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

Elinor Langer




Trade Paperback

416 Pages



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Finalist for the PEN Center USA Award for Research Nonfiction
Finalist for the Ron Ridenhour Book Prize from the Nation Institute
A Book of the Month Club Finalist for Best Nonfiction of 2003
A Book Sense 76 Pick

On Saturday, November 12, 1988, a group of Portland, Oregon, skinheads known as East Side White Pride met for an afternoon of beer and racist banter. That night, they handed out white supremacist newspapers, swung by a party, and got thrown out of a friend's apartment. A short while later, three of the skinheads encountered three Ethiopians; a street fight broke out and Kenneth Mieske brutally beat Mulugeta Seraw with a bat. In the early morning hours, Seraw died.

Drawing on more than ten years of interviews and research, award-winning journalist Elinor Langer takes the Seraw case as the occasion for a thorough exploration of the Nazi-inspired racialist movement in the United States. She vividly reconstructs the world of the skinheads, both in Portland and nationally: their origins in the punk scene, their basement shrines to Nazi power, their moments of glory on Oprah and Geraldo. She delves into the long-standing radical groups with which the skinheads became allied, tracking the progress of such powerful figures as California White Aryan Resistance leader Tom Metzger through the stations of the far right, from the Birch Society to the Wallace campaign, from Christian Identity to David Duke's Klan. In gripping detail, she follows ambitious Alabama civil rights lawyer Morris Dees's campaign to prove Tom Metzger responsible for the Portland killing—a sensational but ultimately empty effort to curb the growth of neo-Nazism.

Compelling, disturbing, and important, A Hundred Little Hitlers is at once an epic story of American racism and justice, and a taut investigation into powerful social forces that loom ever more dangerous
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Praise for A Hundred Little Hitlers

"An important, controversial, and well-written account of a watershed event in recent Portland history."—The Oregonian (Portland)

"Haunting . . . A book that looks deep below the surface to reveal confounding information from many sides . . . A riveting work that avoids easy answers in its examination of the forces of hate, the aftermath of violence, and the imposition of justice."—Seattle Post Intelligencer

"In November 1988, a skinhead in Portland, Oregon, clubbed to death an Ethiopian immigrant named Mulugeta Seraw. The incident illuminated the rise of clusters of vicious, disaffected, working-class white men who thrived on hatred and random violence perpetrated against Jews, Hispanics, immigrants, and people of color. Elinor Langer, the biographer of Josephine Herbst, delves not only into the background of the bat-wielding Kenneth Mieske and his accomplices but also into the California-based White Aryan Resistance movement led by Tom Metzger and his son, John. Langer managed to obtain interviews and often the confidence of many of the members of Portland's East Side White Pride group and the Metzger clan . . . A Hundred Little Hitlers delves into their backgrounds and upbringing."—Karla Jay, The New York Times Book Review

"Langer has a vivid story to tell, and she tells it vividly . . . deftly [drawing] a cast of characters."—The Washington Post Book World

"Remarkable . . . The work of a cool intelligence, one that neutralizes the element of sensationalism through a rigorous suspicion of our desire to see evil as simple . . . With its nuanced handling of a story that lends itself to screeds and hysteria, A Hundred Little Hitlers is a belated antidote to the symbiotic relationship between media exploitation and racist thuggery."—Newsday

"[An] intimate, up-close look at the pasty face of evil . . . The book then moves from [detailed and personal accounts] to examine the entire history of American white supremacism. In sharp sketches of David Duke, U.S. Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell, and Gregory Withrow of the Aryan Youth Movement, Langer consistently finds the zone where human interest and political issues intersect."—Joy Press, The Village Voice

"An extraordinary book, written with passion, grace, and wisdom. The murder at its center is a reflection not just of racism in the United States, but of something much more widespread. Langer has taken one act of violence, looked at it carefully and courageously, and illuminated a whole moral universe."—Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold's Ghost

"Langer is one of our most eloquent and astute social critics. Telling this troubling story of murder and racism in an American town, she compels us to think beyond that, to wonder about the future of justice in our country."—Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States

"Brilliant and provocative, a book that will deeply trouble readers who sense the current anomie and absence of ideas that characterizes politics in America . . . A Hundred Little Hitlers is a complicated [and] subtle work, laden with insight into individuals, group dynamics, and societal trends. I found myself taking stock of the world around me while reading it."—The New York Sun

"Langer writes beautifully, compellingly, and insightfully about an ugly slice of American life. Though defending civil liberties required me to deal directly with some American Nazis and their fellow racialists, I feel that I learned far more about them and understand them far better after reading [this] book than ever previously. Langer tells the story of a murder they committed in Oregon so well that I literally could not put down her book."—Aryeh Neier, President of the Open Society Institute

"Langer brings the investigative skill of a journalist, the literary touch of a novelist, and the sensitivity of a historian to her latest work. A Hundred Little Hitlers shines the light of public scrutiny into the dark corner of a disturbing American subculture. The Mulugeta Seraw story is a troubling but important episode that reminds us all that ideas and words have consequences. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a better understanding of the American neo-Nazi movement."—Frederick J. Simonelli, author of American Fuehrer: George Lincoln Rockwell and the American Nazi Party

