In the early spring of 1981, thirty-eight-year-old Doug Seymour suffered a nervous breakdown. He has testified in court that he spent about one week in Mesa Vista Hospital as a result of that collapse and remained under psychiatric care for the next year and a half, undergoing treatment for stress-induced drug and alcohol abuse as well. Today, however, Seymour has remarried, is active in his church’s youth ministry, and works as a consultant for a successful tenant-improvement and construction company in Del Mar.
But Seymour’s worries are not over. He has filed suit against the San Diego Police Department, Police Chief Bill Kolender, and the City of San Diego, blaming the defendants for his “complete physical and emotional breakdown’’ six years ago. Last month Superior Court Judge Patricia Benke refused to dismiss four of the five causes of action lodged by Seymour. That ruling, coming after nearly three years of litigation, clears the way for a jury trial that could begin within the next year if the case is not settled out of court.
motivation for his complaint was a May 13, 1982, statement by Chief Kolender in response to claims made in a press conference by Tom Metzger, former head of the California Ku Klux Klan. Metzger charged the police department with engaging in illegal political activity and sending Seymour undercover into the Klan’s innermost circles to disrupt Metzger’s 1980 bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from the 43rd Congressional District. Seymour claims that the chief of police “disavowed” him by denying that he had worked as a police reservist when he infiltrated the Klan and became Metzger’s aide and confidant.
Seymour originally filed his civil suit on May 16, 1983; the
Seymour does confirm Kolender’s statement that the police department did not begin the undercover detail with the intention of engaging in illegal political activities in Metzger’s campaign. In fact, he applied for Klan membership six months before Metzger had even begun to discuss the congressional bid and a full year before Metzger announced his candidacy. Nonetheless, Seymour blames the police department for not withdrawing him from the dangerous undercover detail earlier, a request he says he made repeatedly prior to the evening of February 25, 1981, when the Klan subjected him to a torturous “trial” that he says triggered his nervous breakdown.
Seymour’s family in La Crosse, Wisconsin, has a long history of law-enforcement involvement that dates back to Wild Bill Hickock, a third-great uncle. During Seymour’s childhood there, he shadowed another uncle named Hickock, then the chief of police in nearby Altoona. He views his own decision to volunteer as a reservist for the San Diego Police Department as the natural extension of family tradition. He completed several hundred hours of San Diego Police Academy training in 1976, and for the next two years, his duties ranged from radio dispatch to undercover narcotics details in Balboa Park. He earned half a dozen awards and commendations from both the department and the City of San Diego.
At the time, he lived in Escondido with his wife and two daughters. His business, D.K. Seymour Construction and Development, Inc., prospered, and he was active in community events, especially youth organizations. One need only look around his office today to see the trophies, plaques, and photographs of those years. Seymour was once president of the Pop Warner Football Association of Southeast San Diego and president of Sunshine Little League Baseball of Southeast San Diego. The former police reservist looks at those mementos and smiles. “All that pretty much sums up my life, right up until 1978. And then it all stopped.” It was in 1978 that he began the time-consuming Klan infiltration, and beginning in 1979 and continuing for the next two and a half years, he says his life slowly became unraveled in a nightmare of cross burnings, terror, and psychological torture as an undercover agent inside the Klan. That unraveling is documented in court testimony, given in April in the Los Angeles Superior Court; in the five causes of action outlined in Seymour’s civil suit; and in interviews with Seymour, Tom Metzger, and Assistant Police Chief Bob Burgreen.
In December of 1978, according to Seymour and court documents, San Diego Police Sergeant Ernie Trumper approached Seymour with an undercover detail for the department’s office of Criminal Intelligence. Criminal Intelligence operated like a police department within a police department. According to Seymour, it had a separate radio frequency, with its own radio dispatch office, assuring Intelligence officers an extra margin of security. Intelligence operated under the controls not only of the police department but also of the Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit (LEIU), a little-known national intelligence organization established in 1977. LEIU is a computer-based network of state and local intelligence departments that share information on criminal activity. The LEIU operations manual must be followed by each participating police department, says Seymour, and each department is given access to the central computer, located in Connecticut.
