White's life on fringe puts him at center of storm

The Roanoke neo-Nazi's ideological leanings were foreshadowed by his early feelings of "innate superiority."

The Roanoke Times/July 26, 2009

At a time when the power of the Internet was untested, one of the first people to see its dark potential was an 18-year-old college student named William A. White.

In 1996, when White was a sophomore at the University of Maryland, he became convinced, based on hearsay alone, that a teenage girl he'd never met was being abused by her mother.

White aired the allegations online, along with the mother's name and telephone number. He urged readers to call her at home and berate her. About a half-dozen did.

Emboldened by the controversy he created, and thrilled by the national media attention he received, White continued to pick fights from behind his computer screen over the years, even as his personal beliefs swung wildly from far-left anarchist to far-right white supremacist.

After moving to Roanoke in 2004, White formed a neo-Nazi organization and began to rail against his so-called enemies of the white race: the "Negro beasts" and the "Jewish disease."

Now, White is in the midst of a free-speech battle with the federal government.

A U.S. District Court judge in Chicago last week dismissed a charge that White used his Web site to encourage violence against a juror who voted to convict a fellow white supremacist. The judge ruled that White's actions were constitutionally protected.

Prosecutors are considering an appeal, and White faces additional charges in Roanoke of making threats by e-mail and on his now-defunct Web site, overthrow.com.

So it may be too soon to say for sure that the First Amendment - the traditional sanctuary for those who employ printing presses and microphones -- also protects a hatemonger who uses the Internet to blur the boundary between free speech and illegal threats.

Equally uncertain is whether White will drop out of public view as a neo-Nazi leader once the criminal proceedings are behind him, as he recently suggested he might.

But this much about White seems clear: Diagnosed as a narcissist prone to histrionic behavior, the 32-year-old is driven by an insatiable desire for attention.

"Anything people say or write about me, whether good or bad, is ultimately good for me and my cause," White told The Washington Post in 1996, after his first Internet caper thrust him into a media spotlight.

"Actually it would be better if the media trashed me and made me look like evil incarnate," he said, "because if they said, 'Bill White is a good guy,' everyone would shrug their shoulders and forget about me the next day."

By 2008, White had become "possibly the loudest and most obnoxious neo-Nazi leader in America," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups. overthrow.com was his megaphone, and White boasted that the Web site attracted nearly 3 million visitors a year.

Applying the skills he honed as a college student, White lashed out at whoever offended his bigotry.

When thousands marched in Jena, La., to support six black teenagers charged with assault, White issued a call to "Lynch the Jena 6." When Barack Obama ran for president, he published an image of the candidate in the sights of an assassin's rifle, the cross hairs extended to form a swastika.

Even something as innocuous as soul music playing at Starbucks could inspire another rant from a man who loves to hate.

"Whatever gave these animals the idea that they had souls?" White wrote on overthrow.com in 2007, after a visit to the coffee shop. "If we piled them up in camps and set them on fire until the black smoke from their black skins blackened the skies, we would be doing the world no wrong."

Defiance came early

William Alexander White grew up in a suburban neighborhood of Montgomery County, Md. The oldest of three boys, he was a remarkably intelligent child who began to show his defiant streak at an early age.

White's IQ was twice measured at above 150, according to a school psychological report, and at the age of 8 he was placed in programs for talented and gifted students.

"I cannot say I did well with other 'gifted' students," White wrote earlier this year in a letter from his jail cell to The Roanoke Times, one of several in which he described his upbringing and political views in scrawling longhand that filled more than 25 pages.

"In retrospect, I would say that my problem was the overwhelming Jewish population of my elementary schools and the overwhelming black population of the Magnet schools (which were used to integrate black neighborhoods)."

Starting in the ninth grade, White became rebellious and verbally abusive to his teachers and was charged as a juvenile with threatening a principal, according to the psychological report, which White posted online years ago. He also began to develop his outlaw computer skills, hacking into the school computer system.

Manfred Smith, White's eighth-grade social studies teacher, recalled White as an avid reader who loved a debate -- to a fault. "He was argumentative, insulting to students, and wanted to dominate any discussion," Smith said.

Suspended repeatedly, White bounced from school to school, attending three high schools by the time he graduated from Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda in 1995.

White's family declined to be interviewed for this story. His father, a former research associate who specialized in defense policy for The Brookings Institution, mentioned in a letter "the anguish we are experiencing over Bill's childishly impulsive political posturing."

"I love my family very much, and the feeling is mutual," his son wrote. "But they strongly object to my political views."

The 'nihilistic adolescent'

While his juvenile behavior deteriorated, White's intellect grew.

At a time when most of his peers were reading action or romance novels, White was devouring the works of Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx and Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius. A budding anarchist in high school, White started a student newspaper that advocated a "leftist utopian anarchy."

