man’s Deeds: An Up-Close Portrait of White Nationalist William Pierce. The title comes from a Norse poem that was a favorite of Dr. Pierce’s:
And so one dies oneself;
One thing I know that never dies:
The fame of a dead man’s deeds.
The point of the poem is that the only immortality that is real is the memory among the living of what we did with our lives. To me, it was an apt title because Dr. Pierce very much lived for posterity: in particular, the future generations of his people, White people, who he hoped would benefit from his actions in life and remember his accomplishments. That he was living for history and not just for this time gave his life meaning and thrust, and strengthened his ability to stand up to both attacks from his natural adversaries and criticism of him from some elements within the White racialist movement itself. For the book, he and I agreed that I would spend a month at his property in West Virginia. Besides getting a general sense of what his life was like, I would conduct a series of audio-taped interviews with him. I met with him a couple of hours virtually every evening for that month and he recounted the story of his life and outlined his beliefs and discussed his activities. I found him entirely cooperative and candid.
He told me that he was born on September 11, 1933 in Atlanta, Georgia, and that he lived in Virginia, Alabama, and Texas growing up. He has a younger brother, Sanders. His father, who was in the insurance business, was killed in a car accident when he was eight. Money was tight for his mother and her two boys, but they got by. He attended public elementary schools and a private secondary military academy in Dallas, Texas. He did extremely well academically and was granted a scholarship to Rice University in Houston, where he majored in physics. After receiving his bachelor’s degree from Rice, he went on to do graduate work at Caltech and then the University of Colorado, where he was awarded a doctorate in physics. By the age of thirty-one, he was a tenured professor of physics at Oregon State University. This was the mid-1960s. Along the way, he had married and become the father of twin sons.
Dr. Pierce had been on the fast track. He had attained a highly coveted position in a university, and thirty-one is young to have achieved tenured status, which amounts to job security for life. But instead of settling in for the long haul as a university teacher and researcher, he began to raise questions about the meaning and purpose of his life the answers to which were to alter drastically the course of his life, including leaving his university position and the field of physics. “I had an awareness of my mortality from a very early age,” he told me, “and so it seemed to me that I shouldn’t waste my life doing things that weren’t truly important.” He began a process of study, observation, and reflection directed at answering the question of what he should do with his time on earth.
Arguably the most formative action he took during those Oregon State years was to buy a set of phonograph records that he listened to again and again. They were of a play by George Bernard Shaw called Don Juan in Hell. Don Juan in Hell is actually act three of a longer play first produced in 1905 called Man and Superman, but it is often presented as a separate play. In Don Juan in Hell, the central character in the play, Jack Tanner, has a dream in which he is transformed into the fifteenth-century nobleman Don Juan and another character in the play is transformed into the Devil. This sets up what amounts to a debate between the two men about what life ought to be about, Don Juan’s version of heaven or the Devil’s version of hell. When the antagonists talk about heaven and hell, it is clear they are using them as metaphors for ways of being in this life here on earth.
Dr. Pierce cites listening to the Shaw play as a turning point in his life. He internalized the perspective and ideals put forth by Don Juan: A disdain for the shallowness and misguidedness of contemporary life. The ideal of seeking a grand purpose to direct one’s life. The concept of serving the Life Force as the organizing principle of one’s life. (The idea of the Life Force is that there is a forward-moving stream of Life — an entity of sorts that transcends all particular living things — seeking somewhat blindly to achieve complete self-understanding and the full realization of its potentiality. A servant of the Life Force, a term Dr. Pierce used often, devotes his mind and body to supporting that process.) The focus on improving the race (Don Juan refers to “the great purpose of breeding the race”). The view of life as a struggle against powerful opposing forces. The Jew as adversary (the Devil in the play is a Jew). The virtue of steadfastness, holding firm, staying the course. And there is the idea at least tacit in the play that women, love, and family get in the way of men achieving their true purposes in life.
A second major influence on Dr. Pierce was the ideology of National Socialism. The key principles here: The preservation and enhancement of the race is the first priority in individual and collective life, along with the assumption that pursuing that end will involve struggle and sacrifice. The “aristocratic principle,” which underscores that there are qualitative differences among individuals and races. The concern that the Aryan race will be reduced biologically and culturally. The view that Jews are Whites’ chief antagonists: that they seek to subdue nature rather than live according to its precepts; undermine the aristocratic principle by promoting democracy, replacing wisdom and power and strength with the dead weight of mass numbers; gain a stranglehold on finance and commerce and the political process to serve their own interests; contribute to cultural decay by ridiculing traditional ethics and morality, mocking religion, undercutting national loyalty, and contaminating the arts and mass entertainment; and work to destroy the White race by promoting miscegenation.
