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Fifth Congress of the National Socialist White People’s Party and

the World Union of National Socialists, Milwaukee, August 1975.

 

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History of American National Socialism

Part 7: The National Socialist White People’s Party (1967-1982)

 

By Martin Kerr

 

A TELEPHONE CALL came in to the national headquarters of the National Socialist White People’s Party about half-past noon on August 25, 1967. National Secretary Matt Koehl took the call. It was a person claiming to be a reporter. He wanted the party’s comment on the assassination of NSWPP Commander George Lincoln Rockwell. Koehl hung up without replying; he assumed it was one of the dozens of prank calls that the headquarters received each day. He knew that Rockwell was alive, as he had spoken to him in person some 40 minutes earlier; now he was impatiently waiting for the Commander’s return from the local laundromat so that he could use the vehicle that Rockwell had taken for a party activity.

 

Moments later the phone rang again, and once more it was someone who said he was a reporter, asking for a comment on Rockwell’s death. Again, Koehl hung up. Within seconds there was a third call – but this time, before Koehl could slam down the receiver, he heard the caller say the word “laundromat.”

 

“It was as if an icy-cold hand gripped my heart,” he later said.

 

Koehl quickly dispatched a trooper on foot to run down to the laundromat, about a quarter mile away, to see if Commander Rockwell was all right. Shortly afterwards, the trooper returned. He was out of breath and drenched in sweat from running in the 90-degree summer heat. Commander Rockwell had been shot, he reported. His body was laying on the parking lot pavement, surrounded by a crowd of curious onlookers who were being held back by the police.

 

“I instantly knew two things,” Koehl later recalled. “First, that he had been killed in order to stop his life’s work, and second, that I would not let that happen.”

 

The era of George Lincoln Rockwell and the American Nazi Party was over, and the era of Matt Koehl and the National Socialist White People’s Party had begun.

 

Transition and Survival

 

Technically, the era of the American Nazi Party had ended some nine months earlier, when Rockwell had renamed the group as the NSWPP. The name change was only one component of a sweeping program he had announced to transform the noisy band of political dissidents he had gathered around himself into a serious political movement for angry American Whites. The transition of the party from a group specializing in street-theater to one engaging in legitimate grass-roots activism had only just begun when Rockwell was killed. It fell on Koehl and his co-workers to carry it out as best they could.

 

But Koehl had a more-pressing priority before him: the very survival of the party itself.

 

In the tumultuous days and weeks following the assassination, the party initially rallied behind Koehl as its new leader. At first, Koehl refused to assume the title of “commander,” although as Rockwell’s designated successor he was entitled to do so. Instead, he called himself “National Leader.” He imposed a two-year probationary period on himself. At the end of that time, he said, he would consult the party’s membership, and if they were satisfied with the job he was doing, then he would continue on as “commander.” Otherwise, he would step aside.

 

But the initial surge of party solidarity that followed Rockwell’s death soon evaporated, and fissures in its organizational structure emerged. Part of the problem was that Koehl, then 32 years old, had a very different personality from Rockwell, who was 49 at the time of his death. The 6’4” Rockwell was gregarious and dramatic, and dominated the gathering whenever he entered a room. All eyes were on him. The younger, smaller Koehl, on the other hand, was quiet and introverted. Some in the party mistook his low-key personality as a sign of weakness. They thought that it would be easy for them to control him. All bookishness aside, however, Koehl possessed an iron will and a clear vision of what needed to be done to build National Socialism in America. Soon, his critics were gone, either having been expelled for insubordination or having voluntarily resigned. Some of them, convinced that they could do a better job than Koehl, set up their own mini versions of the “American Nazi Party.” We will discuss some of these splinter groups in the next installments of this series.

 

So, despite the unprecedented avalanche of free publicity that followed the assassination, the NSWPP soon found itself short of manpower and money. The party headquarters in Chicago and Los Angeles were shuttered, and key personnel were transferred to Arlington. The NSWPP’s printing plant in Spotsylvania, Virginia, was also closed, and the group lost its mail order operation in Dallas, Texas. By the end of 1967, it had been evicted from its famous “Hatemonger Hill” headquarters in Arlington. Enemies of the party gleefully predicted that its end was at hand. The New York Times published a lengthy obituary for the NSWPP, entitled “Rockwell’s Nazis Lost without Him.”

 

But Koehl refused to let the party die. By the middle of 1968, a small brick-and-stone building had been purchased to serve as the new headquarters. An impressive, hardcover edition of Rockwell’s posthumous book, White Power, was published. The new party tabloid newspaper, also called White Power, began to appear, although on an irregular basis at first. Soon, the party opened a second facility in Arlington, the “George Lincoln Rockwell Bookstore.”

 

The new momentum was partly due to two officers whom Koehl had recruited: Dr. William L. Pierce and Robert Lloyd. Pierce had been a consultant to Rockwell during the mid and late 1960s; now in the hour of need, he stepped forward to play a more prominent role. He became the party’s National Secretary and public outreach officer. Pierce brought a new level of professionalism and intelligence to the party’s publications. He also pioneered new outreach forms, such as the “White Power Message.” This was three-minute telephone recording on various topical issues that was changed periodically. Thousands of listeners called the service weekly, including many who were otherwise unwilling to contact the party.

 

Lloyd had been a captain in Rockwell’s stormtroops but had drifted away in the year before the assassination. Now, he returned as the group’s National Organizer, charged with recruitment, public activities and with forming new party units throughout the country.

