Under a hot, cloud-filled sky at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the boys are slapping along in their Birkenstocks, and the girls are skipping along in their frilly sundresses, and on the second floor of the F.W. Olin Building, in Room 213, eight kids are listening to German teacher Erika Scavillo lecture on the deeply disturbing movie they will see in a few minutes. It's called The Inheritors, and it's about the neo-Nazi movement in Germany, which, says Frau Scavillo, is illegal but which flourishes nonetheless, as it does in other countries, most notably Sweden and the United States.
Listening to this, one of Frau Scavillo's students shifts in his seat.
The movie rolls. It has lots of violence (neo-Nazis beating the crap out of people) and lots of sex (neo-Nazis getting it on in near-NC-17 fashion). In the middle of one torrid episode, Frau Scavillo stops the film and says, "Should I fast-forward?"
The students giggle, slightly embarrassed, all of them except the kid sitting in the second tier of desks. He's different from the rest. He's got a long black ponytail, scruffy chin whiskers and an odd push-broom mustache. He wears a black T-shirt, black steel-toe-type boots and black military-style trousers. And right now, he doesn't look like he's feeling much of anything about the movie or the class; or if he is, he's not letting on. He is a twenty-year-old from Massachusetts who has attended Wofford for three years. In that time, he's never gone to a Wofford frat party and gotten drunk or gone to a Wofford football game to cheer on the Terriers. On campus, he almost always is alone. He has a 3.8 grade-point average and, unlike more-typical Wofford students, he rarely skips out on his classes, and he turns in his papers on time. As it happens, he is also the founding leader of a neo-Nazi organization called the Knights of Freedom, which in the past year has become a major presence in the world of neo-Nazis and those who oppose them. The student's name is Davis Wolfgang Hawke. That's his legal name and the name by which he is known at Wofford College. But it's not his only name. To his parents, for instance, he is and always will be Andrew Britt Greenbaum, the name given to him when he was born; and among his followers in KOF, he's got to be called Commander Bo Decker or Commander Decker or simply the Commander, though never simply Bo.
A bell rings, ending class, the movie to be finished next time. The Commander strides out of the room and down a hall, neo-Nazi business on his mind. But he doesn't get very far.
Two men dressed in late-model suits lurch into his path and identify themselves as cops. The one wearing a Snoopy tie is Detective Sgt. Richard Banks. "Are you associated with the Knights of Freedom?" Banks asks.
The Commander takes a moment. "I am."
"If you wouldn't mind," says Banks, "I'd like to talk with you."
"What's this about, anyway?"
"Your activities," says Banks, gloomily.
The Commander sighs, agrees to meet Banks later and hustles over to Wofford's campus-life building, with its pool tables, its Fruitopia and Lance cracker machines, its signs on the walls (ZTA LOVES GREEK WEEK!) and its cafeteria, featuring the chicken-party sandwiches that the Commander can't get enough of. On the way, he passes groups of kids who give him a casual eye. These kids all look alike: blond hair, blue eyes, JanSport backpacks, Nikes, soft, childish. They drive the same kinds of cars: Mercedes, BMWs, Toyota Land Cruisers. They will go on to the same kinds of careers, becoming doctors (well, OK, dentists) and nurses, attorneys and judges, CEOs and CFOs of smallish companies, propelled forward by a four years of life at Wofford, not a top-notch private college but a very good one nonetheless, SAT verbal average 582, SAT math average 591, $20,000 per year, hopefully fulfilling the college's primary mission as stated in the official handbook: that its students, each and every one of them, "be challenged to a common search for truth and freedom, wherever that search may lead, and in which each person may become aware of his or her own individual worth...."
Meanwhile, the Commander has other dreams.
Until a year ago, Commander Decker and his Knights of Freedom were little more than bit players in the neo-Nazi world. He formed the group in 1996, while still a high school senior living at home in the affluent Boston suburb of Westwood. For a while, he distributed hate literature on street corners in some of the area's blue-collar neighborhoods, but that just wasn't making it. After graduation, he left Massachusetts – "It's a very liberal state. It's a very Jewish state. It's a very black state. There's nothing there for me" – for South Carolina. He thought his views might find a friendlier audience there – and he knew for a fact that its gun laws were friendlier. Two years passed, during which he made little headway. Then, in August 1998, while on summer vacation, he taught himself HTML, designed a Web site and put it up on the Internet.
