Pierce, Koehl and the National Socialist White People’s Party Internal Split of 1970
H. Michael Barrett
I arrived at the National Socialist White People’s Party on Hitler’s Birthday, April 20, 1968. Party member Robert Homan was the first person I met that evening, and he made an extremely good impression. As welcoming as he was, it was still a peculiar experience to be received in the highly professional environment that the party offered at that time, being a two story office building that had once been a dental office.
And it wasn’t just any day that one met a “duty officer” in brownshirt uniform. Each one taking his shift routinely wore a German automatic pistol in both the reception area and the mail room. The reception area had a couch and chair, leaflet rack, and a books for sale rack. One wall was decorated with a swastika flag, and another had unusually large framed photos of Hitler and George Lincoln Rockwell. Within a day or so Homan also invited me to see what was left of the old headquarters up on Hatemonger Hill.
A partial demolition had occurred up there since the assassination, so there was little to see, but he soon asked to be left alone for a few minutes to meditate. He had earlier told me of meeting Rockwell in Seattle, and was now standing on a collapsed wooden wall. This was part of a huge pile of debris that had once been Rockwell’s mansion, which had once stood a few yards further south of us. Down the hill and across the street, I was then shown the Laundromat parking lot where Rockwell had been assassinated, and it was difficult to accept that anything so unusual had ever happened there.
When Homan and I returned to the headquarters at 2507 North Franklin Road, “Captain” Chris Vidnjevich joined the conversation and it soon got around to John Patler (originally Patsalos), the convicted assassin. Chris soon took me over to complete the tour by showing me Patler’s apartment.
Patler had been convicted by this time, of course, but remarkably he was temporarily out on bail already. As I had never met Patler, and was still a greenhorn at that time to the party’s harassment campaign against him, I was merely asked to be visible and stand alongside Chris as an observer.
Chris then mounted the front left fender of his own vehicle – just as he had done on the roof of Rockwell’s hearse outside Culpeper National Cemetery – and he yelled at the top of his lungs at the unseen Patler. And it certainly amazed me that Patler had returned to Arlington so soon, living just blocks from the new headquarters.
Months later, at a much more ordinary gathering at a party member’s apartment for a chess game, I was introduced to Eric Wenberg, an activist from Australia. He was the fellow who had leaped at Patler during the trial and screamed: “Patler, you filthy swine! You assassin!”
It had taken six cops to subdue Wenberg, and even in handcuffs he had continued to yell: You filthy assassin! Long live the American Nazi Party! Long live Matt Koehl! What was most intriguing about Wenberg in this more relaxed setting was how he made such a modest and civilized impression because of his looks, education, and clothing. He was a valued adherent by any standard.
Prior to the internal split that was to follow in 1970, I was an official supporter sharing an apartment with Dr. Pierce’s secretary, Earl, first at the building the party had temporarily occupied after the Rockwell assassination, then elsewhere. I also got along quite well with Robert Lloyd, the party’s number two person; especially after having served as his armed bodyguard during an extensive tour of television and radio stations across the Northwest states. We also visited units and supporters throughout that area.
Commander Koehl had asked Lieutenant Lloyd, when we reached the Chicago portion of the tour, to confer with Frank Collin the Chicago leader and ask him to step down. The officers at party headquarters now believed that they were in possession of overwhelming evidence that he was racially Jewish, and they hoped to deal with it quietly and privately.
While leaving one of the television studios, our host’s representative asked if we would like to meet Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, who was waiting for his own turn to come on camera. Our beautiful guide seemed to relish the peculiarity of this social opportunity, and we both assented to the invitation.
Hampton rose from his seat and we shook hands after the introduction. He made an extremely good impression on me, and apparently many others saw a worthy warrior in him, so I was saddened when he was eventually murdered in his bed during a controversial ambush by Chicago police.
When we returned to Arlington, after having survived a wheel nearly falling off the car along the road because of mysteriously loosened lug nuts, I was offered the opportunity to become one of the few formal party members. It seemed a natural progression, as I had already participated in nearly every wild punch-up party officials had asked us to instigate with anti-war demonstrators, while they now adopted a new custom of often staying hidden and directing from a position of safety.
