Aryan Nations Leader Richard Girnt Butler in Final Days of Life
A life of hate, and the future in the balance
Butler was born on Feb. 23, 1918, in Bennett, Colo., east of Denver, the son of a machinist of German-English ancestry and his wife. Clarence Butler moved his family to Denver in the early 1920s, and although he wasn't active in the large Ku Klux Klan organization there, he didn't hide his dislike for Jews from his son.
At 11, the younger Butler got a job delivering Liberty Magazine. In its pages, he read a serialized novel, The Red Napoleon, written by a Chicago Tribune war correspondent. The stories, which described an invasion and takeover of the United States by race-mixing Bolsheviks, mesmerized the boy.
After the Depression set in, the Butlers moved to East Los Angeles. Richard Butler studied aeronautical engineering and science at a city college there, beginning a 25-cents-an-hour, part-time job at Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Co. The company sent Butler to Bangalore, India, to overhaul airplanes for the Royal Indian Air Force.
In India, Butler was given the honorary rank of captain in the Indian Air Force — a title that brought with it a Hindu valet named Jeroum. The two became friends, and Jeroum explained to Butler India's caste system and its concept of racial purity.
It was a message of race that Butler would never forget.
In 1941, Butler returned to Los Angeles and married the former Betty Litch in a Presbyterian church. The couple attended the church for some time, but soon, Butler had decided the church's pastor was preaching communist doctrine.
After Pearl Harbor, Butler enlisted in the Army Air Corps, although he never saw action. Instead, he taught aircraft hydraulics to military mechanics.
Butler never signed on to the war's rationale.
"In the newsreels of the day, I was thrilled to see the movies of the marching Germans," he recalled a half-century later. "In those days, all we knew was that Hitler hated communists, and so did my folks — as we did as teenagers."
After the war, Butler's views hardened further.
His childhood heroes — Charles Lindbergh, Davy Crockett, Patrick Henry and George Washington — soon were replaced. Now, Butler asserted, Hitler was the second greatest man, after Jesus Christ, who had ever lived.
America's troubles, he said, were due to "Jewish communism."
The couple moved to Montebello, Calif., after the war, raising two daughters. In later life, the girls would keep their distance from Butler's racist beliefs. But his wife, until her death in 1995, shared his anti-Semitic, white supremacist credo.
Listening to broadcasts of Sen. Joe McCarthy's anti-communist hearings, Butler was enchanted. He sent money to support McCarthy's campaign, a movement that would ultimately help spawn the ultraconservative John Birch Society.
From Hitler to the American Nazi Party
It was while helping organize a signature campaign to "expose" suspected communist teachers with the California Committee to Combat Communism that Butler met one of his most important influences: William Potter Gale, a retired Army colonel who was on the staff of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Gale would later introduce Butler to the Posse Comitatus, an armed vigilante group begun in 1970.
Butler also met and admired George Lincoln Rockwell, the American Nazi Party founder who was assassinated by one of his own followers in 1967.
But it was through Gale that Butler was introduced to Christian Identity. In 1961, Butler began attending the church of the Anglo-Saxon Christian Congregation in Lancaster, Calif., pastored by a Gale acolyte, Dr. Wesley Swift.
Swift preached that whites are the true Israelites, God's elect. Jews, he said, were descended directly from a mating of Eve and the devil. In long, private sessions during the 1960s, Butler studied with Swift and absorbed his racist theology. Their friendship, Butler would say, was the "most rewarding of all personal relationships."
Swift's message? "It was my race to whom I owed my allegiance, not to politicians who serve to enslave and destroy my people in behalf of anti-Christ, world Jewry." God demands racial separation, Butler later added, using the example of Noah's Ark: "The elephants are with the elephants; the lions are with the lions."
A former Klan organizer, Swift formed the bitterly anti-Semitic Christian Defense League in 1962, choosing Butler to be its national director until 1965. At around the same time, Butler took a correspondence course from the American Institute of Theology, based in Arkansas, and became an ordained Identity minister.
Tubeless Tires and a 'White Homeland'
In 1968, Butler was hired as a senior marketing engineer by Lockheed Aircraft Co., helping to set up assembly lines to build the L-1011 jumbo jet. He got a private pilot's license and began making trips to the Pacific Northwest — at the same time that he began to dream of creating a "white homeland" in that part of the country.
During this period, Butler became co-inventor of a rapid repair system for the tubeless tire. It's not known how much money this invention provided, but his financial status allowed him to retire at age 55 and move to Hayden Lake in 1974.
Purchasing an old farmhouse, Butler soon formed his own "Christian Posse Comitatus" group. On March 12, 1975, he and his followers attempted to "arrest" a police officer who was about to testify against a man arrested for assault. The incident generated the first of hundreds of headlines about Butler in Idaho.
A short time later, after a squabble with other Posse leaders, Butler was charged with pointing a handgun outside the home of a Posse newspaper publisher.
By 1977, Butler had decided to form the Church of Jesus Christ Christian at his farmhouse (the political arm of the church would be called Aryan Nations). He applied for tax-exempt status for his compound but was denied by state officials.
In 1980, Butler and three followers were convicted of trespassing after creating a disturbance at a Boise motel. The motel manager had refused to allow the group a conference room for a meeting. Officers seized two handguns from the group.
An Attack on the Compound
The following year, Butler's church was bombed — an attack he immediately blamed on the Jewish Defense League. The bombing, which caused $80,000 in damage but no injuries, was never solved. Butler responded by building a two-story guard tower at his church and posting armed guards around his property.
A month later, Butler hosted his first Aryan World Congress. The event, the first such annual gathering of many, drew nearly every significant racist leader around. It also became the chief venue for what was perhaps Butler's most important message: the idea that the Pacific Northwest should be a homeland for whites and whites only.
He told his followers that he had an ally for his "territorial imperative" — dividing up the United States into racial mini-states — in Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the black separatist group Nation of Islam. At the same time, Butler began building a national organization, appointing state leaders of Aryan Nations chapters.
In June 1983, Butler and his followers held a rally in Spokane's Riverfront Park — the same park that had hosted a 1974 world's fair dedicated to cultural diversity. At the rally was a man who would become one of Butler's most frightening followers: Robert J. Mathews, founder of the terrorist group The Order.
That fall, Mathews and others who met at Aryan Nations secretly formed their group. They initially funded their intended race war by printing counterfeit money on Aryan Nations' presses — something Butler claims he had no knowledge of.
The group quickly graduated to armed robberies of adult bookstores and security guards moving money to Seattle. In July 1984, 14 members of the group pulled off the right's biggest heist ever: a $3.8 million robbery of an armored car in Ukiah, Calif.
Later court testimony indicated some of that money went to Butler; more money, testimony revealed, went to other racist leaders around the country. But the FBI could never say how much Butler had received, and it could not prove he knew the money was stolen. Still, the FBI kept an open criminal investigation of Butler.
By early 1985, members of The Order were on the run after shootouts with the FBI in Sandpoint, Idaho; Portland, Ore.; and Whidbey Island, Wash., where Mathews was killed in a December 1984 gun battle.
"I wish I had been with him when he died," Butler said a few days after Mathews' death, "but I don't have the guts anymore."