Neo-Nazi Icon, Richard Butler, Is Dead
Posted: September 9, 2004
Richard Butler, the 86-year-old head of Aryan Nations, once the most infamous neo-Nazi group in the country, died on September 8, 2004. Butler, who outlived several designated successors, led the group for over three decades from his base in Hayden, Idaho, a menacing armed compound. However, in recent years, his ailing health and the loss of the compound due to a lawsuit had diminished the group's numbers and influence. Despite the waning influence of the group, individual members continued to be involved in a number of serious crimes.
Butler, a one-time engineer, began his involvement in the white supremacist movement after World War II when he embraced racist and anti-Semitic Christian Identity beliefs and started attending meetings of Wesley Swift's Christian Defense League. In 1971, when Swift died, Butler declared himself Swift's successor. He soon took Swift's Church of Jesus Christ Christian to Northern Idaho, renaming it Aryan Nations. The group's yearly congresses at its headquarters in Hayden attracted a wide range of racists over the years—from Klan members to skinheads to neo-Nazis.
At these congresses, which were attended by as many as 200 participants, Butler offered paramilitary training and guerilla warfare, and provided a haven for like-minded extremists to discuss their vision for an all-white nation. Butler himself urged racists to settle in the Pacific Northwest, and many did. In addition to these gatherings, Butler reached out to white supremacists in prison and tried to recruit young people through an "Aryan Nations Academy," which he established in the early 1980s.
A number of extremists, inspired by Butler's teachings, committed violent acts over the years. Among the most notorious crimes were the string of armored car robberies and murders carried out by members of The Order in the early 1980s and the shooting spree at a Los Angeles Jewish daycare center by one-time Aryan Nations member Buford Furrow in 1999.
Just in the past several years, seven different Aryan Nations members (many with previous convictions) have been arrested for alleged crimes ranging from weapons charges to hate crimes; four such arrests occurred in April-May 2004 alone, including an alleged firebombing of a synagogue in Oklahoma City in April 2004.
In the 1990s, Aryan Nations began to experience problems. Contention within the organization caused some members to leave to form their own groups. The organization also took a big hit in 1998 when a mother and son, Victoria and Jason Keenan, filed a lawsuit against the group after being assaulted by Aryan Nations guards when they stopped their car near the Aryan Nations compound. In September 2000, a jury found Butler and his group guilty of negligence in the selection, training and supervision of the guards, and the Keenans were awarded 6.3 million dollars. Butler was forced to declare bankruptcy and lost his compound in Hayden.
Over the next few years, Butler's health continued to deteriorate, and without a home base, his group began to lose both members and influence. Infighting in the group also led to the formation of various factions. At one time, three different factions vied for hegemony of Aryan Nations. In 2001, Butler named Ray Redfeairn as his successor. Redfeairn, however, left the group that year and formed his own faction, only to return in 2002. Redfeairn died in 2003 before he could take the reins.
In the last two years of his life, Butler remained a revered figure in the extremist world and was a featured speaker at a number of white supremacist gatherings around the country. Despite serious health problems, he even ran for mayor in Hayden in 2003. He continued to hold Aryan Nations congresses in a public park in Idaho but the 2004 event only attracted about 40 followers. The future of Butler's group remains uncertain. But the legacy that Butler left—helping to create a generation's worth of extreme racists and anti-Semites determined to follow in his footsteps—is unfortunate.