Police Chief Kolender intended for his department to infiltrate the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in order to control or prevent violent Klan activities. Seymour says Intelligence offered him the assignment because he had only marginal contact with the police (in the view of the public) and because he had shown a willingness and ability to perform undercover details in his two years as a reserve officer.
He recalls that the decision to accept the Klan assignment was an easy one, noting that “working Intelligence” is the goal of almost every officer. In early February of 1979, the thirty-six-year-old reservist applied by mail for Klan membership; and six weeks later, he received a phone call from Tom Metzger, Grand Dragon for the State of California for the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Invisible Empire. Metzger, who lives in Fallbrook, interviewed Seymour over the phone for less than ten minutes, then invited him to the next “den” meeting, scheduled for June.
On a warm Saturday afternoon, Seymour drove from his home in Escondido to the meeting at Metzger’s house and his first face-to-face contact with the Klan. He remembers that at that meeting, Metzger detailed plans for a “political demonstration” to be held at the San Ysidro border on July 4. The forty-year-old Klan leader had spoken forcefully, and at home that night, Seymour says, he prepared his police report, which detailed a plan for the “first of many battles to win back control of our borders.”
Approximately twenty Klansmen dressed in full riot gear met at Metzger’s house on the Fourth of July, in anticipation of the afternoon’s planned demonstration at Border Field State Park. Most of them carried an array of weapons, including chains, knives, baseball bats, guns, and bottles. According to police records, Seymour himself wore military fatigues and a hat with the insignia “P.O.W.” Using his car’s CB radio and the pretext of a business call, Seymour relayed information to the department about which of the Klan vehicles would be carrying weapons, and most of these were later confiscated at a police roadblock set up near the border.
Metzger protested the roadblock search, claiming he and his friends had come to the park to play ball, and Seymour recalls that the story struck him as funny; grown men playing baseball, dressed in riot gear. Metzger’s van was in fact crowded, helmet to helmet, with the newest Klansman crammed in the very back, pinned next to an attack-trained doberman. “I felt more comfortable snuggled up to that doberman pinscher than I did with the rest of those people,” Seymour recalls. “It was like this dog and I had something in common. I don’t think he liked them, either.”
That day at the border, Metzger stood on a picnic table, surrounded by Klansmen and shouting a racist speech through his bullhorn. An angry crowd encircled them, hurling taunts and insults and Seymour found himself standing back-to-back with the owner of the doberman. Although he knew that Sergeant Trumper, his immediate superior on the undercover assignment, was with other Intelligence officers in the crowd, he recalls that he was still unsettled. The wooden shield Metzger had given him — emblazoned with the letters “KKK” — reminded him of a bull’s eye.
After an hour or so, the Klansmen left the park and returned to Escondido for another rally, this one at Kit Car-son Park. The Escondido Police Department was waiting for them, however, and Metzger engaged a police official in a futile shouting match before ordering the Klansmen to pack up.
It was time to “light a cross.” According to Seymour, the Klan had intended to hold a cross burning at Kit Carson Park that day, but because of police intervention, an alternate site was utilized. Seymour himself had prepared the cross — at Metzger’s request, he claims — and had left it behind his Escondido house. In court testimony, Seymour says it had been the idea of Intelligence to offer his own property as the alternate cross-burning site in the event of just such a change of plans; and Tom Metzger also remembered in a recent interview how impressed he was that Seymour, who was not yet a “naturalized” Klan member, made the offer.
Metzger says he can trace “cross lighting” back to pre-Christian Scotland where isolated villagers lit bonfires to signal a gathering of clans for the purpose of fighting off invading armies. In New World America, he explains, “Scottish Presbyterian types started cross lightings as a lark” in the post-Civil War South but continued the ceremonies when they realized the terror they inflicted on newly liberated blacks. By 1979, however, Metzger insists that cross lightings were part of the Klan’s private “religious ceremonies” and an exercise of the Klan s Constitutional rights when held on private property.
Seymour’s cross comprised long wooden beams, wrapped in a “gunnysack-type” material that had been soaked in a combination of gasoline and diesel fuel to guarantee a long and smoky fire. The gunnysack was attached by wire to the cross, insuring the material would not fall off once the cross was lit.
