In this March 19, 1985 photo Glenn Miller (l), of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, takes part in a news conference in front of the North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh.
At the time that Glenn Miller allegedly shot three people dead at two Jewish facilities in the Kansas City area in April, he was in the Federal Witness Protection Program. In a cautionary tale about the dubious wisdom of charging defendants of any political stripe with acts of sedition, Miller may have put one over on the feds some 25 years ago, relieving himself of a lengthy prison sentence that could have ultimately saved the lives lost at a Jewish community center and retirement community in Overland Park, Kansas.
Already notorious as a white racist leader in the 1980s, Miller's long history of criminal activity on behalf of the white supremacist cause led to his facing many years in prison until federal prosecutors offered him a plea deal in 1988 if he would testify at a sedition trial in Fort Smith, Arkansas, against his former Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi, and racist buddies. In the end, Miller’s testimony was weak—some of it unbelievable—and the case ultimately collapsed, raising suspicions that he had duped federal officials. But a deal is a deal, and following his testimony—and his release from prison after serving three years of a five-year reduced sentence—Miller was given a new identity as Frazier Glenn Cross.
What initially landed Miller in jail was his own transgression of a settlement won by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an organization that keeps tabs on racist groups, and represents victims of discrimination and bigotry in the courts. According to the SPLC website, Miller is the former "grand dragon" of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a group Miller founded, according to the SPLC report. The group successfully sued Miller for “operating an illegal paramilitary organization and using intimidation tactics against African Americans,” according to the SPLC website. Miller then formed the Klan-related White Patriot Party. Since this violated his court-supervised settlement in the SPLC lawsuit, Miller “was found in criminal contempt and sentenced to six months in prison.”
With his appeal pending, Miller tried to disappear underground, but the FBI caught up with him, finding him in Missouri with a cache of weapons. SPLC reports that in addition to planning robberies and conspiring to acquire stolen military weapons, Miller was also indicted on charges related to plotting the assassination of SPLC founder Morris Dees. Miller’s deeply flawed testimony in the Fort Smith sedition trial proved to be his get-out-of-jail-free card for these very serious federal charges.
The Fort Smith case was built around charges of a criminal seditious conspiracy. The alleged conspiracy included plans to assassinate a federal judge and FBI agent as part of a broader plot to overthrow the federal government and establish a whites-only separatist nation in the Pacific Northwest. Two key government witnesses were white supremacists facing years in jail and trading testimony for concessions from the government. One was Miller; the other was a man named James Ellison.
The plan by the alleged conspirators to set up a whites-only homeland was real, if quixotic; less implausible, perhaps, were their alleged schemes for a series of murders, bombings, robberies and other crimes to be carried out by groups and individuals in what was an informal white racist underground, loosely linked to the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations compound in Idaho, and other centers of white supremacist organizing and training.
Anti-racist activist Leonard Zeskind, based in Kansas City, Missouri, has researched Miller and his allies for over three decades, and is author of Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream. After the shootings Zeskind told ABC News that Miller’s “testimony [in the Fort Smith trial] was extremely weak..”
“Miller was essentially playing a game with the feds….," Zeskind told ABC News. "I don’t think he had any intention of becoming a good witness. The guy was a stone-to-the-bone Nazi. He never gave that up. I am on the record as saying the man should have died in prison.”
There are indications that Zeskind is correct and he has raised more questions on the website of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, the organization he leads. Miller clearly disappointed the prosecutors, and some reports on Miller written during his interrogation by authorities prior to his being turned as an informant to testify in the Fort Smith trial reveal a credulous belief that Miller had renounced violence and bigotry.
Steve Daniels, news anchor at the ABC affiliate WTVD in Raleigh, North Carolina, interviewed a former federal prosecutor Doug McCullough, who was was present during the initial interviews with Miller. ABC reporter James Hill revealed more details of the McCullough interview:
Miller tried to be a little bit self-serving,” McCullough said of Miller during the interview. “Every defendant in those situations usually is at first. But he did open up about a lot of things about the White Patriot Party. He detailed a number of people that were involved in illegal activities that were his associates. And that’s what we were looking for. ”
In a series of ensuing interviews with federal and North Carolina investigators, Miller never denied his racist and anti-Semitic views, but claimed he had always denounced violence and illegal activity.
