Louis Ray Beam Jr.: Racist Leader Headed for Downfall?
As the situation heated up, lawyers from the Southern Poverty Law Center stepped in to seek injunctions ordering the Klan to cease its intimidation and shut down a total of five paramilitary camps. (At one point, Gene Fisher, the fishermen's leader, told reporters that 50 to 60 of his followers had trained in Beam's camps.)
It was the beginning of a personal hatred that Beam would harbor for decades against Morris Dees, co-founder of the Center and the lead lawyer in the case.
In one deposition, Beam sat across from Dees, holding a book titled Exorcism and mouthing, "You die, you die, you die." At another, Dees suspected Beam was carrying a pistol.
On the street one day, Beam pantomimed firing a gun — a paper bag covered his firing hand — at Dees and other Center staffers.
In the end, a judge entered an injunction barring the defendants from intimidating the Vietnamese. Not long after, another injunction was entered that barred the Klan from operating paramilitary camps.
Beam made some key contacts in this period.
He traveled in 1981 to the Idaho compound of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations, led by Richard Butler, then a rising star on the white supremacist scene (see Aryans, Interrupted). Butler would soon return the favor by attending a rally in Galveston Bay — and by giving Beam the title of Aryan Nations "ambassador at large."
Beam also got help from Neill Payne, who conducted training sessions at Beam's paramilitary Klan camps. Today, Payne is a principal of the Southern Legal Resource Center, led by white supremacist lawyer and Beam pal Kirk Lyons. Both men, despite their associations with extremist groups, deny they are racists.
In March 1982, Beam moved to Butler's 20-acre compound, beginning in earnest a relationship that would last for many years. At that July's Aryan World Congress, Beam was awarded the "Aryans of Outstanding Valor" medal.
That same year, Beam was arrested on a Texas warrant accusing him of kidnapping his daughter, Sarah, who was then a little over 2 years old, from the Dallas apartment of his third ex-wife, Kara Mikels.
(Sheila Toohey, Beam's fourth ex-wife and the person battling him in the ongoing custody dispute, says in court papers that Beam took the toddler to Mexico, Costa Rica and Canada, staying abroad for two years.)
But the charges were dropped. Officials said that Mikels may have been feeling pressure from Beam's Klan associates.
In her filing, Toohey alleges that Beam had a third party contact Mikels "and threaten her that if she ever wanted to see her daughter again she had better drop all charges." Beam denies that.
In January 1983, Morris Dees received a letter from Beam on Aryan Nations stationery:
I challenge you to a dual [sic] to the death ... You against me. No federal judges, no federal marshals, no FBI agents, not anyone except yourself and I. We go to the woods (your state or mine) and settle once and for all the enmity that exists between us. Two go in — one comes out.
Enter The Order
Later in 1983, the militant mood of the Aryan World Congress was captured in a Beam speech. "We are at war!" Beam told attendees. "There's nothing we won't do to bring about the new kingdom." Several listeners would take him at his word.
Two months later, in September, a number of Beam's friends at Aryan Nations secretly formed a group known as The Order, or the Silent Brotherhood.
Led by Robert J. Mathews, the group would print counterfeit money on the Aryan Nations' presses before going on to rob armored cars and murder enemies.
The Order would become one of the most famous domestic terrorist groups of modern American history.
Beam's ties to the group — many of whose members were his close friends — have never been clear. But it is known that Mathews handed out copies of Beam's Essays of a Klansman, published at Aryan Nations in 1983.
The book was dedicated to 10 racist leaders and "those yet unknown patriots, who are even now preparing to strike at the enemies of God, our race and our nation."
The FBI later concluded this was a reference to The Order.
At one point in The Order's two-year criminal rampage — before Mathews was killed in a shootout with the FBI and some 24 others were imprisoned — Mathews distributed a document to his followers entitled "Bruders Schweigen [German for Silent Brotherhood] Staff." Louis Beam, under the code name "Lone Star," was listed as the future civilian leader of the "Western district" of America.
'American Know-How' and the Revolution
In one of the Beam essays that Order members read, he laid out a detailed "point system" to become an "Aryan warrior," and offered a list of proposed targets that included members of the media. (He would later popularize this point system over his computer network.)
Later, The Order drew up its own assassination list. At the top was Dees, according to a book by journalists Kevin Flynn and Gary Gerhardt, The Silent Brotherhood: Inside America's Racist Underground.
But Order members skipped down to an easier target, Denver radio talk show host Alan Berg, who had angered rightists earlier. The Order murdered Berg on June 18, 1984.
At around the same time, Beam showed up unexpectedly one day at the refurbished offices of the Southern Poverty Law Center — they had been torched the year before by three Klansman who literally came up out of the sewers.
Wearing a suit and tie, Beam was posing as a documentary maker, trying to get into Center offices. Accompanying him was Thom Robb, a principal of Beam's old group, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The men were recognized and turned away.
At the 1984 Aryan World Congress, held at the Aryan Nations compound in Hayden Lake, Idaho, Beam and Col. Jack Mohr, another white supremacist activist, taught an urban guerrilla warfare class to those in attendance, including some Order members.
They used an extremist training manual, The Road Back, that among other things detailed how to start fires with time-delayed incendiary devices.
That night, a still unexplained series of seven arson fires broke out in nearby Spokane, Wash., causing an estimated $5 million in damage. Every available firefighter was called out as a major section of downtown Spokane burned.
There were no arrests, but investigators said they thought it highly likely that the arsonist had attended the class taught by Beam and Mohr earlier in the day.
In 1984, Beam became one of the first three racist activists to establish computerized bulletin boards as a way of communicating within the movement, starting up an Aryan Nations-based network he called Aryan Nations Liberty Net.
The system allowed activists to communicate via dial-up computer systems he set up in Idaho, Texas and North Carolina.
Beam's system was certainly the most successful of the three racist computer networks, and it served as an inspiration to those who would pioneer hate sites on the Internet in the mid-1990s.
In particular, Beam was followed by Don Black — a former fellow officer of David Duke's Knights of the Ku Klux Klan — who would set up the first Internet hate site, known as Stormfront, in March 1995.
"It may very well be that American know-how has provided the technology which will allow those who love this country to save it," Beam wrote at the time. It was a message that would soon be taken up in earnest by the revolutionary right.