Shortly after dark, Klansmen planted the cross on the south side of Seymour’s house, next to Kit Carson Park. Seymour says that Metzger wanted the burning cross to be seen by the park’s Fourth of July revelers, fewer than 200 yards away down the hillside. Most of the Klansmen had donned their white hooded robes by the time the cross was set afire, and Seymour, who had been appointed “chaplain,” read from a Klan “prayer.”
The cross had been burning for less than ten minutes when the Escondido police and fire departments arrived, interrupting Metzger’s proclamation of racial purity. Police ordered the Klansmen to topple the twenty-five-foot cross, and a water hose extinguished the flames. Seymour has testified that Metzger had asked him to obtain a fire permit for a “barbecue,” and although he neglected to do so, there were no arrests.
Fontana, California, is a small town, a suburb really, shared by San Bernardino and Riverside, about a two-hour drive from Escondido. According to court documents, ten days after the July 4 Escondido cross burning, Seymour drove there with his wife to become naturalized into the Ku Klux Klan.
George Pepper, the Fontana den commander, lived in an old one-story wooden house with a huge back yard, an incongruity among the newer subdivisions populated mainly by blacks and Chicanos. The man who greeted Seymour at the door looked exactly like the “dirty biker” Metzger had described. Pepper was short and stocky, with curly red hair. He wore blue jeans and a dirty T-shirt that seemed to fit with the dingy interior of his house.
Seymour recalls that Metzger arrived a short time later to begin the naturalization ceremony. There were three other prospective members: two teen-age brothers and the girlfriend of an El Cajon Klansman. The ceremony was preceded by an interrogation, during which each of the four was asked, “Are you a white, non-Jewish, American citizen? Do you believe in racial separation?” Metzger also asked if they were agents for the police or “any other enemies of the Klan.” Each person muttered no, and Metzger proclaimed that the ceremony should begin. The four were then led from the room, blindfolded, and told to wait.
In a short time, Seymour and the others were taken back to the living room, and their blindfolds were removed. It was dusk outside, and the room was dimly lit with candles. The dozen or so figures in front of Seymour were adorned in loosely fitted, white-hooded robes. The initiates were ushered past the hooded spectators and lined up before a table. Behind the table stood Tom Metzger. An electrically illuminated cross hung from the wall, and on the cloth-covered table lay a rolled-up scroll, a bowl of water, and a silver scepter. A German Luger was positioned atop a badly frayed Bible. The local den commander and the Knight Hawk (sergeant at arms) made brief statements before turning the ceremony over to their Grand Dragon, Tom Metzger.
Metzger alternated reading from the scroll, sprinkling “holy water” from the scepter onto each of the recruits, reading aloud the Klan oath, and again anointing the four with water. Each recruit repeated portions of the Klan oath of secrecy. It was an emotionally charged experience for Seymour, who claims he overcame his anxiety by concentrating on police procedure: “How many people are in the room? What’s the caliber of the weapons? What are some of the names being said?”
Metzger, however, remembers that Seymour slowly became “unglued,” proclaiming he finally had something to fight for, after suffering the torture of a Vietnamese POW camp. (In reality, Seymour never served in Vietnam. He claimed to have been a Vietnam POW, he says, to gain sympathy and respect from the Klan.) Metzger says — and Seymour denies — that sometime after the ceremony, Seymour fell to the ground. “He was just blubberin’ like a kid.”
Later that night, nearly a hundred Klan members burned a cross behind George Pepper’s house, in full view of angry neighbors, police patrol cars, and the passing Amtrak train. Following the cross burning, Seymour has testified, a Fontana Klan member boasted to him that several Mexican farm workers had been decapitated in nearly fields, a message intended to keep other illegal aliens away.
Seymour’s contacts with Metzger increased, and in August, he offered, at his own expense, to accompany the Grand Dragon to the Klan’s National Leadership Conference in New Orleans. The two men flew out of Lindbergh Field, and following a brief altercation with some Hare Krishnas at Houston’s Hobby Field, they settled into their seats on the connecting flight.