"In a sense, one gets the feeling that William could easily be Dostoevski's prototype of the nihilist adolescent," school psychologist Robert Mulcahy wrote in his 1994 evaluation of White.

"As he lounges there listening with his long legs propped up on a nearby desk, stroking his sparse goatee, there is a tired, whimsical, sarcastic grin on his face, an adult-like manner in the way he attends, a piercing brilliance in his eyes, and a feeling that his brain is taking in and dissecting the semantic, social and political significance of each and every word and phrase he hears."

The way Mulcahy saw it, White faced a dilemma at 16: He desperately wanted the attention and approval of his peers, but his feelings of "innate superiority" prevented him from emulating their teenage antics in order to gain acceptance.

"So, the only option left to him is to adopt the role of the rebellious renegade, the outlaw, the loner, the one who goes his own path," Mulcahy wrote.

Even today, White insists that he fit in by acting out.

"I was quite popular in high school," he wrote in one of his letters. According to White, he was elected president of the student government association at Walt Whitman, only to have the results thrown out by the administration.

"School administrators viewed me then much as the federal government views me now," he wrote, "as a pain in the ass that must be silenced, laws and the rest be damned."

White did run for association president as an independent, according to Louise Reynolds, a journalism teacher at the school. Given his reputation and penchant for profanity, administrators were concerned about what he might say in his campaign speech. But they allowed him to run. He lost.

Testing the limits of free speech

White headed off to the University of Maryland in 1995. He majored in psychology, dabbled in anarchy, and continued in his role as campus agitator.

Other members of the Utopian Anarchist Party said he showed no signs at the time of the racism and anti-Semitism he would later preach so fervently.

"Bill White is considered a traitor by myself and others in the anarchist movement," said Luke Kuhn, a member of the anti-authority group. "I don't know if he ever honestly supported left-wing causes. I know he used to claim to. But he sure as hell is a Nazi now."

In 1996, the group held a lecture on how to find police officers at home and harm them, using explosives, arson or guns.

White -- who had been convicted of resisting arrest earlier that year -- said at the time he wasn't advocating anything, just explaining what had been done in the past.

"Obviously, it didn't go over well in the law enforcement community," said Paul Dillon, who was a sergeant in the university police department at the time. "But it is a free country, and he had a First Amendment right to do what he did."

At the age of 18, White had become adept at pushing his free speech rights to the very edge of the law. And when he waged his online attack on the woman he suspected of child abuse, it marked a new test of the limits of cyberspace.

White was not the first Internet mudslinger. But his case was one of the first known episodes in which someone published a home telephone number of their target with the intent of inviting abuse, The Washington Post reported at the time.

Following the stir White created, authorities investigated both the substance of his allegations and the way he aired them. No charges were ever filed against him or the woman.

The next year, White dropped out of college, figuring he could make lots of money in computers. He was soon earning $80,000 a year for an Internet marketing firm in Maryland, he said, and later started his own consulting business.

Unable to shake politics, White ran twice for a seat on the Montgomery County, Md., school board, and then for the state legislature. He stuck to his anarchist platform, with slogans such as "Vote for me because you hate them."

He lost every time. "My sense was he was doing it just as a lark, to get his name out there," said Steve Abrams, who won the school board seat White sought. "He's always been on the fringe, and he's never had any followers at all."

White later worked for a correspondent for the newspaper Pravda, he claimed, rubbing elbows with prominent journalists at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. But he eventually grew restless and began to dream of starting a real estate company somewhere in the mountains.

With his savings from work and $100,000 from the sale of his home as capital, White considered doing business in Wheeling, W.Va., and the Ohio River Valley. He wound up coming to Roanoke.

White Homes and Land LLC

In 2004, White began buying houses in the West End, an impoverished inner-city neighborhood with a high concentration of blacks. He fixed the houses up for rent, refinanced them and put the funds toward buying more houses, paying between $50,000 and $70,000 for most. Before long, about 20 homes in a three-block area were under the control of a new company, White Homes and Land LLC.

White married a real estate agent (his wife, Meghan White, declined to comment for this story), had a daughter and appeared to be settling down. The polar opposite of an absentee landlord, he was in the West End almost every day, repairing his properties and dealing with tenants.

But it soon became clear that Bill White the landlord was also Bill White the Internet racist.

"N------ are plotting against my shrubs," he wrote on overthrow.com, explaining how vandalism to his new landscaping had reinforced his view that blacks "cannot be trusted to conduct honest business."

That post and others -- including one in which White referred to his "Ghetto Beautification Project" -- led some people to believe he was evicting blacks without cause in an effort to create an all-white living space. The Roanoke NAACP filed a fair housing complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which investigated but took no action.

As he became more outspoken about his racial views, White found few friends in Roanoke, even among like-minded bigots. When he protested a fair housing symposium, White stood alone outside a Roanoke hotel, wearing a swastika armband and holding a sign.

