Recent years have not been kind to Aryan Nations, once the country's most well-known neo-Nazi outpost. Bankrupted by a lawsuit from a mother and son who were assaulted by Aryan Nations guards, the group lost its Idaho compound in 2001. Though he continued to serve as Aryan Nations’ leader, Richard Butler suffered the effects of age and ill health, and the group splintered into factions in 2002. Butler claimed to be reorganizing Aryan Nations but died in September 2004, leaving the group’s future as uncertain as ever.
Founder and Leader: Richard Butler (1918-2004)|
Splinter groups (and leaders): Tabernacle of Phineas Priesthood ( Charles Juba, based in Pennsylvania); Church of the Sons of Yahweh (Morris Gullett, based in Louisiana)
Headquarters : Hayden, Idaho
Background: Butler first became involved with the Christian Identity movement after serving in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. He studied under Wesley Swift, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, until Swift died. Butler then formed Aryan Nations.
Media: Internet, videos, posters, e-mail, chat rooms, online bulletin boards, conferences.
Ideology: Christian Identity, white supremacy, neo-Nazi, paramilitary
Connections: Aryan Nations has had members in common with several other white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups, including National Alliance, the Ku Klux Klan and The Silent Brotherhood/The Order
Recent Developments: Once the most well-known neo-Nazi group in the United States, Aryan Nations has suffered substantially in recent years due to Butler’s ill health, and a lawsuit that cost the group its Northern Idaho compound in 2001. Butler agreed to share power with Kreis and Redfeairn later that year, but the arrangement dissolved into internal squabbling. Eventually three groups competed for Aryan Nations' dwindling number of followers. It is unclear how Butler’s death in September 2004 will affect the group.
Aryan Nations is one of the country's best-known enclaves of anti-Semitism and white nationalism. While founded as a Christian Identity outpost, the organization also incorporates neo-Nazi themes; its founder and longtime leader, Richard Girnt Butler, openly adulates Hitler. It is no surprise, then, that Aryan Nations has for many years had members in common with several other white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups and that the Aryan Nations compound at Hayden Lake has served as one of the central meeting points and rallying grounds of far-right extremists of all stripes.
Butler (b. 1918), is a World War II veteran who later worked as an engineer
for Lockheed in southern California, where he was introduced to Identity teachings
by William Potter Gale, a retired colonel (and aide to General Douglas MacArthur
in the South Pacific), leader of the paramilitary California Rangers, and a
founder of the Posse Comitatus. By the mid-1960s, Butler had fully embraced
Identity and served as National Director of the Christian Defense League, an
organization founded by the most prominent popularizer of Identity, Wesley Swift.
Butler worked under Swift for 10 years until Swift's death in 1971, at which
time Butler proclaimed his Church of Jesus Christ Christian to be the direct
successor to Swift's ministry. Butler moved the congregation to northern Idaho
where it became, in his words, a "Call to the Nations" or Aryan Nations. Its
goal, as a subsequent newsletter stated, was to form "a national racial state.
We shall have it at whatever price is necessary. Just as our forefathers purchased
their freedom in blood so must we....We will have to kill the bastards."
Walking the Walk
Several Aryan Nations associates have acted on this call to arms. During the
early 1980s, for example, Butler followers joined with members of the neo-Nazi
National Alliance and Ku Klux Klan splinter groups to form The Silent Brotherhood,
known more widely as The Order, which planned to overthrow the United States
government in hopes of establishing an Aryan homeland in the Pacific Northwest.
In order to raise funds for this revolution, members of the group went on a
crime spree in 1983-1984 that included bank robberies, counterfeiting, bombings,
armored car holdups and murder. The counterfeiting operation was based at the
Aryan Nations compound.
Ostensibly, The Order's activities came to an end in December 1984, when its
founder and leader, Robert J. "Bob" Mathews, died in a fire during a shootout
with federal agents on Whidbey Island, Washington, and many of its members were
caught and incarcerated. Yet The Order, and to a lesser degree Aryan Nations,
has retained a mythic status in the far-right underground. Its legend is now
perpetuated across the Internet, inspiring a new generation of would-be white
revolutionaries and further reinforcing the Aryan Nations "brand."