Seymour remembers that over drinks, Metzger talked about the Klan. He alleges that Metzger discussed “the [Klan’s] ultimate seizure of the federal government; that if it weren’t for one winter in the war, they [the Nazis] would have succeeded and there would be no Jews in the world today; that the Holocaust didn’t really take place; and that the brains of blacks are smaller than the brains of whites.” Metzger’s apparent conviction that the Klan would take control of the federal government came as a shock to Seymour. Seymour feels that, like Adolf Hitler, Metzger thought he would be able to begin a popular social movement with only a small number of followers; the former reservist also claims that the overthrow of the federal government turned out to be a predominant theme throughout the National Leadership Conference.
Although the conference’s rhetoric and ceremonies occurred within the main hall of the meeting facility, Seymour says the real business of Klan strategy transpired in private meetings, two of which Seymour attended as an aide to Metzger, who was the convention’s chief of security. On the second afternoon of the conference, David Duke (at the time, Duke was Imperial Wizard, leader of all Grand Dragons; sixteen days ago, Duke announced his candidacy for the U.S. presidency), Tom Metzger, and Louis Beam, Grand Dragon for the state of Texas, met at a pool hall owned by a New Orleans Klansman. The encounter took place in the back room, with Seymour standing guard with a pool cue in his hand and his ear to the door.
Seymour says he overheard much of the conversation, which consisted of a loud argument between Metzger and Duke. Someone apparently had videotaped Duke as he attempted to sell the California Klan’s mailing list at a larger profit than Metzger had authorized, and Seymour remembers that Duke argued to Metzger that the excess money had been spent on weapons and other equipment for use the next year in a planned invasion of the Dominican Republic by a group of Klansmen. The invasion’s goal, according to Seymour, was the establishment of an independent Aryan state in the Dominican Republic. (Seymour says the FBI arrested several Klansmen shortly before the planned invasion.) Metzger, insisting on proof, demanded to see the weapons, and later that night, Seymour accompanied the men to a house, where the arms — including machine guns, grenade launchers, and a variety of other weapons — were displayed.
During the next seven months, Seymour’s financial generosity escalated. Tom Metzger says, “He was always there with automobiles, money, the best booze, catered parties for our people, gave my family presents. He was always there. When I needed a man, he was ready to go. He loaned me Winnebagos, loaned me copying machines, loaned me expensive radio equipment. He was a very good member, really.” And as a result of Metzger’s appreciation and trust, Seymour quickly became his top aide and confidant.
Tom Metzger can be a very disarming man, open, friendly, and able to poke fun at his politics, as well as himself. “I know a lot of social scientists attempt to dig around to find something weird in a person’s background to start them on a life of whatever,” he theorizes. “But they can dig around, and it’s not there. I had a very happy childhood.”
He was born in Indiana in 1938 and was two years old when his father abandoned the family. Within a few years, his mother married Cloice Metzger, a man twenty years her senior. He remembers his stepfather as being “a little Calvinistic” but a good father, a “man of the earth.” Both parents worked at a brake-lining factory and eventually bought a twelve-acre plot of land. Metzger says his parents paid off the bank loan so fast, it surprised even the banker.
At the age of eighteen, Metzger joined the army and spent two years in Europe before his discharge. It was in the army that he first interacted with blacks. “Of course, in Warsaw, Indiana, we don’t have twenty guys standing on a front step, going, ‘Do da bah do do do bah do’ all night and stuff like that. Which is not a very big thing, but it does underline the differences in racial groups,” he explains.
After the army, he moved to California and worked as a technician in an electronics plant in Santa Monica until he opened his own television repair business. He met and married his wife in Santa Monica, and in 1968, they moved to Fallbrook, where they live in a racially mixed neighborhood with their children.
A double cross burning took place in November of 1979 at Lopez Lake, a recreational park next to Pismo Beach in San Luis Obispo County. Sheriffs deputies confiscated Seymour’s revolver and a variety of other Klan weapons at a roadblock at the park’s entrance. Seymour’s says his gun was a department-issued service revolver, and according to his court testimony, at Sergeant Ernie Trumper’s request, the San Luis Obispo Sheriffs Department filed down the police I.D. number on the gun’s wooden grip before returning it, along with the other weapons, to Klan members.
