After checking to make sure that lunch is on someone else's dime, Erich and Erika Gliebe decide to go big. Popcorn shrimp is followed by meatloaf, salad, and blackened swordfish.
To the waitress at the Boneyard Beer Farm in Broadview Heights, they must look like the average bickering suburban couple. It's hard to believe this is a feared neo-Nazi leader and his ex-Playboy-model wife.
Erich is tall, gangly, and missing a front tooth. A few dozen pounds ago, he might have been imposing. Internet pictures show a meatier face with a vaguely sinister glint. But today the bones in his face jut at unflattering angles -- nose too big, chin too pointy -- and his shrunken arms and legs are swallowed by his clothes.
Erika's a dyed blonde with heavy eyeliner and overzealous lipstick. Her role today is that of the pretty, plump, five-months-pregnant housewife, as she explains how they're attending parenting classes.
Erich drones on in a fumbling, rehearsed chatter, clearly uncomfortable around a Jewish reporter. Until 10 months ago, he was chairman of the National Alliance, one of the nation's premier white-power groups -- the one Timothy McVeigh called before the Oklahoma City bombing. But under Gliebe's leadership the organization fell apart. He's been accused of wasting money, killing off membership rolls, and soiling white purity by marrying a stripper. Since he resigned last spring, the internal strife has continued to rage over the internet in the latest form of Nazi warfare: insulting each other's wives on competing websites.
If it all seems unbefitting a master race, Gliebe insists nonetheless that the Alliance is stronger than ever. Yet the fallen neo-Nazi king looks suspiciously like a 42-year-old having a midlife crisis, desperate to salvage the one job that gave his life meaning.
The path to the throne began in Parma, where Gliebe was raised by German immigrants. He tells followers that his father fought for the Germans on the Eastern Front during World War II and was shot in the face by a Red Army officer.
In radio interviews, he has said that his parents instilled in him the values of "National Socialism . . . I was taught about honor, self-discipline, and racial pride at a very early age. And also, very importantly, I learned about the Jewish problem at a very young age."
He remembers himself as a child, staring at the scar on his father's face, trying "to imagine what it would be like to fight to the death for something I believed in."
The Parma of Gliebe's childhood was all-white, but kids at school still looked at him funny when he sounded off about Jews.
After graduating high school in 1981, Gliebe became a boxer. His former coach at the Parma Boxing Club describes him as an amateur with a "very good right hand," despite his unimposing size. "He was thinner then. But he hit real good," says Don Myers.
Gliebe says that he eventually went pro as a middleweight in West Virginia, adopting the "Aryan Barbarian" nickname because he wanted an ethnic title. One day, when he became a world champion, he would carry the mantle of his race. He claims he went undefeated in eight pro fights, but records are so scant, it's impossible to verify his claims.
Gliebe quit boxing in 1990, when he joined the National Alliance. Founder William Pierce was fighting to create a white homeland and end what he saw as Jewish control of the United States. He would become Gliebe's role model and father figure.
Pierce, a former physics professor, founded the Alliance in the 1970s, after heading the American Nazi Party and campaigning for George Wallace. His novel about race war, The Turner Diaries, became both bible and blueprint for the Aryan revolution. But recruitment slumped after a white-power gang, modeled after a group in The Turner Diaries, went on a rampage across the West, stealing millions from armored cars and murdering a Jewish radio host in Denver. The gang fell apart after its leader was killed in a firefight with the FBI.
By the time Gliebe joined the Alliance, Pierce was alone at the group's compound in Hillsboro, West Virginia. The men bonded quickly. Gliebe, then a toolmaker, gained a reputation as the Alliance's top recruiter, specializing in enrolling elderly members who would leave money to Pierce when they died. For a while, his Cleveland chapter was the only local unit the Alliance had.
Gliebe also pioneered the use of Euro-American cultural festivals to lure new members. He'd help legitimate groups organize German, Irish, and Polish fairs in Cleveland, then circulate through the crowd, extolling the virtues of his cause.