Now, according to the Commander, kof.net receives hundreds of visitors daily, with entire fistfuls of these visitors actually stepping forward to pay a ten-dollar initiation fee that allows them to become full-fledged KOF members, in return for which they receive lots of official KOF goodies, including a certificate of rank, an armband, bumper stickers, business cards, an ID badge, a field manual and other "educational materials."
"He's a big hit," says Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a hate-the-haters watchdog organization. "I know he has at least 100 members, and that makes him fairly large. He's got a pretty substantial enterprise. The little fucker."
Right now, knees jiggling, the Commander is waiting to meet with Detective Banks at the Spartanburg police department. Suddenly, he removes from his pocket a flick-to-open butterfly-style knife and hands it to his constant companion, KOF chief party secretary Patricia Lingenfelter, also known as Fräulein Lingenfelter, a pretty thirty-two-year-old brunette from Pennsylvania. She hides the knife just as a meeting of the Spartanburg traffic-patrol division wraps up next door, with a couple of happy cops in uniform shouting, "Let's go put some folks in jail!"
The Commander cocks his head, lifting an amused eyebrow, and Patricia snorts.
Then Detective Banks leans forward. "All right, why don't you come on back now."
"OK," the Commander says, slowly, "but I don't want to go back there [alone]."
"And why is that?"
"I fear for my safety."
"Fear for your safety?" says Banks, incredulous. "From who?"
"From the police department."
"Well, I want to speak to you in private."
"I won't do that. Am I under arrest?"
"Nope," Banks says, scowling. "You're free to leave."
Outside, pondering what he feels is typical cop harassment, the Commander says to Patricia, "Remind me to modify my speech to include this current event."
Patricia nods. "Yes, Commander."
She calls him Commander, or Commander Decker, or nothing at all; that is her custom, though occasionally she will slip and call him "dude." She's looking forward to his speech, which he has modeled on one of Hitler's and will deliver during the course of KOF's gala First Party Congress a few days hence. It will be an important speech, of course, but the most important speech, of his life is still four months distant. That speech he will give on August 7th, during a rally in Washington, D.C., for which the D.C. police will cordon off a four-block area around Lafayette Park. It's going to be a big deal – so big, in fact, that the Commander envisions it sweeping aside, perhaps even obliterating, some of the annoyances that have recently crept up, most especially the one swirling around his given last name, Greenbaum, typically a Jewish name. He swears it is not really his name, that the man Greenbaum is not his father but his stepfather, and he finds it exceedingly tiresome to keep having to defend himself on the matter. After his speech, though, everyone will see what he is made of. It will be plain. And then the rally will end, and the Commander will at last have intersected his destiny.
At the moment, he lives with Fräulein Lingenfelter in a small trailer outside the crappy town of Chesnee, South Carolina, which is itself about fifteen miles from the crappy town of Spartanburg and Wofford College. He used to live on campus, in a dorm room, as almost all Wofford students must. On his wall hung a Hitler poster, German military anthems blared from his stereo, his bookshelves were crammed with World War II books, his desk was littered with KOF propaganda, and scattered everywhere were his knives. If any students knew what was going on in the weird kid's room, they didn't speak up or complain to the administration. Earlier this year, though, someone stumbled upon kof.net, saw the picture of the Commander in full Nazi uniform, recognized him, and finally word began to spread. In the wake of it, 300 students, more than a quarter of the entire college, turned out for a spontaneous candlelight vigil in protest, and Wofford itself was, of course, appropriately mortified. When the Commander, having decided that it just would not do for the future first Führer of the United States to meet his fellow neo-Nazis in a college dorm room, approached the administration for permission to move off campus, it happily decided to let him go. "We don't need him, we don't need him," said Dean Dan Maults-by shortly thereafter, in some distress.
