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Leadership vs. Leaderless Resistance The Militant White Separatist Movement’s Operating Model

Alex Constantine - February 23, 2010

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Madeleine Gruen, CTR Vantage    

aryan nations emblem old - Leadership vs. Leaderless ResistanceWhite separatism today bears little resemblance to the movement a decade ago. At that time, the movement could have been described as inhabiting the furthest political margins, yet it was visible due to its outspoken leadership and controversial public demonstrations. The major groups, such as the Aryan Nations, National Alliance, and the World Church of the Creator (now known as the Creativity Movement) were structured hierarchically with big personalities at the top. These groups' leaders, and the leaders of other prominent white power groups, have either died or been incarcerated; and their organizations fractured, either due to infighting or lack of confidence in the systems of operation.[1] The movement has become less clearly organized: there are now no major compounds, very few leaders whom the general public would recognize (such as William Pierce or David Duke), and little evidence of solid organizations with bosses, lieutenants, and foot soldiers.

Some observers think the apparent lack of cohesion within the movement indicates its overall weakness; others believe that it instead means militant white separatists are adopting a "leaderless resistance" or "lone wolf activist" model of operation. Though it is unwise to overestimate the movement's adoption of leaderless resistance,[2] it is clear that leaderless resistance as a concept is widely discussed and promoted in white separatist circles. Moreover, this strategic idea has been put into practice by some white separatists in recent years. There are distinct disadvantages to leaderless resistance in comparison to a pyramidal leadership model, in that a more diffuse model makes it difficult to attain major strategic objectives due to a lack of coordination. However, leaderless resistance also offers the movement several clear advantages by making civil lawsuits or RICO prosecutions more difficult, and helping adherents maintain their eligibility for military service and other sensitive jobs that prohibit participation in racist organizations. This article examines the theory and practice of leaderless resistance.

Leaderless Resistance in Theory

The most frequently-cited work on the concept of leaderless resistance in relation to white separatism is Louis Beam's essay "Leaderless Resistance," which he self-published in his Inter-Klan Newsletter & Survival Alert in 1983, and again in his journal The Seditionist in 1992. Beam's essay argues that the federal government is the foremost threat to liberty, stating morosely that "[t]he writer [Beam] has joyfully lived long enough to see the dying breaths of communism, but may, unhappily, remain long enough to see the last grasps of freedom in America."[3] Beam argues that the government is already oppressive, but has far worse planned: white separatists will be unjustly labeled "domestic terrorists" or "cultists," and their views will be suppressed. (Interestingly, Beam does not actually discuss the white separatist movement or his own racist views in the essay other than a single reference to "those who love our race, culture, and heritage"; but the scope of his biography and thinking makes the context clear enough.)

To Beam, the problem this poses for the traditional hierarchical methods of organizing the white separatist movement is that the government is well positioned to stifle dissent-and beyond that, it is clear to him that "the most powerful government on earth" will surely "crush any who pose a real threat to that power." For that reason, he believes that at some point white separatists simply will not have the option of belonging to a group. His solution is "leaderless resistance," which he describes as modeled after "committees of correspondence" that existed throughout the thirteen colonies during the American Revolution. "Each committee was a secret cell that operated totally independently of the other cells," he writes. "Information on the government was passed from committee to committee, from colony to colony, and then acted upon on a local basis." Similarly, he argues that the white separatist movement should be organized around "very small or even one man cells of resistance." Though Beam concedes that there are many disadvantages to leaderless resistance, he argues that it is "a child of necessity," the only hope of preventing the movement from being crushed. Pyramidal organizations are "an easy kill" for the government, he writes, in light of federal informants and intelligence-gathering capabilities, while in contrast "the last thing Federal snoops" would want is "a thousand different small phantom cells opposing them."