The Alliance grew, sprouting chapters throughout the country and forging ties with right-wing groups in Europe. In 1999, Pierce bought Resistance Records, a white-power music label, and tapped Gliebe to run it. As business flourished, Gliebe says, he became Pierce's "best friend and closest confidant."
"Pierce loved Erich and kind of protected him," says David Pringle, a former Alliance membership coordinator. "He would always sing Erich's praises."
And Pierce was a good man to know. By the time he died in 2002, his organization constituted the elite of the white-power movement. The Alliance was earning more than $1 million a year and was considered "one of the leading institutions of the radical right in the Western hemisphere," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which monitors hate groups.
But the good times didn't last.
Pierce died unexpectedly from a swift strike of cancer and kidney failure. On his deathbed, he appointed Gliebe to the board of directors. It ensured his protégé a leading role in the Alliance.
Shortly after Pierce was gone, three board members gathered in a cottage in West Virginia, sipping coffee. Fearing that the cause would lose momentum, they wanted to name a new leader fast.
It wasn't an easy sell. Who wants to move to an isolated compound in West Virginia, three dozen miles from the nearest Wal-Mart?
Gliebe volunteered. Or rather, he raised his hand and said, "Me, me, me, me!" according to Robert DeMarais, who attended the meeting.
Gliebe's promotion may have sounded like the anointing of a new king, but insiders knew that the organization was vulnerable. Pierce wasn't so much a leader as he was a prophet to frustrated white guys from Memphis to Berlin. He explained their world and made them believe they could change it. His theories were akin to papal decrees.
Watchdog groups predicted a collapse after Pierce's death. Gliebe would make their prophecies come true.
From the start, Gliebe managed to anger both rank-and-file Alliance members and paying Resistance customers.
In April 2002, just before Pierce died, he and Gliebe insulted other white-power groups at the Alliance's leadership conference in West Virginia. In speeches intended for elite audiences only, they called members of other groups "freaks and weaklings," "morons," and "hobbyists."
It was a golden opportunity for the SPLC's Intelligence Report. The watchdog group got a tape of the speeches and printed them. Soon, enraged skinheads were lighting up websites with their complaints. After all, many of these "freaks and weaklings" were the ones producing and buying albums on the Alliance's record label.
"You elitist cluster f**cks alienate us," wrote one internet chat-room visitor. "For some reason you seem to think because either you dress better, hold a higher class status, or hold a college doctorate, that you are better than us."
Gliebe insists that his insults weren't aimed at skinheads -- just racists who view the cause as a hobby. "They try to make it appear that we hate our own customers," he says of the SPLC.
But the damage was already done.
One Alliance staffer, Billy Roper, who favored cooperation with other racist groups and was thought to be jockeying for Gliebe's job, was fired amid allegations that he leaked information to the SPLC. Roper promptly started his own group, White Revolution, and used it to throw stones at Gliebe on the internet.
The Alliance's ability to keep its internal squabbles secret was quickly unraveling. And the public battle that emerged was a powerful testament to just how petty warring Nazis could be.
Gliebe hired David Pringle, an Alliance member who lived in Alaska, to take over membership duties. Pringle says he conducted successful damage control -- calling units across the country and repairing relationships with other groups.
But as critics multiplied, he was fighting a losing battle. People started skimping on their membership dues and resigning from leadership positions. The Alliance lost a "few hundred" members, according to Pringle. Bands started boycotting the Resistance label.
Gliebe admits that they may have lost some customers, but says there was "no significant change." He won't discuss Alliance membership numbers.
It's hard to determine the accuracy of any version of these events -- whether Pringle's, Gliebe's, or even the SPLC's. But it's obvious that there were problems in Valhalla. In December 2003, one chat-room post summed things up in the headline "gossip and infighting."
"I don't see how this gets us anywhere, either personally or politically," wrote someone named Europe Endless. "I'm not on anyone's 'side' because all 'sides' partake in it. It's no wonder the SPLC's rhetoric has gone from portraying white nationalism as a 'threat' to portraying it as a laughingstock. And it's true. Everyone's laughing at us, and not without good reason. Smarten up, guys."
