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In most ways, Michelle Ilse Weyher fit the cliché of an Upper East Sider. The blonde housewife was married to a big-deal lawyer. She had a pet Chihuahua named Mr. Peeper, whom she carried around in a Sherpa bag. She occasionally wrote letters to the editor of The New York Times with advice to fellow dog owners. But Weyher stood out in one very big way. Her charity work was not for the Junior League or the Met, but for New York's oldest hate group: the Pioneer Fund, a foundation that has supported all manner of racist pseudoscience since 1937.
"Virtually all the people who create white nationalist ideology are funded by them," says Heidi Beirich, a writer at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups around the country. The list of Pioneer Fund grantees includes a who's who of "race science" figures: Richard Lynn, an Irish professor who once said that certain groups of people need to be "phased out"; Michael Levin, an NYU professor who was lauded by white supremacists for his 1997 book Why Race Matters; Arthur Jensen, a Berkeley professor who spent much of his career writing about the black-white IQ gap.
Michelle Ilse Weyher was the Germany-born third wife of the Pioneer Fund's former president, Harry Weyher. The organization had grown up and grown old in New York City, supported by rich city boys like Weyher. It was originally founded by Nazi sympathizer Wickliffe Draper, a philanthropist who advocated segregation and sending blacks to Africa.
After 44 years as the fund's president, Harry Weyher died in 2002. The torch was passed to J. Philippe Rushton, a Canadian psychology professor and hero to white nationalists. He is notorious for a 1985 book claiming that penis size is inversely proportional to intelligence, i.e., that black men with large penises are inherently stupider than white men with small penises. (Rushton refutes the idea that the fund is a hate group.) To keep the memory of her husband alive, Rushton invited Michelle Ilse Weyher to sit on the board. Like her board colleaguesprofessors around the U.S., Canada, and EuropeMichelle Ilse Weyher was also a published authoronly her claim to fame was not exactly academic. Last year, Weyher self-published an 86-page book titled Barking for Biscuits under the pen name "Mr. Peeper." This tale of "a charming Chihuahua snob from NYC's East Side" was dedicated to her husband, who was also a dog lover.
When she wasn't writing fiction or cavorting with her four-legged friend, Weyher played a role in the Pioneer Fund's selection process. She helped to decide which applicants received the few grants the fund gave out each year. Some went to legitimate scientists studying genetics or intelligence, while others went directly into the pockets of big-league white supremacists.
Among the latter was the National Policy Institute, a white-pride organization that recently released a 108-page report, "The State of White America." Another recent grant recipient was the New Century Foundation*, which publishes American Renaissance, a favorite publication of white supremacists.
Despite its long history, the Pioneer Fund may be slowly losing its hard-fought place in New York. Its Lexington Avenue address is a bit of a hoaxthe "Suite 211" on Pioneer Fund Paperwork is actually "Box 211" at a Mail Boxes, Etc. And Michelle Ilse Weyher, the fund's last remaining New York board member, is not around anymore to check that mailbox; she died last month at her North Carolina property.
Jim Murray, Weyher's boyfriend and a Long Island native, says she died quietly of a cancer that few knew she had. Murray, who used to own a limo company in New York, spent the last few years with Weyher at her North Carolina home, where she exchanged her regular city walks for strolls around the lake. One day last month, she skipped her walk and stayed in bed. The next day, she was dead.
According to Murray, Weyher had known she had cancer and made prearrangements at a funeral home, but didn't receive any treatment or tell anyone of her illness. Murray has not yet informed Weyher's Pioneer Fund colleagues of her death.
"She left a note saying, 'Don't tell anyone for a couple months; get me settled down,' " Murray says.
Weyher's odd request sparked an investigation, although Detective Wayne Heath of the Lenoir County Sheriff's Office says he ultimately "found no suspicious cause" of death. "Michelle had a history of cancer," Heath says. "The pain became unbearable and she chose to end the pain."
Weyher bequeathed everything to Murray, leaving the Pioneer Fund none the richer. Murray would not comment on his girlfriend's involvement at the fund, although it seems unlikely that he'll be a donor anytime soon. When asked what he thought about the Pioneer Fund's mission, he simply burst out laughing.
Correction: In the original version of this story, one of the Pioneer Funds grant recipients was listed as Century Foundation. However, it was the New Century Foundation, publisher of American Renaissance, which actually received the Funds money. Century Foundation is a progressive organization located on the Upper East Side, and has no connection with the Pioneer Fund of any kind.