An utterly well-written, utterly fascinating study of a racially inspired murder in Oregon, documenting the mutant Nazism that emerged in the Reagan era.
Old-school racists around the country didn’t quite know what to make of the swastika-emblazoned, drug-fueled skinheads who turned up on Geraldo, to say nothing of Wanted posters, in the early 1980s. That was a time, reminds journalist Langer (Josephine Herbst), when all kinds of white-power aspirants were turning up, complaining bitterly that immigration and civil rights had betrayed the promise of an Anglo-dominated, Christian America; but somehow the skinheads, inspired by their National Front peers in Britain, were scarier than most, addicted to heroin and mindless violence. When one particularly nasty knot of skinheads attacked and killed an Ethiopian refugee, Mulegeta Seraw, in Portland on a Saturday night in 1988, the neo-Nazi movement drew nationwide attention; more, the act inspired Southern Poverty Law Center founder Morris Dees to file suit against one of the movement’s friendly-next-door-neighbor founders, a virulent but socially polished racist named Tom Metzger, who had been selling hatred alongside his TV-repair business for decades. Langer explores the sad, dead-end lives of the young men and women who perpetrated and abetted the murder, foremost among them a confused, hate-filled lad who went by the sobriquet of Ken Death (“Ken Mieske was just another skinny teenager with straggly hair, a long, thin, sad face, haunted eyes, and a broken heart. Ken Death was a prophet, turning the world inside out and warning his audiences, ‘I will embrace something that you think is bad, I, Death, and declare it good’ ”). Moreover, and not without criticism, she explores the Dees lawsuit and its repercussions and unintended consequences—including the ironic fact that proceeds from Metzger’s sale of neo-Nazi regalia are now attached to the SPLC in a “two-thirds, one-third split,” a devil’s bargain indeed.
An absolutely top-drawer exploration of racist politics and its strange players, who remain legion.