For nearly three decades, "Reverend" Richard Butler led Aryan Nations and the Church of Jesus Christ Christian -- the nation's most well-known bastion of neo-Nazism and Christian Identity. During the past few years, however, Butler's tenure was fraught with upheaval and uncertainty. In the fall of 2000, with membership already on the decline, both he and Aryan Nations were bankrupted by a lawsuit (stemming from an assault by the group's guards). Butler was forced to relinquish the Aryan Nations compound, and the group's future appeared tenuous. Shortly thereafter, in September 2001, Aryan Nations announced that Butler had selected Harold Ray Redfeairn as his successor and that it would open an "office" in the Ulysses, Pennsylvania, home of August Kreis, its Director of Information. After several months of infighting and recriminations, though, both Kreis and Redfeairn broke off from Butler (and each other) and established separate factions. Although well into his 80s, Butler claimed to be re-organizing, and in 2003 he even ran for mayor of Hayden, Idaho. At the time of his death in September 2004, Butler remained a revered figure in the extremist world, and was a featured speaker at white supremacist gatherings around the country.
Year of birth: 1938 |
Died: September 8, 2004
Home: Hayden, Idaho
Background:After World War II, Butler became involved in the Christian Identity movement; he was first active in Wesley Swift's Christian Defense League, then founded the Church of Jesus Christ Christian/Aryan Nations. Other media: Videos, posters, e-mail, conferences
Ideology:Christian Identity, white supremacy, neo-Nazi, paramilitary
Connections: He allied with several white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups, including National Alliance, the Ku Klux Klan and members of The Silent Brotherhood/The Order.
Recent developments:In the years prior to his death in 2004, the aging Butler, whose Aryan Nations was once the most prominent neo-Nazi organization in the U.S., battled ill health and legal setbacks. Losing the group's compound in 2001 because of a lawsuit and suffering membership defections, Butler agreed to share power with Ray Redfeairn of Ohio and August Kreis of Pennsylvania. By 2002 the arrangement had dissolved in internal squabbling, with Kreis and Redfeairn establishing separate breakaway groups. Butler competed with his former colleagues for Aryan Nations' dwindling number of followers, while he vowed to re-organize and revive his far-right franchise.
Born in Colorado in 1918, Richard
Butler moved to Los Angeles with his
family after the start of the Great
Depression. He studied aeronautical
engineering at Los Angeles City College
and served in the United States Armed
Forces during World War II. He
returned, according to the Aryan Nations
Web site, "deeply troubled concerning
the future of his nation….Governmental
edicts seemed to be always contrary to the
best interest of the nation, and of the
White Race, in particular." He 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 para-military
California Rangers, and a founder of the anti-government 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 - and grandiose
anti-Semite - Wesley Swift.1 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 then moved his congregation to Northern Idaho, where it became, in
his words, a "Call to the Nation," 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."
Focal Point for the White Race
Today a frail octogenarian, Richard Butler remains one of the country's most prominent
and longstanding proponents of white nationalism and religious racism. His ideology melds the
fundamentals of Christian Identity with paramilitaristic, Nazi-like views and a high regard for
Adolf Hitler. He has reportedly asserted that while Jesus Christ was the greatest man who ever
lived, Hitler was a close second. It is no surprise, then, that he has always had associates across
the spectrum of right-wing extremist groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazi
National Alliance and anti-government militias.
In 1981, for example, Butler was linked closely with imprisoned German neo-Nazi
Manfred Roeder, whom Butler hailed as "the truly Great Aryan Leader of Europe this
day!" [sic] The connection to Roeder was significant in that it provided networking
opportunities between Butler and other Roeder supporters - including James K. Warner,
head of the New Christian Crusade Church in Louisiana, National Alliance boss William
Pierce and anti-Semitic propagandist Willis Carto.
Shortly thereafter, in 1983, several of Butler's followers joined with members of the
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. To this end, The Order committed
a series of violent crimes in 1983 and 1984 - including murder, bombings and armed robbery.
Members of the group were eventually arrested and imprisoned, while its founder and leader
Robert Mathews, an active recruiter for the National Alliance, was ultimately killed in a fire
during a shootout with federal agents in December 1984.