Beam's ideas about leaderless resistance came to prominence within the movement at an October 1992 meeting convened by Christian Identity minister Pete Peters in Estes Park, Colorado. There, Beam was a featured speaker, and Peters included his essay on leaderless resistance in a published report on the proceedings. George Michael notes that "[t]his event, more than any other, popularized the notion" of leaderless resistance "in the far right subculture."[4] Thereafter, the idea of leaderless resistance found its supporters, such as Lynchburg, Virginia-based Richard Kelly Hoskins and ultimately David Lane; it also had detractors within the movement, most prominently William Pierce. Opponents of leaderless resistance argued that it was akin to anarchy, and that small cells working independently from each other would be unable to accomplish any strategic objectives. "I've got the evidence inside why this resistance won't work," said Tim Bishop of the Aryan Nations. "It's called prison mail.... basically, you get 50 different people going 50 different ways and whatever happens to enter their minds at the moment. Lots of them are gonna end up in prison."[5]

Tom Metzger, one of the best-known remaining white separatist leaders from the "old guard," answers this criticism by claiming that the disparate cells will know to act when the system "tips itself." Speaking with us in late December, he argued that even riots within the black community could be the spark that leads the movement to action: if the government moves in repressively, it will "show its face," and "that will be the ‘go' signal for us to defend ourselves." In describing how leaderless cells will know how to act, Metzger also referred to the hundredth-monkey phenomenon, wherein ideas and behavior that have reached a "critical mass" supposedly spread spontaneously.[6] Metzger's defense is similar to a claim made in Beam's seminal essay, that those "truly committed to the cause of freedom will act when they feel the time is ripe, or will take their cue from others who precede them." They will know when to do so through such information organs as "newspapers, leaflets, computers, etc., which are widely available to all."[7]

 Leaderless Resistance in Practice

George Michael notes that "some of the most lethal incidents of right-wing terrorism in America" fall under the category of leaderless resistance.[8] He has compiled a non-exhaustive list of sixteen cases that can be categorized this way, including mass murderers Joseph Christopher killing at least 13 blacks and Hispanics in the Buffalo, N.Y. area in September 1980 and Joseph Paul Franklin killing at least 13 people in a campaign that explicitly targeted interracial couples between 1980 and 1982.[9] In practice, though, attempts at implementing a model of leaderless resistance have been bedeviled by errors. Two such cases-those of Alex Curtis and Eric Rudolph-illustrate this point.

In 1998, the San Diego field office of the FBI and the San Diego Police Department initiated a joint investigation, "Operation Lone Wolf," to dismantle a small white separatist cell led by Alexander James Curtis.[10] Curtis was at the time a prominent advocate of leaderless resistance for reasons similar to those advanced by Beam; he advocated "a two-tiered resistance organizational structure with an above ground propaganda arm and a second tier of lone wolves."[11] Curtis was not only a theorist of leaderless resistance, but also a practitioner-one who attempted to embody both the movement's propaganda arm and also its militant arm. As a propagandist, Curtis ran a telephone hotline and published a bi-monthly periodical called The Nationalist Observer. But Curtis and four associates also vandalized San Diego synagogues and harassed local politicians, bureaucrats, and Jewish leaders.

Despite Curtis's advocacy of leaderless resistance, and the small size of his cell, he fell victim to the very thing the strategy was designed to avoid: authorities were able to place informants inside his group. A San Diego Police Department memorandum about the case explains that "[o]ne subject, who had a pending criminal case, provided specific information and evidence against Curtis" in one of the vandalism cases, while another informant succeeded in befriending cell member Robert Morehouse and thus infiltrating the group.[12] Authorities were able to garner enough evidence to give them probable cause for a wiretap. In November 2000, about two years after the investigation commenced, Curtis was indicted on three federal counts of conspiracy to violate civil rights. He ultimately pled guilty in return for prosecutors recommending that his prison term be no more than three years. In addition, "Curtis agreed to apologize, publicly and privately, to his victims. For the duration of his sentence, he consented to refrain from associating with 138 ‘known' extremists and to cease promoting hate via his Web site, e-mail mailing list and magazine."[13]

image431 300x200 - Leadership vs. Leaderless ResistanceThere are many other examples of militant white separatists who have acted pursuant to the leaderless resistance model. But one of the most significant cases of leaderless resistance-both for the length of time he managed to evade the government and also the record of his travails that he has left behind-is a man who disavows any allegiance to the movement.[14] Eric Robert Rudolph became notorious for setting off a pipe bomb in Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 festivities, then subsequently bombing several abortion clinics and a gay bar. He then managed to evade the FBI for five years.

