As Butler Gives Up Leadership, Aryan Nations Fragments
Posted: July 17, 2002
Two white supremacists fleeing from the disintegrating neo-Nazi organization Aryan Nations have announced the formation of a new group called "Church of the Sons of Yahweh," headquartered in Ohio. Harold "Ray" Redfeairn, of Dayton, Ohio, briefly the leader of Aryan Nations, and Morris Gulett, an associate of Redfeairn now living in Louisiana, head the group, which supports "racial segregation and white racial supremacy." What is perhaps most disturbing is that both the remnant Aryan Nations and the new Church of the Sons of Yahweh have adopted the concept of a violent class of white "warriors for God" called the Phineas Priesthood. Thus factional infighting may lead to an increased risk of violence or even terrorism.
A "Nation" in Decline
Aryan Nations was once the most infamous neo-Nazi group in the United States, but it has fallen upon hard times recently, due to the declining health of 84-year-old founder Richard Butler and to a successful lawsuit launched against the group by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of victims of an assault by Aryan Nations security guards. Butler lost his Northern Idaho compound in 2001, but some of his followers had been leaving the sinking ship of Aryan Nations even earlier, joining other racist groups or starting their own. To salvage what was left of Aryan Nations, Butler agreed to turn over the reins of power to a triumvirate that included his assistant Shaun Winkler, Pennsylvania white supremacist August Kreis, and Redfeairn.
The "new and improved" Aryan Nations did not last long before internal squabbling brought it down. Its various personalities began by accusing each other of misdeeds; eventually, they mutually expelled each other. When the dust settled, three Aryan Nations factions emerged: 1) the remnant Aryan Nations headquartered in northern Idaho and led by the ailing Richard Butler and Shaun Winkler; 2) the "renegade" Aryan Nations headquartered in Pennsylvania and led by August Kreis and Charles Juba; and 3) the new Church of the Sons of Yahweh headquartered in Ohio and led by Ray Redfeairn Morris Gulett (the latter in Louisiana).
The Church of the Sons of Yahweh may be the most disturbing of the various factions. Few Aryan Nations members could be considered "moderate," but Redfeairn and Gulett certainly number among the most radical. Both are men with violent criminal pasts. Redfeairn tried to kill a Dayton police officer during a traffic stop in 1979, shooting the officer three times (the officer survived). That earned Redfeairn a stay in prison until 1991. Once out, Redfeairn continued to get in trouble with the law, earning convictions on DUI charges, aggravated menacing, and disorderly conduct. His extreme beliefs hardened as well: he dabbled with the Klan, then joined Aryan Nations. Redfeairn emerged as its Ohio leader in 1997, establishing his headquarters in an old Klan hall building in New Vienna and making his debut with a surprise visit to the trial of white supremacist bank robber Peter Langan in Columbus. Redfeairn's tenure as Ohio Aryan Nations head was brief; by October 1997 he was sentenced to six months in prison after pleading guilty to carrying a concealed knife and brass knuckles. After his release, Redfeairn moved around, at times staying with Richard Butler on his Hayden Lake, Idaho, compound. As Butler's health failed, Redfeairn positioned himself to be the neo-Nazi's successor.
Morris Gulett followed faithfully in Redfeairn's footsteps, beginning as a disciple in his mentor's gang of Ohio Aryans. In March 1997, Gulett was arrested for ramming a Dayton police department cruiser with his van. He was charged with two counts of felonious assault on a police officer (the second count was due to a separate incident with a park ranger). Gulett faced up to twenty years in jail, but a plea bargain allowed him to serve only about a year in prison. After his release, he eventually ended up in Louisiana, where he became that state's Aryan Nations leader upon the accession of Redfeairn to power.
One of the most disturbing features to accompany the disintegration of Aryan Nations has been the conscious reintroduction of "Phineas Priest" concepts by several of the factions. Aryan Nations is a Christian Identity group; Christian Identity is a racist and anti-Semitic religious sect whose members believe that white people are the descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel, that Jews are descended from Satan, and that blacks and other non-white races are soulless "mud peoples." One of the most radical Christian Identity theorists is Richard Kelly Hoskins, who in 1990 invented the notion of the "Phineas Priest," built around the concept of the biblical Phinehas, who used a spear to slay an Israelite and a Midianite who had lain together. Phineas Priests believe themselves modern day Phinehases, with a self-appointed mission to strike out in the most violent and ruthless way against race mixers, abortionists, homosexuals, Jews, and other perceived enemies.
