Elinor Langer research collection on White Supremacy in America
Scope and Contents
The collection contains Langer’s research materials for her book A Hundred Little Hitlers. These include newspaper clippings concerning right-wing movements and individuals, racism and anti-Semitism generally, the Seraw case, and the trial of Tom Metzger. Also included are documents produced by right-wing organizations and individuals such as Tom Metzger and WAR (White Aryan Resistance), the KKK, the National Socialist Vanguard, and others.
Langer’s research on the Seraw case is also represented. The collection contains newspaper clippings and legal and police documents relating to the skinheads’ plea bargains, and to the civil suit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center against Tom Metzger.
Langer conducted extensive interviews with the individuals involved in the case and compiled a number of files composed of correspondence, newspaper clippings, and miscellaneous documents relating to particular individuals. Also in the collection are Tom Metzger’s recorded telephone messages for his organization WAR (White Aryan Resistance), and the FBI files on Metzger.
The collection also contains Langer’s manuscripts and edited drafts of her works.
Finally, miscellaneous photographs, audio and video recordings (comprising information on right-wing movements and individuals) and oversize materials are included.
The collection is organized into series largely following Langer's original order.
- Langer, Elinor, 1939- (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time. Collection includes sound recordings, moving images, and digital files to which access is restricted. Access to these materials is governed by repository policy and may require the production of listening or viewing copies. Researchers requiring access must notify Special Collections and University Archives in advance and pay fees for reproduction services as necessary.
Conditions Governing Use
Property rights reside with Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections and University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.
Elinor Langer was born in 1939 in New York. She graduated from Strathmore College with a BA and high honors in history and political science in 1961. Following her graduation, she worked as a city desk clerk for the Washington Post, a political reporter for Science magazine, and the New York editor for Ramparts magazine. Langer also assisted the director at the Washington Center for Foreign Policy Research.
She has been a faculty member at Goddard College, a visiting fellow in the American Studies Program at Yale, and has taught writing at Reed College, Portland State University, and the Mountain Writers Pacific MFA program. Elinor Langer has won several fellowships, including a visiting fellowship in the American Studies Program at Yale, The Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Langer’s book Josephine Herbst: The Story She Could Never Tell, a biography of the American novelist and journalist, was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1984. Her articles, essays, and book reviews have appeared in The Nation, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The Atlantic Monthly, Ms., The Times Literary Supplement, The Washington Post, and Mother Jones. Her article “The American Neo-Nazi Movement Today” was published in a special issue of The Nation.
Langer’s book A Hundred Little Hitlers was a finalist for the J. Anthony Lukas award for work-in-progress, a finalist for the PEN Center USA Award for Research Nonfiction, a finalist for the Ron Ridenhour Book Prize from the Nation Institute, a Book of the Month Club Finalist for Best Nonfiction of 2003, and a Book Sense 76 Pick. Langer has said, “It’s the job of writers to write what is true as they see it.” She currently lives in Portland, Oregon.
On November 13, 1988, a group of skinheads savagely beat to death a young Ethiopian man named Mulugeta Seraw outside of his apartment in Portland, Oregon. The event, which aroused national media attention and public outrage, was instantly considered a racially motivated crime. Portland journalist Elinor Langer, who planned to cover the ensuing trial against the skinheads for The Nation, soon suspected otherwise, and she began questioning many of the assumptions that surrounded the case. The initial article was transformed from a straightforward coverage article to a more complicated one; Langer was now dedicated to answering the pertinent questions that confronted her, a task that would span more than a decade.
A Hundred Little Hitlers is Langer’s own version of events that have been described in other ways both in the press and in court. Based on her own readings of thousands of pages of official documents, as well as her own interviews and research, the book is her attempt to take the reader step by step into the territories she entered as she tried to understand what really happened, how history differed from the way it was represented in a civil trial, and why it matters. More a narrative than an argument, the book is a detailed reconstruction of the death of an Ethiopian man and the birth of a political movement told from the bottom up, through characters and incidents, rather than from the top down, through issues they collectively represent. As a long time resident of Portland, Langer was familiar with the terrain the skinheads inhabited, and the fact that they shared the same home turf undoubtedly made the research more accessible to her. In fact, because of the physical proximity, Langer’s own life intersected eerily with that of Eastside White Pride, particularly through connections with people, locations, and even schools. While Langer began researching Seraw’s death, an event that occurred very near to the core of her own life, she realized that it was just a piece of the ever-evolving picture of white supremacy in America. The final product of this research was a book entitled One Hundred Little Hitlers: The Death of a Black Man, The Trial of a White Racist, and the Rise of the Neo-Nazi Movement in America, which chronicled the murder of Mulugeta Seraw. This work constructed detailed character portraits of the involved skinheads and leaders of WAR, and