Hazing News

Anthrax Suspect Bruce Ivins: “The Mirage Man”–a commentary on the new book by David Willman

Sorry for the revisions. Getting the hang of Blog writing. Now understand each revision sends a subscriber note. This is final version and won’t be changed. Thanks sincerely for the comments directing me to commentators on the Ivins Affair. Hank

PHOTOS: Link to the copy of Bruce Ivins letter to a hazing activist.

Commentary by Hank Nuwer

A new book by David Willman called “The Mirage Man: Bruce Ivins, the Anthrax Attacks, and America’s Rush to War” (Bantam, $27) is one of those books people tend to talk about around the water cooler. Five people, including postal workers, died from the effects of deadly powdery anthrax sent by mail, and at least 17 persons were infected. Tom Brokaw was the most high-profile journalist sent a tainted letter.

Author David Willman did not contact me for the book, but he did contact and visit a hazing activist that anthrax researcher Bruce Ivins had written at least five times.

An FBI researcher/investigator some years ago talked to me about an excerpt from a letter to the editor in Virginia that I quoted in my book “Broken Pledges.”

A Frederick (VA) newspaper letter purportedly written by Kappa Kappa Gamma alumnus Nancy Haigwood in defense of hazing was written actually under Haigwood’s name by Ivins. That was  an ethical breach by Ivins if true he signed her name to the letter, and it now appears to be so, according to Willman and others.

Willman’s book cites sources who concluded that Bruce Ivins had sent the anthrax-powdered letters to multiple victims. The Ivins connection was first announced by the FBI in 2008. You also can fetch all the anthrax FBI documents here.

I once tried to find Ms. Haigwood for an interview for her pro-hazing views (rather what Ivins falsely portrayed as her pro-hazing views) but failed. Other hazing scholars have quoted from the same letter to the editor written in Haigwood’s name by Ivins.

In the late 1980s, Kappa Kappa Gamma spokespersons I contacted said they could not for privacy reasons give me Haigwood’s last-known address from their national sorority alumnae membership roster so I could question her, but they stressed the organization’s antihazing stance and that Haigwood did not speak for the organization.

Ivins also wrote the Jimmy Flathead materal on KKG for Wikipedia, according to the FBI.

My first and only interview with the FBI (set up by my attorney friend Ben) made it clear to me as a writer that Ivins was not my source in any way,  and I had no obligation to withhold any correspondence from him to a hazing activist provided to me by that hazing activist for my 1990 book “Broken Pledges” (Longstreet Press).

I now omit the name of the activist here because she retired from public life long ago and wants no media intrusion, and her name isn’t so important here.

If he had been a source I would have contacted the Poynter Institute ethics gurus for advice on that sticky issue about providing material from a source to the FBI.

The single photocopied  letter to the activist dated 5/29/83 I did find in a file cabinet of mine was printed in Ivins’s odd printed script and contained the letter to the editor he had forged as an attachment.

Yes, as you can read yourself in my photo of the letter, he did write there that he was working at Fort Detrick on an anthrax project.

The FBI interviewer showed me email addresses that she said Ivins might have used to contact me in the 1990s, but none rang a bell. Was he one of a small group of email writers sending baiting, encouraging or snide letters in the 90s after “Broken Pledges” hit print? If he ever did write it was inconsequential. B ut after reading the FBI report tonight I wonder if Ivins joined a hazing listserv fom Indiana University run by my IUPUI department chair and I, although I was the prime mover here. If Ivins did join, and there may be records somewhere to corroborate, he was never a prime topic responder.

I provided the FBI via mail my thin file of Ivins material he had written to the hazing activist. To me it was interesting how an FBI researcher is so much like a news reporter. She was prepared, professional, thorough and wasted no extra time in my office. Subsequently, the FBI was given all the activist’s files and turned up five letters from Ivins, including a thank you for sending him information on sorority hazing.

Some 21 years after publication, my apologies go to Ms. Haigwood for the “Broken Pledges” reprinting of the editor to the letter that Ivins wrote. Clearly, she wasn’t an advocate of hazing. And wasn’t that nice of Ivins to forward his forged letter to a mother who had lost her son to hazing? He knew it would probably draw a response, and it did–the activist gave it to me. The activist said she had forgotten all about the Frederick letter, but I recalled it because of the interviews with KKG as I went on a failed search trying to find Haigwood to obtain original commentary for “Broken Pledges.”

I do not presume to know if Mr. Ivins was the feared anthrax mail sender or acted alone. Like many others, I wish I knew for sure. Would I love to have been the journalist who solved the anthrax crime? Yeah, Tom Brokaw and me both.

I voluntarily signed a non-disclosure letter, but the FBI agent asked if I would let the activist know an investigation was in the works. I kept that promise to not disclose anything until the files were unsealed, although really I knew so little it hardly mattered.

