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The sad, strange death of Teddy Von Nukem

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The sad, strange death of Teddy Von Nukem
A Q&A with Molly Conger, part I

Late last month, a 35-year-old white nationalist by the name of Teddy Joseph Von Nukem was found dead at his home in southwestern Missouri. Von Nukem had become nationally famous in 2017, when he appeared in one of the most published photos of the white-nationalist torch rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Since then he had fallen off the radar, eventually finding himself under arrest in 2021 on charges of smuggling 33 pounds of fentanyl pills from Mexico into the United States.

But few knew about Von Nukem’s apparent suicide for three weeks — until Charlottesville-based investigator Molly Conger got on the case. Conger has made a name for herself in town as a dogged citizen researcher, chronicling city government meetings and zoning fights. But she has achieved national notoriety as a Nazi hunter. Molly specializes in shining a floodlight on violent white supremacists who would rather their activities stay hidden from their co-workers and neighbors. And she is not afraid to confront them in public either.

I sat down this week to talk with Conger about the Von Nukem scoop: how she did it, and why she thinks it blew up into a national story — garnering coverage from the Washington Post, CNN, and elsewhere. We talk about the violent hate crime he nearly got away with, why “people love to see a dead Nazi,” and what lesson Molly hopes they take from this story instead.

But first, two programming notes: Racket subscribers can read the transcript (edited for clarity) below, or listen to the recording above.

Also, this is the first of a two-parter with Conger. Tomorrow’s edition will cover her visit to the shambolic “antiwar” rally in Washington over the weekend, which brought a more senior Nazi and his rebranded coterie to the National Mall.

Make sure to get it by subscribing here:

So how are you? You've been busy.

Yeah, I’ve been pretty busy. You know, just doing my little investigations, taking my little notes.

Let’s start with Mr. Von Nukem. Is that his real name by the way?

He legally changed it. The name his mother gave him was Theodore Landrum.

Yeah. I assumed that they weren’t — he wasn't like a German Junker from the great von Nukem dynasty.

No. So he really did choose Von Nukem, like Nukem from the video game. And then he put the “Von” in there because he does love — did love, I guess — German heritage.

How did you first cross paths with him?

So he was actually IDed right away. That ID existed from the week of the [August 2017] march [in Charlottesville]. Someone that he went to middle school with saw that picture and was like, oh no, “I remember that guy from middle school. He loved Nazi Germany back then.” I don’t have great work practices, but this weird habit, obsessive habit of going back and researching things just to see if there’s anything new. And where he was now when I looked was dead.

I found his death in the federal court records, so I was, you know, just browsing CourtListener for some of my favorite keywords. And I don't know how I had missed the drug case. I didn’t know about that. It was in that federal drug case that I found the announcement that the charges were dismissed due to his demise. And so I thought, well, I’ll put something together, go back through and sort of gather up the details that we already had about him.

So, you know, the fact that he was dead, I think was what struck most people as the most interesting part of that story. That’s not the most interesting thing to me, right? Like that’s — I found that and I thought, oh, you know, people wanna know that.

But then to sort of create the narrative leading up to that point, I went back through and watched, you know, found photographs of him at the [August 11] torch march, which everyone had already seen. But I don’t think people had tied that to his presence on 12th, the next day. So I was just trying to build a little narrative to get to the death announcement.

And in the course of doing that, I discovered that he committed a hate crime that no one was ever looking for him for.

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