|Mulugeta Seraw - Courtesy of Southern Poverty Law Center|
It was 25 years ago today that three Portland neo-Nazis were arrested for the murder of Mulugeta Seraw.
The brutal beating on Nov. 13, 1988 that killed the 28-year-old Ethiopian immigrant shocked the city.
“It pulled the curtain back about Portland's racial reality,” said Randy Blazak, a Portland State University sociology professor and chair of the Coalition Against Hate Crimes.
A quarter-century later, the paths of Seraw’s killers and his family couldn’t be more different.
Volksfront, a neo-Nazi skinhead group with roots in Portland, is on the “brink of international collapse,” according to a report released by Southern Poverty Law Center yesterday. The white supremacist outfit shut down its 17 U.S chapters last year.
The white supremacist group's founder, Randal Lee Krager, recruited former members of Portland’s loosely organized East Side White Pride.
Then there are Seraw's killers, Ken “Death” Mieske, Steven Strasser and Kyle Brewster.
Mieske, a native Portlander and member of East Side White Pride, thrashed Seraw with a baseball bat outside Seraw's apartment at Southeast 31st Avenue and Pine Street. Strasser and Brewster kicked Seraw and two other Ethiopian immigrants with steel-toed shoes.
Mieske pleaded guilty to Seraw's murder and died in prison in 2011. Brewster and Strasser pleaded guilty to manslaughter, Brewster left prison and maintains a racist identity, says Blazak. Strasser disassociated from the movement while serving his time.
But another key figure in Seraw’s killing was nowhere near the crime scene.
Tom Metzger, television salesman and founder of the White Aryan Resistance, was found responsible in a civil suit filed in October 1990 for inciting Seraw's death. After a jury awarded $12.5 million in damages to Seraw's family, Metzger was bankrupted and his organization's influence was diminished.
Today, Blazak says, no organized white supremacist groups remain centered in Portland.
But James McElroy, a lawyer who worked with the Southern Poverty Law Center, urges continued vigilance.
“What happened to Mulugeta could happen again, and has happened again,” said McElroy.
Seraw's uncle, Engedaw Berhanu, says his nephew came to Portland with the goal of bettering his life and the lives of his extended family, who he hoped to eventually bring to the United States.
“Before [the murder] happened, I had a very fond memory of Portland,” said Berhanu, who sponsored Seraw's student visa to the United States.
Seraw worked for a rental car company and as a part-time school janitor while studying business at Portland Community College. He sent what little money he made to support his family in Ethiopia – including six-year-old son, Henock.
McElroy later adopted Henock Seraw and helped put him through school; Henock Seraw attended high school in San Diego and studied political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The majority of the civil suit award went to Henock Seraw. McElroy says while the award was $12.5 million, the family collected only about $200,000. Mulugeta Seraw's father, a farmer in Ethiopia, received a portion of the damages. So did Henock's mother, who remarried and has two more children.
Today, Henock Seraw, who couldn't be reached for comment, is a commercial airline pilot. Now 30 years old, he has never lived in the city where his father was murdered, leaving Portland after briefly attending the trial. Yet relatives point out the connection between father and son.
“His father came here to go to junior college,” says McElroy. “Henock ended up coming to this country and walking in the footsteps of his father's dreams.”