Louis Ray Beam Jr.: Racist Leader Headed for Downfall?
Beam, along with the rest of the radical right, was livid over Ruby Ridge. On Oct. 6, he told a crowd of 200 people in Sandpoint, Idaho, that the government was "like a lion that has tasted the blood of human victims." Federal agents were its "paid assassins."
It was a warm-up for the passionate speech Beam gave later that month to some 160 radical leaders who gathered in Estes Park, Colo., to consider a reaction to the events on Ruby Ridge.
In some ways, this meeting helped to shape the contours of the militia movement that would erupt in the next two years — most specifically, its downplaying of racism and emphasis on broad-based, unified resistance.
Beam delivered the message. Christian Identity believers, neo-Nazis, Klansmen, home schoolers, "Constitutionalists," fundamentalists, "Freemen," and others — all were in the same spot.
"Those who wear badges, black boots and carry automatic weapons and kick in doors already know all they need to know about you," he shouted in this famous speech. "You are enemies of the state."
And he offered a remarkably prescient prediction. "I warn you calmly, coldly and without reservation," he said, "that over the next 10 years you will come to hate the federal government more than anything else in your lives."
The next year, 1993, Beam again showed up at the hottest spot on the map of the radical right — Waco, Texas, where the federal government was engaged in a long-running standoff with a well-armed Branch Davidian sect.
Beam came as a writer for Jubilee, a small-circulation newspaper run by an old friend, Paul Hall, that espoused the racist and anti-Semitic theology of Christian Identity.
Beam showed up at the daily press briefing held by the FBI and was turned away. When he reappeared a few days later, shouting a remark to the effect that the United States was a "police state," he was arrested.
Kirk Lyons filed a $300,000 suit against the government on behalf of Hall and Beam, but it went nowhere.
Heading South Again
In the years that followed, Beam was out of sight more often than not.
Rumors abounded in the movement that he was suffering the effects of Agent Orange, that he wasn't healthy and was maybe even dying.
But Beam did show up now and then, writing occasional articles for Jubilee, buying lakeside land with Hall in northern Idaho, and traveling frequently between Texas and Idaho.
In 1994, he went to a conference hosted by E. Tom Stetson, co-founder of the Unorganized Militia of Idaho and yet another Beam confidant. (Beam's Idaho driver's license today lists the address of Stetson's ex-wife, according to documents in the custody case.)
Beam also renewed his strong interest in Costa Rica, where his drug fugitive friend Brian Michael Knoff reportedly has been hiding since 1994. Knoff is known to have helped run a smuggling ring that brought tons of marijuana into the United States — and he is believed to have plowed his profits into the radical right.
In court papers, Beam's ex-wife alleges that Beam worked frequently for Knoff; Beam says in a rejoinder that he went to Costa Rica because of his current wife's work.
The precise relationship between the men is unclear, but it is clearly a close one. Beam's daughter, Sarah, is now married to Knoff's son, Brant. Sheila Toohey alleges in court filings that Knoff has helped Beam financially since the 1980s.
As the '90s progressed, Beam dropped even further out of sight. One exception was his attendance at a major 1996 Christian Identity conference.
Another was his 1997 eulogy for Eva Vail, a fellow anti-government activist, in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. After the funeral concluded with shouts of "Heil victory!" and Nazi salutes, Beam slipped out a back door to avoid reporters and photographers.
Beam married for a fifth time as the millennium approached. In November 2000, he had twin boys with his latest wife, Cathy, naming them after Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.
(Beam, always a great partisan of the antebellum South like his friends Lyons and Payne, had throughout his career used the name of another Confederate war hero, Nathan Bedford Forrest, as a nom de plume. Forrest was the Klan's first national leader.)
Today, Louis Beam's main influence on the movement comes through his writings, especially the essays he frequently posts on his website.
One of the most important came after black-masked anarchists clashed with police during larger anti-globalization protests at the World Trade Organization conference, held in Seattle in late 1999.
In it, Beam argued that the traditional left-right paradigm had no meaning any more, and that hard leftists would make the best recruits of all.
"The new politics of America is liberty from the New World Order police state and nothing more," Beam wrote in his "Battle in Seattle." "The new American patriot will be neither left nor right, just a freeman fighting for liberty."
'Aryan' Hero or Devoted Dad?
Louis Beam has become something of a loner on the radical right, but that is not to say he doesn't have intensely loyal friends.
Walking into a February hearing in the custody case, he was accompanied by four people who were apparently ready to testify on his behalf:
- Katja Lane, an Idaho hard-liner whose husband David Lane is serving a life sentence for crimes committed as a member of The Order;
- Terry Long, a Canadian who was once the Alberta representative of Aryan Nations;
- Bruce Campbell, an anti-government writer from Oregon; and
- Bob Holloway, also from Idaho. Joining them was Beam's fifth wife, Cathy, and their twin sons.
But that show of support may not be enough.
In his 1997 divorce from his fourth wife, Sheila Toohey, Beam was granted only very limited time with his two girls by a Texas judge who said he had "good cause" for the restrictive parenting plan.
Beam sued last year, asking to see more of his daughters, who live in Idaho with their mother. Now, in response, Toohey is asking the current judge to terminate all contact between Beam, who now lives in Zavalla, Texas, and their daughters.
Her list of grievances is long — and, assuming her allegations are true, they cast a harsh light on the man who says he is merely seeking liberation from a tyrannical government.
She alleges that Beam told the girls, now aged 7 and 9, that Yankee soldiers used bayonets to stab babies "and throw them in the air."
He refused to allow them to share a hotel swimming pool with blacks, because, he said, they carried diseases.
He warned his girls that police officers kill children, described Hitler as "a great man," and said the United States sent Americans "to kill young Aryan men for money" in World War II.
Toohey also alleges in court papers that she moved from Texas to Idaho in 1999 because her husband of 10 years told her there would be "a race war and major chaos like you've never seen" at the start of 2000, and that she would be safer in the Northwest.
She says Beam told her that he and his "armed comrades" would come and "forcibly remove the children" if she didn't leave Texas by the end of 1999.
The custody trial has been postponed. But what may be far more important is the criminal investigation in Texas, where Beam allegedly molested his daughters.
If those charges are prosecuted and stick, Louis Ray Beam, who claims in court papers not to have given a public speech since 1996, could find himself forever expelled from the pantheon of America's "Aryan" revolutionary heroes.