The August, 1979 National Leadership Conference in New Orleans had established a three-part strategy aimed at gaining power. According to Seymour, the plan called for all Klan members to buy and learn how to shoot guns; the study of small claims court to help raise money for the Klan, regardless of a case’s merit; and for Klan members to run for elected office, from the PTA to the U.S. Congress.
Metzger returned from the convention determined to find a political race where a strong incumbent would face little or no challenge from the opposition party. Circumstances would thereby provide a primary campaign in which the opposition party would be vulnerable to his own candidacy.
The Democratic Central Committee inadvertently encouraged Metzger in his 1980 Congressional run by publicizing its method of choosing an opponent for Clair Burgener’s Forty-third Congressional District seat. Burgener, a powerful, four-term Republican incumbent, was considered unbeatable by the Democratic committee. Today Doug Seymour criticizes that committee for choosing a candidate by coin toss, and worse, for allowing the fact to get reported by the local media.
On January 20, 1980, Metzger staged a commemoration of Kit Carson, a man he praised for his valor against Mexican soldiers in the Battle of San Pasqual. Although he had not yet declared his candidacy, he promised that if elected to Congress, he would have the Kit Carson monument moved to the site where Carson actually died, about a mile away. Seymour, who attended the event, views the commemoration as the first of several events in which Metzger tied his political aspirations to otherwise unrelated events as a means for legitimizing his racist speeches.
A month later, on March 1, 1980, nearly 300 Klan members and supporters met again at George Pepper’s Fontana property to demonstrate the Klan’s presence and intimidate neighbors who were trying to force Pepper from the neighborhood. That night, amid a tumultuous din of racial slurs and threats hurled between Klansmen and hundreds of counterdemonstrators, Tom Metzger announced his candidacy.
A week later, undercover police reservist Doug Seymour drove Metzger to the office of the registrar of voters. The two men delivered official filing papers, papers that contained many signatures gathered by Seymour.
According to Seymour, who by now was in daily contact with Metzger, the Klan leader’s campaign strategy hinged on the effective use of confrontation as means of gaining popular support. Seymour cites the well-publicized riot at John Landes Park in Oceanside on March 15, 1980, as an example of the use of “confrontation” in the furtherance of Klan goals. He claims it was Metzger’s plan to find an area resistant to the Klan and to hold a rally there. Seymour says the Oceanside site was chosen for three reasons: first, Metzger saw the rally as a challenge to the Jewish Defense League, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Communist Worker’s Party. Second, he wanted to attract publicity for his congressional candidacy; and third was the ever-present desire to attract new members to the Klan.
Oceanside police officials met with Metzger three times to discuss his request for a “public meeting” permit. Metzger and Seymour agree that the police initially approved the permit, only to withdraw it later. “The mayor came to the scene,” says Metzger. “[Former Mayor] Graham hated my guts. He ordered me to stay out of the city. And so I said, ‘I’ll be there because I have the Constitutionally protected right to be there.’ ”
When the fifty or sixty Klansmen, dressed in riot gear, gathered in the park, there were no police in sight. The Klansmen encircled Metzger, much as they had done at Border Field State Park on July 4. His speech, however, was not standard political oratory. Instead it was a “Klan rally” kind of a speech, says Seymour, wryly. “When your perimeters are surrounded by machine guns, you can make those kinds of speeches and get away with it.”
When Metzger finished his speech, several hundred people followed the Klansmen out of the park, “assaulting us with anything they could get their hands on,” Seymour remembers. The only police presence was a helicopter, and by the time the police in the helicopter had declared an “unlawful assembly,” the Klan had launched what Seymour claims was a previously planned counterattack a block east of the park.
Klansmen swung baseball bats; anti-Klan rioters threw bottles and rocks. A bicycle, thrown at the Klan, was hurled back into the frenzied mob. TV cameras filmed a Klansman kicking a man he had beaten to the ground with a bat. It took twenty-two minutes for police to arrive.
In the midst of the riot, Tom Metzger asked for the assistance of then-Oceanside Captain (currently interim Oceanside Chief of Police) Bob Smith in evacuating a Klansman who had suffered a seizure. Metzger recalls that as Smith started to comply, “his own officers ran right by us and started beating on us.” Seymour says that next, one of the police dogs attacked the fallen Klan member. The Klan’s own doberman lunged forward, only to be shot and killed by an Oceanside police officer.