So now, in the springtime, the wind blows at the Commander's Chesnee trailer, rattling its hot tin siding on sunny afternoons. On the wooden deck in front is a trash can overflowing with rainwater, junk drifting on the meniscus; and bees, too many bees, circulating around the hot, rattling tin siding. It doesn't seem like that much of an improvement over a dorm room, future-Führer-wise, but the Commander seems to like it out here.
A walkie-talkie crackles to life.
"Yes?" says the Commander.
"Permission to enter," says Patricia.
The Commander is kind of scrawny, has sunken cheeks, sludge-brown eyes, thinning hair and a goatee. He grew his odd push-broom mustache in conscious homage to Hitler's own. He has a few German uniforms hanging in his office closet, a German death's-head flag hanging on the wall, a pistol resting on his desk and, propped up in a metal holder, a stack of KOF business cards featuring his name and his title, chief executive director. He gives an accounting of himself. "I do have a sense of imperium," he says, "and I've always had a sense of historical mission."
Indeed, at the age of eight, his plan was to attend Harvard, get a high-paying job, make a ton of money and, in his thirtieth or fortieth year, sink all his savings into the white-power movement, which, he says, has fascinated him since before memory. That was his first plan. A few years later, however, when he was fourteen, around the time he first read Mein Kampf, he decided that waiting until he was middle-aged was no good. So he would instead raise money by robbing banks. Several years after, he decided that robbing banks would probably only lead to jail or the grave; so, finally, he came up with his third and current plan: to go to college, get an education and become a politician, running first for state representative in South Carolina and ultimately for the presidency of the United States.
Once elected president, he plans to immediately push though an emergency-powers enabling bill that will never, ever be revoked and that will overnight allow him to become this country's first dictator, thence to do as he wishes, sending blacks back to Africa, sterilizing the Jews, executing gays and so forth, all for the benefit of the white man.
He frowns and shows the palms of his hands. He says he knows none of this will come to pass anytime soon. Most people have it too good. To succeed, he needs instability – today's prosperity to end in, say, massive economic depression. He feels sure this is coming. And when it happens, he will rule.
The Commander checks his watch, looks up, grins and says, "And now if you'll excuse me, I have to practice my speech, and then I have some homework to do."
In the morning, Patricia speeds from Chesnee to Spartanburg to get the Commander to Wofford before 9:30 and his first class. He's a double major, in German and history, and an all-around top-notch student. "In the classroom, he's never a problem," says one of his teachers. "Unlike some of our students, he does the reading and the assignments."
Patricia drops the Commander off near Main Building. All around him kids are laughing and joking and bonking into each other, but the Commander engages in none of this. The Commander walks alone.
"What a college is is a fantasy world created for the transition between high school and the real world," he says. "These kids don't really want to be adults, so I keep to myself. I'm here just to get an education. I guess I'm a weirdo," he adds, chuckling, "because I just enjoy learning."
He also enjoys the pretty girls on campus – "If you haven't noticed, there are a lot of nice-looking women here" – but in his three years he has not dated a one. In fact, he says he has never had a girlfriend, neither at Wofford nor back home in Massachusetts. He says he doesn't have time for girls and that love is "just not my cup of tea." But as it happens, he also has other reasons for avoiding girls and what loving a girl can do to a person. "I admit it freely," he says. "I'm a control freak. If I'm not interacting with someone where I'm on a superior level, I'm uncomfortable."
And this extends even to his interactions with himself. He does not masturbate – "I definitely do not! And my advice is, if you want to be a strong person, don't do it" – and quotes Nietzsche for additional support: "The reabsorption of semen into the bloodstream is the source of all power and all energy."
Loping along under the shade trees, he says that his feelings about Jews and blacks are not the result of any particular incident or event. "A lot of people wonder about that. But no. That's crazy. I would never base an entire world philosophy – a Weltanschauung – on one thing. Sure, I'm an empiricist, but mainly my beliefs arise as a consequence of my awareness of the world."
Whereupon he launches into a discussion about the so-called Zionist Occupied Government that calls the shots in the U.S., and how blacks are the unwitting dupes of ZOG, etc. It's hateful, convoluted, paranoid-sounding business and does not seem, his assertions to the contrary, tied to any particular awareness of the world as it is known and understood by most people.
