Aryan Nations Leader Richard Girnt Butler in Final Days of Life
A life of hate, and the future in the balance
For a quarter of a century, he has preached the gospel of white supremacy, drawing together the oft-warring factions of the radical right in the United States. From his armed compound in the Idaho panhandle, would-be revolutionaries have sallied forth, raining death and destruction on those they oppose. His writings and his racist religion have formed the basis and the justification for insurrection.
Richard Girnt Butler, the founder and leader of both the Church of Jesus Christ Christian and Aryan Nations, is the hub of the wheel of racist revolution, the eye of the white supremacist storm — indeed, he is the elder statesman of American hate.
Now, at 80 years old, he is in the twilight of his days.
For decades, Butler's followers have engaged in criminal acts, ranging from assassination to armed robberies, bombings, counterfeiting and racial assaults. Today, as he nears the end of his life, the future of the organization that may have done more than any other to promote modern racism is in question.
Whether or not Butler's Aryan Nations remains a central fixture on the neo-Nazi scene, whether or not a successor of Butler's measure takes over, may shape the future of the extremist right.
Of the past, however, there is little doubt.
While his late wife described him as a man who "wouldn't spank a puppy dog," few outsiders would agree with that summation. Up the road to his 20-acre compound, where a sign warns "Whites Only" and German Shepherds patrol, the principal leaders and terrorists of the radical right have made their pilgrimages.
Racist, steel-toe-booted Skinheads have worshipped here at the feet of the father figure of American racism. Even racist leaders and organizers from Canada, Germany, Italy and elsewhere have trekked to the compound to try to pull the neo-Nazi movement together.
Adolf Hitler is Butler's idol; Christian Identity, his religion. He believes he and others of northern European ancestry are the true Israelites, God's real children. For Richard Butler, race is religion, and religion is nation.
A 'Who's Who' of Hate
That has proved to be a lethal formula.
· A leading group of domestic terrorists, a band called The Order, had its roots in Aryan Nations and drew its inspiration from Butler's preaching in the 1980s. Many members of the group, which conducted a campaign of terror culminating in the murder of Denver talk show host Alan Berg, had been Aryan Nations members.
· Two men recently re-indicted in Arkansas, Chevie Kehoe and Danny Lee, both have ties to Aryan Nations. They are facing federal racketeering charges, covering five murders, kidnappings, robberies and transportation of stolen goods.
· Members of the Aryan Republican Army, a group that carried out up to 22 bank robberies in the mid-1990s to fund a white supremacist revolution, had ties to Aryan Nations. One plotter, Mark Thomas, was Butler's Pennsylvania state leader.
· Members of another terrorist group, The New Order, also had frequented Aryan Nations. Four of five defendants pleaded guilty after their arrests this year to charges in connection with an alleged plot to blow up the Southern Poverty Law Center, kill its co-founder Morris Dees, poison cities' water supplies and bomb state capitol buildings.
· One of Butler's security chiefs, apparently incensed by Butler's tirades, offered $2,000 for a hitman to kill an informant. Another security chief, who formed a group called The Order II, went to prison after the group bombed a federal building in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and the home of civil rights activist Bill Wassmuth.
· Nathan Thill, a Skinhead who last November confessed on television to murdering a black man in Denver solely because the man "was wearing the enemy's uniform" — his black skin — was Butler's organizer in the Mile-High City.
Over the years, a virtual "who's who" of the hate movement has shown up for Butler's annual Aryan World Congress and other similar gatherings.
William Pierce, who approvingly describes a race war in his novel, The Turner Diaries, has been there. So have longtime hatemonger and former Texas Klan leader Louis Beam; Thom Robb of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan; Tom Metzger of the White Aryan Resistance; the late Michigan Klansman Bob Miles; and James Wickstrom and Jack Mohr, both of whom have ties to the violently racist Posse Comitatus.
Over the years, Aryan Nations also developed a sophisticated prison ministry, distributing racist Identity materials to inmates under the legal umbrella of religious freedom. In Texas alone, more than 600 prisoners are registered Identity adherents.
On July 18, Butler and some 90 followers paraded through the streets of Coeur d'Alene, near his Hayden Lake compound, in what may have been one of his last hurrahs. He was met by jeers from hundreds of counterdemonstrators.
But the story of Richard Butler begins long before.