Editor's note:This story contains racially charged language some readers are likely to find offensive.
As president of a white nationalist group linked with the murders of nine churchgoers in Charleston, S.C. on June 17, Earl P. Holt III is straddling the uneasy boundary between free speech and racial hatred. Once known only to watchdog groups that monitor extremist groups, Holt has suddenly become notorious for racial slurs splattered across the Internet and for writings on his group's web site that supposedly inspired Dylann Roof, the alleged Charleston shooter, to carry out a massacre. Holt has become so toxic that Republican politicians who accepted campaign donations from him have returned the money or given it to charity.
But for most of his life, Holt never gave a dime to politicians. His donations didn't begin until 2010, when he wrote a few $250 checks to one Congressman from Arizona and another from Hawaii. The checks became more frequent and the amounts larger.
By 2015, Holt, 62, had made more than 150 political donations totaling nearly $70,000. All the money went to Republicans, including ultraconservatives such as Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, and Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa. Holt also donated to Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign and to at least three 2016 presidential candidates: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
What made Holt such a generous donor, seemingly overnight? Holt won’t say, and he refused to speak with Yahoo Finance for this story. But a Yahoo Finance investigation has found that one month before his political donations began, Holt married Katherine Ann Cook of Longview, Texas, whose husband Irving Falk had died one year earlier, leaving a sizable estate to his wife and other family members. Falk had been a successful Jewish businessman in Longview who eventually acquired dozens of oil and gas leases, several commercial real estate properties, at least two homes, and other assets. “It’s common knowledge he was extremely wealthy,” says Murray Moore, the former mayor of Longview.
Earl Holt may now be extremely wealthy, too, courtesy of Irving Falk’s industriousness.
The Dylann Roof connection
Holt’s campaign contributions -- and the apparent source of his money -- are causing consternation now because of hostility he has shown toward blacks and Jews. Holt is president of a nonprofit group called the Council of Conservative Citizens, based in St. Louis. The group says it supports politically conservative causes and doesn't encourage or condone racism. It does, however, routinely highlight crimes committed by blacks against whites, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, describes the council as “a virulently racist group whose website has referred to blacks as ‘a retrograde species of humanity.’” The Anti-Defamation League also considers the council extremist and says, “although the group claims not to be racist, its leaders traffic with other white supremacist groups.”
A number of news and interest-group web sites contain incendiary racial remarks under the name Earl P. Holt III. There are several references to blacks as “Africanus Criminalis” (and worse). On The Blaze (which has since taken down his posts), Holt said blacks are “the laziest, stupidest and most criminally-inclined race in the history of the world.” Holt attacks Jews less frequently, but no less aggressively. In 2012, on the web site Freedom Outpost, he said of attorney Gloria Allred, “Jewish women (like this kike-bitch) are the greatest enemy of Christianity, America and the West in world history.” The same year, on the web site for CBS New York, he complained about the “corrupt leftist Jews’ media.”
Holt became news after Roof, the 21-year-old alleged South Carolina shooter, wrote in a screed published on the web site Last Rhodesian that discovering the Council of Conservative Citizens web site alerted him to “brutal black on white murders.” “I was in disbelief," Roof wrote. "At this moment I realized that something was very wrong.”
On its own web site, the council said it was “deeply saddened” by the mass murder in Charleston, and it disavowed any connection to Roof. Yet the attention brought renewed scrutiny of Holt and other members of the group. The Guardian discovered that Holt had donated thousands of dollars to dozens of Republican politicians at the state and national level, prompting most of those still in office to return the money or give it to charity.
Yahoo Finance set out to answer one basic question: Where did Holt get the $70,000 or so he donated? He’s certainly not in the ranks of megadonors who pony up millions to political candidates, but in five years’ time Holt gave more money to politicians than the typical American family earns in a year. Did he earn the money, inherit it, get it from donors to his nonprofit group or raise it from some other source?
A 'brainwashed' widow
In Longview, there’s growing discomfort over a racial provocateur in town, and the apparent connection between a deceased Jewish businessman, a white supremacist who expresses animosity toward blacks and Jews, and the widow who may have transferred wealth from one to the other.
“Many people say her deceased husband would be rolling over in his grave if he knew she was spending his money this way,” says Branden Johnson, president of the NAACP’s Longview chapter. “They feel Katherine has been brainwashed.”
