Richard Poplawski: The Making of a Lone Wolf

April 08, 2009

  • Richard Poplawski was a white supremacist arrested in Pittsburgh on April 4, 2009, for the murder of three Pittsburgh police officers responding to a domestic violence call.
  • Poplawski believed that the federal government, the media, and the banking system are all largely or completely controlled by Jews.  He thought African-Americans were "vile" and non-white races inferior to whites.
  • He also believed that a conspiracy led by "evil Zionists" and "greedy traitorous goyim" was "ramping up" a police state in the United States for malign purposes.
  • Web sites like the neo-Nazi Stormfront forums and the anti-government conspiracy Infowars site fueled his racist, anti-Semitic, and conspiratorial mindset.

An ADL investigation has revealed that Poplawski, the man charged with killing three Pittsburgh police officers on April 4, 2009, was an increasingly troubled young man who exhibited growing rage against racial minorities, Jews, the government, and police. 

Poplawski grew up in the Stanton Heights neighborhood of Pittsburgh; according to local newspapers, he was raised by his mother and grandmother. Although he was expelled by a Catholic high school he attended, Poplawski's writings clearly indicate intelligence. Poplawski later joined the Marine Corps but was dishonorably discharged during basic training. He subsequently divided his time between Pittsburgh and the West Palm Beach region of Florida.

Following the shootout, lifelong friend Edward Perkovic told numerous local media sources that Poplawski was a "good kid." He characterized Poplawski's political views as believing "in his right to bear arms" and said that Poplawski believed the recession was going to result in gun bans. 

It is possible that Perkovic did not find Poplawski's views unusual, as Perkovic himself was an open white supremacist and anti-Semite who railed on-line about the "Zionist occupied government," "mixed bloodlines that will erase national identity" and Jewish control of the media. Perkovic urged people to read white supremacist books by neo-Nazis and Klansmen such as William Pierce and David Duke, as well as other racist and anti-Semitic propaganda items.  Perkovic and Poplawski briefly tried to do an Internet-based radio show together, the "Eddie and PO show."

Poplawski, described by Perkovic as a "[genius] in [his] own right," had views that were just as extreme, racist, and anti-Semitic as those of his friend. He found expression for his hateful opinions on Stormfront, the world's largest white supremacist on-line discussion forum. Poplawski first created an account in late 2006 or early 2007, but only posted once, sharing pictures of his tattoo (which he described later as a "deliberately Americanized version of the iron eagle").

It was almost a year later, in October 2007, that Poplawski created a second Stormfront account, using the screen name "RichP." This time, Poplawski felt more comfortable sharing his feelings with the other white supremacists on Stormfront.  Ascribing his racist beliefs to his "solid upbringing" by his mother, Poplawski stated that "Negroes especially have disgusting facial features. The fat nosed flaring nostril look is putrid.  Nappy hair makes me want to gag." He followed these comments with insults against Hispanics, Asians, and Arabs. However, after a burst of racist posting, Poplawski went silent. It would be a year before he posted again on Stormfront.

Poplawski's last collection of posts on Stormfront, from November 2008 through March 2009, are more disturbing, as they indicate an increasing desire to be confrontational. Rather than "retreat peaceably into the hills," Poplawski urged his fellow white supremacists in November 2008 to achieve "ultimate victory for our people" by "taking back our nation." Stating that he believed they were running out of time, he noted that "a revolutionary is always regarded as a nutcase at first, their ideas dismissed as fantasy."  In another posting that month, he said that he would probably be "ramping up the activism" in the near future. 

Following the Super Bowl victory of the Pittsburgh Steelers in early February 2009, Poplawski used the celebrations that occurred in Pittsburgh as an opportunity to "survey police procedure in an unrestful environment," and reported the results of his reconnaissance to fellow Stormfronters. "It was just creepy seeing busses [sic] put into action by authorities, as if they were ready to transport busloads of Steeler fans to 645 FEMA drive if necessary."