There were also two incidents that caused me to lose faith in the NSWPP’s program; the first being a nasty attack we made against an anti-war meeting at the Quaker Church, and the second was an attack against a young man – without any connection to politics – because he had long hair. I soon realized that I was opposed to the war myself, but that the party’s conservative tendencies were supporting the establishment’s war.
Lloyd consulted with Pierce and Koehl, and as the rank and file had already assumed I had become a member, some registered their surprise when I turned this invitation down. I was beginning to realize that I was too ideologically different from the NSWPP; it tended to be more predictably conservative than a synthesis of contradictory social currents. The party increasingly seemed like an impotent cult as well, a parody of another time and place despite all the efforts to find a more modern image.
I declined their invitation just shortly before the Koehl/Pierce dispute – or what Pierce’s secretary, Earl, so appropriately dubbed “The Big Split” – but remained active as an official supporter. That was fortuitous for the recording of radical political history, as I soon witnessed the riveting events that two recently published histories on the party barely touched upon.
When Koehl and his security chief Chris Vidnjevich pre-planned putting Pierce out, they decided to begin by undermining those who might support him. Chris decided to criticize Earl’s routine office work, hoping he would quietly submit and quit his job first. The way this plan unrolled, however, was to disappoint and frustrate them.
Earl didn’t realize this unexpected criticism was part of a larger game, and as he felt there was actually nothing wrong with his work, he soon went upstairs to complain to Commander Koehl about Chris’ “peculiar behavior.” This visit to Koehl effectively obstructed them, as Earl reminded Koehl of his unblemished loyalty and long service to him.
And Koehl was indeed someone who put an emphasis on the “leadership principle.” Chris, however, didn’t give up, and on a following day attempted to just physically push Earl right out the front door, as if he had the authority to fire an unwanted employee.
Now that Earl felt “morally supported by Koehl,” he was just as determined and struggled to physically resist Chris. During the wrestling match that ensued, Chris ended up with his own back to the door, then was hurled through the glass panel in it. The front door at 2507 North Franklin Road had swung into its completely closed position. (They routinely posted 24 hour security, so the glass just didn’t matter until that moment.)
Despite all this, Chris suffered no noticeable injury, as he had gone through backwards and managed to catch his fall by stepping through. Remarkably, Earl still managed to hold onto his position as duty officer at the public reception office, but the incident with Chris prompted Koehl to reposition him to the party’s bookstore a few blocks down the street. Koehl and Chris decided to resort to a second plan, and meanwhile, someone began circulating word that Earl was insane.
Part of this was due to a previous incident, where two members of the area’s most feared motorcycle gang, the Pagans, entered the party’s public reception office to test the metal of the staff members. Around that time the Pagans were involved in an incident where they had killed a member of the Hell’s Angels, sealed his body in an oil can, then dropped it off a bridge. As fate would have it, Earl was the duty officer on the day they came over. He also knew their reputation.
And when the boldest of the two outlaws picked up a 50 cent White Power pin, and openly made known his intention to leave without paying, Earl withdrew his Walther P-38 from its holster and chambered a round. Then he took aim at his potential target while both bad boys stared in disbelief. Eventually they lost heart and departed. Years later I had an opportunity to know Earl much better, and I came to realize that he was capable of pulling that trigger to save face.
Although Chris was Koehl’s security chief, he actually wasn’t a full time and much underpaid activist on staff, like Earl (who often had no money to even eat), so the excitement about he and Earl also clashing simply died down until the night of the “surprise party” for Pierce.
On that evening, Earl telephoned me from the George Lincoln Rockwell book shop. He informed me that Koehl had just convened an emergency meeting in his office, which was located on the street side of the second floor of the NSWPP (Pierce and Lloyd also had offices on that floor).
Koehl had summoned every warm body he could find, including official supporters who were rarely invited up there. It began as a show of strength, then Koehl and Chris used it as a kangaroo court to drive Pierce out of the party. As I was on the ‘do not invite’ list, I heard from others later that the atmosphere was quite nasty, as the charges against Pierce were shouted at him. When he replied to the accusations, this increased to a physically intimidating level, and he was there by himself.
Mostly, of course, it was centered on Pierce being an advocate for the more aggressive style of activism that he’s still known for today, and the way he didn’t take a leader too seriously if that person enjoyed wearing foreign looking uniforms. Then Pierce went home to work on a written reply to be distributed to party members and supporters all over the world. The locks were changed soon after he departed.