A third major influence on Dr. Pierce during the Oregon State years was the example of Adolf Hitler. Apart from the fact that Hitler personified the ideals of National Socialism, Dr. Pierce was inspired by the fact that Hitler had transcended so many personal limitations to achieve what he did: “In 1918 Hitler was in a military hospital blinded from a British poison attack,” he pointed out. “He was just a corporal, he had no family, a limited education, no friends, no connections. A wounded war veteran with nobody to help him, and he pulled it up just through his own willpower. That is an amazing story.” Dr. Pierce saw himself as a limited man — in particular in social skills and public speaking ability — and Hitler’s life showed him that personal limitations don’t have to hold you back. Despite personal obstacles, you can take your life seriously and root it in a grand purpose related to the well-being of the race and give everything you have in you and accomplish great things.
I was with Dr. Pierce when he visited Berchtesgaden in Germany, where Hitler lived. He was visibly moved by the experience and said very little during the day. He would walk off on his own seemingly lost in reverie as we toured the underground tunnels under what was once Hitler’s home and the other sites. I had the impression that this was a very emotional time for him. I gave him a videotape I had purchased of newsreel footage of Hitler in these locations and he was clearly touched.
The 1960s was a time of the civil rights revolution and the anti-Vietnam War movement. The civil rights struggle was being billed as being about freedom and social justice, but Dr. Pierce saw it as fundamentally about culture and White racial survival: “This was going to result in Black culture having a much bigger effect on White culture than it had had,” he told me, “and it was going to lead to greater numbers of interracial marriages and racially mixed children.” As for the anti-war activity, he took note of the power of the media and those who control them: “Back in World War II the government didn’t have to worry about public opinion because all the major propaganda instruments — the motion picture industry, the big newspapers, and so on, controlled by Jews it so happened — liked the war a lot.” He concluded that Jews used anti-war activities as a tool for social upheaval and to promote a Marxist worldview, which Dr. Pierce adamantly opposed.
What to do: He attended a few meetings of an anti-communist group called the John Birch Society but found them unwilling to focus on the issues he saw as central — race and Jews — and didn’t return. He wrote letters to public figures asking them what they saw as the best way to deal with the civil rights and anti-war movements. One of them was George Lincoln Rockwell, the commander of the American Nazi Party he formed and headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. Rockwell was a tall, slim, dark-haired, good-looking, charismatic man in his mid-forties at the time. He displayed an assertive and brash public persona, affected a dashing, rakish image with a corncob pipe, dressed in stormtrooper garb, and approached things with a showbiz touch. Rockwell wrote a dozen-page response to Dr. Pierce’s inquiry.
While attending a physics meeting in Washington, Dr. Pierce met with Rockwell. The two men related well, and soon afterward Dr. Pierce, with his family, moved to the Arlington area to serve, in effect, an apprenticeship under Rockwell. Dr. Pierce’s connection with Rockwell was the beginning of the race-oriented work that would occupy him for the remainder of his life. “I was learning a lot about people and how things worked, interactions with the government, and things like that.” He told me that one of his jobs in those days was to carry money to demonstrations for bailing out those who were arrested. With Rockwell’s help, Dr. Pierce started a journal, National Socialist World, his first publishing venture. Rockwell was assassinated in 1967.
“Rockwell was courageous and honest and he didn’t have an ego problem,” Dr. Pierce told me. “So many people are terrified of taking an unpopular stand, but not Rockwell. He wasn’t afraid to stick his neck out and get vilified and beaten up. I admired that. But he was this flamboyant showman, that was his style, and I had problems with that. If you put on a show as he was doing, calling yourself the American Nazi party and waving swastika banners around in front of the White House, if you come on with an incendiary approach, most level-headed people are going to be hesitant to get involved with that kind of circus. Rockwell had gathered around himself a group of people who for the most part were quite defective in one way or another. I thought to myself, ‘I couldn’t put up with this. I’ve got to have normal, moral, capable people around me if I am ever going to get something done.’ That was the most important lesson I took from Rockwell: do things in a way that will attract the kind of people you can work with.” This lesson has guided his approach from the time he began operating his own organization in 1970, the National Youth Alliance, later to be called the National Alliance, until his death.
