Aryan Nations Moves South to Alabama, Future Unclear

Its founder dead, Aryan Nations heads south to a cloudy future. The violence of its members, however, remains clear

A 'Charade of Confusion'?
But wait — not so fast. The rival Pennsylvania-based faction that also calls itself Aryan Nations had something to say. On Oct. 11, longtime Christian Identity preacher James Wickstrom (see Return of the Pastor) posted an "official announcement" on aryan-nations.org claiming that Butler's real plan for Aryan Nations had been entirely different.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Wickstrom claimed, Butler had met with trusted lieutenants to concoct a "cloak and dagger" plan to rebuild Aryan Nations. Under a "charade of confusion," the group would split into two factions — as it did in 2002, when former Posse Comitatus leader August Kreis and a few allies broke from Butler (who had briefly designated them his heirs, but then retracted his announcement) and began claiming they were the real Aryan Nations.

After Butler's death, according to Wickstrom, the ruse was to be revealed and Butler's true appointed leaders — Kreis, Wickstrom, and former Klan leader Charles Juba — would take the helm.

"Under no circumstances from this day forward should there be any confusion as to who leads Aryan Nations," Wickstrom wrote in his announcement.

There was, of course, confusion aplenty — until a week later, when Wickstrom's claim was revealed to be a cloak-and-dagger charade of its own. On the other, "official" Aryan Nations Web site, twelvearyannations.com, Aryan stalwart Morris Gullet published E-mail messages he'd received from Juba shortly after Butler's death. In them, Juba asked Gullet to join him, Kreis and Wickstrom in a scheme to convince their fellow neo-Nazis that "it was Butler's idea for us to rebuild Nations."

It had all been "a falsehood, and a lie," Gullet revealed.

With Wickstrom and Juba's tiny faction looking bad, the Aryan Nations now officially based in Alabama seems poised to inherit most of what Butler left behind: around 150 members organized into some 17 chapters. Other than that, Aryan Nations' future is cloudy. Only one thing seems certain: Its members will likely uphold a tradition of criminal violence that began decades ago.

Aryan Nations first made international news in the early 1980s when it helped spawn The Order, an underground group that committed a dizzying series of armored-car heists and murdered a Jewish radio-show host in Denver.

Another Aryan Nations associate, Chevie Kehoe, committed three murders, including the torture-killing of a young girl. A former Aryan Nations security guard murdered a mail carrier in California and wounded three children as he shot up a Jewish community center there.

All in all, according to Idaho human-rights activist Norm Gissel, Aryan Nations associates have committed at least 100 racially motivated felonies.

The group's decline has not silenced the drumbeat of violence. Earlier this year, Aryan Nations member Sean Gillespie was charged with firebombing an Oklahoma City synagogue. A member in Washington state was arrested for shooting at police. A Montana member was arrested for attempting to murder a social worker.

And just two weeks after Butler died, 40-year-old Steve Holten, leader of Aryan Nations' Nevada chapter, was arrested on federal charges of E-mailing violent threats to dozens of newspaper reporters, law-enforcement officials, Jewish Defense League leaders and gay-rights groups, promising "a holocaust of our enemies."

Arrested on Sept. 22, Holten, who said he was taking drugs for HIV, admitted writing the rambling, almost incoherent missives. As this issue went to press, Holten was facing up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine at a trial slated to begin Nov. 30.

His arrest delayed the announcement of the Aryan Nations' new leadership council for a couple of weeks, and for good reason: Holten had been one of the four chosen to carry Butler's legacy forward.

All of which left Idahoans like Norm Gissel with a simple message for the Aryan Nations' new neighbors in Alabama: "As fellow Americans, we grieve for you."