The Phineas Priesthood does not exist as an organization or formal group, but a number of individual extremists have identified themselves as Phineas Priests, often as a way to justify criminal acts they committed earlier. One chilling example of a group of extremists who openly operated as a Phineas Priest cell, though, are the "Spokane Bank Bandits" who terrorized eastern Washington in 1995-96. These heavily armed terrorists bombed an abortion clinic and a newspaper office in Spokane as diversions for bank robberies designed to get money for their cause. They left messages behind identifying themselves as Phineas Priests. Three of them were arrested following a failed robbery attempt in Portland, Oregon, in October 1996; a fourth was caught soon after (it is thought that perhaps as many as four more members remain unapprehended). Three-Robert Berry, Charles Barbee, and Verne Jay Merrel-were sentenced to life in prison without parole, and the fourth, Brian Ratigan, to 55 years in jail.
The Phineas Priest concept lost popularity in the late 1990s, but references to Phineas Priests and Phineas Priest activity once more became common among Aryan Nations members in early 2002. Some of the references were chilling. In April 2002, for example, Pennsylvania Aryan Nations leader and Kreis disciple Joshua Caleb Sutter praised Palestinian suicide bombers who killed Israeli civilians, predicted America would also soon see such bombers, and expressed hope that "Phineas Priests and Priestesses" would awake to join Islamic extremists in executing vengeance. On the Pennsylvania Aryan Nations Web site, Sutter proclaimed that the "Phineas Priesthood is alive and well in this state and we will be coming soon to a church near you!" To a newspaper reporter he identified himself as a Phineas Priest. Soon the August Kreis's Aryan Nations Web site began openly recruiting people to become Phineas Priests with a page that prominently displayed images of Osama bin Laden and a suicide bomber.
The factional fighting between first Butler on one hand and Kreis and Redfeairn on the other, then between Kreis and Redfeairn themselves, has resulted in a competition for the support of Aryan Nation's dwindling membership. Redfeairn in particular has traveled around the country from California to Georgia, to meet with members of Aryan Nations chapters as well as other extremist groups to drum up support for himself. When extremist groups engage in such competitions for membership, they frequently try to adopt stances more radical than those adopted by their opponents; thus Kreis and Redfeairn may be engaging in a war to "outradical" each other. As soon as Redfeairn and Gulett established a Web site for their own new group, the Church of the Sons of Yahweh, they too committed themselves to the concept of the Phineas Priesthood, by choosing as the group's symbol the image of the Phineas Priesthood-the letter "P" with a line through it (to represent the spear of Phinehas).
Redfeairn and Gulett may or may not win over Butler or Kreis supporters, but the more disturbing possibility is that all of this infighting may serve to radicalize both factions and inspire adherents of either faction actually to commit crimes in the name of the "Phineas Priesthood" rather than simply fantasizing about them. Already, Redfeairn and Gulett have announced a radio broadcast on the subject of "The Holocaust: Does Yahweh demand genocide?" This is billed as a "hard hitting Jew exposing sermon," in which Redfeairn asks, "Does God demand the total annihilation of a particular people?" Meanwhile, the Aryan Nations faction headed by Kreis and Juba has openly proclaimed on its Web site that "We are not a non-violent organization" and announced its support for "any and all efforts that disrupt the system and lead to system breakdown." These violent words may lead to violent action in the future.
The Disintegration of Aryan Nations
Church of Jesus Christ Christian/Aryan Nations. Headquartered: Hayden Lake, Idaho. Prominent leaders: Richard Butler (ID), Shaun Winkler (ID), Don Campbell (MN), Jeremy Hinkle/Dan Hinkle (MD), Mike McQueeney (WI). Claims contacts in: ID, CA, MN, MD, NH, LA, TX, NC, PA, SC, Germany.
Church of Jesus Christ Christian/Aryan Nations. Headquartered: Ulysses, Pennsylvania. Prominent leaders: August Kreis (PA), Charles Juba (PA), Joshua Caleb Sutter (PA). Claims contacts in: PA, NY, Russia.
Church of the Sons of Yahweh. Headquartered: Dayton, Ohio. Prominent leaders: Ray Redfeairn (OH), Morris Gulett (LA). Claims contacts in: OH, LA.
Church of True Israel. The first splinter group from Aryan Nations. It broke off in 1996 (but did not become active until later). In 1998, the Spokane Statesman Review spotted Charles Mangels wearing a Phineas Priest belt buckle. Prominent leaders: Charles Mangels (MT), James Dillavou (IA), John Miller (MT), Ed Dosh (MT), Stanley McCollum (AL), John Burke (ID). Headquartered: Originally Noxon, Montana, then Couer d'Alene, Idaho. Claims contacts in: ID, MT, IA.