Alan Berg 30 Years On: The Death Of 'The Man You Love To Hate'
On the night of June 18, 1984, provocative radio talk show host Alan Berg was gunned down in front of his home in Denver, in a killing that sent shock waves across Colorado and the rest of the country. He had been targeted by members of a white supremacist, anti-Semitic militia group called The Order.
The Jewish attorney-turned-radio host had worked at several AM stations, including KWBZ and powerhouse KOA, and was well-known for his liberal views and abrasive style.
"Alan had a knack for getting under people’s skin, and causing visceral reactions – the kind that builds ratings, that people love to tune into," says Kevin Flynn, formerly a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News. "'The man you love to hate' is what they called him."
In 1984 Flynn was part of a reporting team that covered the slaying. He says events unfolded as Berg was returning home from dinner with his former wife.
"Alan came back alone, parked in his driveway, and when he got out a guy came up the drive and with a machine gun, cut him down with 13 bullets. The gun jammed on the 14th round," Flynn says.
The next morning one of Flynn’s colleagues, Gary Gerhardt, went to interview detectives with the Denver Police homicide unit. Gerhardt asked if the police had any suspects and, as Flynn recalled it, "The guy lifted up the Denver phone book, plopped it down and said 'Yeah. All of these.'"
That wasn’t the first time Berg had been threatened with violence, either. An interview with the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan that aired on KWBZ prompted an on-air rant from Berg – and an unexpected visit from the leader.
Dave Dennis, a KUNC colleague who worked as a reporter for KWBZ and was a producer for Berg’s show for several years, recalls the incident. "[Berg] yelled and screamed, said 'This guy’s a maniac. I’ll meet him anytime, anywhere…' – that was his style."
Shortly thereafter, the KKK leader showed up in the studio.
"He went through the all doors, got through security – which was minimal – burst into the studio, and said, 'You’re gonna die. You’d better be careful, because you’re gonna die,'" Dennis says.
That confrontation would later prove to be an eerie foreshadowing of Berg’s killing, allegedly by members The Order, which was based in northeast Washington.
"This is not the stereotype of your hardened criminal, turning to guns and organizing and bank robberies. Just how easily these folks managed to slip into this life of crime was amazing to us." -Kevin Flynn
Kevin Flynn, along with his Rocky Mountain News colleague Gary Gerhardt, wrote a book called The Silent Brotherhood about the group and how Berg wound up in their crosshairs.
The link, Flynn says, was a man from the Denver area named David Lane, who had been involved with the order, and was active in the Ku Klux Klan.
"David had debated Alan on air several times, thought he got the better of him on a few occasions as a matter of fact," Flynn says. "It was generally regarded among the prosecutors and police that it was David’s connection to Denver and to Alan and his radio show that led to him being put on their hit list."
One of the most surprising discoveries for Flynn and Gerhardt in researching the book was how seemingly ordinary the members of The Order were. In a group of more than 40 members, they found only one member with a prior prison record.
"This is not the stereotype of your hardened criminal, turning to guns and organizing and bank robberies," Flynn says. "Just how easily these folks managed to slip into this life of crime was amazing to us, and we wanted to tell that story."
Within a year, four members of The Order were tried for their involvement in the crime. Only two – David Lane and the alleged gunman Bruce Pierce – were convicted on racketeering and civil rights charges. Norm Early, Denver’s District Attorney at the time, declined to bring murder charges, citing insufficient evidence.