The “priesthood” is a concept. A Phineas Priest is any individual who commits a “Phineas action,” a reference to an Old Testament story in which an interfaith couple is slain by a Hebrew man named Phineas who is then rewarded by God. Typically, white supremacists describe Phineas actions as the slaying of interracial couples, but they have included attacks on Jews, non-whites, multiculturalists and others seen as enemies.
The idea of the Phineas Priesthood, sometimes referred to simply as Phineas Priests, originates in Vigilantes of Christendom: The Story of the Phineas Priesthood, a 1990 book by white supremacist Richard Kelly Hoskins. Hoskins describes Phineas Priests as individuals who, through the ages, have felt called upon by God to murder “race-mixers” and their fellow travelers. He bases his idea on a story in Numbers 25:6, in which Phineas uses a single spear thrust to kill both a Hebrew man and his lover, a Midianite woman. God is then said to reward Phineas, granting him and his descendants a permanent priesthood, because the Midianites worshipped Baal and were sowing their beliefs among the Hebrews. White supremacists read the story as saying that God has decreed the death penalty for so-called race-mixers.
Hoskins was a follower of the theology of Christian Identity, a warped reading of the Bible that claims that the Jews of today are biological descendants of Eve and Satan, that people of color are not human beings and do not have souls, and that whites are the real descendants of the biblical Hebrews. The concept of a Phineas Priesthood that Hoskins developed is essentially a particular form of Christian Identity.
Many people mistakenly believe that there is an actual organization called the Phineas Priesthood, probably because there was a group of four men in the 1990s who called themselves Phineas Priests. The men carried out bank robberies and a series of bombings in the Pacific Northwest before being sent to prison. But there is no evidence that their organization was any larger than those four individuals.
Others have apparently carried out actions that would presumably qualify them as Phineas Priests. In 1999, a longtime white supremacist from Idaho named Buford Furrow went on a rampage, wounding five people at a Jewish community center in California and also killing a Filipino-American mail carrier. Officials found a book by Hoskins in the van driven by Furrow during his rampage.
In 2012, Pastor Drew Bostwick replaced August B. Kreis III as the leader of a splinter faction of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations, renaming the organization “Tabernacle of the Phineas Priesthood-Aryan Nations”.
More recently, in 2014, Larry McQuilliams fired more than 100 shots at the Austin, Texas, Police Department, the nearby U.S. Courthouse and the Mexican consulate before being shot and killed by police. Officials found a copy of Vigilantes of Christendom in McQuilliams’ vehicle. In a search of his apartment, they found multiple weapons, ammunition, a water supply and a map of 34 downtown buildings along with writings suggesting he considered himself a “High Priest.” Although his motives remain somewhat unclear, it is possible that he came in contact with the Phineas philosophy from his time in federal prison, where some white supremacists promote the ideology. Friends said McQuilliams was upset about immigrants and the fact that he couldn’t find a job, and apparently was acting on that anger.