finally described the multi-million dollar lawsuit against the president of White Aryan Resistance, Tom Metzger. Langer began her book by highlighting the skinhead group responsible for the murder, the Eastside White Pride. As a growing force in the Northwest skinhead community, they were an unruly conglomeration of young white supremacists who were passionate about two things: beer and street fighting. Most notable among the group were three who were eventually convicted for the murder of Mulugeta Seraw: Ken Mieske (a death metal front man who ironically went by the moniker “Ken Death”), Kyle Brewster (a reformed drug user), and Steven Strasser. The gang’s activities primarily consisted of Saturday meetings and periodic eruptions of racial violence, which often occurred after bouts of drinking. Although the Eastside White Pride aspired to become a more politically driven group, sending letters of contact to other organizations around the nation and reading literature that emphasized white supremacy, they ultimately lacked the leadership and vision to organize their group effectively. However, the fall of 1988 was the marker of change for Eastside White Pride. In October, the young vice president of WAR’s youth division, Dave Mazzella, appeared in Portland in a van stacked with reams of white supremacist newspapers. He had been corresponding with Ken Death since August, and he quickly began working to establish himself among the Portland skinheads, attempting to use his connection with Tom Metzger to promote a more tightly woven and effective white power gang. While the skinheads would later dispute his influence, Mazzella was at least successful in causing the group to pass out racist literature on the streets and it was believed that Tom Metzger had sent Mazzella to the Northwest with the specific purpose of organizing the heady group of white supremacists into a more politically conscious army. In fact, the Southern Poverty Law Center lawyer Morris Dees would later argue that Metzger had an even more insidious intent: Metzger wanted to see racially motivated violence and murder erupting in Portland’s streets. This came true when, six weeks after Mazzella’s arrival on the Portland scene that the fateful night of November 13, 1988 occurred. Following a night of drinking and distributing white supremacist papers, members of East Side White Pride left a friend’s apartment, trickling out into the street and dispersing into two groups. One group left in Dave Mazzella’s van, while the other group (consisting of Ken Death, Kyle Brewster, Steven Strasser and their girlfriends) clambered into Patty Copp’s car. With the intent of dropping her passengers off at their respective homes, Copp headed up Southeast Thirty-first Avenue, driving through a tunnel of cars. Only a half block away, three young Ethiopian men were sitting in a car that was parked in the middle of the street. While it has been argued that the Eastside White Pride members knew that the black men were just a half block away, and that they targeted them deliberately, the skinheads insisted that they had no idea the men were black until they were close enough to see inside the car. However, the car was blocking the street when the Copp’s car reached them, and those inside were volatile, causing was an exchange of cursing and racial epithets. At this point Mulugeta Seraw climbed out of the car and began walking towards his apartment. The cars repositioned themselves so that they could pass each other, and as they did this, the cursing, racial slurs, and obscene gestures snowballed, until the cars lurched to a halt and both the men and skinheads sprang from their cars into the street. This altercation began as a brawl during which their girlfriends stood watching and chanting. However, the fight quickly escalated when the last man (Ken Mieske) jumped out of the car with a bat. He bashed in the headlights and shattered the windshield of the men’s car before targeting Mulugeta Seraw, who was fighting Brewster. Mieske swung the bat towards Seraw’s head, and when it was all finished, Seraw was lying in the street in a pool of blood. Tom Metzger would later describe the murder as a civic duty on his WAR hotline, and Morris Dees would attempt to use Metzger’s words as evidence that the skinheads had set out to kill minorities in compliance with Metzger’s wishes (even though Metzger would deny this). According to Dees, the skinheads accomplished exactly what they had set out to do. The skinheads were now faced with the seriousness of their heinous crime that carried implications and consequences that they could not have anticipated. It was an act that caused the tight knit Portland network to crumble and alliances to break down. Indeed, it was the ultimate undoing of the Tom Metzger and White Aryan Resistance. That winter, Ken Mieske, Kyle Brewster, and Steven Strasser were indicted for Seraw’s murder, and the following year the public image of what had happened on the night of November 13, 1988 seemed to loom larger than any concern for what actually happened. Langer argues that, “the mood was so hostile to the defense that there might as well not have been any” . The event was taken to be a deliberate racial attack—a West Coast lynching—a fact that seemed to jeopardize the skinheads’ right to a fair trial. Both the investigation and the ensuing trial were complicated by the need to satisfy the public’s desire for justice, and the skinheads would later say that they were pressured into confessions. The investigation revealed a tangled web of perspectives. Some said the murder occurred in the middle of the street, while police discovered the body was found on the corner of Southeast 31st and Pine. Two people allegedly confessed that the skinheads knew that there were Ethiopians a half block away from where they were congregated, while others maintained the position that they did not know the race of the men in the car or even that the care was originally there. While some of the perspectives were easily disputed (forensic evidence made it very clear where Seraw was bludgeoned to death), the police interviews that dominated the media supported the belief that the skinheads knew what they were doing. In this view, the murder of Seraw was