For Immediate Release November 26, 1997


by Dan Dugan

Matthaeus “Teo” Jaehnig, the 25-year old Denver skinhead who killed himself after murdering a Denver policeman, came from a very unusual family background. His parents were both dedicated devotees of Anthroposophy, a cult-like religious sect founded by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). In the United States, the most visible activity of Anthroposophy is “Waldorf” schools.

The author has been studying Anthroposophy for nine years. He is Secretary of PLANS, a non-profit corporation dedicated to informing the public about Waldorf education and stopping the Anthroposophists’ attempts to move their system into public schools. Our group, which includes former Waldorf parents and teachers, has a unique perspective. We are knowledgeable about Anthroposophy but view it from outside the Steiner cult. We hope our perspective might shed some light on the tragedy in Denver.

It’s tempting to interpret Teo’s extreme rebellion as a reaction to his family’s extreme religious devotion — a “preacher’s son syndrome.” But there’s an interesting complication in this case. Teo, while rebelling against his family’s values, may have actually been expressing them in an extreme way.

Teo’s father, Diethart Jaehnig, was a founder of the Denver Waldorf School. He was also a priest of the Christian Community, a sub-cult of Anthroposophy that performs occultist rituals styled after Lutheranism and Catholicism. Diethart Jaehnig died in 1992. Teo’s mother, Ina Jaehnig, was raised in a German Waldorf school and has taught at the Denver Waldorf School from its beginning. Their son Teo attended the Denver Waldorf School through eighth grade, as far as it went at the time.

The history of the Waldorf schools is intertwined with issues of racism. Rudolf Steiner founded the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1919. Steiner disagreed with Hitler’s growing movement on many points, and tried to found his own political party to advance his vision of Germany’s mission. Steiner was harassed by Nazi thugs but died before Hitler came into power. During the Nazi period, Hitler suppressed all rivals, and Anthroposophy was banned. The Waldorf schools, however, were controversial within the Nazi party. Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess intervened twice to keep Waldorf schools open, and Alfred Baeumler, a leading Nazi educator, wrote that the anti-intellectual climate in Waldorf education furthered the cause of Naziism. It was six years into the Nazi regime before all the German Waldorf schools were closed.

The Anthroposophists and the Nazis were in agreement on the theory that a mythical “Aryan race” had a cosmic destiny to lead the world into a new age. Steiner preached a progression of human evolution from Atlantis through successively higher races. This doctrine found a place in the mythology of the Nazi party. When the author was a parent at the San Francisco Waldorf School, he bought a book from the school bookstore in which Steiner stated:

“You see, when we really study science and history, we must conclude that if people become increasingly strong, they will also become increasingly stupid. If the blonds and blue-eyed people die out, the human race will become increasingly dense if men do not arrive at a form of intelligence that is independent of blondness. Blond hair actually bestows intelligence… It is indeed true that the more the fair individuals die out the more will the instinctive wisdom of humans vanish.”[1]

More research revealed that numerous examples of Steiner’s racial evolution theory can be found in the required reading for Waldorf teacher training, and on the library shelves of any Waldorf school. Here it is in Steiner’s own words:

“We are within the great Root Race of humanity, which has peopled the earth, since the land on which we now live rose up out of the inundations of the ocean. Ever since the Atlantean Race began slowly to disappear, the great Aryan Race has been the dominant one on earth. If we contemplate ourselves, we here in Europe are thus the fifth Sub-Race of the great Aryan Root Race. The first Sub-Race lived in the distant past in Ancient India… Then came the second, third and fourth Sub-Races. The fourth Sub-Race adopted Christianity. Then, halfway through the Middle Ages, we see that the fifth Sub-Race formed itself, to which we and the neighboring nations belong.”[2]

There was lots of talk like this in 1920’s Germany, but two bizarre facts make these texts relevant today:

1) Anthroposophists continue to publish and defend Steiner’s racial theories.

2) The mythical history of “post-Atlantean sub-races” that Steiner sketched in the quote above continues to be the standard framework for fifth and sixth-grade history in Waldorf schools today, even in taxpayer-supported charter schools and in “Waldorf-inspired” programs in public school systems.

In Steiner’s theory individual souls evolve by being reincarnated in successively “higher” races. The Black race is supposed to be the stage of childhood. Recently, a group of scholars from Stanford University were observing at the Milwaukee public Waldorf school. They were invited to sit in on a meeting of a group of European Anthroposophists who were also visiting the school. The Stanford scholars were incredulous when the Anthroposophists started talking about how the curriculum had to be adapted to the childlike evolutionary level of the school’s mostly African-American students. They couldn’t believe that this had anything to do with Waldorf in America, and they omitted the incident from their report.