Koehl had scheduled that surprise meeting to coincide with the most obvious Pierce supporters being excluded; including Robert Lloyd being out of town on business, and Pierce’s personal secretary Earl routinely manning the George Lincoln Rockwell book shop. (Earl had been to all previous member meetings.)
Koehl had also sent someone to ask me to go alone on a one man demonstration. I was to be asked to handcuff myself to the White House fence and spend a night in the DC jail, which was populated nearly 100% by Black inmates.
Stunts of that nature were more associated with Rockwell’s vaudeville style. It was out of character that Koehl would ask such a thing, and I would have noticed even if his request reached me in time. Koehl’s messenger, however, failed to connect up with me before the surprise party was sprung on Pierce, so I remained a risk factor for being associated with Earl and Lloyd.
When I arrived at the book shop and heard the details about the surprise meeting to force Pierce out, it was soon followed by Bill Kirstein (a former organizer from California) rushing in. He was a bit out of breath, and looked as if he was ready to pounce on someone, but he had only come from headquarters to seize the day’s cash receipts from the shop for Koehl.
I had come to realize that the party’s activities were far off the track of practical politics, but I hadn’t anticipated this rift between Pierce and Koehl. Before we could close the door after Kirstein, however, about six more party people arrived, including member Robert Homan. He was casually bearing a shotgun, and perhaps others were armed as well, but all they did was recite what they had seen at the meeting.
To use Otto Skorzany’s way of expressing it, they were still too shocked by the events to influence them. At that time few knew there even was going to be a bigger split – with more personnel than Pierce leaving, but Earl and I at this point had decided to cast our lot with Pierce – and likely Lloyd – come what may.
After almost an hour of this casual but excited gathering going on in the store, Earl and I shooed them out of there. We emphasized that the excitement was over, it seemed that way, but we wanted to take firmer possession of the shop.
We locked the shop up for Earl, and it was to remain in his control until Lloyd returned those few days later. We soon knew Pierce had telephoned Lloyd from his own home and established that he too might bail out.
As tragic as it was to see so many comrades fall out, and let me assure you it was emotionally difficult sometimes, we still had a good chuckle about how the highly organized plotters from HQ had thought of the day’s receipts while we seized the book shop.
The following day Pierce returned to the book shop, about three blocks down from the headquarters. Earl was already armed and keeping the shop secure, so Pierce asked me now to assist further by taking possession of Lloyd’s house, which was located directly across the street from the headquarters. And the party ran a printing press in its basement.
Although Pierce had spoken on the telephone with Lloyd and knew he was supportive of his plight, Koehl wasn’t as sure which way Lloyd would go in this falling out, so I accompanied Pierce to Lloyd’s house before that cat was out of the bag. Until the split, party members routinely went across the street to Lloyd’s house to run the printing press in the basement, so they had other keys.
As Pierce was the only one armed, he personally searched the house and basement himself, then came back to report that he saw about three party members in the basement working away as if all was still right with the world. Pierce suggested that I send them on their way, in as casual a manner as possible, and inform them that I was taking armed possession of the house.
Pierce then loaned me his own revolver for that purpose, a .38 with an extremely unusual light aluminum frame, and he went about his business elsewhere. I had only borrowed this gun on one other occasion, when I needed to qualify at a shooting range to gain NRA certification for security work.
Next to me at the range that day was the man who in 1963 had driven the hearse carrying Kennedy’s coffin (the one with the handle broken off). After seeing my score he sensed that the weapon was making a difference, so I let him qualify for his own with it as well.
After entering the basement of Lloyd’s house from the back, I informed the party workers that they were done for the day and that I was securing the area. As they went about the business of cleaning up, I spoke to a party member that Koehl had recently detailed to work alongside Lloyd hoping to keep tabs of his loyalties.
This particular party member was a former paratrooper who had served in Vietnam, and he shared an active passion for firearms with Lloyd, but he was not armed when I spoke to him. He was also the person who had been delegated to pass the message to me about Koehl “needing me to go on a suicide mission,” as we jokingly referred to some things. But it was too late for that message now.
