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Obituaries

William L. Pierce, 68; Ex-Rocket Scientist Became White Supremacist

July 24, 2002|JEFFREY GETTLEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — William L. Pierce, a rocket scientist turned neo-Nazi writer who used a mix of intellect and hate to rise to the top of the American white supremacist movement and become the "godfather" of skinheads, died Tuesday in his West Virginia compound.

He was 68. The cause of death was renal failure, a spokesman said.

Pierce, who freeze-dried rabbits and stockpiled guns in preparation for Armageddon, wrote the novel "The Turner Diaries," a hate-filled book thought to have inspired Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh.

From his fenced-off compound in Hillsboro, W. Va., the tall, avuncular Pierce commanded an army of 1,500 skinhead followers, under the banner of the National Alliance, with dozens of chapters across the country and around the world.

Pierce called for the establishment of all-white "homelands" and the expulsion of blacks and Jews, and disseminated ideas through the Internet, books and rallies. The most recent National Alliance event was 10 days ago, a march in Gainesville, Ga., organized to intimidate the town's large--and growing--Latino population.

Watchdog groups consider the National Alliance the most dangerous white supremacist organization, partly because Pierce helped spread its message to educated and professional people.

"William Pierce created a very regimented, sophisticated network," said Deborah Lauter, Southeast regional director for the Anti-Defamation League. "He was the godfather of hate in this country. I imagine his death will be a blow to the movement."

Pierce is credited with extending the reach of the skinhead movement to angry teens by buying a white-power recording studio, Resistance Records, which churns out lyrics like: "Did 6 million Jews really die or was it just a Zionist lie...." He also designed a video game called Ethnic Cleansing.

His supporters say that he was misunderstood and that despite his image as a violent separatist, he was in fact a gentle man who liked walking through the woods with his Persian cat, Hadley, on his shoulders.

"Unfortunately, Dr. Pierce is one of those great men who will be better appreciated after he's gone," said Chester J. Doles, a National Alliance leader in Georgia. "I mean, some of his teachings were just too advanced for his time."

William Luther Pierce was born in 1933 in Atlanta, the son of an insurance agent and journalist. He went to Rice University as an undergraduate, received his doctorate from the University of Colorado and then taught physics at Oregon State University. He also worked on jet propulsion at a Pratt & Whitney laboratory.

By the early 1970s, Pierce had left the scientific world to join the ranks of the growing Aryan movement. In 1974, he founded the National Alliance in Arlington, Va. Ten years later, he relocated to the hills of West Virginia, where authorities monitored him but mostly left him alone.

"The Turner Diaries" is his best-known work, a fictional story published in 1978 about a group of neo-Nazis who violently overthrow the government.

Federal prosecutors called the novel "a blueprint" for the Oklahoma City bombing, with McVeigh using the same explosive--ammonium nitrate fertilizer--as Pierce's character in the book and setting off his device about the same time, 9 a.m. McVeigh was a known acolyte of Pierce's, and a passage from "The Turner Diaries" was found in McVeigh's car after his arrest.

Unlike white supremacist leaders imprisoned for their connections to violent acts, Pierce was never convicted of a serious crime.

Three weeks ago, he was diagnosed with widespread cancer, said Billy Roper, a National Alliance official.

But he chose to continue living in his compound and died of kidney failure in his room on Tuesday.

Pierce is survived by two sons and a brother.

National Alliance officials would not discuss who will succeed him.

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