The Order's murderous violence does not typify Aryan Nations, but the anti-government
and anti-Jewish hatred of Mathews and his colleagues is the lingua franca of
Hayden Lake. A statement of beliefs on the Aryan Nations Web site declares:
"The Jew is like a destroying virus that attacks our racial body to destroy
our Aryan culture and purity of our race. Those of our Race who resist these
attacks are called 'chosen and faithful.'" Anti-Jewish sentiments are blended
with opposition to the American government in an Aryan "Declaration of Independence"
that mimics the original:
The history of the present Zionist Occupied Government of the United States
of America is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having a direct
object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states; moreover
throughout the entire world....We, therefore, the representatives of the Aryan
people, in council, appealing to the supreme God of our folk for the rectitude
of intentions ... solemnly publish and declare that the Aryan people in America,
are, and of rights ought to be, a free and independent nation; that they are
absolved from all allegiance to the United States of America, and that all political
connection between them and the Federal government thereof, is and ought to
be, totally dissolved; and that as a free and independent nation they have full
power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and
to perform all other acts which independent nations may of right do.
The "Declaration" concludes by quoting the so-called "14 Words," coined by
David Lane of The Order: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future
for white children." The phrase has become a popular battle cry for white supremacists
White survivalism is of a piece with Aryan Nations' broader Identity beliefs.
The group states that God's creation of Adam marked "the placing of the White
Race upon this earth. Not all races descend from Adam. Adam is the father of
the White Race only....We believe that the true, literal children of the Bible
are the twelve tribes of Israel, now scattered throughout the world and now
known as the Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, Teutonic, Scandinavian, Celtic peoples."
Folding in anti-Semitism, the group goes on to explain that non-Aryans are not
merely inferior but must be destroyed:
We believe that there are literal children of Satan in the world today. These
children are the descendants of Cain, who was a result of Eve's original sin,
her physical seduction by Satan. We know that because of this sin there is a
battle and a natural enmity between the children of Satan and the children of
The Most High God. We believe that the Cananite Jew is the natural enemy of
our Aryan (White) Race. This is attested by Scripture and all secular history.
The Aryan Homestead
Hayden Lake, Idaho an otherwise peaceful community was long
considered by many white supremacists to be the "international headquarters
of the White race," as Butler dubbed it. To aid in recruitment efforts, build
support and strengthen alliances among a range of right-wing extremist groups,
Aryan Nations hosted white supremacist summer "festivals," known as the World
Congress of Aryan Nations, at its 20-acre northern Idaho compound. Patrolled
by a security force of armed guards and dogs, Butler's property provided the
dual advantages of being remote from potential intrusions by law enforcement
officials, counterdemonstrators or media, while also providing an atmosphere of rugged, unspoiled outdoors commensurate
with the survivalist and separatist sensibilities of many visitors.
At the conferences, which have attracted as many as 200 participants, Butler's
organization offered paramilitary training in urban terrorism and guerrilla
warfare as well as, more generally, a chance for like-minded extremists to address
issues of common interest. Butler has referred to his joint efforts with Klansmen
and other hate movement figures as an "interrelationship of people with the
same beliefs and ideas." In their heyday, the meetings were a sort of country
retreat attended by a veritable "who's who" of prominent and rising extremists;
a July 1982 weekend gathering, for example, brought together members of at least
13 Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi and other racist groups. The organization has hosted
such mandarins of the far right as Klan leader and leaderless resistance formulator
Louis Beam, the influential (now deceased) organizer Robert Miles, Tom Metzger
of White Aryan Resistance, Posse Comitatus leader James Wickstrom, Identity
ideologue Gordon "Jack" Mohr, Grand Wizard (and later pioneering hate webmaster)
Don Black, and representatives from such white supremacist organizations as
the National Socialist Party of America and the National States Rights Party.1
John Trochmann, featured at the 1990 Congress, later became leader of the Militia
of Montana, one of the most active anti-government militia groups in the country.
For several years, Aryan Nations also hosted youth activities at its rural
headquarters. In the early 1980s, an "Aryan Nations Academy" was established
to inculcate the group's philosophy in the minds of local youngsters. In 1982,
an informational mailing claimed that the "academy" had 15 full-time students,
preschool through grade eight. In addition, youth conferences attracting numerous
skinheads were held in April to coincide with Hitler's birthday. Aryan Nations
has also hosted white power skinhead bands, including Bound for Glory, Christian
Identity Skins and Odin's Law.
Since 1979, Butler's organization has been engaged in active prison outreach
as well; it corresponds with inmates and distributes the group's materials to
them. In 1983, Beam, Butler's assistant at the time, wrote that "the ever increasing
Prison Ministry of the Church of Jesus Christ Christian has begun to be felt
throughout the state prison system as a major force." This effort became an
important aspect of Butler's agenda during the 1980s, given that many members
of The Order and Aryan Nations were serving long prison sentences as a result
of several major federal prosecutions between 1985 and 1987.
Late in 1987, Butler announced plans to expand Aryan Nations activities, opening
a branch in neighboring Utah and launching a weekly radio broadcast called "The
Aryan Nations Hour." When the program was quickly cancelled due to alleged death
threats and advertising losses, its Aryan Nations host blamed the "liberal-Marxist-homosexual-Zionist
coalition." This alleged coalition could not prevent Butler from opening more
than a dozen state offices over the years, however, nor from designating regional
"ambassadors" to oversee them.
