The rumors just made Jacob Young curious. Young, already known for his profiles of local characters for the Morgantown public-TV series Different Drummer, approached the secretive Pierce and offered to tell his story. Unsurprisingly, Pierce was a tough sell. "He liked the idea [of screening on] public TV, but he hated the idea that my first name was 'Jacob,'" says Young. "He thought I was Jewish."
Young told Pierce that having grown up in West Virginia, he didn't even know any Jews.
That was in 1990. A year ago the 68-year-old Pierce died of cancer, leaving a legacy of hate-filled rhetoric inspiring violence by his followers. But Dr. No, Young's portrait of perhaps this country's most influential contemporary white supremacist, survives. Young will present it here on July 8 at the Film Kitchen screening series, along with two unrelated works in progress.
Pierce, who held a doctorate in physics, was a one-time university professor whose political life began in the 1960s in close association with American Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell. After Rockwell's assassination, Pierce rose to prominence, eventually founding the National Alliance, which thanks to his writings and radio addresses became one of the country's wealthiest hate groups though it had just 1,500 members, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL calls Pierce's group "the largest and most active neo-Nazi organization in the United States."
Pierce was rather less forthcoming than most of Young's other subjects, including the benevolently eccentric hotelier in Fleabag and mountain dancer Jesco White in the cult classic Dancing Outlaw. In 1978 Pierce had published (under the pseudonym Andrew Macdonald) The Turner Diaries, a novel telling how a group of "patriots" wages a race war, including the systematic extermination of blacks, Jews and "race traitors." Labeled by the FBI as "the bible of the racist right," the novel was a favorite of Timothy McVeigh's and inspired criminal undertakings including McVeigh's truck-bombing in Oklahoma City.
Dr. No -- the title references Pierce's mocking characterization of how detractors see him -- depicts Pierce at home, where he critiques a TV news report ... about himself. While working on his own show, Young received telephone threats from people who knew where he lived. And he struggled to circumvent Pierce's reticence. "He was trying to manipulate me, I was trying to manipulate him. It went on for months and months," says Young, adding, "By and large, considering he was a Nazi and a white supremacist, we got along fairly well."
For a change of pace, Young will also present short excerpts from two in-progress documentaries: 7 Surprizes in Modern Southern Clogging -- "God definitely loves clogging," notes one enthusiast -- and The Umim Thurmim, about a Kentucky bathroom-tiler who believes a trinket he owns is a Biblical relic with magical powers.
Pierce, too, dabbled in religion, formulating a doctrine he called Cosmotheism. It was a racist creed, but observers agree Pierce was dangerous not because he did anything violent, but because his ideas incited violence in others.
Yet that hardly explains the response Dr. No got, which was very little -- unless you count the people phoning Young wanting to join Pierce. In fact, more people complained about Young's next show, Dancing Outlaw. "You can suggest [West Virginia] has Nazis. That's no problem," says Young. "But if you suggest it has hillbillies, that's a big thing."