Victoria Keenan Discusses Run-In with Aryan Nations
After winning a $6.3 million judgment, one of the plaintiffs in the suit against Aryan Nations recalls how her ordeal began.
On the night of July 1, 1998, returning from a wedding, Victoria Keenan and her son Jason stopped their car on the dirt road outside the infamous Aryan Nations compound in northern Idaho.
After Jason retrieved a wallet he had accidentally dropped out the car window, the two started toward home again.
But something — a car backfire or fireworks — led the untrained, paranoid guards on the compound to think that they were under attack by their enemies.
Within seconds, at least three neo-Nazi Aryans had leaped into a pickup truck and sped out after the Keenans, firing at them as they went and, after about two miles, shooting out a tire and forcing them into a ditch.
Aside from their testimony and a brief statement at the conclusion of the trial, the Keenans have not spoken publicly about their experience.
Here, Victoria Keenan, who is now 44, describes the ordeal that she and her son, now 21, went through on that frightening Idaho night.
I saw a truck pull out of the compound in my rear view mirror, but I didn't think too much about it at the time. I got up the road a little bit and kind of pulled over. I was waving my arm to let them pass me.
But they didn't pass. They were yelling and screaming for me to pull over.
My son said, "Mom, I think it's the Aryans!" I saw somebody standing up in the back of the truck with a gun, and I knew I had to floor it. I figured I had to drive like Mario.
I kept wondering, "Why are they after me?" I just couldn't figure it out.
I felt bullets hitting the back of the car, and it almost felt like they were hitting my back — like they were hitting me.
I remember looking at my son's face, looking down at him on the floor of the car, and just praying to God that they would leave him alone and take me. It was very, very frightening. I really thought I was going to die, me and my son both. I saw flashes of all my family. I tried to remember the 23rd psalm, "The Lord is my shepherd."
Then, when they forced us off the road, Jason looked up at me and said, "Goodbye, Mom." That's when I told him, "No, you are not going to die. We are going to live through this." Of course, I thought we were going to die. It was just pure shock and terror.
[Aryan security chief] Jesse Warfield came over to the car and grabbed me by the hair and put a gun to my head. I tried to play it cool, to act like one of them. Jason was crying. He just kept saying, "Mom, we're going to die." He was crying and they were calling him a f--, which made me even angrier.
I remember thinking, "Do not get out of the car." Warfield grabbed me and tried to drag me out, and there was this struggle between us.
I remember looking at Warfield's face — he looked like the devil. At the time, his head was shaved, and his eyes, the way he glared at me, it was like I picture the devil. Something about those eyes was just evil, mean. He had "KILL" in his eyes.
I felt like I was going to die. I am an American Indian, and I had to denounce my Indian heritage. They asked me if I was Indian and I said, "No, I'm just a poor white farmer girl."
It made me feel pretty low. It just made me feel degraded. I said, "I'm on your guys' side."
Just then, I saw a car coming, and I said so. And they let go of us. [Aryan guard John] Yeager said, "For this day, we will let your blood live." That's exactly what he said. He looked at Warfield.
I think if it wasn't for Yeager, we might be dead. He was pleading with Warfield not to kill us.
Warfield said, "I've got your license number and I will remember you. Don't tell."
Then they lined up military style, one behind the other, and jumped up on the back of the pickup truck. They gave that Hitler salute and sped off.
At that point, I may have been in shock. My son came over and pulled me out of the car. There was a neighbor standing on his deck with a rifle. My son grabbed me and we ran to the man's house. He was already calling the police.
His wife talked to me, and we went and hid in a hallway. She was at one end of the hallway with her three boys on the floor, and I was at the other end with my son. He would not stop crying and I guess I slapped him, trying to make him come out of it.
When the sheriff's deputies finally came, they had a light and they showed me the bullet holes in my car. It hit me right then and there — this really happened. I went back into the house, into the bathroom, and started throwing up. Then I got hold of myself and just started crying. I just let it all out.
After the verdict, I felt really good. I feel like justice has been done. I thank God for letting us live through this whole ordeal.
But the sound of gunshots still scares me, and when we talk about the incident I cry almost every time. Last winter, my husband and I made sure we had a path cleared through the snow all the time, so I would always have a place to run.
And I'm afraid now. Warfield is supposed to get out [of prison, where he and Yeager were sent on criminal charges relating to the attack on the Keenans] on Nov. 13. That does not seem fair to me. It makes me want to have a gun, but I'm not sure I really want to.
I used to feel kind of sorry for [Aryan Nations leader Richard] Butler. But now I see him for what he is, inciting children to be like this. All of this has opened my eyes to what's going on in the world.
My brother in Washington [state] never thought about this kind of thing either. Now, he's found out that there are Nazi symbols on the lockers of his daughter's junior high school. He couldn't believe it.
These people are for real. They are bad people, and they're in everyone's neighborhoods. These guys have got to be stopped.