He would like observers to think that his neo-Nazi views arose unbidden, in the manner of a virgin birth. "With respect to my beliefs and how I came to get them, there isn't much to get from my childhood," he says, then begins to wax philosophic: "A sense of historical mission is something you're born with, like an instinct. I can't be influenced by my external environment. That's not a component of my personality."
As a young boy growing up in Westwood, Massachusetts, Andrew Britt Greenbaum lived in a comfortable blue two-story Cape on an acre of land, with mom Peggy, a housewife, and dad Hyman, about whose work the Commander doesn't know much – it involves submarines and defense contractors and earns him $100,000 a year, he thinks. Britt is an only child, and his parents, along with his grandparents, made sure he never went without. "Every Christmas, I'd get about $1,000, and $500 on birthdays," he recalls. "I was a wealthy, very wealthy person as a child."
He was also extraordinarily intelligent. For two or three years he was a top high school chess player in the state. And he was equally impressive in his classes: The teachers loved Britt Greenbaum, and his life could not have been any more pleasant. "I had a really good childhood," he says. "My needs and my wants were pretty much fulfilled. I pretty much always got what I wanted."
In high school, he and some friends were typical delinquents, driving too fast, hassling people from inside their cars. Unbeknown to his parents, however, Britt was by this time a confirmed racist. Indeed, as a junior at Westwood High, during an unsuccessful bid for class president, he gave a speech attacking the busing of inner-city blacks to his school, which caused quite an uproar though apparently no lasting concern on the part of the adults in his life. Then, a year later, in 1996, he started the Knights of Freedom and began passing out racist literature in Boston.
Two days after graduating from high school, he changed his last name from Greenbaum to Hawke, but the controversy surrounding his lineage would not die down. The Jewish Defense League people are constantly bashing him with it, as are his enemies in right-wing organizations. They call him a self-hating Jew. He finds it so vexing, what he terms "the Greenbaum development," and so irrelevant. His mother, Peggy, was married to Hyman Greenbaum but had a brief fling with someone she knew only as Dekker, who was German but lived in South Boston; out of that affair came the boy on whose birth certificate Hyman Greenbaum was kind enough to be identified as father. It's that simple.
"I get sick of hearing about this Greenbaum thing," the Commander says heatedly. "I'm going to have my mother sign an affidavit that I can use in court if I ever want to sue somebody for slander. And she did agree to sign one."
He speaks of the man whom he claims is his stepfather: "He's a mathematician, with a very analytical mind. So he can't understand anything but numbers. He doesn't have any thoughts. He doesn't have any opinions. On anything."
He speaks of his mom: "She honestly is not that bright, and growing up with her was a source of annoyance. I would classify her as below average, and just a typical uptight, middle-class, petite-bourgeoise woman. She kept my room neat."
For having married a Jew, his mother is, as well, a race traitor. For this, the usual sentence is death by hanging, but in his mom's case the Commander might make an exception. "Maybe," he says, thinking it over. "But as for my stepfather, sterilization is a must."
Doing this would not upset him. Not too much upsets him, he says. In fact, he has never cried. "I don't cry, because crying is a pointless emotion," he says. "It's a catharsis, and I'm not a fan of catharsis. I feel no need to be cleansed. Never have."
In the evening, detective banks of the Spartanburg police drives slowly by the Commander's trailer in his unmarked car. He crosses over a bridge, turns around, returns, parks nosed into brush, keeping an eye on the kid he sometimes calls "fuckhead."
The Commander peers out a trailer window at the car, thinking about hightailing it into the woods for no reason but to avoid another encounter. He just doesn't need to hassle with Banks this close to the First Party Congress.
Then he shrugs and turns from the window, turns back into his living room, with its Nazi flags on the wall and Hitler videotapes on the fireplace mantel, and its guns and knives scattered about, all these symbols of his presumed historical destiny.
The Commander's mom, Peggy Greenbaum, remembers her child Britt Greenbaum. She remembers a child who would not talk to his mom or dad for a week after they cut down a tree in the yard ("That tree has every right to live," he had said angrily); a child who got so mad when his dad threatened a nest of bees with insect killer that his father put the poison away and let the bees live.
