Aryan Nations Leader Richard Girnt Butler in Final Days of Life
A life of hate, and the future in the balance
In March 1985, Butler was subpoenaed and testified before a federal grand jury in Seattle. A month later, the grand jury returned racketeering indictments against 23 members of The Order. Butler was not indicted, and he later attacked as traitors those Order members who pleaded guilty and testified against their former comrades.
Hearing his boss' tirades, Butler's security chief, Eldon "Bud" Cutler, decided to seek revenge. Days later, he was caught on videotape offering $2,000 to a hitman to kill the informant who put the FBI on the trail of The Order. But the "hitman" turned out to be an FBI agent, and Cutler went to prison in 1986 for conspiracy.
As Butler honored The Order at his 1986 Aryan World Congress, a newcomer from Iowa listened intently. Randy Weaver, who had just moved to Idaho to pursue his dream of white separatism, also attended congresses in 1987 and 1989.
Shortly after, Weaver became a fugitive on weapons charges. After a shootout at his Ruby Ridge, Idaho, mountaintop cabin, followed by an 11-day standoff, federal agents shot Weaver's wife and son, making him a martyr to the radical right.
Butler's next security chief, David Dorr, soon got into trouble of his own. After creating a sequel group, The Order II, he was convicted of charges related to the group's bombing of a federal building and the home of a human rights leader.
The government had long sought to bring major criminal charges against Butler. In 1987, a grand jury in Fort Smith, Ark., agreed, returning a seditious conspiracy charge against Butler, Beam, Miles and 11 others. The indictment said the men were "godfathers" of a conspiracy hatched at the 1983 Aryan World Congress.
Five days after his arrest, Butler had chest pains in his jail cell. At government expense, he underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery. A week later, a second surgery was performed to unblock his carotid artery, supplying blood to his head.
Ultimately, prosecutors failed to convince a jury that the defendants had conspired to start a race war using Order members as soldiers. All were acquitted.
'Sea Monkeys' and a Legacy of Hate
His health restored, Butler returned to the cause with a vengeance. In April 1989, to commemorate Hitler's 100th birthday, he invited racist Skinheads to Aryan Nations — the beginning of a campaign to enlist younger whites in the movement.
His annual Aryan Youth Conferences, drawing as many as 200 Skinheads, became an important organizing tool, even attracting some young men in the military.
One recently discharged soldier joined Butler's flock in 1990. With two others he met at the compound, he attempted to emulate The Order. But the FBI arrested the group in Seattle, where they'd traveled with plans to bomb a gay bar.
In 1993, two of Butler's staunchest supporters — associate pastor Carl Franklin and security chief Wayne Jones — left for Montana. Their departure apparently had to do with a behind-the-scenes struggle over the future of Aryan Nations. Earlier, Butler had publicly chosen Franklin as his successor, but then changed his mind.
When Butler's wife died on Dec. 1, 1995, her funeral service was conducted by Harold Von Braunhut, a millionaire who describes himself as an Aryan pastor. Von Braunhut is the eccentric Maryland inventor who marketed "sea monkeys" and "X-ray glasses" for years through advertisements placed in comic books.
Since that time, the increasingly frail Butler has remained active in the movement. He is unrepentant about the legacy of bloodshed and criminal activity that has flowed from his wooded compound off Rimrock Road.
But attendance at his congresses and other functions has diminished steadily, and there is some evidence that the heart of the racist movement has moved elsewhere, to such neo-Nazi rivals as Pierce's West Virginia-based National Alliance. Aryan Nations lost more than half its state chapters in 1997, retaining just 13.
Before his recent march, Butler told reporters he had named a successor, fellow Identity minister Neuman Britton. Britton is married to the widow of Gordon Kahl, a Posse leader who killed two U.S. marshals in 1983 and was later killed himself in an Arkansas shootout.
A Californian, Britton has frequented Aryan Nations for years, but it's unclear whether he would move to Idaho upon Butler's death or set up a new organization on the West Coast.
There are indications that Butler's daughters and heirs could sell the land from which he has preached racial hatred for the last 25 years. The many arrests of Butler's followers have cut deeply into his strength, leaving him increasingly isolated and irrelevant. But it is clearly too early to write off Aryan Nations, an organization that has survived despite decades of attacks.
That is certainly Richard Butler's view. "If I were to die tomorrow or anything else," Butler promised defiantly during the 1980s, "it will still go on."