Until quite recently, Butler's compound was arguably the closest substitute for the
Aryan homeland Mathews and his colleagues had sought. Situated in the otherwise
peaceful community of Hayden Lake, Idaho, it 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
far-right groups, Butler hosted annual white supremacist summer "festivals," known as the
World Congress of Aryan Nations, that turned his 20-acre Northern Idaho digs into a
central gathering point for extremists of all stripes. 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 these conferences, which have attracted as many as 200 participants, Butler offered
paramilitary training in urban terrorism and guerrilla warfare as well as, more generally, a chance
for like-minded extremists to meet and discuss topics of mutual interest; he referred to his
joint efforts with Klansmen and other hate-movement figures as an "interrelationship of people
with the same beliefs and ideas." 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 also
hosted such mandarins of the far right as Klansman 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.2 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.
Butler also expanded his reach by hosting youth activities at his 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 rock bands,
including Bound for Glory, Christian Identity Skins and Odin's Law, a Canadian group.
Since 1979, Butler's cadre has been engaged in active prison outreach as well; it
corresponds with prison 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 so many members of The Order and Aryan Nations were serving long prison
sentences as a result of 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.
Who's the Boss?
During the following decade, contention plagued Butler's inner circle, with several
important Aryan Nations members leaving to form new groups. Carl Franklin, who had been
Chief of Staff, left in the summer of 1993 as a result of disagreements 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 more than two years. They and two other members moved to western Montana to
form their own white supremacist group - the Church of Jesus Christ Christian of Montana.
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; Lyons is 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 somewhat 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.
Months later, in December, Butler's wife, Betty, whom he married in 1941, died of
cancer. Dispirited, the aging leader's health also declined, and the question of selecting a
successor became increasingly relevant. At the time, it was thought that Louis 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
became involved with Butler in 1981, serving as Aryan Nations Ambassador-at-Large and
purchasing property on the Northern Idaho panhandle, not far from Hayden Lake; he had
delivered well-received speeches at the 1993 and 1995 world congresses that bolstered his
standing as the most likely successor. However, after failing to attend the
1996 gathering Beam unexpectedly fell out of favor with movement radicals, allegedly for
toning down his anti-Semitism.
For a time in 1997, Aryan Nations' Ohio chapter - one of the 18 "state offices" the
organization now claims 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; they also distributed anti-black and anti-Semitic fliers, especially targeting 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 of
Dayton, 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 regularly
attended Aryan Nations events in Idaho, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and California. In August
2001, however, Britton died of cancer at the age of 75.
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. Butler also requires Church members 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 his organization.
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.
Butler's fortunes shortly took a negative turn, however, when Victoria and Jason
Keenan filed a lawsuit against him and Aryan Nations; in 1998, the mother and son had
momentarily stopped their car on a road in front of Butler's compound, whereupon they
were assaulted, chased and shot at by Aryan Nations guards. In September 2000, a jury
found Butler and the group guilty of negligence in the selection, training and supervision
of the guards, and the Keenans, who were represented by the Southern Poverty Law
Center, were awarded a $6.3 million judgment. Butler was forced to declare bankruptcy
and have his assets liquidated in order to begin paying off the debt. The 20-acre Aryan
Nations compound and the Aryan Nations name were legally handed over to the Keenans,
and Butler renamed the organization, at least temporarily, the Aryan National Alliance.
Bertollini purchased a new home for the Identity pastor in nearby Hayden, Idaho, where
Butler vowed to continue running the group.
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 with ties
to Aryan Nations. During the 1995 Aryan World Congress, the Spokane Spokesman-
Review reported, a faction of state Aryan Nations leaders attempted unsuccessfully to wrest
power 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 and racist theology, 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, in the wake of these defections, Butler made an effort to rejuvenate
Aryan Nations, appointing 21-year-old Shawn Winkler as Acting Staff Leader and Youth
Activities Coordinator. Winkler already held permits for three marches for the upcoming
year, in Sandpoint, Rathdrum and Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Butler also announced the
start-up of a new telephone hot line, 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 uncertain.
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 late September 2001, Aryan Nations announced that Butler had chosen Ohio's
Harold Ray Redfeairn as his successor. In a shuffling of titles whose effect remains to be
seen, he also named August Kreis "Director of Information" and Shawn Winkler
"Director of Aryan Nation Youth Corps." The announcement stated that the group
would be opening an office and "church grounds" in Ulysses, Pennsylvania, where Kreis
lives. Butler, the announcement said, "will continue to remain the rock and spiritual
leader of Aryan Nations but will be taking a less active role in the everyday running of
the Aryan Nations affairs."
1Swift made such statements as "all Jews must be destroyed" and "I prophesy that before November 1953, there will not be a Jew in the United States, and by that I mean a Jew that will be able to walk or talk." Gale's attitudes were comparable: "You got your nigger Jews, you got your Asiatic Jews and you got your white Jews. They're all Jews, and they're all the offspring of the devil."
2In 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).