When he was a teenager, Rudolph's mother moved her family to Schell City, Missouri, due to the proximity to Christian Identity leader Dan Gayman. Gayman spent some time trying to cultivate Rudolph: "He assumed a fatherly relationship with Eric, enrolled him in Christian Identity youth programs, and made sure he read the literature of the movement."[15] There are several reports of Rudolph adopting racist and anti-Semitic views during this period, even carving swastikas into furniture and referring to the television as "the Electronic Jew."[16] However, Rudolph's mother only spent several months in Schell City before returning to Topton, North Carolina; Rudolph would later write that he "didn't believe" the Christian Identity's "doctrine twenty-five years ago," and does not today.[17]

Epitomizing the lone wolf ethos, Rudolph never attended rallies, did not have a web site, and did not even post statements expressing his views on the Internet until after his arrest. During his five years of flight from law enforcement, Rudolph survived in the North Carolina wilderness. He was captured at 4:30 a.m. on May 31, 2003, by a rookie police officer who spotted Rudolph riffling through a dumpster, looking for food.[18] Rudolph's time of flight was not easy for him, and at times he was reduced to eating acorns and salamanders.[19] The Army of God web site has published a number of essays he has written, including detailed accounts of his survival tactics while living as a fugitive. Anyone hoping to follow in his footsteps, and learn from his successes and mistakes, can do so from reading these writings.

Ten years have passed since Curtis's arrest, and nearly seven since Rudolph's. Others who are not as well known to the general public, but known to advocates of lone wolf activism, have been imprisoned in the meantime. Thus, white separatists have a greater body of practical experience to draw from in order to perfect the leaderless resistance model. In a 2003 paper, Simpson Garfinkel argued that many of the problems inherent in leaderless resistance "can be overcome through modern communications technology" because modern technology allows adherents to privately study the actions of their predecessors.[20]

A statement posted on Tom Metzger's web site, known as "The Creed of the Lone Wolf," describes how lone wolf activists learn from others' experiences:

I am the Lone Wolf; I am covert. I conduct surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence on my opponents. I do not join groups and or [sic] organizations due to informants, agent provocateurs, and troublemakers. I avoid being on a list. Even if I am on a list, I have a list and data on my opponents. I know where they live, where they go shopping, where their kids go to school, where their spouse works, what model their vehicle is, where their relatives live, where they go for recreation, who their friends are, their habits and even their birth dates. I have studied and researched people like the Unabomber, Eric Rudolph, Robert Mathews, Timothy McVeigh, and others and learned from their errors. I am preparing for the coming War. I am ready when the line is crossed. When the oppression becomes too great the Wolf will spring. For now, I do not engage in unconventional warfare until the time is right. I do not seek out trouble, my enemies do that which shall give me the natural reason to fight back! I am prepared when I am arrested or questioned by authorities to insist on 5 words, I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY. The Lone Wolf stores sensitive information in another location away from his or her place of residence. If in school or military or on the job I will keep no incriminating material on my person. I will not share my true beliefs with others in the workplace, nor will I carry such information in my mode of transportation, work or school locker. If need be I will pretend to be an anti-racist or very liberal as a cover. If I am in a position of authority I will not disclose to anyone my true objectives. My actions must be totally covert in nature. I protect my informants who are working inside government and non-government agencies who provide me with intelligence information to improve my effectiveness when the struggle intensifies.... I am the underground insurgent fighter and independent. I am in your neighborhoods, schools, police departments, bars, coffee shops, malls, etc. I am, The Lone Wolf! I am always listening.[21]

 The Case of the Aryan Nations

In some cases, resort to leaderless resistance may be caused by simple inability to retain followers. This appears to be the case for the Aryan Nations, which was once among the country's most recognizable white separatist groups, and its founder Richard Butler one of the movement's most respected leaders. Butler served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II, and thereafter worked as an engineer for Lockheed Martin, where he developed a patented method for fixing airplane tires. Upon retirement, Butler opened a 20-acre compound in Hayden Lake, Idaho, and built the Aryan Nations movement.

The group's downfall began in 1998, after Aryan Nations security guards "shot at a woman driving by the compound, ran her off the road and assaulted her and her son."[22] The woman won a $6.3 million civil suit against the Aryan Nations, forcing Butler to close the compound. The group began to splinter without a base of operations, and Butler died in 2004. After his death, several factions proclaimed themselves to be the "official" Aryan Nations.

