Located in a section of the Pacific Northwest that was a notorious hotbed of white supremacist activity in the 1990s, America's Promise Ministry is both a Christian Identity church and a major publisher and distributor of right-wing extremist tracts. Its current leader, Dave Barley, peddles a "soft" version of Christian Identity, one that promotes white separatism and contempt for Jews and non-whites, but that stops short of openly advocating bloodshed. Nevertheless, several of Barley's congregants have committed serious violent crimes, including bank robberies and terrorist bombings.
In Its Own Words
"We are guilty of believing that Jesus Christ chose only those of his own race to be his 12 disciples, and that he did not go out and choose two Chinese, two blacks, two Indians, two Arabs, two women or two homosexuals. Therefore he [Jesus] would be called a supremacist, racist and bigot by today's worldly standards." — Dave Barley, quoted in the Dallas Morning News, 1991
"America's greatness … didn't come from the blacks. It didn't come from the Asians, and it certainly didn't come from the Jews. They [the Jews] wanted to become a part of our nation because of the light. Now, they want it because of greed." — Dave Barley sermon, 2001
Founded in Phoenix, Ariz., in 1967 by Christian Identity preacher Sheldon Emry, America's Promise Ministries is a family operation spanning two generations. In the early years, Emry grew the church's reach by purchasing airtime on as many as 30 radio stations nationwide.
Upon his death in 1985, leadership passed to Emry's son-in-law, Dave Barley, who in 1988 moved the ministry to the northern Idaho town of Sandpoint, where it quickly became an important part of a thriving but informal local network of neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan groups, "lone wolf" white separatists and Christian Identity congregations. Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler and former Ku Klux Klan leader Louis Beam were just two of the prominent figures on the racist right who regularly spoke at America's Promise gatherings.
Based in a converted restaurant, America's Promise Ministries distributed mail-order copies of Emry's seminal Christian Identity book Who Killed Jesus? (answer: the Jews), as well as other popular works of radical-right literature, including The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Holocaust denial work Did Six Million Really Die?
In 1995, two wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Vincent Bertollini and Carl E. Story, moved to Sandpoint with a mission of helping to create a whites-only homeland. They quickly developed ties with both the Aryan Nations (whose members practice a hard-line version of Christian Identity) and America's Promise Ministries, donating money to both organizations. They also boosted the publication and distribution of Barley and Emry's Christian Identity pamphlets as part of Bertollini and Story's 11th Hour Remnant Messenger, a propaganda mill that distributed white supremacist propaganda to thousands of Idaho residents.
In 1996, three men who had recently attended Barley's church detonated pipe bombs at an abortion clinic and a newspaper building in the state of Washington, and committed a string of bank robberies that netted more than $100,000. The leader of the gang, Jay Merrell, was a protégé of Barley's. Merrell regularly preached at America's Promise Bible camps, and Barley sold tapes of Merrell's sermons through his ministry's mail-order publishing operation.
Merrell and his cohorts described themselves as members of the Phineas Priesthood, a secret society of Christian Identity holy warriors that is not a membership organization — people are considered inducted once they have committed acts of violence on behalf of the Identity cause. The concept of the priesthood was first articulated in the 1990 book, Vigilantes of Christendom, by Richard Kelly Hoskins. (Hoskins' concept was based on a twisted interpretation of a passage in the Book of Numbers, in which the grandson of a priest kills a prince of Israel for cohabiting with a woman outside his tribe.) Vigilantes of Christendom was then a popular America's Promise Ministries mail-order title. To this day, it's available for purchase via the church's website.
Another member of Barley's congregation, former Aryan Nations security official Buford O. Furrow, Jr., went on a shooting rampage in 1999 at the Los Angeles Jewish Community Center, seriously wounding three children and a receptionist and then going on to murder a Filipino-American mail carrier before being arrested. Numerous pieces of Christian Identity literature, including a book by Richard Kelly Hoskins, were discovered inside a van belonging to Furrow.
Barley has repeatedly denied any connection between the Christian Identity theology he preaches and the violent acts of his former parishioners. "Lots of people come through these doors. Am I supposed to ask each one, ‘Will you ever participate in a bombing or terrorist act in the next few years?' That's ridiculous. This is a church," he said after Merrell's arrest and conviction.
America's Promise Ministries is now one of the few remaining outposts of white supremacy in the Idaho Panhandle. The Aryan Nations, except for a few stragglers, is long gone from the area, as are Beam, Bertollini and Story.
Though attendance at its services rarely exceeds 40 congregants, America's Promise Ministries continues to have a widespread impact in the Identity world through its publishing business. Its summertime family retreats, held in locations from Florida to New Mexico, are popular events in the Christian Identity world, drawing pastors and adherents from throughout the United States.