The next year brought a new wave of problems. First, Gliebe published the annual Resistance calendar, featuring strippers from a club in West Virginia -- the woman in the cover photo was astride a motorcycle and wearing a Confederate-flag bikini. The cover model, known as Ice, later attended an Alliance leadership conference.
Old-guard Nazis were offended. Their ideal woman was Heidi, not "Isla, the She-Wolf of the Nazis," as one ex-member explains.
"A major purpose of ours is to protect little girls and let them grow up in a nice, clean world," DeMarais says. That world didn't include strippers.
But Gliebe saw things differently. The calendar was a moneymaker, he says. Just look at how many people buy the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
"We want to appeal to a large audience. There's a lot of attractive, beautiful women in the cause, in the pro-white cause," Gliebe says. He claims that his critics are just jealous, ugly women and men in bad marriages.
Gliebe himself had a reputation as a ladies' man. At one point, he claimed to have six girlfriends at the same time, according to Pringle. When asked about these rumors, Gliebe just laughs and looks flattered as his wife denies them.
"I've always been able to get our message out to females," he says.
Erika was one woman who didn't need convincing. She met Erich in the fall of 2004 after she called the Alliance to complain about being banned from the Resistance Records online chat room. The two instantly hit it off. On one of their first dates, they danced around a cemetery in Atlanta, where Erika used to live.
But Erika's modeling experience and her stripping job at Atlanta's infamous Gold Club didn't sit well with Alliance members. Rumors flew that Erika had danced for black athletes and that the club was owned by a Jew.
Gliebe never understood the furor.
"In the real world, I'd be a hero for marrying a Playboy model," he says.
When Gliebe was chairman of the Alliance, supporters say, his strongest asset was his personality. He's dedicated, charismatic, friendly, polite -- the kind of guy who chats up strangers at gas stations. He commands attention when preaching to the faithful and is adept at winning converts.
"Erich is a fundamentally nice guy," says Shaun Walker, the Alliance's new chairman and one of Gliebe's staunchest supporters. "He gets along."
But even his fans had to admit that his leadership was flawed. The accommodating attitude that made him a successful recruiter weakened him as a boss. Instead of giving orders to resolve disputes, he tried to smooth things over. "Oftentimes he didn't act quickly, or he would try to compromise," Walker says.
And when the chorus of critics grew louder, Gliebe tried to answer their charges, instead of rising above them.
"He should've ignored the bulk of his criticism," Walker says. "Bill Gates would not have built Microsoft if he sat there and listened to his critics."
The critics were not charitable in their evaluation of the new chairman.
They noted that he was often an absentee leader. He didn't immediately move to West Virginia, commuting instead between Cleveland, the Alliance compound, and local chapters across the country.
DeMarais, who was the organization's bookkeeper, says that he and other staff members took care of the grunt work; Gliebe had "very little interest" in the details of running an empire, other than his music label.
"He just will avoid making a decision, if he can," DeMarais says.
He also lacked the inspirational qualities that made Pierce so popular. Skinheads may have admired his boxer image, but he didn't come off as intimidating when they met face to face. Pringle, who would later become one of Gliebe's most vocal critics, says that he never understood how Gliebe gained a reputation as such a great recruiter and businessman.
"When I met him, he didn't fit the hype," Pringle says. "In the movement, people are so desperate for something, they'll hype up any achievement."
Pierce's confidence and intellectual prowess helped motivate followers. Gliebe lacked both, and his insecurity was painfully obvious. "If you talk to him long enough, he'll tell you that he won a math prize in eighth grade," says DeMarais.
Ever eager to please, Gliebe also revises his political views depending on the audience. The record label he runs sells albums such as Vaginal Jesus -- Affirmative Apartheid, featuring hits like "I Hate Niggers," "Happy Hanakaust," and "Jesus Was Nothing but a Jew." Yet he insists that he's not a Nazi or a white supremacist; he just wants to create a white homeland and avoid mixing races.
"I'm racially conscious, but I do not hate other races," he says.
