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The Flickering Torch of Racism

When it comes to racist rhetoric, Tom Metzger talks tough, but, in person, the pudgy, bald TV repairman from Southern California isn't exactly intimidating.

Not so for Randall Krager.

You'd never want to see Krager on the wrong side of happy. He has arms the size of water mains and is 6-foot-2, pushing 240 pounds. On his right knuckles is tattooed FEAR; his neck features a swastika. When the 27-year-old smiles, he curls his lip in the sneer of the perpetual street tough.

Last Saturday, Krager orchestrated an event that dug up Portland's buried feelings of shame from its years as a playground for white-power warriors. A decade ago, Metzger became the straw that stirred the drink for many 'skins, bedeviling Portland during a civil trial in which he was held financially liable for the 1988 murder of an Ethiopian immigrant at the hands of Portland skinheads.

Last week Metzger was back, poorer but no quieter, to make a speech at a memorial ceremony for an obscure skinhead named Erik Banks, who was killed during a showdown with a gang of anti-racist SHARPs (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice) in 1993. The belated "national socialist" funeral for Banks last Saturday was planned by Volksfront, the white-supremacist group Krager leads.

The location of the memorial was kept a state secret. Only 100 invitees attended. The mystery lent a tense undercurrent to Saturday. Would the SHARPs or other 100-plus anti-racist protesters gathered in Portland crash Volksfront's party, where Krager promised to be well-armed?

The lefty activists never figured out where the event was held, though a handful of reporters made their way to the Multnomah Grange No. 71 on Southeast Bluff Road. Not that there was much to see: a dozen or so men in sweatshirts standing outside in the rain, smoking cigarettes, their womenfolk securely in the background, waiting for three skinhead bands to lay down power chords for a post-memorial concert.

Standing in the 40-degree rain, Krager wore a white T-shirt and his usual sneer. "We won," he said. "We honored our brother, and nothing happened."

I first learned of Volksfront in late July. That's when they plastered a few hundred fliers in support of embattled school board member Derry Jackson around outer Southeast Portland. It sounded like a tasty paradox: a white-power group supporting an African-American public official because the Jews are out to get him.

Volksfront's website talked the bigot talk (it's especially harsh on Jews), though the messages of racial hatred are only implied. In fact, the whole thing read like a kinder, gentler white supremacy with anti-corporatism (for shipping American jobs abroad) and hardcore environmentalism thrown in. Only its demand that white "European-Americans" get an independent homeland in the Northwest, the so-called "Northwest Imperative," was chilling--kind of like Hitler's Lebensraum minus the Panzer division.

I emailed the group, requesting an interview. No dice.

On Oct. 2, the group surfaced again, this time at the hands of Oregon Spotlight, a civil-rights group sworn to rooting out race-haters.

Before a bank of TV cameras that day, Portland State University sociology assistant professor Randy Blazak, Spotlight's co-founder, denounced Volksfront as "domestic terrorists" and said it had used the post-Sept. 11 climate as a recruiting tool. It was a claim devoid of proof, but the media dutifully trotted out Blazak's accusations, ignoring the fact that Steven Stroud, Spotlight's other co-founder, had, for the first time, named Krager as head of Volksfront.

Back in the days when skinheads cruised Portland and pleaded the white man's cause with fists, steel-toed Doc Marten's and baseball bats, Randall Krager was one of the baddest of the bad.

Portland police records show that he had 28 contacts with police between 1989 and 1991 for everything from menacing to assault--and that's when he was a juvenile. He was just warming up.

With one punch, Krager knocked an African-American man into a coma in 1992. He spent 27 months in prison. It was during this stint at the Oregon State Penitentiary that he founded Volksfront.

Released in October 1994, he threatened over the phone to kill Pan Nesbitt, leader of the SHARPs. In February 1995, Krager pleaded guilty to first-degree intimidation and did another 14 months in prison. There, Krager earned a reputation for being a fierce white supremacist. "He's as serious about the cause as I've seen," says Benny Ward, who heads gang intelligence for the Oregon Department of Corrections. "He's not someone to be trifled with."

Paroled in 1996, Krager made Volksfront a potent force from Eugene to Portland.

So devoted was Krager to the supremacist cause that he publicly flouted his parole conditions by distributing Nazi leaflets and hanging out with white-supremacist associates, according to Angela Boyer, a Polk County parole officer, who handled Krager's case when he lived in West Salem.

Sporting bomber jackets, 50 members of Volksfront would regularly take over punk and rockabilly shows in Portland and Salem, a move akin to an investment banker engineering a hostile takeover. At shows with bands like the Reverend Horton Heat and the Business, Volksfront ruled.

But almost as quickly as it sprang up, the group disappeared in 1998, remaining underground until the Derry Jackson fliers.

Last month, after weeks of email exchanges and a lengthy off-the-record interview, Krager agreed to be quoted.

Krager wedged himself into a booth at a McMenamins pub in Clackamas. He lit a cigarette and revealed his plans for the Banks memorial.

"We know in Portland there's a chance of protest and violence," he said. "If we have to, we'll shoot it out."

He told me that in the Northwest Imperative all minorities "will be repatriated." Drug dealers and sex offenders will be put to death. Abortions will be outlawed.

Krager's overarching complaint is that America is becoming too brown, diluting its "European-American culture."

How does Volksfront envision its state coming to pass?

"The Jews have done the same exact thing in this country: a small proportion of the population--what, 3 percent?--coming to overwhelming political power," he said. Volksfront, he said, will begin its political onslaught by taking over school boards in Eastern Multnomah County.

Beneath Krager's political and historical naiveté is a certain reserve unexpected in someone with such narrow beliefs. Krager doesn't mouth the supremacist's cry of RAHOWA (racial holy war) but instead talks about how he dismantled the group in 1998 because it was filled with too many men bent on street action as opposed to political victory.

He says he and a few others reformed Volksfront in April and now have 50 members and many admirers. They come from the construction trades mostly, but Krager says some in the group hold advanced degrees.

As for himself, he says he's matured, at least by the limited standards of white supremacists. "It's easy to be a 16-year-old bachelor and say, 'I'll die for the cause,'" Krager said. "I did a lot of thinking in prison."

Grown up too are those men who, 10 years ago, devoured Metzger's message and turned Portland into Skinhead City--now family men but still believers, enough to huddle in a run-down grange hall on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

In a sense, last weekend marked a passing of the flickering torch of white power. What remains to puzzle out is whether this new generation is the flying wedge of neo-Nazism or a tamer fraternity of former skinheads wrapping themselves in the flag of political centrism while espousing a no-minorities-here homeland.

Standing across the street from the hall, nothing profound came to mind. I could only do the math: About 80 white-supremacist men and 20 women and children practicing their right to free speech in a disused building on the edge of a farm field in the cold rain bespeaks a movement of little moment which will soon choke on its own absurdities.

Unless Randall Krager ever becomes unhappy.

TOM METZGER, who says Mexicans are bringing diseases into this country, was happy to be photographed for this story. Randall Krager refused.