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Exploring the Kehoe Family’s Christian Identity Background

The Kehoe family was steeped in racist, anti-Semitic Christian Identity ideology, which may have contributed to the Kehoes' crime spree.

It would be comforting to think of alleged terrorist Chevie Kehoe as an aberration, a serial killer driven by some psychosis. But the facts indicate that he may have been the logical outcome of having been reared in a home devoted to the Christian Identity religion.

This racist and anti-Semtiic theology, at least in its hard-line version, propels many of its followers to violence. Because it argues that satanic elements on earth must be destroyed by white Christians before Christ can return, many acolytes feel driven to take up the sword against Jews, blacks, the government and a host of other enemies.

Some of America's most violent domestic terrorists allegedly were reared in Identity-believing homes. That was apparently the case with Eric Robert Rudolph, who is accused of bombing two abortion clinics, the Atlanta Olympics and a lesbian bar. And so it may have been with Kehoe, who was nurtured on Identity early on.

Despite its bizarre tenets, Identity is a remarkably widespread religion. A study the Southern Poverty Law Center completed earlier this year found 94 active Identity ministries in 34 states. Many more that were not located are believed to exist. All told, there are probably 50,000 Identity adherents in North America.

The crimes attributed to Identity are numerous.

Identity followers in the Midwest pleaded guilty to charges related to 22 bank robberies carried out to fund a revolution. Also in 1996, Identity believers calling themselves Phineas Priests were sentenced to life terms after robbing banks and setting off bombs around Spokane, Wash.

In Minnesota, Identity believers were convicted in 1995 of plotting to use the deadly ricin toxin to kill federal agents. In Missouri, a would-be assassin shot a highway patrolman in 1994, apparently to avenge the arrest of an Identity pastor.

The three major terrorist groups of the 1980s — The Order; the Posse Comitatus; and the Sword, the Covenant and the Arm of the Lord — also had Identity components.

It may well be that Kehoe is only the latest in a long line of Identity believers willing to kill as they prepare for the battle of Armageddon. That would come as small surprise to most students of Christian Identity, the concoction of race hate and end-times paranoia that is increasingly the glue that binds together the radical right.