That is the boy she remembers, and it makes her cry. He was a good boy who came home from school, did his homework and then practiced chess the rest of the afternoon. "I was the envy of many of my friends," she recalls. At the same time, without her quite knowing about it, her son's life at school was anything but pleasant or stress-free. "He was beaten up in elementary school, middle school and then in high school," his mother says. "Every day for two years in middle school, two boys would come in before class – one would hold his arm down, and the other would beat relentlessly on his hand. But being a boy, he was too ashamed to tell me about it.
"One day, I went into his room as he was changing his shirt, and I saw black and blue marks and scratches all over his back, and I asked him what happened, and he made up a story. But a month later, he acknowledged that some children had thrown him over a chair. "He was a nerd, and he was bullied, and what can I do about it? He was abused by the other children. They weren't black children or Jewish children. They were just children."
Mrs. Greenbaum is crying. She refuses to say whether her husband is Britt's biological father or not, for fear of Britt's reaction: He might not speak to either of them ever again. She says she has refused to pay for Britt's schooling but that her husband, against her wishes, continues to foot the bill.
She is thinking thoughts that no parents should ever have to think. "He's not who he is, he's not who he was," she continues. "How can you get rid of someone calling you a Jew and a kike? How can you ever get rid of that? He's so ashamed. People have made him so ashamed of who he is. He'll never stop. I'm afraid he'll never stop. He's gone in too deeply."
She is silent for a moment.
"I honestly hope that someone, when he goes to class today, kills him," she says finally. "That's what I hope. I want him to be dead. He's no longer the son I knew."
Her voice grows increasingly muffled, her sobs louder, and then she breaks off.
The Commander is on the phone, talking to Hard Copy associate producer Santina Leuci. The tabloid show wants an interview, and he wants to be paid for it. He strolls around his trailer, trying to get Leuci to commit to a dollar amount. Leuci is worried that the feds may have tapped the Commander's phone line. The Commander rolls his eyes and continues to talk money. Leuci finally names a number. "Oh, that's far too low," the Commander scoffs. "We could never do it for that. I'm not really pleased at all about that!"
There's more talk, more wrangling, at the end of which Leuci, on Hard Copy's behalf, agrees to pay the Knights of Freedom $1,000, not for an interview with its leader, of course, but for the KOF new-members introduction packet (a $10 value), plus recordings of some of the Commander's speeches.
A few days later, on the day of the First Party Congress, Hard Copy shows up and does its thing. The wind stops blowing, and the bees buzz off else-where, and Detective Banks parks his car at the top of the Commander's driveway while another officer takes pictures of everyone who arrives. About fifteen people have come. It's not an overwhelming show of support, but that's OK – almost everyone has some kind of Nazi-looking uniform on, and they're all strutting around, and the Commander wears a stern game face and takes to his podium, where he gives a rousing speech in which he announces that he will be running for higher office in South Carolina next year. His supporters applaud. Afterward, they gather inside his trailer and tell racist jokes. A few days later, Hard Copy runs its story, in which the Commander looks kind of ridiculous in his Nazi get-up, while some rival Nazi types denounce KOF as a bunch of wanna-be's prancing around in costume. Once again, the pesky Greenbaum Development gets an airing. Undaunted, the Commander looks to the future, to the biggest moment of his life, and begins his final preparations.
The big day arrives: Saturday, August 7th, a day sunny and clear. The Washington, D.C., police are ready. Two thousand of them have cordoned off the blocks around Lafayette Park and braced themselves for trouble, on foot, on horseback, on rooftops, in helicopters, many of them wearing flak jackets. The counterprotesters are already singing their hate-the-haters songs, banging their kind of war drums. At 3 P.M., the rally is supposed to start. It's time. But where are the Nazis? That's what Washington police chief Charles Ramsey wants to know. He's ready. He has about eighty percent of the D.C. police force at the ready, deployed at a cost of more than $1 million, and he'd better start seeing some goddamn Nazis soon or he's going to start suing their asses to recover his costs. "I'll take their gym shoes, their computer – I'll take whatever the hell they got!" he's ranting.