Seymour blames the police for letting the situation get out of control. When the doberman was shot, he saw two Klansmen draw their guns. At that point, he says, he followed undercover emergency procedure and shouted, “Stop, I’m the FBI!” to Captain Smith. “If I hadn’t have stopped that, people would have been killed that day.” But Tom Metzger says it is he who should get the credit. He says, “I called a countercharge for one reason. If we had been overrun, there would have been major injuries, people would’ve died, probably on both sides.”
A victory party at Metzger’s Fallbrook home followed the riot, and the Klansmen watched themselves on the evening news. West German television had also covered the riot, and Seymour says that members of the German TV crew had quietly communicated their support to Metzger. The Grand Dragon was pleased that his battle for racial purity would be sympathetically conveyed to the “Fatherland.”
Oceanside was no less than a Super Bowl victory, a triumph of Aryan teamwork. “The Klan got their way,” says Seymour, who visited the hospital after the party for treatment of back and arm contusions. “They won that battle.”
A few nights later, Seymour says, he attended a different celebration at Kelly’s Steak House in Mission Valley: a fraternal gathering of San Diego Police Department Intelligence officers in his honor. It was an opportunity for Seymour to be both praised and roasted for his role at the Oceanside riot. Midway through the evening, Seymour remembers, Sergeant Ernie Trumper offered the undercover reservist the choice of continuing the detail or pulling out. Seymour was surprised; after all, it was a night for back-slapping and recognition. Perhaps Trumper sensed the danger his subordinate officer was in, or perhaps the sergeant believed that a secondary undercover officer, already in place inside the Klan, could replace Seymour. At any rate, Seymour maintains that it was the only time the offer was made, and sensing his own importance within both organizations, he declined the offer. “I was so pumped up, I agreed to stay in,” he says.
Five weeks after the Oceanside riot, Seymour attended a formal dinner meeting, along with most of the California den commanders, on the outskirts of Fallbrook. At that dinner, Seymour was appointed head of the Klan Bureau of Investigation, a department within the Klan responsible for security and counterespionage. Also that night, Metzger changed the name of the California Klan, in keeping with political strategy developed at the New Orleans convention of the previous summer; and the White American Political Association (WAPA) was created, an organization that is, according to Seymour, a transparent attempt to sanitize the Klan’s image.
Metzger confirms that he designated Seymour head of security for the State of California that night, explaining that Seymour was the only WAPA member with a gun permit, an asset appreciated by the unpopular congressional candidate.
“Metzger never really took his race for Congress seriously,” says Seymour. “He used it to get publicity and to increase his rank-and-file Klansmen.” But if Metzger used the legitimacy of a congressional campaign to popularize his “new” racialist organization, he also used traditional Klan activities to publicize his campaign. On May 3, 1980, in the small town of Wilfin, just north of Sacramento, Seymour coordinated security for another cross burning.
National media, including the three major TV networks, converged on the Wilfin cross burning, and it was in Wilfin that Doug Seymour met CBS-TV News correspondent Barry Peterson. Two weeks later, Peterson and a CBS-TV crew visited San Diego and interviewed Metzger twice, once in Fallbrook and again on the lawn next to the Kensington branch of the San Diego Public Library. The primary election was two weeks away.
Seymour and a few other Klansmen were waiting in Metzger’s living room when the phone rang at 2:00 a.m., June 4. Seymour remembers that when the TV reporter predicted a win for Metzger, the undercover reservist embraced the candidate, leading him in a jig around the living room, elated and forgetting completely that in the trunk of his car, at the bottom of his tool kit, lay a policeman’s badge. A year and a half after infiltrating the Klan, Seymour says, he had begun to lose his sense of identity as a police reservist, the most common and dangerous pitfall of an agent too long undercover. “That particular night, I was a Klansman. We were one family that night.”
Seymour says he wasn’t the only one affected by the stunning news. “He [Metzger] was as shocked as anybody else that he actually won that primary. He never gave himself a snowball’s chance in Hell.” Seymour believes that Metzger “lost his own identity that night. He was a congressman. He wasn’t a Klansman. We weren’t involved in the reality of where we really were.”
Continue to part two of this story