I have speculated that one legacy of the Rockwell association thirty-five years ago was Dr. Pierce’s speaking style and heated rhetoric on his weekly radio programs. I have been with him when he recorded a broadcast and, at least to my ears, when the red light came on he immediately went from being mature, sober, and rather kindly to somewhat shrill, strident, and marginal-sounding. A couple of times I suggested that he consider being a little calmer on the air. In one program, he referred to then-president Clinton as a “constitutional psychopath, an indictable criminal, and a piece of filth, and the fact that he was elected president of the United States twice is justification for an armed uprising by every patriot.” I said, “Don’t you think that is a little over the top?” He replied that he had to grab people’s attention and that strong language like this is a way to reach his audience. He might have been right about all of it — including about Clinton and what to do about him, for that matter — but I still found myself thinking, “Rockwell lives.”
Another fateful encounter for Dr. Pierce was a lunch meeting in Washington in 1974 with a classics professor from the University of Illinois with the palindromic name (spelled the same backwards and forwards) Revilo P. Oliver. Dr. Pierce told Oliver that he was having trouble getting a response from people to the message he was trying to get across. “What about getting your message across through popular fiction?” suggested Oliver. The result was The Turner Diaries, written as installments in the tabloid Attack and then self-published in 1978. The Turner Diaries consists of the diary entries of one Earl Turner, a rank-and-file member of a band of White American revolutionaries who successfully overthrow the corrupt federal government. The conflict then spreads worldwide and a White government comes to control the world on the “Great One’s” (Hitler’s) birthday in 1999. The book has been remarkably successful, with a half million readers or more, and in many quarters Dr. Pierce and the book have become virtually synonymous. Dr. Pierce wrote one other novel, Hunter, published in 1989, which describes the exploits of Oscar Yeager, who seeks to cleanse America and relieve his own internal pressures and frustrations by killing first interracial couples and then Jews. Dr. Pierce viewed both books as vehicles for “getting my messages across.”
In 1985, Dr. Pierce moved to a 346-acre plot of land near Hillsboro, West Virginia. He spent the last seventeen years of his life there building the Alliance, which increased significantly in membership and influence. He held, first, yearly conferences and then, in recent years, biannual weekend leadership conferences for promising members. Beginning in 1997, he took over the weekly half-hour radio program, American Dissident Voices, when its originator, Kevin Strom, went on hiatus. ADV became an influential and personally rewarding undertaking during the last five years of Dr. Pierce’s life. Through the radio program itself, the posting of its transcript on the Alliance web site, and its reprint in the publication Free Speech, it is estimated that his words reached 100,000 or more people each week. In 2000, he purchased moribund Resistance Records, a company that distributes White-pride and -power music and publishes Resistance magazine devoted to that scene. “We want young, alienated White Americans,” he wrote at the time of the acquisition, “to understand why they are alienated and to have a positive goal for which they can work and fight instead of being filled with undirected and often self-destructive rage.” From all reports, Resistance Records has been highly successful as a vehicle for reaching young people.
A few weeks after Dr. Pierce’s death, I took a walk alone on the West Virginia property. I walked past the two-story headquarters building, the new building housing Resistance Records, and the meeting hall under construction that will seat 400 people. I thought back to him telling me of when he first moved onto the property and arranged for a used trailer to be hauled in (he lived in this modest, low-ceilinged dwelling for the rest of his life). I thought of how much this man had created from the time back in 1970 when all he had was himself and something called the National Youth Alliance, which was just him, really. I recalled his description of how in the beginning he would sleep on a couch in his office and get by on fifty dollars a week. I thought about how this man had left a tenured faculty position at a university to do this, and I thought about all the people whose lives he had touched so deeply, including my own. Truly remarkable, truly exemplary.
I have been prompted by his death to reflect on what stood out to me about William Pierce the man, as well as the impact he has had on me personally.
Of course, there was his intelligence. Simply, he was the brightest person I’ve ever been around. I found it stunning the way he could sift through details, distractions, and surface realities and get to the essence of a concern. And the way he could immediately retrieve something he had read or experienced years ago and bring it to bear on some matter at hand. And he was so incredibly fast. I remember marveling at how quickly he typed out his radio broadcast once he decided what he wanted to say. When I was around him, I thought, “This is what those physicists in Los Alamos during World War II building the atomic bomb must have been like.”
And there was his character. I found him to be a man of great integrity; there was the tightest fit imaginable between what he most deeply believed and the way he conducted his life. He had enormous commitment and dedication and perseverance. Day after day, year after year, decade after decade, he marched on. And he had courage. He put himself on the line. He went public; he used his own name. And he was incredibly hard working: twelve and fourteen hour days, seven days a week. He would munch on caffeine tablets and candy (evidently for the sugar charge) to get himself through the day, but on and on and on he would go.