During the 1990s, Aryan Nations endured a spate of internal skirmishes, with
several of its key members parting company to start new groups. Carl Franklin,
former Chief of Staff, left in the summer of 1993 as a result of friction with
Butler, who had named Franklin his successor the year before. Wayne Jones, who
had served as Security Chief at the compound since the late 1980s, departed
with Franklin. Both resigned on the last day of the World Congress, claiming
in a letter to their former compatriots that neither had received a paycheck
in over two years. They and two other members moved to western Montana to form
their own white supremacist group the Church of Jesus Christ Christian
Six months after these departures, in January 1994, two more key figures in
Butler's inner circle, Charles and Betty Tate, who ran the organization's office
and printing operation, left to join their son-in-law, Kirk Lyons, a North Carolina-based
lawyer who has called himself an "active sympathizer" with his white supremacist
clients. In addition, Floyd Cochran, a one-time Aryan Nations official, quit
the group and renounced anti-Semitism and racism.
Disunity among the leadership became even more apparent at the annual congress
held at the compound for three days in July 1995. Although attendance approximately
125 (including 25 skinheads, a good turnout) was higher than in prior
years, a fistfight broke out when it was alleged that the wife of Staff Leader
Tim Bishop was stealing money from the organization. The fracas contributed
to Bishop's decision to resign his post and return to Kansas, where he had previously
been a Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon.
In December 1995, with Butler's wife having died from cancer and the aging
leader's own health in decline, the question of selecting a successor became
increasingly relevant. For a time, it was believed that Beam, the militant strategist
who had been touted in the past as Butler's heir apparent, might step in. Former
Texas Grand Dragon of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s, Beam also
served as Aryan Nations Ambassador-at-Large and purchased property on the northern
Idaho panhandle not far from Hayden Lake. At the 1993 Congress, Beam was one
of the main speakers, telling his enthusiastic audience: "The old period is
over and a new period is going to begin....I'm here to tell you that if we can't
have this country, as far as I'm concerned, no one gets it." Beam delivered
another well-received address at the 1995 Congress, and he appeared to have
bolstered his standing as the most likely successor to Butler. However, after
failing to attend the 1996 gathering, Beam unexpectedly fell out of favor with
movement radicals, allegedly for toning down his anti-Semitism, and was dropped
For a time in 1997, Aryan Nations' Ohio chapter one of the 18 "state
offices" the organization claims to have across the country seemed to
be positioning itself as a possible new headquarters upon Butler's demise. Members
held rallies and pursued fundraising in several Ohio cities as well as distributing
anti-black and anti-Semitic fliers; they especially targeted local rabbis and
synagogues throughout northern Kentucky and southwestern Ohio. However, the
chapter suffered a setback in September 1997 when its state leader, Harold Ray
Redfeairn, was sentenced to six months in prison for carrying a concealed weapon.
Later in 1997, after leading some of the group's few hundred followers in its
annual march through the streets of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Butler named as his
successor Neuman Britton, a longtime member and chaplain of Butler's church
known for his fiery oratory. Based in Escondido, California, Britton was the organization’s California State Leader and
had regularly attended Aryan Nations events in Idaho, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and
California. He had spoken at a number of extremist gatherings across the country and,
together with his wife, addressed the 1996 Congress. As it turned out, the septuagenarian
Britton was outlived by the octogenarian Butler; Britton passed away in August 2001
without ever having served as leader.
In the past, Butler has managed to raise funds for Aryan Nations activities
by encouraging congregants to make offerings and pay membership fees, in addition
to selling flags and tapes of his sermons. Supporters are also required to tithe
10 percent of their incomes. The group's financial prospects changed dramatically
in 1998, however, when Carl E. Story and R. Vincent Bertollini, acquaintances
of Butler who had become wealthy in the field of computer technology, donated
a significant sum to the group. Both recent transplants from California's Silicon
Valley to Sandpoint, Idaho, they founded and lead the 11th Hour Remnant Messenger,
an Identity ministry that shares the apocalyptic racism of Aryan Nations. The
two men have underwritten several expensive propaganda efforts, including the
distribution of a videotaped interview with Butler that was reportedly sent
to 9,000 residents of northern Idaho.