"Fascinating, disturbing reading . . . [The] prism of history and law through which Langer reflects the killing of Mulgeta Seraw is precisely what makes A Hundred Little Hitlers worth reading."—The Seattle Times

"In Langer's extraordinary book, the conflict between punk and skinhead subcultures thuds like a metal guitar riff in a sea of crashing bodies. Add an aging white supremacist who places his hopes for the future in these youths, and the result is a gripping tale of death without redemption. In the end, the author's finely honed moral sensibilities collide with the requirements of criminal justice and the exigencies of liberal politics in ways that we all should consider."—Leonard Zeskind, President of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights

"Seldom has such an urgent social problem—the American explosion of white skinhead racial anger and violence—been treated with such precision, care, and narrative power. This is a book about a murder and its aftermath—who died, who performed that fatal act, who watched and shouted encouragement, and how prosecutors and lawyer activists distorted the facts for purposes of their own. Hatred drives the story, but Elinor Langer tells it with such passion for truth that the hatred is wrung out, and the underlying tragedy is made plain."—Thomas Powers, author of Heisenberg's War

"Deeply researched, written with style and passion, and charged with outrage at a reality that is well-deserved, A Hundred Little Hitlers is maddening, shocking, and impossible to put down."—The Salem Statesman Journal (Oregon)

"There are works of journalism so intelligent, scrupulous, thorough, and deep that they outlive their occasions and instantly rise to the level of classics. Elinor Langer's A Hundred Little Hitlers is [in] this very rare company. You start reading what looks like a gripping crime story and soon not only are you traveling into the wretched heart of white racism, but the huge human stakes keep growing, and nothing gets any simpler. This is not the investigation of a murder: it is an investigation of a society. Langer is an American original and so is this book."—Todd Gitlin, author of Media Unlimited

"Langer has written a brilliant and—sadly—all too accurate portrayal of the intellectually dank and frightening world of American neo-Nazis. Attention must be paid to these, our native-born terrorists, who preach hatred of Jews and African-Americans, and are willing to murder and rob anyone who gets in their way. Ms. Langer has paid that attention, describing the world in all of its evil and persistence."—John Guinther, co-author of Brotherhood of Murder

"Powerfully written . . . Langer makes a brilliant case study in how the police investigate a controversial crime, how the story is covered by a news media eager for sensational stories, how the evidence is interpreted by opponents in a courtroom, how it is exploited by leaders of interest groups, [and] how one reporter, working for ten years, can discover a piece of truth."—Larry Shapiro, Book of the Month Club citation

"This book focuses on the 1988 murder of an Ethiopian man, Mulugeta Seraw, by three skinheads in Portland, Oregon. Langer, author of Josephine Herbst (1983), is herself a native of Portland, and she recounts the case from interviews with the killers, all of whom pled guilty and avoided trial . . . The author elevates the story from merely
dn0 the recounting of a crime by offering portraits of the victim and the skinheads and their friends and imparting details of the skinhead movement in Portland. Although the killers avoided trial, California hate-monger Tom Metzger and his son, John, did stand trial in Portland for conspiracy, charged with inciting the murder through propaganda and an agent (whom Langer also profiles). The reader will better understand the disaffection that leads to such one-sided thinking and the gap between truth and justice in the American legal system."—Frank Caso, Booklist

"An utterly well-written, utterly fascinating study of racially inspired murder in Oregon documenting the mutant Nazism that emerged in the Reagan era. Old-school racists around the country didn't quite know what to make of the swastika-emblazoned, drug-fueled skinheads who turned up on Geraldo, to say nothing of 'Wanted' posters, in the early 1980s. That was a time, reminds journalist Langer, when all kinds of white-power aspirants were turning up, complaining bitterly that immigration and civil rights had betrayed the promise of an Anglo-dominated, Christian America; but somehow the skinheads, inspired by their National Front peers in Britain, were scarier than most, addicted to heroin and mindless violence. When one particularly nasty knot of skinheads attacked and killed an Ethiopian refugee, Mulegata Seraw, in Portland on a Saturday night in 1988, the neo-Nazi movement drew nationwide attention; more, the act inspired Southern Poverty Law Center founder Morris Dees to file suit against one of the movement's friendly-next-door-neighbor founders, a virulent but socially polished racist named Tom Metzger, who had been selling hatred alongside his TV-repair business for decades. Langer explores the sad, dead-end lives of the young men and women who perpetrated and abetted the murder, foremost among them a confused, hate-filled lad who went by the sobriquet of Ken Death . . . Moreover, and not without criticism, she explores the Dees lawsuit and its repercussions and unintended consequences—including the ironic fact that proceeds from Metzger's sale of neo-Nazi regalia are now attached to the SPLC in a 'two-thirds, one-third split,' a devil's bargain indeed. An absolutely top-drawer exploration of racist politics and its strange players, who remain legion."—Kirkus Reviewsch (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Elinor Langer

  • Elinor Langer has written for The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, and The Nation, among other publications. She lives in Portland and is currently on the faculty of the Mountain Writers Pacific MFA Program.