 

On Labor Day weekend, 1969 – some two years after Rockwell’s death – the party held its first-ever national congress, attended by over 120 delegates. The congress included a closed session for full members and officers only. At this time, Koehl’s leadership was unanimously reconfirmed, and he officially became the party “commander.”

 

Yet all was not well within the group. In June 1970, Pierce made a bid to oust Koehl as the party’s supreme leader. Instead, he demanded that the party be run by a committee chaired by himself. Under this scheme, Koehl would stay on as the Movement’s figurehead, but would have no power.

Once again, Koehl’s opponents underestimated him. By August 1970, Pierce was gone, as was Robert Lloyd, who had supported his power-play. Pierce later admitted that his effort to supplant Koehl had been an error. To use a contemporary term, both men were “alpha males.” Each had his own vision on where to lead the Movement, and neither was inclined to take orders from the other. Pierce went on to form his own group, the National Alliance, which will be discussed in the next installment of this series.

 

Happily, despite the ill-feelings that accompanied the split, by the end of the decade Koehl and Pierce were again on speaking terms. As the saying goes, they “agreed to disagree” on the best way forward for our Race. Still, Pierce’s departure was a major setback for the Rockwell movement.

 

But the “Pierce mutiny” (as it was called within the NSWPP), was only the first in a decade-long series of similar episodes. Time and again, Koehl would build the NSWPP up to a certain level, only to have all of the progress undone by internal difficulties.

 

Koehl as a Leader

 

Both inside and outside the party, people measured Koehl as a leader against their memories of Rockwell. And at first, Koehl made such a comparison himself. By such standards, he fell far short. For one thing, he lacked Rockwell’s charisma and exuberance. At the beginning of his tenure, Koehl’s speaking ability was poor. He did not have Rockwell’s ability to improvise before an audience. Instead, Koehl would read his speeches from a typewritten text, only rarely looking up. Over time, he developed into an impressive and dynamic speaker – but that is not how he started out.

 

His effort to be an imitation Lincoln Rockwell was a failure. He later told me that just as each of us has a unique personality, so each leader must find his own unique style of leadership. It was a mistake, he said, for him to try and copy Rockwell’s style, as his personality and talents were far different.

 

But in time he found his own leadership style. It included careful forethought, methodical preparation, and scrupulous attention to detail. He used the organizational sections of Mein Kampf as an inflexible guide to party-building and operations. But like Rockwell, he also led from the front. He was injured and arrested numerous times on party activities, although as commander he could have held himself aloof from danger. Above all, he never asked his men to something that he himself was not willing to do.

 

A famous example of this took place in Miami, Florida, on August 20, 1972, when Koehl spearheaded 23 stormtroopers in civilian clothes in a raid on a Marxist encampment in Flamingo Park. Koehl led the National Socialists in capturing the speakers’ platform, which the ST men then defended for two hours against repeated assaults by hundreds of communists before finally being overrun and forced from the park. The event, which took place near the site of the Republican presidential convention, garnered the NSWPP worldwide news coverage.

 

Gradually, a corps of Koehl loyalists emerged, both in Arlington and in local units scattered across the country. These were men and women who understood and appreciated his disciplined leadership style in itself, as different as it was from Rockwell’s freewheeling, impromptu leadership of the previous decade.

 

Rockwell’s strategy had been based on what we may call “punctuated equilibrium”: long periods of stasis interspersed with dramatic breakthroughs. Koehl, on the other hand, worked on the theory of slow growth and consolidation: small, incremental gains that added up over a long period of time.

 

Initially, Koehl, adhered to Rockwell’s Four Phase program (discussed previously) as closely as he could. But over time, he began to diverge from it, only a little bit at first, and then more and more as time went on. Instead, he made practical progress in building the party whenever he could, with no real thought to a long-term NS “seizure of power.”

 

The NSWPP in the 1970s

 

Under Koehl’s leadership, the NSWPP grew into an impressive, nationwide organization with headquarters and bookstores in major US cities, such as Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and elsewhere. For a while, it had a 15-minute program of new commentary on AM radio, entitled The Future Calls. White Power newspaper was published monthly, and an internal newsletter, the NS Bulletin was issued twice a month. In addition, the party published an ideological journal on behalf of the World Union of National Socialists. But it was not its publications for which the Party was best known, but rather for its relentless, high-energy, high-profile public activism.

 

 

Full membership in the party was restricted to those comrades who had proven their full commitment to the cause. Those who applied for membership were vetted. After a probationary period lasting from one to two years, they had to pass an interview before panel of party officers. Members were expected to tithe 10 percent of their net income to the party, to purchase and distribute 50 copies of White Power each month, and to attend all private and public party activities in their area.

 

In addition to the party itself, there were three auxiliary formations. The best known was the paramilitary Stormtroops (ST). There was also a women’s auxiliary (the National Socialist Women’s Organization or NSWO) and a youth group (the National Socialist Youth Movement or NSYM). The NSWO did not take part in public demonstrations but served behind the scenes in a support capacity. The NSYM provided National Socialist training for young men 14 through 17, who then normally went on to join the ST. From 1969-1970, the party also had an organization for college students, the National Socialist Liberation Front (not to be confused with the later splinter group of the same name). The NSLF had its own publication, the National Socialist Liberator.