I was a bit more direct with him, explaining that there would be a physical risk to anyone who decided to force their way in later. It’s not that I was looking for trouble, but I sensed that a little early aggressiveness could save me from having to deal with any more Koehl supporters than necessary.
Then I asked this man to take a message across the street to party headquarters, along with my refusal to take any further orders from Koehl about the suicide mission: “Just inform them that I have secured the house, and if anyone breaks in I will have no choice but to shoot.”
This party member then smiled nervously and said “You’re kidding.” Then he asked if I had a firearm to accomplish the purpose. Even so, it didn’t take much more convincing, as he was already feeling like a Judas for having spied on Lloyd; so he just acknowledged how the tension was rising and promised to deliver the message.
Having secured the basement, and then the upstairs of the house, I soon realized that it would be unsafe to wander too far from the front room areas. Chris had already been through the house with an entourage of mostly non-member loyalists (and they had also searched any living accommodations shared with other comrades, including mine).
The raiders had been into Lloyd’s office looking for any paperwork that might reveal what he, Pierce, or anyone else was communicating. Paperwork of that nature did not exist, so these unnecessary searches were especially chilling. The diary pages of Lloyd’s beautiful and sensitive wife were also examined thoroughly, but they revealed nothing more than her spiritual contemplations.
The atmosphere remained tense throughout my stay, although I was visited by people who were secretly sympathetic to Pierce, and there were little incidents such as these:
Party supporter Eugene climbed over the fence during the night, after being asked to give a report on what I was doing, but as I kept the lights off and he suspected a gun might be pointed in his direction, he soon climbed right back out.
During the daytime a supporter of the party’s youth organization crossed the street and pleaded to join up with me. What he had to say only stirred my suspicions, and so being unable to determine his motives I sent him away.
The next morning Chris Vidnjevich attempted to enter the house at the front door, using the lockout key, so I slammed the inner door with as much force as I had in me to simulate a gun shot. In response, he leaped off the steps and chambered a round into his automatic, but fortunately he stayed away.
Soon I began answering telephone calls, as Pierce had instructed me to, on the extension to the main party telephone inside Lloyd’s house. People such as Joe Tommasi, the California leader in El Monte, were calling the party headquarters on routine business and discovering what was going on.
Occasionally Chris Vidjevich would come on the line from either Koehl’s office or the duty officer’s area downstairs as I fielded these calls, threatening my life. But as it was necessary to tell our side of the story, I continued to take calls and educate members at every opportunity.
Late that night party supporter Richard Bierderman, accompanied by someone else, threw a large rock at the front door. After I opened the door to admonish them about that, I found that they weren’t interested in carrying this any further. Soon I went back to sleep.
Weeks earlier Biederman and I had narrowly won a street fight with four men in Georgetown, and celebrated together at the local pizza parlor, so the entire situation was especially twisted.
Eventually Lloyd returned home and thanked me for taking care of his property (this included his unusually large gun collection; the gun Patler had used to kill Rockwell in 1967; and Commander Rockwell’s entire wardrobe).
Lloyd also asked one last favor: that I would remain until he used an ax to break into his own second floor office across the street at the headquarters. Party supporter Eugene was on guard there now, positioned by Koehl or Chris who were nowhere in sight, and he was refusing normal access to Lloyd.
Koehl had gone home, Chris I presume had gone to his day job, and Eugene really wasn’t apprised of what was what; for although Lloyd’s political position was indeed undetermined (though suspected of being close to Pierce) he was still legally on the corporation as much as Pierce and Koehl. And Koehl had hoped to win Lloyd over to opposing Pierce as well.
Lloyd soon chopped his way through the door, which was an act remarkably similar to what Jack Nicolson did in a movie released years later called The Shining, but O’Neil did not shoot him and gave up control of the offices.
Once Lloyd was in the office, as O’Neil told me years later in San Francisco, Lloyd got on the telephone and loudly demanded that Koehl explain how he could have taken this idiotic action without consulting him.
It was an especially animated conversation, and during the course of it Lloyd punctuated some point or other by punching his fist right through the plaster wall inside Koehl’s office. I don’t know which wall, but I always visualized that it was the one which had a very long black and white photograph of the Nuremberg Rally on it.