Meanwhile, the Commander is in his car, on the highway, headed south and away from Washington, D.C.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. Since the First Party Congress, he has made many changes in his organization. For one thing, it's no longer called the Knights of Freedom. Now it's the American Nationalist Party. For another, at official party functions, you will never again see him marching around in Nazi uniform. And he has scuttled the KOF Web site, creating a new one for the ANP – gone are all the grisly death's-head logos, gone is the photo of him, arm raised, stiff in salute. "[I am] convinced that our goal of becoming a national political force ... can only be achieved through a comprehensive change of image," he wrote his followers in a May 1999 memorandum titled the Millennium Plan. "The Party is generally perceived as a paramilitary neo-Nazi group with an element of 'Hollywood Nazism' mixed in. ... Since our goals are political in nature, we must dispel our image as a militia and ensure that the public sees us for what we are: a legitimate National Socialist political Party dedicated to defending white rights."
Moreover, he himself is no longer who he once was – no longer Commander Decker or, simply, the Commander. He is now Davis Wolfgang Hawke again or, simply, Mr. Hawke. The change in name is part of the image overhaul, his wish to be seen less as a rabid, militant gun-toting sort, more as a baby-kissing politician.
And there have been other changes. He has been losing weight. Where before he seemed kind of scrawny, he now looks almost sickly, which worries some of his top men.
A few days before the march, he and Patricia arrived in Fredericksburg, Virginia, an hour outside Washington. At a house belonging to one of his party members, he unloaded his suitcases, their tags still bearing his given name, Greenbaum. Then he waited for his followers to show up. He was expecting 100, maybe 300 of them, and he had camping areas set aside to take care of them all. Though they had met via the Internet and had mostly never met face to face, they were, like him, dedicated, fearsome, virile Aryan men of action, men of change. And they would arrive soon.
Hours fled. Days passed.
And finally no one came. And then it must have dawned on Hawke that in a way he was Greenbaum again. And who would show up to support Greenbaum? Who would ever arrive to shower Greenbaum with love and adoration? Instead of using their hands to hold down his hands and beat them purple, who would raise those hands in complete, unwavering salute? Who would ever do such a thing for a chess-loving geek named Greenbaum?
So he runs. He packs up and eases into his car, and he and Patricia speed back home to South Carolina. He's angry and upset, moving down the highway, while the cops wait for him back in Washington.
"I can't think of anything bad that has ever happened to me," Hawke says. "It has to do with my personality. As soon as something happens to me that is bad, I hate it while it's happening, I'm miserable, but afterward I forget about it almost instantly. It doesn't enter into my thoughts. There's nothing that has happened in my life that has affected the way I am."
If, however briefly, he was Greenbaum in Fredericksburg, at the trailer in Chesnee he is back to being Hawke. He seems to have squared himself away. He has stepped down as chief executive director of the KOF/ANP party and removed its Web site. He is not embarrassed by what has happened and makes no apologies. He does not think that the events in Washington were in any way his true historical destiny, as seems entirely possible, if not likely. He will have none of that. Already he is planning his return.
After graduating from Wofford, he will leave the trailer behind and move elsewhere in the South, to a place more remote, somewhere in the woods. He recently bought a female British Columbian black wolf, and in the spring of 2000 he will buy a male, and he will breed the two, in the hopes of starting a small wolf pack. It will be just him, Patricia and his wolves. "And then, five or ten years down the line, I'm going to run for major public office," he says. "I'm going to have a lot of money to back me up, and probably a lot of people to back me up also. And that is how I'm going to re-enter the spotlight."
He pauses. "Of course, one thing I need to do is think of some ways to find better-quality members. Frankly, some of them are freaks. You know, in the white-power movement, you've got your dysfunctionals, who are attracted to the swastika because they're lunatics or whatever; and then you've got intelligent idealists such as myself, or at least I consider myself one, though maybe I overestimate."
He chuckles, nearly admitting the possibility: him dysfunctional, him a lunatic, him a freak. This doesn't last long, however. It has to do with his personality. Such thoughts must be forgotten. And they are forgotten, almost instantly.