One of the factions was led by August Kreis, whose long hair, beard, and oversized girth give him the appearance of a disheveled biker. Kreis was already known to television viewers for his many combative appearances on The Jerry Springer Show in the mid-1990s; since then, he has continued to issue provocative remarks to the mainstream media, the main purpose of which seems to be attracting attention. For instance, in 2005 Kreis told CNN that he admired Osama bin Laden, and that the Aryan Nations was willing carry out attacks at al-Qaeda's behest: "The message is, the cells are out here and they are already in place. They might not be cells of Islamic people, but they are here and they are ready to fight."[23] These remarks were met with derision from a rival Aryan Nations faction, which said of al-Qaeda: "The simple fact is that they aren't white."[24]

In 2005, Kreis moved the "world headquarters" of Aryan Nations from Sebring, Florida, "to a doublewide trailer" in Lexington, South Carolina.[25] Discussions on white separatist message boards of the various personalities that emerged as Aryan Nations leaders after Butler's death suggest that Kreis has generated little support. Some estimates have placed his following at about a dozen members.[26]

So it was not exactly revolutionary when Kreis announced in 2007 that the Aryan Nations would begin to follow a leaderless resistance model, despite his proclamation that it was "a historic decision in the history of this organization." Kreis wrote that from that date onward, "[t]here is nothing to join per se, in the old way of doing things: there is no membership application to be filled out-there is no longer any room for internal debate, dissent and posturing. The doors have now been slammed shut in the face of our enemies, as the leadership of the Aryan Nations sets it's [sic] course in granite: down a path that is undemocratic toward dissent from within and without and which upholds a policy of absolute hostility to all machinations of anti-Aryan forces.[27] Despite this, the group's web site still prominently solicits contributions.

Kreis's buffoonish public persona and outrageous public declarations likely necessitated a move to leaderless resistance because he found himself a leader without followers. Yet while most observers would like to think that discussions of leaderless resistance throughout the broader movement is likewise prompted by a lack of followers, this is by no means a given.


Large parts of the contemporary white separatist movement are shrouded in secrecy, and there are often more questions than answers. One question that cannot be answered satisfactorily is the extent to which the movement now employs leaderless resistance. But it is clear that the large separatist organizations of the past have crumbled due to their structural weaknesses: vulnerability to informants, civil lawsuits, and the like. Louis Beam described leaderless resistance as "a child of necessity," and the necessity has only become more apparent since he wrote those words.

[1] Rifts formed in the Aryan Nations after the group lost its Hayden Lake, Idaho compound following a successful civil lawsuit brought against it by a woman who was attacked by security guards outside the compound in 1998. The National Alliance began to unravel after the death of founder William Pierce; due to infighting, Pierce's successor Erich Gliebe "purged a number of the group's most active members in April 2005." Anti-Defamation League, "Extremism in America: National Alliance," http://www.adl.org/LEARN/Ext_US/n_alliance.asp (accessed Feb. 17, 2010). And the once-formidable Creativity Movement has become a shell of its former self following leader Matt Hale's conviction for soliciting a federal judge's murder.

[2] George Michael, an astute observer of the white separatist movement, notes: "[A]lthough advocates of the leaderless approach have theorized extensively on the concept, it remains in large part a construct of academic scholars and journalists who use it to attribute the often unorganized and sporadic nature of right-wing violence to some larger operational plan." George Michael, Leaderless Resistance and the Next Generation of Warfare (unpublished manuscript dated Dec. 18, 2009), ch. 4.

[3] All quotations from Beam's essay are taken from Louis Beam, "Leaderless Resistance," The Seditionist, Feb. 1992.

[4] Michael, Leaderless Resistance and the Next Generation of Warfare, ch. 4. Though white racist movements are often referred to as the "far right," not all members would categorize themselves this way politically. Tom Metzger, for example, insists that his views are more consonant with leftists than with those on the right. See authors' telephone interview with Tom Metzger, Dec. 22, 2009; Betty A. Dobratz & Stephanie L. Shanks-Meile, The White Separatist Movement in the United States (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), pp. 263-66.

[5] Quoted in Dobratz & Shanks-Meile, The White Separatist Movement in the United States, pp. 173-74.