Lloyd then returned back across the street, informed me that all was returning to normal – or our equivalent of it – and he drove me home. As we pulled away duty officer Parsons stood in the doorway and stared our way.
He had been around a long time and seemed pretty tired of the internal disputes himself. I was certainly happy to be away from all the excitement of the previous two days, as I still had on the same clothes throughout this and wasn’t totally rested either.
Additional conversations between Koehl, Pierce, and Lloyd in the following days eventually led to a truce of sorts. And during that period Lloyd went about his normal business between there, his home, appearing in court against Patler (who had since sued about alleged telephone harassment while out on bond for a time) and the George Lincoln Rockwell book shop.
Lloyd owned most of the stock at the book store anyway, but the three leaders shared total ownership of the “party” itself. One day during this transition period Lloyd came in from one of those court appearances about Patler, and as I noticed he was working away quite undisturbed for someone who had just lost a lawsuit, I commented on how it surprised me. And Lloyd said something like: “I have to make money if I’m going pay money.”
The truce allowed time for less heated negotiations to be conducted between the three NSWPP corporation heads, and Koehl was still hoping to keep Lloyd. And whenever Pierce was back in the area he naturally spent most of his time visiting the book shop.
Although Pierce usually retained social distance from most people during the past, as he was now standing alongside the only three local people loyal solely to him, he loosened up a bit. As we were all closer now, each time Pierce came in we enjoyed talking with him in this more informal atmosphere of genuine camaraderie that developed during conflict.
On one such occasion he had with him a copy of Carlton Coon’s 1939 classic The Races of Europe, which he had received by mail order. And he spoke of how Coon had written it as a kind of second volume to complement William Ripley’s book of the same name. I enjoyed going through Pierce’s copy of his especially rare book, and we all chatted about the photo charts.
It seemed easy to find the basic racial description for anyone in the party, and Pierce chuckled when I pointed out someone who looked a lot like Koehl. And taking the book up into his own hands for a closer inspection, he said: “Some people have a natural eye for this, Mr. Barrett, and you’re one of them, as Koehl does indeed come from a Romanian background.” Pierce could actually be a lot of fun when he wanted to be.
Eventually, as I mentioned before, Pierce issued a thick memo that he called his prospectus for the future. The full title escapes me, but it detailed out the direction that he thought the movement should develop.
It was also soon resolved that Pierce would move on voluntarily, even though he could have stayed, for he would have found it too suffocating to remain under the now more assertive Koehl, who had issued his own memo about obeying “the leadership principle.”
When Pierce issued his rather long but especially impressive internal memo, he discussed it among the loyalists at the book shop, but it was also mailed out to the entire party membership by resorting to an emergency back-up copy of the NSWPP mailing list.
Pierce detailed his own version of the dispute and included an update on how the surprise meeting caused him to post the two guards – but without using our names. As I don’t know if Earl is still in politics, I have intentionally left his name off this account.
That seems especially prudent following the notoriety of The Turner Diaries, which was very loosely based on his name (but certainly not his life or beliefs).
There was nothing in Pierce’s memo that would be considered a major revelation today, though perhaps it was couched in more diplomatic terms in 1970. Pierce’s ideological emphasis was on revolution and Koehl’s emphasis on founding a National Socialist religion. The concepts in Pierce’s prospectus, mostly for internal use at that time, match up very well with his present public program.
As for the shop, it remained closed once Pierce and Lloyd announced their intentions to move to offices in Washington DC’s Georgetown. And although Koehl’s people sometimes hung around outside to observe our movements, occasionally complaining about a sign posted in the window now that said “Shoot Looters,” they offered no major obstructions.
The George Lincoln Rockwell book shop also occasionally attracted opponents, some drunk, some sober, day or night. On one particular night someone came while the shop was unmanned and hurled a brick through the window. As it was a glass window, Lloyd replaced it with a plastic one. A few nights later, while Lloyd was standing within, he saw a young man hurl a second brick. When it bounced off harmlessly, nearly hitting its thrower on the rebound, Lloyd just roared.
Eventually all the stock was moved from that shop and it became the basis of Western Destiny books which was located on the floor below Pierce’s first office in Washington, DC for the National Youth Alliance. Lloyd and I, along with his wife Katherine, comprised the new corporation, and its logo was a sailing ship on a storm tossed sea.
