Aryan Nations (AN) was once a powerful organizing force for white supremacists that cultivated a wide spectrum of racist and anti-Semitic ideas.
In its heyday in the 1980s and early 1990s, neo-Nazis, racist skinheads, Klansmen and other white nationalists convened regularly at the group’s Idaho compound for its annual world congresses. In 2000, AN began to fall apart after losing a civil lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center that depleted the group’s finances. The physical decline and 2004 death of AN founder Richard Butler further devastated the group. In the latter part of the 2000s, Aryan Nations splintered into a handful of groups with several people vying for leadership of the various factions.
In Its Own Words
"Happy Easter to all you n------ and s---- from your friends at the Aryan Nations!"
— Undated Aryan Nations flyer
"We are dangerous. Dangerous to the Jews, n------, and anyone else who poses a threat to the white race. What I find especially disturbing is the n------."
— Former Aryan Nations Ohio state leader and Christian Identity pastor Ray Redfeairn in a sermon from the 1990s, as recounted by onetime FBI informant Dave Hall
"The white race is the most endangered species on the face of the earth."
— Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler testifying in the 2000 civil trial brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center
Richard Butler founded Aryan Nations, but William Potter Gale and Wesley Swift were its inspirations. Butler was living in Southern California after World War II when he met Gale, a retired Army colonel who had been on the staff of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Gale eventually introduced Butler to the Posse Comitatus, a militia-type antigovernment movement that promoted racist and anti-Semitic views. Butler began attending a Christian Identity church where Swift, a Gale acolyte, was pastor. Swift preached the two-seedline theory of Christian Identity, meaning the view that whites are the true Israelites and Jews are descended directly from a sexual union between Eve and Satan. Butler studied privately with Swift, absorbing his church’s ideology.
Swift formed the virulently anti-Semitic Christian Defense League in 1962, and Butler served as its national director until 1965. Meanwhile, Butler took a theological correspondence course and became an ordained Identity minister.
Butler openly admired Adolf Hitler and longed for a whites-only homeland in the Pacific Northwest. He retired as an aeronautical engineer at age 55 and moved to Hayden Lake, Idaho, in 1974. There, he bought an old farmhouse and formed his own "Christian Posse Comitatus" group. By 1977, Butler had decided to form the Church of Jesus Christ Christian at the farmhouse, and named its political arm Aryan Nations.
In 1980, Butler’s church was bombed, causing $80,000 in damage. Nobody was injured or arrested. Butler responded by building a two-story guard tower and posting armed guards around his 20-acre property.
In 1981, Butler hosted the first of what would be many annual Aryan World Congress gatherings on his property. It, and the confabs that would follow, attracted almost every nationally significant racist leader around. Among them: Tom Metzger, former Klansman and leader of White Aryan Resistance; Louis Beam, another onetime Klansman who promoted the concept of leaderless resistance; Don Black, the former Klansman who created Stormfront, the oldest and largest white nationalist forum on the Web; and Kirk Lyons, a lawyer who has represented several extremists and who was married on the compound by Butler.
Butler’s most infamous acolyte was probably Robert J. Mathews, founder of The Order, a white supremacist domestic terrorist group that committed crimes, including the theft of $3.6 million from an armored car, to fund a hoped-for race war. Members of The Order also murdered Denver talk radio host Alan Berg. Many members of The Order first met at the Aryan Nations compound, and initially sought to finance their efforts by printing counterfeit money on Aryan Nations’ presses. Butler later denied any knowledge of this.
In addition to the murder of Berg, Aryan Nations followers and sympathizers committed other violent crimes. An Aryan Nations and Order member named David Tate shot and killed a state trooper in Missouri in 1985. That same year, the compound’s security chief, Elden "Bud" Cutler, was arrested for trying to hire a hit man to kill an FBI informant who was part of an investigation of The Order.
The government had wanted for some time to charge Butler — whose group had a longstanding practice of distributing literature to prison inmates and corresponding with them — in connection with crimes committed by some of his followers, in particular those perpetrated by members of The Order. A grand jury in Fort Smith, Ark., indicted him and 13 others on sedition charges in 1987, saying the men were "godfathers" of a conspiracy hatched at the 1983 Aryan World Congress. Charges against one defendant were dropped. The others were all acquitted at trial.
Butler commemorated Hitler’s 100th birthday in April 1989 by inviting racist skinheads to Aryan Nations for a celebration that included performances by white power skinhead bands. This was the beginning of a campaign to recruit younger whites into the movement. Earlier in the 1980s, as the Aryan Nations grew, Butler had already created a structure for the group by creating state chapters and appointing leaders to head them.
In the 1990s, however, problems began to bedevil Aryan Nations. Several key members left the group and joined splinter organizations. Butler’s associate pastor, Carl Franklin, for example, left in 1993, taking with him the group’s security chief. Butler had publicly picked Franklin to succeed him, only to change his mind. Franklin went to Montana, where the two men formed another white supremacist group.
In December 1995, Butler’s wife died from cancer. Butler himself was now 77 and hardly in robust health. By 1997, Aryan Nations had lost more than half its state chapters, retaining just 13. That year, Butler named his eventual successor, fellow Identity minister Neuman Britton of California. Britton was married to the widow of Gordon Kahl, a Posse Comitatus leader who killed two U.S. marshals in 1983 and was later killed himself in an Arkansas shootout.