[6] Authors' interview with Tom Metzger, Dec. 22, 2009. The "hundredth monkey" idea originated with Dr. Lyall Watson, who claimed in a 1979 book that Japanese primatologists studying macaques watched the practice of washing sweet potatoes in the sea spread mysteriously. Once the number of monkeys doing this had passed a certain threshold, "the habit seems to have jumped natural barriers and to have appeared spontaneously, like glycerine crystals in sealed laboratory jars, in colonies on other islands and on the mainland in a troop at Takasakiyama." Lyall Watson, Lifetide (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979); for an example of the popularization of this concept see the anti-nuclear tome Ken Keyes, Jr., The Hundredth Monkey (Camarillo, CA: Devorss & Co., 1984). For what it's worth, subsequent research proved Watson's claim false, something that Watson himself was forced to admit. See Ron Amundson, "The Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon," Skeptical Inquirer, Summer 1985; Lyall Watson, "Lyall Watson Responds," Whole Earth Review, Fall 1986. The falseness of this idea has not prevented it from continuing to have a following.

[7] Beam, "Leaderless Resistance."

[8] Michael, Leaderless Resistance and the Next Generation of Warfare, ch. 4.

[9] Franklin also shot and paralyzed Hustler publisher Larry Flynt.

[10] "Operation Lone Wolf," Federal Bureau of Investigation San Diego, available at http://sandiego.fbi.gov/lonewolf/lonewolf1.htm (accessed Feb. 17, 2010).

[11] Michael, Leaderless Resistance and the Next Generation of Warfare, ch. 4.

[12] San Diego Police Department, "Operation Lone Wolf," Center for Problem Oriented Policing, 2001, p. 13.

[13] Anti-Defamation League, "Alex Curtis," available at http://www.adl.org/learn/ext_us/curtis.asp?LEARN_Cat=Extremism&LEARN_SubCat=Extremism_in_America&xpicked=2&item=curtis (accessed Feb. 17, 2010).

[14] Charles Stone and Henry Schuster have strongly linked Rudolph to the Christian Identity movement and other racist, anti-Semitic groups, see Charles Stone & Henry Schuster, Hunting Eric Rudolph (New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 2005), as has a former in-law, see "Running with Rudolph," Intelligence Report, Southern Poverty Law Center, Winter 2001. Rudolph for his part denies that he subscribes to Christian Identity beliefs or holds racist views, while casting aspersions on the character of former in-law Deborah Rudolph.

[15] Eboo Patel, Acts of Faith (Boston: Beacon Press, 2007), p. xii-xiii.

[16] Ibid., p. xiii.

[17] Eric Rudolph, "Racism," n.d., available at http://www.armyofgod.com/EricRudolphRacism.html (accessed Feb. 17, 2010). Interestingly, given the anti-Semitic nature of the Christian Identity movement, Rudolph specifically lauds one of Israel's policies in explaining his views on race and culture. Pointing to the Palestinian demand for a "right of return," Rudolph writes that "[i]f Israel allows this, Jews will eventually become a minority in their own country, and Israel will cease to exist as a Jewish state." He thus concludes that Israel has a right to resist the right of return, and that "America should learn from Israel's experience in dealing with ‘multiculturalism'." Ibid.

[18] "Eric Rudolph Captured," DOJ press release, May 31, 2003.

[19] Eric Rudolph, "Lick the Floor," Jan. 27, 2004, available at http://www.armyofgod.com/EricRudolphLickFloor.html (accessed Feb. 17, 2010).

[20] Simpson L. Garfinkel, "Leaderless Resistance Today," First Monday, Mar. 2003.

[21] The Creed of the Lone Wolf is commonly attributed to Tom Metzger, but he claims that it was submitted to his web site anonymously. Authors' interview with Metzger, Dec. 22, 2009. It has been broadly circulated on white separatist forums.

[22] Jonathan Martin, "Richard Butler, Who Led Aryan Nations, Dies in Idaho at 86," Seattle Times, Sept. 9, 2004.

[23] Henry Schuster, "An Unholy Alliance," CNN.Com, Mar. 29, 2005.

[24] Quoted in John F. Sugg, "Inside the Secret World of White Supremacy," Creative Loafing, Nov. 2006.

[25] David Holthouse, "‘Heritage' for Sale," Intelligence Report, Southern Poverty Law Center, Fall 2005.

[26] See Sugg, "Inside the Secret World of White Supremacy."

[27] Aryan Nations "Decentralization and Leaderless Resistance," Feb. 7, 2007.


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