Anthroposophists insist that they are not racists, and there is no reason to doubt their sincerity. They just don’t understand that Steiner’s mythical history was old-fashioned in his own time and is ridiculously ignorant in ours. At the Jaehnig dinner table, Teo’s parents would have expressed their racist philosophy in the oblique and obscure manner customary in Anthroposophy. Later their son would express similar ideas crudely and brutally. In a way, this might be seen as a microcosmic repetition of what happened in Germany. What was first expressed by pseudo-scholarly “authorities” like Blavatsky, Steiner, Chamberlain, and Rosenberg, was turned to brutal action by thugs like Hitler and Himmler.

Denver University Professor Carl Raschke, speaking about Teo’s father Diethart to a Rocky Mountain News reporter, said “it’s clear that he was fascinated with everything German and the whole idea of the superior race being created.”[3]

The Jaehnig house was known as a trouble spot, to the degree that a neighbor said “you walked on the other side of the street.” Neighbors complained about pumpkins with “KKK” carved in them displayed on the porch, and dogs so dangerous that seven neighbors petitioned to have them controlled. Clearly, the widow Ina Jaehnig had no control over Teo. Yet this was the home of the founders of a school that promotes itself as advancing the spiritual evolution of humanity. How could this be?

Understanding more about her life as a Waldorf teacher might help us to understand Ina Jaehnig’s inaction in curbing her son’s behavior. Waldorf teachers are the working devotees of the Steiner cult. Anthroposophy dominates their whole existence. Besides the more-than-full-time job that every teacher has preparing lessons and correcting student work, Steiner instructed Waldorf teachers to practice meditation daily and to take full charge of school administration. Since decisions are supposed to be made by consensus, Waldorf teachers lives are eaten up by one endless meeting after another. When they’re not in meetings they’re attending enrichment courses in Anthroposophical philosophy. Around Waldorf schools, the children of the teachers are called “Waldorphans,” because they’re always seen sitting around waiting for their parent to get out of a meeting.

The tradition of laissez-faire discipline in Waldorf schools is another explanation for Ina Jaehnig’s inaction. We at PLANS have heard many stories about negligent or totally absent discipline. This could result from the combined effect of Steiner’s philosophy and the inadequate training Waldorf teachers receive.

For example, the following story was posted recently on the Waldorf parents’ Internet mailing list:

“We had a child in our class (one) who from the beginning of this year was an extreme behavioral problem. He continually disrupted the class, punched, kicked and made inappropriate sexual advances to every child in the class, the teacher was on the verge of collapse trying to deal with this. We removed our child from the class partly because she was so scared of this child. He has finally left and now my daughter can go back to school. In short It has been a nightmare.

“The people supporting our teacher, this was her first year, were endlessly looking at the ‘big why,’ ‘what does this child bring to us,’ ‘what in our own souls is he mirroring,’ ‘what is his karma and how is linked to ours.’ Interesting questions sure enough but the point is, nothing was actually done about it. The teacher was left to flounder, desperately trying to work with the child to absolutely no avail. Perhaps the answer to the ‘big why’ questions was the child was in the wrong school, this had not occurred to anyone.”[4]

How was Teo Jaehnig influenced by his family’s devotion to Steiner’s teachings? Did Teo’s father, an Anthroposophical preacher, pass on Steiner’s racial theories to his son? Did his mother’s Waldorf training make her reluctant to “interfere with his karma?” To what degree should Anthroposophy, the sect whose principles Teo’s mother and father tried to exemplify in their lives, be held responsible for this tragic outcome?


[1] Steiner, Rudolf. Health and Illness: Volume I: Nine Lectures to the Workmen at the Goetheanum, Dornach, Switzerland, 1922. Trans. Maria St. Goar. Spring Valley: Anthroposophic Press, 1981, p. 86.

[2] Steiner, Rudolf. The Temple Legend: Freemasonry and Related Occult Movements: Twenty Lectures given in Berlin between 23rd May 1904 and the 2nd January 1906. Trans. John M. Wood, Edited E.M. Lloyd. London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1985, p. 220.

[3] Vaughan, Kevin, and Michael O’Keeffe. “Bravery met madness in firefight.” Rocky Mountain News, November 16, 1997.

[4] Aston, Richard ( Posting to mailing list WALDORF@MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.EDU, November 11, 1997.