And despite his reputation as a ladies' man, he's not exactly the Bill Clinton of the white-power movement. As he drones on, his speech is often technical and hard to follow -- more accountant than televangelist.
Like most politicians, in his arguments he omits inconvenient facts. He says that race-mixing led to the fall of the Roman Empire -- never mind its economic woes or military failures -- and that the founders of India's ancient civilization were white.
At the same time, he's capable of hitting on themes popular with a broader white audience, such as the idea that white children should attend school with, live with, and marry other white people, or that U.S. troops should be pulled out of Iraq and put on the Mexican border.
But he's much better at hyping his vision than providing a blueprint for how to create it. How, for example, will he establish a white homeland?
We're not at that stage yet, he says. He's still trying to "awaken" as many fellow whites as he can.
Apparently, leading the Aryan revolution isn't as easy as it looks.
In addition to sex scandals, Gliebe had to cope with a series of PR disasters featuring real estate and Chinese-made boots.
By the fall of 2003, DeMarais had left the Alliance, but still lived in a house that Gliebe had deeded to him on the compound in West Virginia. At one point, DeMarais, angry at his former colleagues, shut off the water supply to some of the Alliance's buildings. The next spring, Shaun Walker -- then the Alliance's chief operating officer -- sued DeMarais, along with Gliebe and the Alliance itself, in a bizarre effort to get the water and the land back. The suit drags on today, and DeMarais says that it's already cost him $21,000.
Meanwhile, Gliebe was having other problems. A spate of white-supremacist arrests -- Alliance leader Chester Doles on federal gun charges, ex-Klan leader David Duke for mail fraud -- made the movement nervous. Pringle says that Gliebe began to fantasize that one of his employees worked for the FBI. Indeed, Gliebe still believes the man was an informant and that the FBI is tapping Gliebe's phone. Pringle remembers Gliebe calling constantly from different prepaid cell phones, saying they had to be careful whom they talked to.
"He obsesses over things, and he gossips like an old woman," Pringle says.
After Pringle finally left the Alliance in 2004, the war of words between him and Gliebe began in earnest. Today, admits Pringle, he spends much of his time tracking Gliebe's moves and "minimizing his impact."
Gliebe returns fire, making a point of telling Scene that Pringle cheats on his wife and goes to strip clubs.
In November 2004, Pringle wrote an e-mail titled "Demand an Audit" that laid bare some of the Alliance's most embarrassing internal fights. Among his criticisms:
" The Alliance had purchased more than $50,000 worth of swastika-soled boots, supposedly made in China. The boots were meant to be a moneymaker for the Alliance, which also sells books, magazines, jewelry, and tank tops. Pringle called them a waste of money; Gliebe calls them a "great investment."
" A $10,000 down payment on Gliebe's Jeep Grand Cherokee. Gliebe says he paid for it himself.
" Gliebe's monthly cell-phone bill. (Pringle priced it at $1,200; Gliebe insists that he has a $79-a-month plan.)
Regardless of who's right, Pringle's message was clear. "The days of Erich Josef Gliebe telling people 'to keep quiet' about internal problems because 'our enemies' might exploit the situation are over," he wrote.
"In the last year, 'our enemies' have not made disastrous decisions that have cost us most of our cash savings. Our leaders have. Our enemies have not brought shame and ridicule on the legacy of our founder and degraded the credibility of our organization. Our leaders have. Our enemies have not caused us to lose more than half of our rank-and-file membership and almost two thirds of our organizational revenue in the past year. Our leaders have."
Things only got worse. According to the SPLC's Intelligence Report, most members of the Alliance's North Carolina chapter quit, as did the heads of the Washington state and Tennessee chapters. Then Hal Turner, a New Jersey member and radio talk-show host, wrote an essay titled "Knowing When It Is Time to Step Down" -- referring, presumably, to Gliebe. Turner was promptly booted from the group.
Then, last April, word got out that Gliebe had canceled the Alliance's semi-annual leadership conference. He'd heard that some members intended to "disrupt" it. He had reason for concern.
