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Hate was in his blood but not in his genes

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

When he reached West Virginia for the funeral, Kelvin Pierce was taken to his father's trailer, shown the rickety signature on a will that left everything to a white supremacist group, then invited to take any personal effects he wished.

The younger Pierce wanted the photographs his father carried away when he abandoned the family 20 years earlier. Long before he walked out on his wife and kids, William Pierce had been a domestic ghost -- often away, rarely speaking to his children save to discipline them. He was proof that the opposite of love need not be hate.

"His family was of no importance to him," Kelvin Pierce told me. "I know what the press says about him, but I don't know anything about him."

William Luther Pierce, who died July 23, was a physicist who in the early 1960s abruptly left his teaching job at Oregon State University, moved eastward and became a disciple of American Nazi leader George Lincoln Rockwell. After Rockwell was murdered, Pierce moved on to create his own organization, The National Alliance. He authored two books. One of them, "The Turner Diaries," became a blueprint for race war and is credited with inspiring Timothy McVeigh to bomb the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

That is what the press says about William Pierce.

Kelvin, and his twin brother, Erik, knew little else. There were no hugs at finish lines, long conversations at the kitchen table. There was no roughhousing on the living room floor, no tossing each other in the swimming pool. The one bit of togetherness Kelvin was able to relay was the night his father had them all in the basement stuffing and licking envelopes for a mass mailing.

In 1983, Pierce walked out on his family for the last time. He set up shop in Hillsboro, W.Va., on a stretch of hillside that became the center of an empire that peddles neo-Nazi books and skinhead CDs and pulls down roughly $1 million a year.

So it shocked Kelvin Pierce to open the dusty box of photographs. There was a lean, smiling man crouched next to his two sons as they romped in a backyard wading pool in 1962. There were babies on William Pierce's lap. There was a man smiling, seemingly content with his wife and family.

"There was stuff where you could tell he had really changed," the younger Pierce said.

Somewhere after Oregon State, William Pierce became a man who got up in the morning, locked himself in an office writing hate tracts, ate silently and sparingly, then went to bed.

Patricia Pierce shielded the boys from their father's politics and lived in fear her husband's growing notoriety would cost her the teaching job that fed her family.

"She was born in the '20s and she really believed in marriage vows," Kelvin explained. She later remarried and enjoyed a few years of happiness before her second husband died.

In college, Kelvin met black people. He met Jews. He made up his own mind.

"I don't believe in hatred," he said. "I tell my kids, 'Gee, if everybody was the same, what a boring world this would be.' "

At the same time, he wondered if there would ever be a moment that the distance would close enough that he could love his father and his father could love the son.

For a man floating in an emotional void, Kelvin took up the right hobby. He is a hang glider and he runs off hills with aluminum and cloth wings strung around him.

Seven years ago, Kelvin's club had a "fly-in" at Spruce Knob, W.Va. The elder Pierce showed up. Kelvin caught a good updraft that day and was carried thousands of feet around the mountain. The exhilaration of being joined to a friendly wind defied description.

At the bottom of the ride, the elder Pierce, the man who wanted a race war and abandoned his family to start one, waited.

"He was like, 'Wow! Kelvin! That was incredible!' "

Then the moment passed. Kelvin went home to Virginia. His father stayed in the mountains printing hate literature until cancer overtook him.

"It's the only time in my life I felt like I impressed him," Kelvin said.

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