Aryan Nations got plenty of bad publicity in 1998 when former Aryan Nations guard Buford O’Neal Furrow Jr. fired more than 70 rounds from a submachine gun at a Jewish community center in Los Angeles. He wounded five people, then drove off and shot and killed a Filipino-American postal worker. He eventually surrendered to the FBI in Las Vegas and is now serving a life sentence in prison. Furrow said at the time that he opened fire on the community center because he hated Jews, and that he would not have shot the postal worker had he been white. In 2009, he wrote a letter to a newspaper renouncing the racist views he held.
A month before the Furrow shootings, there was an even more pivotal event in the history of Aryan Nations. That’s when Butler’s security guards chased down a woman and her son after their car backfired while driving near the Aryan Nations compound. The guards forced their car into a ditch and assaulted them. The Southern Poverty Law Center sued on behalf of the victims, and in September 2000, a jury issued a judgment of $6.3 million against the defendants.
Butler was responsible for $4.8 million of the judgment because he had hired ex-convicts as guards, provided them no training and allowed them to carry assault weapons. Butler was forced to relinquish his 20-acre compound at a bankruptcy auction. The guard tower was subsequently demolished and the church and meeting hall burned to the ground during a firefighter drill. The property was bought by a philanthropist who turned it over to the North Idaho College Foundation. Butler remained in nearby Hayden, however, after a wealthy supporter bought him a house to live in.
Meanwhile, Neuman Britton died in 2001 without having served as leader. That year, Butler appointed Harold Ray Redfeairn of Ohio to one day replace him, even though Redfeairn had quit the group three years earlier after leading the Ohio chapter for six years. At the same time, Butler also promoted his webmaster, August Kreis III, to "Minister of Information & Propaganda."
Redfeairn had an extensive criminal history that included a conviction for attempted aggravated murder in the near-fatal shooting of a Dayton, Ohio, police officer in 1979. After Butler anointed him as his heir apparent, Redfeairn and Kreis attempted a coup against him, and both were expelled. Redfeairn returned to the fold in 2002 and was reinstated as Butler’s successor. But, like Britton, he didn’t live long enough to lead Aryan Nations. He died of a heart attack in October 2003.
It was also in 2003 that the ailing Butler ran for mayor of Hayden. He garnered a little more than 2 percent of the vote. Two men who had recently moved into his home ran for city council seats and fared about as poorly.
Butler died in his sleep in September 2004. He was 86. Aryan Nations then split into two factions — one headed by Kreis in Pennsylvania and another by Jonathan Williams in Georgia. Although ideologically similar, Kreis differed from Williams on whether neo-Nazis could find common ground with Muslim terrorists, based on their common hatred of Jews. "And I want to instill the same jihadic feeling in our peoples’ heart, in the Aryan race, that they [jihadists] have for their father, who they call Allah," Kreis told CNN in 2005. Neither Kreis nor Williams was able to return Aryan Nations to its former prominence. In 2005, Kreis moved to South Carolina, where he has recruited heavily among motorcycle gangs, and formed in 2010 the 1st SS Kavallerie Brigade Motorcycle Division as a kind of security crew. In 2009, Kreis claimed only two chapters and a handful of members.
Williams and Clark "Brother Laslo" Patterson moved their faction to Alabama and renamed it the Aryan Nations/United Church of Yahweh. In 2007, the church dropped Aryan Nations from its name. Williams left the church the following year.
Other Aryan Nations splinter groups remain, apparently with little more than a website and/or relatively few members. Jerald O’Brien leads one such group. It was formerly based in Lincoln, Ala., and is now in the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho area. It claimed in 2009 to have four chapters. Another faction, headed by Jay Faber in New York and claiming to have 12 chapters in 2009, merged with O’Brien’s group in 2009/2010. Faber had previously been associated with Kreis’ faction. Elsewhere, longtime neo-Nazi Martin Linstedt started a one-chapter version of Aryan Nations in Missouri that he calls the Church of Jesus Christ Christian/Aryan Nations.
As of 2010, the most active and best organized of all the Aryan Nation offshoots appeared to be one headed by Paul Mullet. In February 2010, he and three other men showed up in John Day, Oregon, a town of fewer than 2,000 in the rural eastern part of that state, reportedly saying it would be "the perfect place" to establish a new Aryan Nations headquarters. John Day and nearby residents thought differently, with everyone from the mayor and the police chief to ranchers and business owners voicing their adamant opposition to neo-Nazis setting up shop in their town. Mullet then abandoned the idea.
Mullet’s group, based in 2009 in Chillicothe, Ohio, had 14 chapters. It added to its numbers in 2010 when the Maryland-based World Knights of the Ku Klux Klan disbanded and became part of Mullet’s Aryan Nations outfit.
The Mullet-led group busied itself in 2010, dropping flyers on people’s lawns in such far-flung places as West Virginia, California and Idaho — the latter inside plastic eggs on Easter morning. It also staged occasional rallies. One, at Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania in June 2010, saw the neo-Nazis’ dozen or so members vastly outnumbered by counter-demonstrators and police officers. The group staged another rally the following month in Pulaski, Tenn., where the Ku Klux Klan originated. Despite a modest and lethargic crowd, Mullet wrote on his website that "this event was the best one that I myself have EVER attended!"
In late July 2010, Mullet announced on the Aryan Nations website that he was seeking donations to come up with a $5,000 deposit needed to buy 15 acres of land in southern Tennessee. The land, and a building on it, would serve, he said, as "a new Aryan Republic Homeland." By the end of 2010, Mullet had given up on the Aryan Nations and left the group, signing on with the American National Socialist Party. After Mullet left, his Aryan Nations faction was taken over by Morris Gulett, who has been active in the Aryan Nations since the 1990s.