A few days after the prospectus was issued Pierce made more formal arrangements with Koehl and Chris, about when he would remove his belongings from his office at the NSWPP headquarters. And after discovering how, for many reasons, no one else was available to move furniture with Pierce, he and I hauled it all out ourselves. Koehl and Chris were present when we came, but they were quite civil.
We four rebels had one last meeting in Earl’s apartment before we all eventually left Arlington for good during the coming weeks. At some point during that meeting Pierce assumed a kind of pensive expression, and then said something like this: “I’ll make a prediction: Koehl will eventually turn the party into a religion, it will wind down slowly, then eventually nothing more will be heard of him.”
It was a rather unique experience to see Pierce assume this pose, as a kind of Aryan Nostradamus. And theatrical or not, in the end that’s exactly what happened. Of course, Koehl probably made his position just as clear to many others.
That young party supporter that I had turned away from Lloyd’s house eventually turned up at the book shop, and after making every effort to befriend Earl, became a temporary roommate of his while I was out of state. Eventually it was discovered that he was another spy for Chris, so the lock was changed at the apartment and his personal possessions were donated to the Salvation Army.
An incident came up in the new book shop as well, which is worth relating. Two aggressive and desperate looking young Black men came into the book shop one day, which had even less of the Nazi cult look than the GLR shop did, and so they began examining the book titles – but only at the back of the store. We had the distinct feeling we were about to be held up, and so I took a position in the exit stairway to get a bead on them while Earl remained at the counter.
The most stocky one seemed especially intrigued by a tome by the German existentialist thinker Martin Heidegger, On Being and Time. Some sources say that Heidegger is probably fully understood by about three people in the entire world. But not realizing that, the nearest Black man said: “How much is dis book bout being awn time?” I nearly gave my location away in the stairway upon hearing that one, but eventually they left.
While on the way out the pair seemed to notice we wouldn’t go down too easily, so they didn’t bother returning. Pierce seemed to revel in the details of every bizarre incident, as he was working on some mysterious novel called The Turner Diaries. When I read the book, however, which was many years later, only a few details seemed like familiar elements.
For a time I served as Pierce’s first street activist, even breaking my knuckle and another hand bone in a fight against left-wing demonstrators outside the Capitol Building on one occasion. That night Pierce picked me up at the hospital, as I had just gotten the hand set, and he went to work right away doing a story on it for the bulletin.
Earl also continued with Pierce for a time, mostly carrying out the kind of internal duties as before. But eventually he tired of this and quit, so I turned to helping him co-found a mail order business called White Legion Books, again based on the previous shops.
In the coming months I encountered Chris working as an engineer in the courtyard of the Watergate Apartments, and we merely shook hands and agreed that it wasn’t necessary to have future problems linger. Years later I also exchanged letters with Koehl, but we just skipped over any uncomfortable subjects.
Western Destiny Books eventually closed down, as Lloyd finally decided to withdraw from radical politics, just as he had retired from the action back when he was Rockwell’s favorite stormtrooper.
Eventually I gave my portion of White Legion Books to Earl. He did more to develop it anyway, and soon renamed it Bibliophile Legion Books. Earl also published some very nice books about some of the lessor known formations of the SS, and associated with Willis Carto for a time. I defined myself as a “cultural Legionnaire” rather than an uncritical National Socialist, and so I moved on.
Years later, as I kept my ears open for such things, I heard that Richard Bierderman had been killed while fighting for the Rhodesian military (a mine had blown up the truck he was riding in), and Joe Tommasi had been gunned down in Los Angeles by another party member during his own local split.
As Joe had once stayed at my apartment during the NSWPP congress, and I knew him to be an especially decent person (despite all the excitement about him helping Richard Nixon’s dirty tricks people before the Watergate scandal), it was particularly sad news. I also sensed, though it would be difficult to be certain, that these were long delayed ripple effects from the Big Split.
Hopefully my story will forewarn others who may embrace the serious ideological error of NS cultism.
Two recent books, Hate by William Schmaltz (1999) and American Fuehrer by Frederick Simonelli (1999), mention this event, but the author of the above account was an actual participant. H. Michael Barrett went on to advocate the ‘Pioneer Little Europe’ concept.