By DANIEL BARLOW
June 14, 2009
MONTPELIER – For more than 30 years, Robert S. Griffin has taught education courses at the University of Vermont. But when he is not in the classroom, Griffin is a prolific writer on the topic of white pride – and his books and essays are extremely popular among the white supremacist and neo-Nazi movements in the United States.
Griffin, a tenured professor at the Burlington university, is the writer of a fawning biography of William Pierce, the late leader of the pro-white National Alliance movement, whose book, "The Turner Diaries," an apocalyptic race war novel, inspired Timothy McVeigh.
"I found Pierce to be a person of remarkable capability, decency, integrity, courage, and dedication," Griffin writes on his Web site, www.robertsgriffin.com, which collects many of his essays on white pride, including a 2001 article titled, "Rearing Honorable White Children."
Griffin's writings on the white pride movement have pretty much gone under the radar of most Vermonters. According to his biography on UVM's Web site, he received his master's degree in 1967 from the University of Minnesota and a doctorate from that same school in 1973. The biography states that he is a member of the school's Education Department.
His areas of expertise, according to the bio on the school's Web site are: "Traditionalist, or non-Progressive, approaches to teaching; the media, including computer technology; the personal wellbeing of educators and other helping professionals; the status of European heritage, or white Americans, including the way they are educated."
Griffin could not be reached for comment this week, by phone and e-mail, although he has defended his views to media outlets in the past. Nine years ago he told the Village Voice that he did not agree with Pierce and was simply a "conduit" for his views.
But others take a far different perspective.
"Dr. Griffin is a neo-Nazi," said Heidi Beirich, the director of research at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization that also tracks hate groups across the country. "Because of his writings, he's a major player in the white supremacist and neo-Nazi movements."
Beirich said it is rare – although not unheard of – to find a tenured professor at a well-respected school such as UVM harboring racial beliefs that many find deplorable. She said the Law Center has written to the college in the past highlighting his questionable writings, but received no response.
"This is the guy who essentially wrote the autobiography of one of the most dangerous neo-Nazis we've ever seen in this country," Beirich said, referring to Griffin's book on Pierce. "And it is clear that Dr. Griffin looked up to this man."
Enrique Corredera, the director of UVM's communications office, said Griffin has worked at the school since 1974 and confirmed that he is both a tenured professor and still employed there – although he was not sure how actively he teaches classes these days.
Corredera said school officials are aware of Griffin' writings on race and white pride, but said unless his words "cross a line" into clear derogatory attacks or encourage violence – it is protected under the school's dedication to academic freedom and free speech.
"We have an obligation to protect our faculty's right to academic freedom and freedom of speech," he said. "That is until and unless these words constitute a transgression of our rules of conduct."
It's not clear how often Griffin's views on race entered into his classroom lessons. An essay on his Web site states that he used the controversial, "Rearing Honorable White Children" article in one of his education courses in the early 2000s.
That article ran in a magazine called American Renaissance – a monthly conservative magazine that argues that certain non-white races have lower IQs than Caucasians. The founder of that magazine, Jared Taylor, once proclaimed, "I want my grandchildren to look like my grandparents. I don't want them to look like Anwar Sadat or Foo Man Chu or Whoopi Goldberg."
Griffin writes in his essay that his students had little reaction to the use of his controversial article in the classroom – although the issue did get attention in the campus newspaper and a handful of other media outlets at the time.
"I'd like to think that in matters of race, more and more white people are getting past the Orwellian newspeak that has been coming at them for decades and starting to look hard at reality for themselves," Griffin wrote in a letter to the Seven Days newspaper after they published an article about his views on race. "That is what I'm doing."
Cynthia Gerstl-Pepin, an associate professor at UVM and the chair of its education department, said she has looked at some of Griffin's research, but didn't see anything to justify him being tagged as a racist or neo-Nazi.
"That's a strong accusation," she said. "I haven't seen that in his research."
Griffin first popped up on the radar of the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2001 when he self-published, "The Fame of a Dead Man's Deeds," his biography of Pierce. Griffin spent a month with Pierce at his West Virginia compound and traveled to Germany with the man to attend a neo-Nazi convention, according to the Law Center.
"This book changed my life forever," Griffin wrote on his Web site. "I came away from my encounter with Pierce far more conscious of race from a white perspective and of myself as a white man and of my European cultural and historical roots."
Since then, Griffin published two more books on race and white pride – 2004's "One Sheaf, One Vine: Racially Conscious White Americans Talk About Race" and 2005's "Living White: Writings on Race 2000-2005."
"In large part, 'Living White' is my own story over the past seven years as it relates to race," Griffin writes on his Web site. "The book's focus is on the personal, in contrast to the public, dimensions of the racial challenges that whites confront at this time. The book is directed at a white audience and I hope it supports readers in living more honorable lives as white men and women."
One essay, "When They Attack," is a list of suggestions to "white people whose racial identity and interests might bring them under attack." These suggestions include hiding one's racial beliefs until they feel comfortable going public (Griffin also suggests, "If you are up for tenure as an academic, lay low until it comes through.")
"Figure you are in a war," Griffin wrote. "Get battle-ready."
Griffin's writings on race never seem to descend deeply into hate speech. But his Web site does link to organizations and individuals who are blatant in their racism and anti-Semitism – Griffin writes that he found these Web sites "useful when writing about race."
These Web sites includes former Ku Klux Klan member David Duke, white pride forum Stormfront, the Vanguard News Network (their motto is: "No Jews. Just right.") and White Revolution, a blog that recently proclaimed that James von Brunn, the white supremacist who allegedly shot up the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. last week, is a "hero and a patriot."
"If you are not white, then you are not my kind and I have no love or sympathy for you, regardless of where you live on this planet, or what citizenship you claim, or what uniform you wear or flag you wave," writes a blogger at the White Revolution Web site. "My race is my nation."
Beirich said it is not known if Griffin knew von Brunn, but she said "they certainly ran in the same circles."
Periods of great social change – the election of the first African American president and major economic problems, for example – often are the instigators for hate groups or individuals to act out, according to Philip Lamy, a professor of sociology and anthropology at Castleton College and the author of "Millennium Rage: Survivalists, White Supremacists and the Doomsday Prophecy."
Lamy said he was not familiar with Griffin or his writings. But he is familiar with Pierce, the white power leader that Griffin appears to look up to. Pierce's novel, "The Turner Diaries," is the "new Bible of the far, far right," he said, similar to how "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" was used to warn of an alleged Jewish conspiracy.
"Pierce has taken on an almost prophetic, messiah role for white supremacists," Lamy said. "His writing takes on very apocalyptic tones about the future and that resonates with both religious and secular hate groups who probably feel like their own world is ending."
Contact Daniel Barlow at Daniel.Barlow@timesargus.com.