“Miller wanted nothing more to do with the movement,” according to an FBI account of an interview in June of 1987. He was “willing to turn his back on it in order to return to his family. His problem in the past had been intolerance linked with excessive drinking.”
This turned out not to be an accurate view.
What the federal prosecutors lacked in the Fort Smith trial was persuasive evidence linking those indicted to a sweeping conspiracy. Miller’s testimony at the Fort Smith trial was so ludicrous that jurors rejected it and the case collapsed. The all-white jury acquitted all 13 defendants, some of whom were already convicted and incarcerated for crimes, including the murder of Jewish talk show host Alan Berg in Denver. While in the Federal Witness Protection Program, Miller launched a 2010 write-in campaign seeking election to the U.S. Senate from Missouri. Miller explained his campaign platform in elaborate detail on the syndicated David Pakman interview program, in which the host drew out Miller on his anti-Semitic, racist, and anti-gay positions. The interview was posted on YouTube, as was a Miller campaign ad.
Because of campaign and free-speech law, local television and radio stations initially believed they had to run Miller’s odious anti-Semitic and white racist campaign advertisements, at least one of which has been posted on YouTube. They protested to the Federal Communications Commission, which quickly ruled Miller was not a bona fide candidate.
The SPLC has posted Miller’s advertisement text as part of an extensive background report:
“White men have become the biggest cowards ever to walk the earth. The world has never witnessed such yellow cowards. We’ve sat back and allowed the Jews to take over our government, our banks, and our media. We’ve allowed tens of millions of mud people to invade our country, steal our jobs and our women, and destroy our children’s futures. America is no longer ours. America belongs to the Jews who rule it and to the mud people who multiply in it.
(Miller is an apparently a conflicted anti-LGBT white supremacist. WTVD News, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, where Miller once lived, found that in the 1980s, “Raleigh police caught him in the backseat of a car engaged in a sex act" with a black, transgender sex worker.)
There's little doubt that Miller is a racist who plotted violence. While it's impossible to know if the shootings in Overland Park would have taken place if Miller had not been let off the hook after agreeing to testify in the 1988 sedition trial, the prosecution’s decision to use the sedition charge raises tough questions about civil liberties, bigotry, informers, and government repression.
Looking at it from a civil libertarian perspective, the Fort Smith trial is an example of government overreach and abuse of power.
What happens when the government uses threats of decades in jail to turn a person into a handy informer who testifies against his former allies? Defense attorneys regularly complain that such witnesses are prone to embellishment if not outright fabrication in their testimony.
Then there's the peril and suspicion of political intent when prosecutors wield the charge of sedition.
In our book Right-Wing Populism in America, my co-author Matt Lyons and I noted that during the McCarthy Period Red Scare, charges of criminal seditious conspiracy were used in the political witch-hunt against communism. The late constitutional rights attorney Arthur Kinoy told us he condemned the use of the sedition charge by the government to attack all dissent, especially on the left. In the 1950s Kinoy defended persons charged with communist sedition. Calling the views of the white supremacists in the Fort Smith case “disgusting,” Kinoy nonetheless said “I’m worried about the charge of sedition against anyone.”
Civil liberties attorney Harvey A. Silverglate agreed, telling us:
I know it is a tricky and emotional issue, but sedition is a very serious charge, and to bring it in the Aryan Nations case at Fort Smith was patently absurd. You can’t be cheering when the government brings a charge of sedition against the Aryan Nations crowd and then be complaining when they bring it against your friends.
For example, folk-singer and radical-left activist Pete Seeger, who died in January, was, in 1951, a target of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as reported in Seeger’s New York Times obituary. Seeger was part of The Weavers, then a hugely popular singing group, smeared with the accusation of sedition. In 1955 Seeger was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Edward Renehan, author of a new book, Pete Seeger vs the UnAmericans, writes that the “impact upon Seeger’s career was, for a time, quite devastating. He went from selling millions of records and touring top venues with his hit group The Weavers, to playing solo at summer camps and colleges for fees sometimes as low as $25.”
Today we condemn entrapment, paid informers, political grand juries, and dubious witnesses targeting leftwing antiwar protestors, environmental activists, anarchists, and others. Shouldn’t we take the same position when the targets are on the political Right? Even for white supremacists?