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History of mental illness and racist politics weigh on Baumhammers' murder trial

Friday, April 27, 2001

By Dennis B. Roddy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

In the weeks and days before the shooting rampage that left five people dead, Richard Baumhammers immersed himself in the angry murk of far-right politics, visiting extremist sites on the Internet, downloading treatises on "lone wolf" terrorism and turning to a neo-Nazi bulletin board in search of women.

  Richard Baumhammers

Baumhammers, accused of targeting racial and religious minorities in a two-county spree that killed his Jewish next-door neighbor, two Asian restaurant workers, an Indian grocer and an African-American martial arts student, comes to trial today, one day short of the first anniversary.

In interviews with lawyers and psychiatrists, Baumhammers has admitted to the shootings, but he insists he was acting on messages transmitted into his brain by a government he believed was stalking him. He has a history of mental illness but also a history of racial conflict and intolerance. It now rests with an Allegheny County jury to determine the extent to which pathology or politics played a role in the events of April 28, 2000.

An examination of Baumhammers' activities, including interviews with friends and associates, suggests a man unable to find his place, either in the legal world or among friends, ultimately seeking out a spot on the political fringes, then, finally, lashing out.

  More on this story

'Not again ... not again' -- Here is a guide to PG coverage of the April 28 rampage that killed five people.

Killings impel walk to promote diversity

Allegheny County task force finds violence statistics worse than thought


One of the earlier signs of a proclivity toward racial conflict appeared during his freshman year at Kent State University in Ohio, where he was moved out of his dormitory following a loud, threatening confrontation with several black students.

The date was April 28, 1986 -- 15 years to the day before he would be charged with the shooting deaths of five people, including the black martial arts student.

According to a Kent State police report, Baumhammers and another white student got into a loud shouting and shoving match at his dormitory, Koonce Hall, with several black students.

At the time, Baumhammers and the other student filed a complaint charging the black students with threatening them.

Other witnesses said Baumhammers and his companion used racial slurs. Each side reportedly spoke of weapons before the incident ended. No one was charged, but housing authorities notified the Kent State police and several students were relocated to avoid further conflict.

Baumhammers went on to attend law school in Alabama but failed the Pennsylvania bar exam on his first attempt.

At one point, he turned up to volunteer at the Oakland offices of the Greater Pittsburgh chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"He came in, I talked to him and said, 'Sure, we could use some help with the intake work,' " said Executive Director Witold Walczak. "I don't remember that he ever showed up after that. He didn't do any legal work for us, if he did anything."

Sometime in 1995, Baumhammers set out for Atlanta.

While he told family and friends he had signed on with a firm in Georgia, Baumhammers apparently spent none of his time practicing law.

James Dunn, a suburban Atlanta immigration lawyer, said Baumhammers showed up in his office in 1995 and asked only to be allowed to observe him while he worked.

"He said I didn't have to pay him. He said he didn't want any pay, that he had funds," Dunn said.

Dunn said Baumhammers drove a Mercedes-Benz sedan and appeared to have a ready source of money from his family. Dunn said Baumhammers spent several days a week in his office for about two months, then stopped showing up.

"He never really did any productive work," Dunn said.

While in Atlanta, according to those who knew him, Baumhammers also dated a Japanese woman.

After returning to Pittsburgh, Baumhammers seemed to alternate time between his parents' home in Mt. Lebanon and trips to Europe. Police who searched his home later said they were told his parents, well-to-do medical professionals in Mt. Lebanon, had kept him on an allowance of $3,000 per month. Others put the figure as high as $4,000.

Sometime in the late 1990s, Baumhammers became interested in far-right politics and attempted to start up his own organization, to be called the Free Market Party. Its platform advocated an end to non-European immigration into the United States.