Irving Falk came to Longview in the late 1930s, part of a small wave of Jews who settled in east Texas while looking for opportunities during the Depression. Falk established a scrap metal company and apparently did well, riding the oil boom emanating from nearby Kilgore. In a historical document, the Institute of Southern Jewish Living described Falk’s company as “a very successful scrap metal business [that] worked intimately with the oil companies of east Texas.” Falk contributed to civic life by helping found the only temple in Longview and the local YMCA, plus contributing money to the United Way, the local junior college, the East Texas Oil Museum and other nonprofits.
While building his business, Falk married, had a son and got divorced. Around 1977 he got married for a second time. The bride was Katherine Ann Cook, who had one son herself. She became Katherine Falk--and converted to Judaism, according to one person familiar with the family, who asked not to be named.
Irving Falk’s business expanded into the distribution of steel products, which was more profitable than scrap. At one point it was “one of the largest steel distribution centers in the southwest,” according to Falk’s nephew, Rusty Milstein, who worked at the company. Falk sold his firm in 1999 to a Kansas company, and retired. Since both companies were privately owned, the price was never disclosed, but locals estimate Falk made millions from the sale. Meanwhile, Falk had accumulated dozens of oil and gas leases that paid royalties. In 2003, Falk established a company called IF Investments, LLC, listing himself as president, according to a filing with the Texas Secretary of State. That company became the listed owner of at least six commercial properties in Longview, according to county records.
Falk died on Feb. 5, 2009, at the age of 90. The obituary in the local paper described him as a “dignified, gracious gentleman” who “traveled the world in connection with his business and had friends and business associates in many countries.” The value of Falk’s estate wasn’t publicly disclosed, but Katherine Falk, his wife, inherited the properties they owned, and became president of IF Investments, which owned the commercial property. The year before he died, Falk owned interests in at least 54 mineral leases, according to county records. Those were transferred to Katherine Cook and her brother, Phillip Cook, and were then sold to Katherine Cook’s son, Phillip Bayman, of Fort Worth. The sale price was confidential.
Right-wing radio host, slumlord
While Irving Falk was building his business and his wealth in Longview, Earl Holt III was living a different type of life 600 miles northeast, in St. Louis. On the forms accompanying several of his political donations, Holt listed his occupation as “slumlord” or “retired slumlord.” That may have been a reference to a run-down 18-unit apartment building he owned in a neighborhood known as north city or north St. Louis, a blighted part of town two-and-a-half miles northwest of the Gateway Arch characterized by white flight, abandoned lots and aborted redevelopment efforts. The ZIP code, 63106, is 96% black, according to Census Bureau data, and the median household income is just $15,126 -- half the national poverty level for a family of four.
In 1984, Holt and a partner bought the 18-unit building at 2618-2634 James “Cool Papa” Bell Ave., a street named after the baseball Hall of Famer who played in the Negro Leagues in the 1920s, '30s and '40s. The price was undisclosed. Over time, Holt bought out his partner and transferred the property to a company he created called Bell Properties. Court records show at least 10 lawsuits Holt brought against tenants for unpaid rent and other infractions.
Holt got elected to the St. Louis school board, serving from 1989 to 1993, one of several board members opposed to busing for racial integration. Though outspoken on the issue of busing, Holt didn’t generate much additional controversy and was even “known for his jovial demeanor,” according to St. Louis public radio.
That began to change in 1995, when Holt and a man named Gordon Lee Baum launched a show called “Right at Night” on AM radio station WGNU. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes Baum as the founder of the Council of Conservative Citizens, which got its start in 1985. Baum died in March of this year, but tax returns for the group from prior years list him as the group's treasurer, with Holt as president. Baum and Holt sometimes discussed white rights on their show, but there were other controversial hosts on the station as well. WGNU, which considered itself “Radio Free St. Louis,” had a conservative bent but also gave voice to all manner of iconoclasts, including Onion Horton, whom the Riverfront Times described as a “black supremacist.”
Holt stepped firmly out of the shadows in November 2003, when he emailed a St. Louis blogger who had labeled him a “racist.” The blogger published Holt's entire email, which railed against “sanctimonious nigger-lovers” and contained other slurs. After a firestorm erupted, Holt explained on his radio show that he had gotten “liquored up” before sending the email and “probably used the N-word about 20 times too many.” But he didn’t recant anything he had written and concluded by saying, “I guess you could say I called a spade a spade.”