Story and Bertollini's largesse aside, the past three years have been difficult
for the organization. On August 10, 1998, the group received significantly negative
publicity when a 37-year-old former Aryan Nations guard named Buford Furrow
shot and wounded three young boys, a teenage girl and a receptionist at the
North Valley Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles. Furrow, who had a history
of mental illness and trouble with the law, fired more than 70 rounds from a
submachine gun, fled from the crime scene and later shot and killed a Filipino-American
postal worker, Joseph Ileto. After evading authorities for nearly 24 hours,
Furrow surrendered to the FBI in Las Vegas. He declared that his murder spree
was intended as "a wake-up call to America to kill Jews" and that he had killed
Ileto because the man was nonwhite and worked for the federal government.
Aryan Nations members at Hayden Lake, Idaho in 1995. Buford Furrow
(second from right), at the time an Aryan Nations guard, killed one person
and wounded five others in a 1998 shooting spree in Los Angeles.
Two years later, in September 2000, Aryan Nations' security force made national
headlines again when a jury awarded $6.3 million to Victoria and Jason Keenan,
a mother and son (represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center) who had been
assaulted, chased and shot at by Aryan Nations guards after briefly stopping
their car on a road in front of the compound two years before. The jury found
Aryan Nations and Butler guilty of negligence in the selection, training and
supervision of the security guards. The judgment bankrupted Butler and his group,
and the 20-acre Aryan Nations compound and the Aryan Nations name were legally
handed over to the Keenans: Butler renamed his organization the Aryan National
Alliance. Patrons Bertollini and Story purchased a new home for the Identity
pastor in nearby Hayden, Idaho, where he vowed to continue his activities, including
propaganda distribution and posting to the Web site.
As the bankruptcy sale of the compound and the Aryan Nations name approached, some of Butler's followers began defecting to a newly-established Christian Identity church, the Church of True Israel, based in Noxon, Montana. Headed by a "council of prelates" instead of a single leader, the Church was founded in 1996 by five men, all of whom were once tied to Aryan Nations. During the summer 1995 Aryan World Congress, the Spokane Spokesman-Review reported, a faction of state Aryan leaders attempted unsuccessfully to wrest power away from Butler; soon afterward, two of the failed mutineers, John Burke and Charles Mangels, left Aryan Nations and founded the new church. Like its predecessor it preaches white supremacy, but it has distanced itself from Butler's glorification of Nazism. Although precise connections cannot be drawn, several of Butler's close supporters are rumored to have ties to True Israel.
In January 2001, with Aryan Nations still operational but its future still
in question, Butler named as the group's Acting Staff Leader and Youth Activities
Coordinator 21-year-old Shawn Winkler, who already held permits for three marches
for the upcoming year, in Sandpoint, Rathdrum and Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. A new
telephone hotline was also announced, along with a new webmaster, Pastor August
Kreis III, who has also run a Web site for another Identity group, the Posse
Comitatus. Based in Pennsylvania, Kreis serves as Ambassador to the seven states
in Aryan Nations' northeast region. Butler also defiantly declared that the organization was reverting to its original name, Church of Jesus Christ Christian/Aryan Nations a decision whose legality, or seriousness, is
In a letter reporting these changes to followers, Butler wrote: "The loss
of Home, Church, personal possessions and automobiles didn't hurt so much as
the loss of those who claimed to be friends and comrades in the struggle to
awake our people to the terrible fate they and their posterity face....The Legal
profession, courts, big business and media are united in the proposition that
the White homogeneous population of North Idaho be mongrelized."
In September 2001, the group’s ongoing leadership issue appeared to be resolved when it
announced that Butler had chosen Ohio’s Ray Redfeairn as his successor. The selection suggests
that the group will remain militant and possibly volatile: Redfeairn has a substantial record of
criminal activity, beginning long before his 1997 conviction on weapons charges. In 1979, he
shot a police officer several times during a traffic stop, then pleaded guilty by reason of insanity
(psychologists described him as a paranoid schizophrenic during the trial) and spent four years
in a mental hospital. In 1985, he pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated murder for the
shooting and to charges of aggravated robbery for an incident that occurred prior to the
shooting. He was released from prison in 1991. The former Klansman has also been convicted
for aggravated menacing, disorderly conduct, and at least three times for alcohol-related driving
violations. He has also been arrested for allegedly threatening to kill his mother, although she
later retracted the charges.
Along with the promotion of Redfeairn, Butler shuffled the titles of two other top
lieutenants, naming August Kreis “Director of Information” and Shawn Winkler “Director of
Aryan Nation Youth Corps” [sic]. And while Butler will remain the “rock and spiritual leader of Aryan Nations,” according to the group, it also announced plans to establish an “office and
church grounds” in Ulysses, Pennsylvania, where Kreis rents several acres of land.
1In April 1987, a grand jury in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, returned indictments charging Butler, Beam, Miles,
and 11 others, including several members of The Order, with participating in a seditious conspiracy to
overthrow the U.S. government. In April 1988, a jury found the defendants not guilty (the charges against
one defendant had already been dismissed).