DENVER, CO — At 9:30 P.M. on June 18, 1984, Alan Berg — a popular, funny, and combatively left-leaning Denver radio personality — made tragic talk show history when angry listeners stormed his home and shot him to death.
The four irate audience members — Bruce Pierce, David Lane, Robert Jay Mathews, and Richard Scutari — successfully silenced Berg for what they deemed his “transgressions” of being Jewish, liberal, and “anti-white.”
Each killer was associated with The Order, a neo-Nazi splinter group of the Aryan Nations movement — and they had big plans.
The surprise slaughter of Berg was to be the first of a four-part assassination shock wave by The Order. Next up were TV producer Norman Lear, civil rights attorney Morris Dees, and desegregation-ordering Judge Wayne Justice.
To that end, the conspirators had studied Berg’s off-air habits and patterns, and then ambushed the host outside his townhouse.
Bruce Pierce was the gunman. He fired 13 rounds into Berg’s face and body from an illegally converted automatic rifle. Bullet forensics would later lead to the quartet’s capture, but only after a guns-blazing, multi-state FBI manhunt that took The Order by surprise.
For all the killers’ bombastic theorizing about media, government, and society, they somehow never expected that a politically motivated public execution of a celebrity would generate so much federal heat. Go figure.
Robert Jay Mathews, who actually headed The Order, died in a Washington state safe house during a shoot-out that turned explosive. A law-enforcement helicopter dropped illumination flares on the dwelling’s roof and inadvertently ignited hundreds of rounds of ammunition being stored there.
Prosecutors brought down Bruce Pierce and David Lane, who had been a regular caller to Berg’s show, by charging them not with homicide, but with violating their target’s civil rights — a federal crime. The state then busted out its biggest guns by charging the killers under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute.
Lane ended up with 190-year sentence. Pierce got 252 years.
Since his slaying, Alan Berg himself has become a legendary figure, and he continues to live on by way of his ongoing impact on news and entertainment.
As a forerunner of modern “hot button” AM-radio political talk — albeit from the opposing viewpoint of what that’s come to mean — Berg profoundly influenced the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and even Howard Stern.
Berg’s murder has also inspired numerous artistic interpretations, including the 1988 thriller Betrayed and Eric Bogosian’s acclaimed one-man show Talk Radio which, also in 1988, Oliver Stone adapted into a powerful film.
It’s impossible to state for sure, of course, what Berg might have said about our present era of shouting personalities, “call out” culture, and frantic attempts to obliterate opposing opinions by any means necessary. Still, it seems reasonable to guess that Alan Berg’s advice for us now would be along the lines of how he lived his life: “Don’t shoot — let’s talk about it.”
Main photo: Alan Berg, The Alan Berg Show/YouTube video [screenshot]