Although White said in his jailhouse letters that he has friends in town, the only ones he named to be interviewed for this story were people with whom he had casual encounters: employees at Lowe's, for example, or a clerk at the post office.

"It's not like I've spent my life in Roanoke living in a cave," he wrote.

White's former tenants described a landlord who was businesslike and courteous at first, only to turn hostile. Angie Laymen said it was because she had biracial children. Scott Rayfield said it was because he dated a black woman. For Tammy Goad, it was because she had black friends over to visit.

"He was real snobbish toward them and turned his nose up at them," Goad said.

Known as the white supremacist in a black neighborhood, White took to arming himself. Goad recalls seeing him making the rounds wearing a bulletproof vest, a handgun strapped to his hip, holding his infant daughter in a baby carrier.

White was making a reputation for himself, one that would soon extend far beyond the West End.

Alienating his own

An angry mob ran through the streets of a Toledo, Ohio, neighborhood. Rioters threw bricks, bottles and rocks at police officers. A bar was set afire. More than 100 people were arrested.

And Bill White was in the middle of it all.

It was a Saturday afternoon in October 2005, and White had driven nine hours from Roanoke to serve as the spokesman for a march held by the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi group.

Considering that the purpose of the march was to protest black crime, and considering that most of the rioters were black, the event was deemed a huge success by its organizers. The riot drew national attention, elevating White's status in the white supremacy movement.

"I think he was a very powerful influence," said Justin Boyer, a former member of the National Socialist Movement who now denounces White. "Because when Bill White spoke, you could just feel the energy. It reminded you of Adolf Hitler when he spoke. It was powerful and kind of mesmerizing."

Not long after the riot, White had a falling out with the NSM over a controversy he called "Satangate." He and others accused some NSM members of being part of a group that engaged in sexual discussions with juveniles on a "Teens for Satan" e-mail group.

White formed his own group in Roanoke, the American National Socialist Workers Party, which purported to fight for the white working class.

Asked to explain how he got involved in national socialism, White went on for pages. He cited the works of obscure philosophers -- his strongest influence was Julius Evola, a Sicilian author and political activist whose views have been described as "ultrafascist" -- and his own views in defense of Hitler. But he recounted few real-life experiences or observations.

"The superiority of the white race, on the whole, for me, is such a trivial given that I no more need to impose it on the world than I need to impose the color of green on grass, or fruit on an apple tree," he wrote.

If such views drew other neo-Nazis to White, his self-absorption quickly drove them away, according to Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has followed White closely over the years.

Following White's arrest in October, participants in white supremacy message groups expressed little surprise or dismay. One poster said White brought his legal trouble on himself with his "stupid, theatrical, self-aggrandizing ways." Another wrote last week after the charges were dismissed: "Bill White skates, but is still shunned."

White has declined to say how many members the American National Socialist Workers Party has. By Potok's estimate, the self-proclaimed "commander" of the national group has no more than 200 followers.

"The guy is clearly an egomaniac," Potok said. "Bill White's chief concern has always been Bill White, and that has hurt him in terms of being any kind of a leader."

'Truth' is in the telling

After flirting with the law for years, White was arrested in October for posting the name, address and telephone number of the foreman of a Chicago jury that convicted Matthew Hale in 2004.

A white supremacist, Hale was sentenced to 40 years in prison for soliciting the murder of federal Judge Joan Lefkow.

Although a judge dismissed White's charge last week, he remains in jail, facing additional federal charges in Roanoke. He is accused of using the Internet and the telephone to threaten people including a newspaper columnist and a human rights lawyer.

Three different courts have declined to release him on bond. Federal prosecutors point to writings on overthrow.com that they say show White is a danger to the community.

Last May, White wrote of waking up every morning with the urge to "kill, kill, kill."

In another post, he said he had developed a "very intricate plot for the murder of about a score of Roanoke city's Negro nuisances and their annoying counterparts at The Roanoke Times."

At a bond hearing last year, White testified that his writings were not meant to be believed. "I write essentially tabloid news, half truth, half sensationalism and exaggeration," he said.

In one of his letters from jail, written before the Chicago charge was dismissed last week, White was as confident as ever, vowing to beat the charges.

"There are many people, including those in power, who believe any dissent should be crushed with the destruction of the dissenter," he wrote. "Further, there are many people who have devoted their lives to destroying me only to find, to their frustration, I am beyond their ability to destroy."

White also wrote that, upon his release, he plans to withdraw from the white supremacy movement and abandon his Web site, which the FBI shut down at the time of his arrest.

"My intent, when I am finally acquitted of all this nonsense, and such acquittal is inevitable, is to close my publishing business and withdraw from public activity," he wrote.

"I do not intend to recant my views, even if I will quiet them."

But as White himself once admitted from the witness stand, while sworn to tell the truth, not everything he writes should be believed.

News researcher Belinda Harris and staff writer Matt Chittum contributed to this report.

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