This last comment was a reference to popular right-wing conspiracy theories about Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)-constructed prisons and concentration camps for U.S. citizens. Such conspiracy theories had long been staples of the militia movement, but received a reinvigorating shot in the arm following the election of Barack Obama as president. Almost overnight, right-wing conspiracists across the country revived all of their 1990s militia conspiracy theories about the "New World Order," planned gun confiscations, and government plots against the citizenry.  Once more, wild speculations about SHTF ("s--t hits the fan") and TEOTWAKI ("the end of the world as we know it") scenarios became rampant.

Poplawski bought into the SHTF/TEOTWAKI conspiracy theories hook, line and sinker, even posting a link to Stormfront of a YouTube video featuring talk show host Glenn Beck talking about FEMA camps with Congressman Ron Paul. When the city of Pittsburgh got a Homeland Security grant to add surveillance cameras to protect downtown bridges, Poplawski told Stormfronters that it was "ramping up the police state." He said, too, that he gave warnings to grocery store customers he encountered (but only if they were white) to stock up on canned goods and other long-lasting foods. 

One of Poplawski's favorite places for such conspiracy theories was the Web site of the right-wing conspiracy radio talk show host Alex Jones. Poplawski visited the site, Infowars, frequently, shared links to it with others, and sometimes even posted to it. One of his frustrations with the site, though, was that it didn't focus enough on the nefarious roles played by Jews in all these conspiracies. "For being such huge players in the endgame," he observed in a March 29, 2009 posting to Infowars, "too many 'infowarriors' are surprisingly unfamiliar with the Zionists." Another time he was more hopeful, noting that "racial awareness is on the rise among the young white population."

Many of Poplawski's conspiracy theories were gun-related. A gun rights activist who supported the open carry of firearms in Pennsylvania, Poplawski made statements typical of such activists. "The thing about gun control," he wrote in December 2008, "is that if you pass a law restricting gun ownership, the only people who are going to follow that law are lawful citizens.  Criminals are going to get guns no matter what." In the same posting, in a tragic and ironic foreshadowing, he hypothetically suggested, "Hand everybody an AK and a sidearm. Everybody. And see how long these mass murdering sprees last, if anybody even dares to attempt them."

With Obama's election, Poplawski became convinced that there would be "federal gun bans on the way" and that the people would be rendered defenseless in the face of a police state in which the military would be used against American citizens. This gave an ideological passion to his arguments about gun control. "What happens when the [government] is the only entity with any real firepower, and they feel like trampling you?" he asked on one Internet discussion forum. "With what instruments will you fight the tyranny?" 

In late 2008 and early 2009, Poplawski seems to have evolved an increasingly pessimistic attitude about the future and determined that he would be prepared for what might come. "You know what they say about the tree of liberty," he reminded people on one on-line forum, referring to a quotation by Thomas Jefferson: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

As early as November 2008, he inquired on a Pennsylvania firearms discussion forum about the legality of sawed off shotguns and mentioned that he had purchased body armor from a friend. In February, he posted to the same forum that "a group of friends and I are considering purchasing a lot of military surplus rifles."

By March 2009, Poplawski apparently felt himself at a crossroads of sorts. In his longest and most revealing post on Stormfront, Poplawski confirmed his belief that Jews controlled the U.S. government and his conviction that some sort of collapse of the "economic and social order" of the United States was inevitable, "poisoned by design by the moral decadence that is a direct byproduct of [Jewish control]." However, he wasn't sure if Jews were deliberately creating the collapse. 

Poplawski hoped that the "evil Zionists" and "greedy traitorous goyim" might have lost control and created "an unstoppable tidal wave of global backlash" that would "breathe much needed life into our movement." However, he feared that instead there might be a "slow, drawn out national demise" that would "allow the masses to remain asleep while the power at the top is consolidated."  Regardless, Poplawski said that he would "continue to instill racial awareness among our brothers and sisters," and "will continue to promote preparedness."

It was around this time—sometime between mid-March and the shootout in early April, that Poplawski changed his Stormfront screen name from "RichP" to the more ominous "Braced for Fate." His Stormfront account shows his last log-in early in the morning of Saturday, April 4, just hours before the fatal shootout would begin.