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Alan Berg, a Jewish, progressive talk show host for Denver’s KOA 850 AM Radio, is gunned down in his driveway as he is stepping out of his car. The murder is carried out by members of the violent white-supremacist group The Order (see Late September 1983), a splinter group of the Aryan Nations white nationalist movement. Berg, who was described as often harsh and abrasive, regularly confronted right-wing and militia members on his show. Federal investigators learn that The Order’s “hit list” includes Berg, television producer Norman Lear, a Kansas federal judge, and Morris Dees, a civil rights lawyer and co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Radio producer Anath White later says that some of Berg’s last shows were particularly rancorous, involving confrontational exchanges with anti-Semitic members of the Christian Identity movement (see 1960s and After). “That got him on the list and got him moved up the list to be assassinated,” White will say. (McClary 12/6/2006; Flynn 5/1/2007; Denver Post 6/18/2009)
Preparing for the Murder - Order leader Robert Jay Mathews had already sent a colleague to Denver to determine if Berg was a viable target (see May 17, 1984). The four members of the assassination team—Mathews, Bruce Pierce, David Lane, and Richard Scutari—assemble at a local Motel 6 to review their plans. Pierce, the assassin, has brought a .45 caliber Ingram MAC-10 submachine gun for the job. All four men begin to surveill Berg’s townhouse.
Gunned Down - At 9:21 p.m., Berg drives his Volkswagen Beetle into his driveway. Lane, the driver, pulls up behind him. Mathews leaps out of the car and opens the rear door for Pierce, who jumps out and runs up the driveway. Berg exits his vehicle with a bag of groceries. Pierce immediately opens fire with his submachine gun, pumping either 12 or 13 bullets into Berg’s face and body before the gun jams. (Sources claim both figures of bullet wounds in Berg as accurate.) Pierce and Mathews get back into their car, rush back to the Motel 6, gather their belongings, and leave town. Three of the four members of the “hit squad” will soon be apprehended, charged, and convicted. Pierce is sentenced to 252 years in prison, including time for non-related robberies, and will die in prison in 2010; Lane is given 150 years, and will die in prison in 2007. Neither man is prosecuted for murder, as the evidence will be determined to be inconclusive; rather, they will be charged with violating Berg’s civil rights. Scutari, accused of serving as a lookout for Pierce, and Jean Craig, accused of collecting information on Berg for the murder, will both be acquitted of culpability in the case, but will be convicted of other unrelated crimes. Mathews will not be charged due to lack of evidence of his participation; months later, he will die in a confrontation with law enforcement officials (see December 8, 1984). (Flynn 5/1/2007; Denver Post 6/18/2009; Pankratz 8/17/2010) In sentencing Pierce to prison, Judge Richard Matsch will say of the murder, “The man [Berg] was killed for who he was, what he believed in, and what he said and did, and that crime strikes at the very core of the Constitution.” (Pankratz 8/17/2010)
Re-Enacting a Fictional Murder? - Some will come to believe that the assassins may have attempted to re-enact the fictional murder of a Jewish talk-show host depicted in The Turner Diaries (see 1978). (Flynn 5/1/2007; Estes 11/30/2007)
'Opening Shot ... of a Truly Revolutionary Radical Right' - Mark Potok of the SPLC will characterize Berg’s murder as an early event leading to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). “In a sense, it was one of the opening shots of a truly revolutionary radical right,” Potok will say, “perfectly willing to countenance the mass murder of American civilians for their cause.” (Denver Post 6/18/2009) Berg’s ex-wife, Judith Berg, will travel around the country in the years after her ex-husband’s murder, speaking about what she calls the “disease and anatomy of hate,” a sickness that can infect people so strongly that they commit horrible crimes. In 2007, she will tell a reporter that Berg’s murder was a watershed event that inspired more hate-movement violence. “What happened to Alan in the grown-up world has reached into the youth culture,” she will say. “It opened the door to an acceptance of violence as a means of acting on hate.… While our backs are turned toward overseas, hate groups are having a heyday. People are very unhappy; they’re out of work and jobs are scarce. They’re ripe for joining extremist groups. We need to understand what happened to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” (Flynn 5/1/2007) White later says of Pierce, Lane, and their fellows: “It’s left me to wonder what makes somebody like this. I think these people didn’t have much opportunity in their lives and scapegoat. They blame others for not making it.” (Pankratz 8/17/2010)
After the death of Robert Jay Mathews, the founder and leader of the white supremacist group The Order (see December 8, 1984), federal authorities decide to “roll up” the group. Federal prosecutors from six states meet secretly in Seattle and decide to use the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) against Order members. Under RICO statutes, all defendants are considered co-conspirators and are jointly responsible for all the crimes committed by the group (see October 28, 1983, December 3-23, 1983, March 16, 1984, April 19-23, 1984, April 29, 1984, May 27, 1984, June 18, 1984 and After, June 24-28, 1984, July 19, 1984, and November 23-24, 1984). The RICO Act also allows the government to seize and forfeit all property and assets used by the criminal organization to further its goals. Between December 1984 and March 1985, the Justice Department builds a massive conspiracy case against The Order. On April 15, 1985, a grand jury in Washington State returns a 20-count indictment against 23 members of The Order with racketeering, conspiracy, and 67 separate offenses. By this time, 17 members of The Order are in custody; by the month’s end, all but one member, Richard Scutari (see March 19, 1986), are in custody. (McClary 12/6/2006)
The trial of 21 members of the white supremacist group The Order begins in a US district court in western Washington State (see Late December 1984 - April 1985). The trial judge is Walter T. McGovern. Eleven of the defendants decide to plead guilty and several agree to serve as government witnesses. The trial lasts into December 1985; 338 witnesses testify, and over 1,500 exhibits are presented. The defense attempts to discredit the Order members who turn state’s evidence, accusing them of creating a “self-serving fabric of lies,” and the prosecution of “trial by gossip.” Jurors will later tell news reporters that the most compelling evidence in the trial comes from the former Order members. The jury, composed of eight white women and four white men, deliberates for two weeks before issuing its verdict on December 30. All 10 defendants are found guilty of racketeering and conspiracy. Six are found guilty of other federal crimes. Judge McGovern will hand down stern sentences, ranging from 40 to 100 years in federal detention. (McClary 12/6/2006) Many of those convicted will remain unrepentant during their prison stays, and are viewed by radical right-wing extremists as “prisoners of war” and “heroes.” (Eye on Hate 2003) Two other Order members, David Tate (see April 15, 1985) and Richard Scutari (see March 19, 1986), escape the Washington prosecution.
Richard Scutari, one of two members of the now-defunct white supremacist group The Order to escape the government’s massive prosecution of the group’s members (see Late December 1984 - April 1985), is arrested without incident at a brake shop in San Antonio, Texas, where he has worked for months; he is carrying a .45 caliber pistol but does not use it. Scutari has been on the FBI’s Most Wanted List since September 1985. He will plead guilty to racketeering, conspiracy, and armed robbery charges, and will be sentenced to 60 years in federal prison. During his trial, he will tell the court, “I had no choice but to strike out against a satanic government.” Scutari will become a hero of the radical right while in prison, some of whom will call him a “prisoner of war.” (Eye on Hate 2003; McClary 12/6/2006)
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