And he was kind and compassionate. Perhaps because it seemed in such contrast with the way people tended to perceive him, I was particularly taken by how gentle and caring he was with Alliance members who would call or come to see him about some issue they had. An incident involving me comes to mind: Researching the book involved my attendance at a leadership conference and Dr. Pierce asked me to speak to those in attendance about what was going on in education. I worked hard on my talk, but about five or ten minutes into it I realized that what I had put together wasn’t working at all. “I’m messing up his meeting,” I thought to myself. “He must be really put off.” I avoided looking at him sitting in the front row. I struggled along and it was getting worse not better. Finally, I glanced over at him, and rather than pique or anger was a look of warmth and support. At that moment, he cared about me, not the meeting. I will never forget it.
And there were things Dr. Pierce wasn’t. He wasn’t ironically detached, cynical, or petty. I have gotten so used to people being one thing publicly and another thing privately. It wasn’t a hustle for him; he was for real. And I am so used to hearing people put others down behind their backs. I spent hours upon hours with Dr. Pierce, often at the end of a long day when he was winding down. I never heard him denigrate an Alliance member or someone who worked with him. He didn’t gossip. He respected people. He was, and this has become as big a compliment as I can make about someone, a sincere man.
Dr. Pierce could be very shy and reticent. I think of a dinner he and I had with a young married couple. It wasn’t long into the meal and I started getting annoyed that he had removed himself from the occasion and left it to me to carry the evening with the two guests. As time went along and he still sat there silently, annoyance turned to anger — I was outright mad at him. At one point, I turned to glare at him, and I was quickly brought up short because there he sat looking shrunken and vulnerable. I realized that he hadn’t bailed out; he simply couldn’t think of what to say. At that moment, I felt great affection for him.
He was very sensitive. In Europe at a German nationalist party rally, he was being slandered by a British political activist. Despite my attempts to make the point to him that that kind of thing comes with being a public figure, I was taken with just how hurt he was by what was being alleged about him. I saw that, indeed, it wasn’t that he was so tough that things didn’t get to him. Things got to him all right, but he plugged on anyway in spite of it.
And last, he was joyful. Dr. Pierce loved life. He was light and cheerful, far from the stern figure that so many think of him as being. To him, life was to be relished, not endured, and he relished it. He smiled throughout his seemingly endless workdays. I never once heard him complain about his work or responsibilities. From all I could see, he was a happy man. He left us too early, but at least in my time with him, he certainly cherished and enjoyed life while he had it.
I feel compelled to talk about what is widely perceived as Dr. Pierces’s failings in his personal life. His first marriage ended in divorce, as did subsequent marriages, including, just before he died, his last one. It is easy enough to criticize him for not achieving a better balance between the personal and public dimensions of his life, and there is some validity in that criticism. But then again, I was around his last marriage. Could he have done more to make it work? I suppose. But do I think that it had the potential for being much more than it was? In truth, no. And I think about how he phoned his wife every night from Germany to see how she was.
I have come to think that people who have “it” — a very special artistic talent or political talent or intellectual talent, whatever it is — may need to play by different rules than the rest of us. Perhaps the way for people like that to be good for the world and to achieve peace and fulfillment for themselves is not to live a balanced life of work and love and friendship and play. Rather, it may be that their way forward is to do “it” with all they have, to focus their energies on that. Indeed, Dr. Pierce had “it,” and more and more I’m convinced that he lived his life in alignment with his particular reality.
I am coming to realize the great impact Dr. Pierce has made on my own life. So much more than before I knew him, I am aware of my own finiteness and the need to do what is truly important and lasting in whatever time I have left. So much more than before, I am committed to live publicly and fully as the person I really am. I won’t be silent or controlled by fear, not now, not after knowing him. I seek to live with the courage he demonstrated. I want, in my own unique way, to live as he lived, as an honorable White man. Dr. Pierce was an honorable White man.
On the last day of my month-long stay with Dr. Pierce on his property in West Virginia, I asked him how he would like to be remembered after his passing. He replied, “I truly believe that my race, the White race, is in jeopardy. I’m not saying tomorrow or next year, but if you think in terms of a century or two — a blip in history, really — we are threatened. Especially in this country. I believe we need to re-establish a place for ourselves, on this land, where we can breed true once again, and live our way once again. I want to contribute to that. I don’t want to be a man who marches in step and can’t face being accused of being a racist or harboring anti-Semitic attitudes, or who is unwilling to pay a personal price for doing what he thinks is right. I want to be more independent than that and more courageous than that. I would love to be around a thousand years from now but I won’t be, so I accept the next best thing: the possibility that my people will remember the little bit I contributed to their salvation during a critical period in our history.”
We’ll remember, Dr. Pierce.
* * *
Dr. Robert Griffin is also the author of One Sheaf, One Vine: Racially Conscious White Americans Talk About Race.