I wondered once if Ivins knew the FBI had talked to the activist and me, but since she and I were hardly consequential with the heat on him, I gave the matter no other thought except whenever the activist called me the few times Willman phoned or visited her for interviews.

The fixation of Ivins on Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority because of some supposed slight when he was young was strange behavior for a grown man. His hazing support was a cover for his attack on Ms. Haigwood, of course. In fact, look up hazing in the FBI report, and Ivins was all for blindfolds and limited hazing. But if the correspondence connected to hazing led the FBI to a killer I am pleased, but I’m sure the hazing connection was a mere footnote in the greater investigation, and in no way a crime solver. His support of the antihazing movement in my opinion was used for his self-serving own purposes–just as was his donation to a KKG foundation.

I can see why the results of the  FBI investigation have doubters on the Internet questioning if it is indisputable that Ivins was the anthrax killer or acted alone.  The FBI investigation certainly seems to have spurred the suicide of Mr. Ivins by ingestion of OTC medication, according to the new book.

I am glad the saved correspondence from Ivins helped the FBI at all–though I think the activist and I were mere footnotes in the massive biochemical attack investigation that threw the nation into a tizzy so soon after 9/11. But I think the national debate on whether he was guilty or innocent in the anthrax attacks will continue for years. This case was concluded officially and the files unsealed when Ivins killed himself. Unofficially, it will be debated by many people, especially now that Willman’s book is out.

There is a personal sad note about the anthrax story.

One of the hardest-working, nicest students I ever taught at Ball State University (1985-1989) was a national spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service during the anthrax mail scare aftermath in 2001.

When I guest-taught a class for her at Martin University in Indianapolis where she was an adjunct journalism instructor, she talked about how stressful it was conducting PR during the anthrax media blitz. My mentee Darlene Stafford (former resident of Dunkirk, Indiana) later died from heart failure in or near Dallas, Texas, where she had moved to join her new husband. Her mother used to attend class with Darla, and her phone call to me in 2006 with the bad news was so sad to experience.

I cannot blame Ivins directly for Ms. Stafford’s death, of course, since it occurred five years after the anthrax scare. He, if he was the anthrax sender, only caused her job stress at that time.

But given what he did to Ms. Haigwood, I can say with certainty this Dr. Ivins was one troubled, unfortunate individual. One troubled, unfortunate individual with a security clearance at Fort Detrick and access to deadly anthrax.

Hank Nuwer, Moderator

Hazing News

Arizona Star Article Exposes Unbalanced Men in a chapter gone wild: Banned University of Arizona chapter was slap-happy, documents reveal.

Moderator: 300 pages of the investigation into multiple hazing incidents involving Sig Ep at the University of Arizona were released to the Arizona Star. Here is the link to the Star.

What is most interesting was the comment by the Sig Ep chapter president saying that hazing did not occur in spite of overwhelming evidence.

For Sigma Phi Epsilon’s excellent Balanced Man chapter follow this link to a North Dakota chapter. The Balanced Man chapters of Sigma Phi Epsilon have by and large had far fewer problems than those who have not adopted the Balance Man program. More here at this link:

The Arizona Star article follows:

Tucson Region
UA fraternity’s hazing documented
Sigma Phi Epsilon was out of control, investigation found
By Aaron Mackey
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 06.28.2009
Pledges attending Sigma Phi Epsilon’s “History Night” last fall got a lot more than a lesson in the fraternity’s traditions.
Divided into groups of 10, the pledges rotated through rooms of the house behind University Medical Center and were asked to squat with their backs pressed against the walls and learn about the goals of pledging.
The pledges were asked to memorize traditions and recall one another’s names while being yelled at and intimidated.
And when one pledge didn’t behave as he should — members thought he was disrespectful — a dozen pledges were lined up and slapped one by one.
When a pledge ducked to avoid a slap, he was hit a second time and then had his shirt ripped off.
The episode was one of about 15 hazing incidents detailed in a University of Arizona investigation that ended in March with one of the largest and oldest fraternities, known informally as Sig Ep, getting booted from campus for three years.
More than 300 pages of documents released to the Arizona Daily Star through a public-records request paint a picture of a fraternity out of control as an alumni board and executive officers clashed with ex-members booted for their bad behavior.
The power struggle created an environment in which pledges were slapped, kicked and forced to drink beer until they vomited as part of an initiation program.
It also set the stage for an unregulated off-campus party at which a UA student reported being sexually assaulted in a pledge’s apartment after she was given a date-rape drug, the investigation concluded.
But the former president of the fraternity, Tyler Babcock, said the UA investigation took events out of context and said that no hazing occurred. While he wouldn’t discuss specific incidents, he said the university showed only one side of the story.
“The university drew an image of us being rowdy, crazy kids that are running around and partying,” he said. “It was a very organized house, and all the kids in the house are great kids.”
However, a letter from the UA that is signed by fraternity leaders states that they agree that the allegations are factually correct.
It’s not clear whether the UA punished any members of the fraternity for the hazing, alcohol and reported sexual-assault violations or if there were any sanctions against it other than losing recognition on campus until 2012.
Individual student punishment is protected by federal law, and the identities of students interviewed by UA officials were blacked out of the copies of the investigation the Star obtained.
The same law, known as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, also prevents the UA from disclosing any further details about the reported sexual assault, said Carol Thompson, dean of students. Thompson would say only that the UA completed its investigation into the incident.
It’s not clear whether police investigated the incident. Neither the Tucson nor the UA police departments would provide information on whether they investigated the incident, despite being given a week to do so.
The chapter’s adviser, Dan Knauss, said in a lengthy statement that most of the hazing was conducted by students who had been kicked out of the fraternity after the university put the chapter on probation.
“Unfortunately, these individuals were not confronted by the new officers, to the extent they were aware of their activities,” he wrote in an e-mail.
“This is not to say that there weren’t violations of the university’s code by some current members, primarily involving alcohol and minor hazing.”
Multiple requests for comment from Sig Ep’s national headquarters went unanswered.
The documents detail a wide range of hazing, including:
• Mandating that pledges carry cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and Sour Patch Kids candy for members of the fraternity.
• Requiring pledges to be at the fraternity house from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays unless they had class or a written excuse for where they were.
• Making pledges clean the fraternity house as well as a member’s off-campus apartment after a party.
• Forcing pledges to perform headstands near walls and wall-sits while older members yelled at them and in one instance attempted to kick a pledge’s legs out from underneath him.
The most serious violations revolved around daily song practice, during which pledges sang traditional fraternity songs while members listened.
The investigation details that members threw paper balls at pledges, shot spitballs at them and pushed them while they sang. Some members threw ice down the pledges’ shirts, the investigation said.
On Fridays, the underage pledges were forced to drink beer while they practiced the songs. The pledges were told to drink until they vomited, with garbage cans put out for them to use, the investigation details.
After they finished vomiting, the pledges would have to resume singing and drinking, according to the investigation.
Babcock said that none of the pledges was required to participate in any activities the university classified as hazing. They were only encouraged to do so.
“There was no real hazing,” he said. “Everybody was always given the choice, and the choices were not detrimental to active status in the house.”
Then there was Bayonet Night, at which about 30 pledges were lined up and blindfolded at the fraternity house. They were marched in line to a nearby basketball court and told to wait in silence.
After about 30 minutes, the pledges removed their blindfolds and realized one of them was gone. The missing pledge had been cut — “blackballed,” in the fraternity’s parlance.
The investigation indicates that members took the pledge away, with other pledges interviewed by officials speculating he was removed for either not meeting fraternity standards or because he was awkward around women at fraternity parties.
Babcock said there was nothing menacing about the ritual and that the ceremony was similar to those conducted by other fraternities on campus.
He said the decision to part ways with the pledge was mutual. “He was not forcefully removed. If the kid doesn’t meet standards, it is expressed verbally and very calmly.”
Babcock also blamed the divide that developed in the house on the university investigation, not tension between former members and those who remained after the national organization intervened in 2007.
After the fraternity was placed on probation for hazing that year, the national fraternity formed an alumni advisory group and reviewed every member. More than 70 were booted.
But those individuals would still show up to fraternity events and recruitment activities, with many responsible for the hazing, according to the investigation.
Babcock said that in the wake of the membership shake-up, it was hard for younger members of the fraternity to know who was allowed at the house.
There never was any confrontation between the former members and those at the house, and the hazing attributed to the ex-members was blown out of proportion, Babcock said.
The investigation details that several members and ex-members intimidated pledges both during their initiation and after the UA began its investigation.
One member quit after being described as gay. He was ridiculed, and members used slurs to describe him, according to the investigation.
The pledges who cooperated with UA investigators were labeled traitors and threatened, with one pledge saying he was told by a member that “we will hunt you down with masks and kill you if you ever tell,” according to the report.
The member later denied threatening the student.
On StarNet: Log on to to view copies of the summary of the UA’s investigation into Sigma Phi Epsilon and a statement from the local chapter’s adviser.

Hazing News

Apology from Phi Kappa Tau at Wright State


Former Greek Affair Council (GAC) President, Matt Ames is now responding on Phi Kappa Tau’s behalf.

Phi Kappa Tau received a hazing violation after organizing an activity they later realized qualified as a scavenger hunt for pledges during fall quarter, but not all members were involved and the activity was completely dry, said Ames.

Both the fraternity itself, and the individual who organized the scavenger hunt were charged.
Ames was not personally charged with anything as a result of the incident but was removed from his position as GAC president.

Ames approved the activity even though he did not participate.

“In hindsight we see that it was qualified as a scavenger hunt which is against the rules and for that the organization and I both apologize,” said Ames.