That month, Gliebe kicked out several prominent members -- including Kevin Alfred Strom, media director and host of the Alliance's short-wave radio program, and April Gaede, mother of the 13-year-old twin girls who make up the well-known racist singing duo, Prussian Blue. The ousted members had supporters.
Critics published a "historic declaration," blasting the leadership of Gliebe and Shaun Walker and asking them to transfer control of all the organization's businesses and property to a new board. More than 140 people signed the petition.
"These executives in Hillsboro are producing very little of value, and are producing much that causes embarrassment and damage to the reputation and work of the National Alliance," the declaration stated. "Hillsboro offers us zero accountability. And Hillsboro fails to lead."
Days after the petition appeared online, Walker announced that Gliebe had resigned. Walker took over as chairman.
Today, Gliebe spends most of his time in West Virginia, where he continues to run the Resistance music company, commuting to North Royalton on some weekends.
When Scene first contacted him, he was immediately defensive.
"I was given word that you had stuck a letter in a mailbox, which is illegal by the way," began his Christmas Eve phone message.
He was upset because the note asked about his departure from the National Alliance -- a mistake he couldn't tolerate. "I'm confused because I am the National Alliance . . . " the voice whines. He leaves his cell number.
It's vintage Gliebe: attacking, but still wanting to be friends, concerned that someone may not believe he's still king of the neo-Nazis.
"I've never spoken to anyone in Cleveland before, so you should feel privileged," he tells the reporter when they finally connect. He compares himself to the CEO of a major company.
He's full of explanations for the mass exodus: It was a spring cleaning. The dissenters were "defective members" who were jealous of him and his wife.
"Sure, we may have lost 150 members, but we recruited 200 new members," he asserts, though he won't say how many people are actually left in the group.
Walker says that subscriptions and membership numbers are recovering now, after a "dark summer."
"We're not interested, necessarily, in numbers," Gliebe says. "We're interested in quality. You cannot build an organization on losers."
But such defenses ring hollow to those who have tracked the Alliance's downfall. According to Mark Potok, director of the SPLC's Intelligence Project, the Alliance is down to fewer than 200 members, compared to about 1,400 at the time of Pierce's death.
"The Alliance is nothing like the threat it used to be," Potok says. "It's such a pathetic shell of an organization that it's rather unlikely to produce any kind of major criminal activity."
Disgruntled ex-members, meanwhile, have dissolved into splinter organizations that continue to war with the Gliebes over the internet. Much of it amounts to Nazi-style "yo-mama" jokes.
Writers posting on the Vanguard News Network forum refer to Erich as "Judas Gliebe" and "Gliebowitz." There's also a picture of Erika, naked, with Stars of David and pictures of Gliebe covering choice areas. Apparently, some people on this forum don't think that Erika looks like a Playboy model anymore.
"The current frumpy, sagging Erika has more fat on her face; a puffy or 'butter face' . . ." writes someone named Philibert.
A competing website called "Movement Frauds Exposed" returns fire, taking shots at David "Potato Chip" Pringle and Kevin Alfred Strom's wife, Elisha.
"His current tattooed, chain-smoking, belligerent wife Elisha Strom has been publicly accused of making homosexual advances on the love interest of Dr. Pierce and of having an extra-marital affair with a friend of Julie Larsens from Michigan while Kevin was out of town," one breathless accusation begins.
"Elisha has also never paid a cent in dues money, nor was ever an official member of the National Alliance. It is also a well-known fact that she hated Dr. Pierce with a passion due to her militant feminist views."
The site's phrasing sounds eerily similar to the Gliebes' insults of their enemies, but both say they don't know who runs it. They do, however, highly recommend reading it.
According to Gliebe, he resigned as chairman of the National Alliance to focus on his new family. He and Erika now go to parenting classes, watch their diets, and don't drink or go out much. In his free time, he enjoys ballroom and polka dancing.
He is, apparently, also so eager to repair his public image that he doesn't mind being friendly with a Jewish reporter. Toward the end of his interviews with Scene, his voice messages have become positively cheerful.
"Take care," he says in one. "Hope all is well, and Happy Hanukkah!"