‘I feel these people raped my soul’
Kirsten Kaiser once believed that every Jewish synagogue was built on the bones of a Christian woman and Christian boy.
She watched a version of “Jurassic Park” that edited out star Jeff Goldblum because he is Jewish.
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And if she disagreed with her husband, a leader of the white-supremacist group National Alliance, he argued and kept her awake for 48 hours at a time until she finally gave in.
Six years ago, she broke away from her husband and the National Alliance. She lost her children, her home, and her identity.
Today, Kaiser has rebuilt her life. She regained custody of her three children, she is taking classes at a community college in Rochester, Minn., and she’s remarried a man whom she calls kind and gentle.
But Kaiser still feels angry. She’s furious at the years of lies and brainwashing she endured from the National Alliance, which is headquartered in Pocahontas County.
So she speaks out — in media interviews with “20/20” and Good Housekeeping; with a new book, “Bondage of Self“; and to groups like the West Virginia Hate Crimes Task Force, which she is scheduled to address Thursday afternoon. (The meeting is not open to the public.)
“I feel these people raped my soul,” Kaiser said. “They took away everything that made Kirsten, Kirsten.
“Hundreds of women like me have gotten hooked up with some man from a racist group who controls their lives. I want them to know that if I can escape and regain my soul, they can too.”
Abuse and neglect
Kaiser grew up in a middle-class suburban home, but her mother’s mental illness and her father’s drinking made her miserable.
As a child, she had trouble walking through her house and couldn’t eat at her dining room table because stacks of newspaper and piles of empty peanut-butter jars blocked her way. Her mother couldn’t throw anything away.
Also, her mother dressed her up as Shirley Temple and sent her to school that way, leading to relentless teasing from her peers.
“She said that if you ignore it, it will go away. But it never did. It got worse and worse. I was the most hated person in school.”
At 14, she began using drugs, but because she received good grades, no one in school paid any attention.
She married at 19. Her parents said she couldn’t leave the house unless she did. That marriage lasted only six months, and she moved back with her parents.
Three years later, she met a man named Joseph at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. He seemed extremely intelligent, and treated Kaiser like a princess.
He also was a white supremacist, although Kaiser didn’t know that at first.
“He said he was a Nationalist. I had no idea what that meant,” she said. “He kept talking about this book, ‘The Turner Diaries.’ I didn’t have any friends that talked about books. I thought it would be nice to sit around and talk about anything with anybody.”
Three days after they were married, Kaiser said that Joseph changed. He began beating her and told her she had six months to find a job and leave the house.
During this time, she met Kevin Strom, who was at the time the Washington D.C.-area leader for the National Alliance. He also was intelligent (he scored a perfect 1600 on the SAT college-entrance exam) and well-mannered. He read Edgar Allen Poe and other authors she loved, Kaiser said.
“He was cute, he didn’t look like he would hit anybody, and I already knew I had to leave,” she said.
Life in the compound
They soon married, and in 1991, Strom moved her to the Pocahontas County compound founded by William Pierce, the leader of the National Alliance and author of “The Turner Diaries,” which is said to have inspired Timothy McVeigh‘s bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.
At the time, Pierce lived with “Sue,” his mail-order Hungarian bride. Sue knew almost no English, but she was the only person Kaiser could talk to. Her husband worked 12-hour days on his shortwave radio show and newsletter, and Pierce shunned nearly all human contact.
Kaiser said Sue did not try to hide her contempt and dislike of Pierce, Kaiser said. Pierce didn’t seem to mind. He only wanted the women for cooking, cleaning and sex, she said. Like his other mail-order brides, Sue ran away the moment she could receive permission to stay in the United States without Pierce.
Kaiser clashed with Pierce because she refused to work without pay. “I told Kevin, ‘I’ll work for love or money, and Dr. Pierce will give me neither.'”
At first, they lived on about $300 a month in a run-down trailer next to Pierce, and then they moved to an apartment in Hillsboro. Some local women tried to reach out to her. One took care of her children one day a week.
But when they found out about her racist ideology, some shied away. She broke off one friendship when she found out a relative was dating someone who wasn’t white.
She had three children — two boys, Oskar and Edgar, and a girl, Klara Vita, named after Adolf Hitler’s mother.
In 1995, they moved to Rochester, Minn., a nearly all-white city. But the move didn’t break Kaiser’s isolation. She couldn’t invite friends to her house, for fear they’d find the racist pamphlets stacked on the dining-room table. Strom said she couldn’t take her children to the YMCA because it was dedicated to the destruction of the white American family.
Kaiser began to clash with Strom more often. She questioned why the family could not eat meat (Hitler was a vegetarian) and whether women should have the right to vote. Strom would argue with her for hours at a time, until finally she agreed with his point of view.
But when her son Edgar was diagnosed with autism, social workers began to visit. Kaiser remembers one incident where Strom told social workers that Edgar could not attend a special program because children of other races were included.
“He had his hand on my shoulder, and they asked me, ‘What do you think about that, Kirsten,’ and I froze up, I was so terrified.”
One worker slipped her a pamphlet called “You Deserve Better” about domestic violence, and Kaiser eventually ran to a women’s shelter. She spent 10 days in a hospital under psychiatric evaluation.
Meanwhile, Strom maneuvered to gain control over their children. He called Kaiser crazy and moved the children to his mother’s house in Texas.
It took Kaiser more than four years to regain custody. Even today, her children must spend six weeks a year with their father.
One time after her children came home, her 8-year-old son Oskar announced, “I hate black people.” Kaiser responded by bringing them to a black friend’s house to play with their children, and asking, “Do you hate them?”
Her children are just now beginning to learn about their father’s ideology, Kaiser said.
After Pierce’s death last year, Strom has become one of the most powerful men in the National Alliance. With his Web page and radio show, it is hard to shield them, Kaiser said.
But Kaiser believes that she is teaching her children to make their own choices, and they will choose to reject their father’s beliefs, even as they love him as a person.
Kaiser said schools need more counselors to identify the sort of anti-social behaviors that can lead to hateful activity. And, she promised to continue to speak out about her own experience.
“No one warned me,” she said. “I had no clue how crazy these people were.”