On Sept. 2, 1999, Baumhammers met with Orville Starkey, a Fresno, Ohio, leader with the John Birch Society. The pair had lunch at a restaurant in Robinson Town Centre -- a few doors down from Ya Fei Chinese Restaurant. Seven months later, Baumhammers would be accused of killing two Asian employees in that restaurant during the April 28 rampage.

"He wanted me and the John Birch Society to help him start a new party," Starkey said. "I told him the society doesn't do that. I left there thinking he was a nut."

Starkey said he told Baumhammers to subscribe to the society's magazine, The New American, and explore the society's political ideas. Baumhammers later attempted to telephone Starkey in Ohio, but the pair never reconnected.

In subsequent months, Baumhammers' world view veered ever more sharply rightward. He joined an e-mail list for a racist skinhead band called Aggressive Force, whose songs celebrate the concept of racial warfare.

The band, based in Orange County, Calif., had a single album, released on the Minnesota-based "Panzerfaust" label. Panzerfaust takes its name from a hand-held anti-tank weapon used in World War II.

"Stubborn tenacity in the face of overwhelming odds was displayed by those who wielded the original Panzerfaust," the label's Web site says. "In the present era, this same attitude is required by the 'lone wolf' political activist who must operate in a hostile environment."

Baumhammers also downloaded video clips and writings about William Pierce, the leader of one of the nation's largest neo-facist groups, National Alliance.

In the second week of April last year, just days before the killings, Baumhammers registered as a user at Stormfront, a Web server that hosts an array of extremist, racist and neo-Nazi organizations, according to its creator, Don Black.

Black, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, spent three years in prison for plotting to overthrow the government of Dominica, a Caribbean island, where he hoped to set up a white supremacist government.

Black said the more than 1,000 "hits" on his site attributed to Baumhammers would have been well above average.

"We average about 300 to 500 registered users a day," Black said.

It was while on Stormfront that Baumhammers logged on to the White Singles bulletin board and, weeks before the shooting, made contact with a woman who went by the e-mail name "Aryan Princess."

She turned out to be Kristie Lancaster, a former Pennsylvania resident and associate of Matthew Hale, the self-styled "Pontifex Maximus" of the racist and anti-semitic World Church of the Creator. In July 1999, a Church of the Creator adherent, Benjamin Smith, conducted a cross-state shooting rampage that targeted Asians and African-Americans.

Lancaster, a resident of suburban Chicago, said she and Baumhammers spoke by telephone briefly.

"I kind of brushed him off," said Lancaster, who occasionally signs her correspondence with the message "Rahowa" -- short for "racial holy war." "I didn't really have more than one e-mail with him."

Hale recently sought to distance his church from Baumhammers.

"Just because the guy had contact with one of our members doesn't mean it's a crime," Hale said.

One group that did not try to distance itself from Baumhammers' actions was White Aryan Resistance. The group is the creation of Tom Metzger, a California television repairman whose W.A.R. newspaper and Web site have been the subject of a multimillion-dollar civil suit by the family of an Ethiopian immigrant who was beaten to death by racist skinheads.

Baumhammers visited Metzger's site, which advocates "lone wolf" attacks against minorities. Such actions, also known as "leaderless resistance," have been advocated by extremists of the far-right because the randomness of the acts makes it hard to establish a conspiracy implicating leaders.

The theory has been applied to the actions of Smith, the Church of the Creator follower, as well as Aryan Nations member Buford O. Furrow, who shot up a Jewish pre-school in Los Angeles, and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

"Since we never get an apology for the thousands of hate crimes inflicted on whites each year from the nonwhite community, I no longer make any judgments on the acts of white men or women against nonwhites or other racial integrationists," Metzger said of Baumhammers. "Every individual in society is either a lone wolf or a lone sheep."

Two days after Baumhammers was charged in the shooting rampage, Metzger's Web site mentioned the killings.

"Mr. Richard Baumhammers, a white man from Mt. Lebanon in Pennsylvania, recently decided to deliver Aryan justice in a down home way," Metzger wrote.

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