premeditated, and the culminating event of everything the skinheads believed in. This dominating belief was strong, and the pressure to plea bargain was great. In fact, Kyle Brewster’s lawyer “described the pressures to plead as the most intense he had ever faced and said that if Kyle chose to resist them, he would represent him for free” . Not surprisingly, all three skinheads capitulated, pleading guilty to all charges. Ken Mieske was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, while Brewster and Steven Strasser were both convicted of first-degree manslaughter, second-degree assault, and two charges of racial intimidation. Both were sentenced to 20 years in prison. The day following Mieske’s conviction, October 20 1989, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed civil suit against Tom and John Metzger, Ken Mieske, and Kyle Brewster. Morris Dees, the founder of the SPLC, represented the Seraw family and attempted to prove that the Metzger’s were responsible for Seraw’s murder through the common-law principle of vicarious liability. According to Langer, Dees did not include Steve Strasser in the lawsuit because he hoped to convince him to testify. Rather, the lynch pin of the trial turned out to be the agent the Metzger’s supposedly sent to the West Coast to incite racial violence: Dave Mazzella. In fact, the lawsuit charged the Metzger’s with the intent to organize a Portland skinhead group that would be trained, and encouraged to commit acts of racial violence, a stragedy that culminated in the murder of Seraw. Dees argues the Metzger’s were as responsible for the murder of Mulugeta Seraw as the skinheads who ultimately committed the crime. With Mazzella’s cooperation, the story Dees was attempting to weave unfolded smoothly. Mazzella testified that “he not only had been influenced by the Metzger’s racist writings, but had actively used WAR publications supplied by the Metzger’s as ‘teaching tools’ to organize Oregon Skins”. He painted a picture of the Metzger’s as a cultivating and encouraging force for racial violence and supported Dees’ conclusion that the murder of Seraw was the kind of activity the Metzger’s applauded. On October 25, 1990, only seventeen days after the trial opened, the jury reached a verdict. Twelve and a half million dollars was awarded to the family of Mulugeta Seraw, an order that bankrupted the Metzger’s, and caused WAR to shut down operations. However, in Langer’s view, the lawsuit ultimately accomplished little and left many questions unanswered. She writes, “I end my years of immersion in the events surrounding the death of Mulugeta Seraw with my own set of ‘ifs’.” While A Hundred Little Hitlers does not offer all the answers, it is Langer’s attempt to bring some clarity to a national movement that ultimately transcends the courtroom.
66 linear feet (125 containers) : 119 manuscript boxes; 4 (15x19") flat boxes; 1 (12x 9.5") flat box; 1 (12x15") flat box
Language of Materials
Elinor Langer (1939- ) is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. Her book A Hundred Little Hitlers: The Death of a Black Man, the Trial of a White Racist, and the Rise of the Neo-Nazi Movement in America examines the murder of Mulugeta Seraw by skinheads in Portland, the subsequent trial of white supremacist Tom Metzger, and the neo-Nazi movement. This collection is composed of Langer's research materials she amassed while researching and writing the book.
Collection is organized into the following series: Series I. Information concerning right-wing extremism, Subseries A. Newsletters and reports produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Subseries B. Newsletters and reports produced by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Subseries C. Newspaper clippings, academic articles, correspondence, notes collected by Langer, and miscellaneous documents, Sub-subseries 1. Newspaper clippings, Sub-subseries 2. Academic articles, Sub-subseries 3. Notes collected by Langer, Sub-subseries 4. Miscellaneous documents, Subseries D. Reports produced by other organizations; Series II. Material produced by right-wing extremist organizations, Subseries A. National Socialist Vanguard, Subseries B. KKK, Subseries C. WAR, Subseries D. Other organizations; Series III. Pre-trial plea bargains, Subseries A. Police records, Subseries B. Legal records, Subseries C. Trial transcripts. Subseries D. Newspaper clippings, Subseries E. Miscellaneous documents; Series IV. 'Berhanu v. Metzger' trial, Subseries A. Police records, Subseries B. Legal records, Subseries C. Trial transcripts, Subseries D. Newspaper clippings, Subseries E. Miscellaneous documents; Series V. Character files, Subseries A. Tom Metzger, Subseries B. John Metzger, Subseries C. Kenneth Mieske, Subseries D. Steven Strasser, Subseries E. Kyle Brewster, Subseries F. Dave Mazzella, Subseries G. Julie Belec, Subseries H. Morris Dees, Subseries I. Rick Cooper; Series VI. Transcripts of Interview with Key Characters; Series VII. Metzger's recorded telephone messages for W.A.R.; Series VIII. FBI Documents concerning Tom Metzger; Series IX. Manuscripts and drafts of book Death of Mulugeta Seraw or A Hundred Little Hitlers; Series X. Materials relating to publication of The Nation article “The American Neo-Nazi Movement Today”; Series XI. Audio Recordings; Series XII. Video Recordings; Series XIII. Oversize; Series XIV. Photographs.
Collection processed by Justin Neville Kaushall in 2008. Revisions completed by Anna Fleming in 2018.
- Hate crimes -- Oregon -- Portland Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Metzger, Tom
- Seraw, Mulugeta, 1960-1988
- White Aryan Resistance
- White supremacy movements -- Oregon -- Portland Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- White supremacy movements -- United States Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- racism -- Oregon -- Portland Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- racism -- United States Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Guide to the Elinor Langer Research Collection on White Supremacy in America
- Complete Description
- Finding aid prepared by Justin Neville Kaushall and Aimee LaBounty. Revision by Anna Fleming in 2019.
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.