WGNU didn’t fire Holt, but he went off the air a few years later when new owners bought the station and adopted a Christian broadcasting format. Aside from comments he left on web sites, Holt disappeared from public view. In May 2009, he sold the home he listed as his residence, a four-unit multifamily house in the Shaw neighborhood of St. Louis. That property was in a more diverse neighborhood than north city, where he owned the apartment building. In Shaw, the population was 53% black and 40% white, according to Census data. Median income was about $38,000, 151% higher than in north city. Holt sold the property for $145,000 to two investors who planned to fix it up and rent it out.
Holt’s next known residence was at Katherine Falk’s home in Longview—the same home she had shared with her husband, Irving Falk. The house, in one of the wealthiest parts of Longview, is still in her name, though she now goes by Katherine Holt. County records list the appraised value at $570,000, which is 350% higher than the median home value in Longview, according to Zillow.
It’s not clear how Earl and Katherine Holt met—perhaps through some kind of retreat, if you believe rumors in Longview. When they married, in 2010, the bride was going by her presumed maiden name of Katherine Ann Cook, and at 62, she was five years senior to the 57-year-old Holt. After moving to Longview, Earl Holt mostly kept a low profile, with one exception—he wrote a few letters to the local paper, the News-Journal, that drew attention, such as one in early June, before the Charleston shootings, criticizing newly elected mayor Andy Mack for his support of gay rights.
Holt’s sudden notoriety has unnerved some people in the area, however, especially those who knew Katherine Holt when she was Katherine Falk. One friend of the family, when asked about Earl Holt, said, “That’s something you need to leave alone,” refusing to comment further. Phillip Bayman, Katherine Holt’s son, said “I have no comment, you have a nice day,” and hung up when asked about his mother’s current husband.
Yahoo Finance called Earl and Kathleen Holt at home to ask for comment, as well. “I don’t do interviews,” Earl Holt said, “especially with the corrupt leftist media,” and then hung up. A spokesman for the Council of Conservative Citizens, Jared Taylor, confirmed that “Mr. Holt does not want to talk to the media.”
Yahoo Finance can’t prove that Holt’s political donations come directly from Irving Falk’s estate; the evidence is circumstantial. It’s possible that Holt inherited money, or has profitable business interests that aren’t known, or has simply been spending money he had all along. Some have speculated that Holt's political donations have come from money contributed to the Council of Conservative Citizens, but the group’s tax returns don’t support that. Contributions from 2009 to 2013 totaled about $377,000, with most of that being spent on operating expenses. The tax returns include no mention of political donations. Besides, it would be illegal for an officer of a nonprofit group to use contributions to the group for personal expenditures, whether they be political donations or anything else.
In 2013, Holt did sell the 18-unit apartment building he owned in north St. Louis, to a Baptist Church next door. But that was three years after his political donations began. Plus, the sale price registered with the county was $0. That suggests Holt gifted the property to the church, perhaps because it was impossible to sell, or it was worth more as a tax write-off than a sale.
Some residents of Longview wonder if Katherine Holt, now 67, is willfully complicit in her husband’s activities or has somehow been duped by Earl Holt. “It appears to me he sought out a wealthy widow,” says one local political leader who asked not to be named. “Quite a few of us are trying to get to the bottom of this.”
It's possible Katherine Holt became more politically active after meeting her current husband. Federal and state campaign records show no donations from her when she was married to Irving Falk, or during the one-year period when she was his widow. But beginning in July 2010--five months after she married Earl Holt--Katherine Holt began making a few donations to Republicans that eventually totaled $4,500. She donated to Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, former Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona (who ran for the Senate in 2010 and lost), State Rep. David Simpson and Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign. Her husband has given money to all the same politicians.
Tax returns for the Council of Conservative Citizens show something else that's curious. Returns for 2010 and 2011 list Katherine Holt as one of the organization’s several directors, suggesting she had hands-on involvement with the group. But she wasn’t listed as a director prior to that, when she was still married to Irving Falk, and there’s no known record of her involvement with the group before 2010. Nor was she listed as a director in 2012 or 2013. (The group’s 2014 tax return is not yet available.)
Murray Moore, the former Longview mayor, faults both Holts for bad publicity visited upon Longview, while lamenting the way Irving Falk’s fortune is seemingly being spent. “It just blows my mind they’re probably spending his money,” he says. “He’s a bigot, and she’s just as culpable as him.” There’s no sign the Holts care what Moore, or anybody, thinks.
Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.