With the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations on the ropes, a Pennsylvanian named August Kreis may be making a bid for power.
Pelted with rain and saddled with a $6.3 million court judgment issued just two weeks before, Richard Butler gave his swan song a defiant ring on a dreary day last October. "The Aryan Nations is not dead!" the 83-year-old founder of the neo-Nazi group intoned through a bullhorn, leading a procession through Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, that consisted of some two dozen followers.
"Communist Jews have not won the war, they've just won a battle!"
Throughout the day's affairs, the senior citizen of the white supremacist movement was flanked by a rather crude character some 40 years his junior.
August Kreis III — aggressive, hot-tempered, and unmistakable with his large frame, flowing red mane and yellow-tinted spectacles — had made the trip from Pennsylvania with his family.
During the parade, Kreis and his young daughters rode with Butler in a white convertible, and Kreis remained at Butler's side for the luncheon and somber ordination that followed.
He was there, ostensibly, to support Butler, who had just lost the civil suit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of two people terrorized by Aryan Nations security guards. But Kreis was also staking a claim.
A longstanding exponent of the violently racist Christian Identity theology, Kreis has run a kind of Identity ministry and sometimes militia. He also now operates a web site in the name of the Posse Comitatus, an Identity-cum-tax protest group that essentially went defunct in the 1980s.
Today, with Aryan Nations very possibly headed for oblivion — the neo-Nazi group's Idaho compound was due to be sold in February as part of court action to satisfy Butler's debts — Kreis wants to help fill the vacuum. He is one of several potential claimants the movement leadership role long played by Richard Butler.
Appealing to the old constituency of Aryan Nations — a group that he only joined last summer as the civil suit inched toward trial — Kreis has vowed to defend the remnants of the organization against its many enemies. But he seems more interested in building up his own power base than in restoring Butler's strength in the Pacific Northwest.
"The Aryan Nations will never die as it is foretold in biblical prophecy," he wrote on his web site not long ago. "Soon there will be a place such as Aryan Nations church grounds here on the east coast. The place will be here at 'The LastOutpost' [sic] in God's Country, Potter County Pennsylvania! The parasitic jews will NEVER defeat us, for there will always be those that do not fall prey to their brainwashing of the masses."
'Puffing Smoke' in Ulysses
Kreis' "Last Outpost" is a plot of scrub-land outside Ulysses, Pa., outfitted with a shooting range, a carpentry shop and three trailers: his home, his office, and a guest house.
Kreis reportedly sells wooden wares as well as some edible goods, although for years — antigovernment sentiments aside — a steady cash flow has come from the welfare office (wife Karley has been the recipient as of late).
Posse Comitatus is Latin for "power of the county," and Kreis believes his own Potter County is a perfect place to spread his message. Adelphia Cable Company, headquartered in the area, has expanded rapidly in recent years, drawing substantial numbers of American minorities and Asians from abroad (see 'Blood on the Border').
Kreis claims that the anger is palpable among many people in this historically white farming area — both long-time residents and those who came to the area to escape racial diversity in urban areas.
"[W]ith the racial makeup of the Coudersport area changing as it is," Kreis wrote in a recent letter to the local Potter Leader-Enterprise newspaper, "there are a great number of disgruntled people now locally that do not like at all what they are seeing! It will not be hard at all to convince them of what is transpiring, why and who is behind it."
Local pastor Doug Orbaker says he has observed some "low-level hostility" toward the newcomers among local white residents. "There is a feeling of, 'I'm not as comfortable in my town, these people are different,'" he says. "For some, it's a scary experience."
Still, Orbaker says Kreis represents "the extreme, the far end of the backlash" against the demographic changes occurring.
"He puffs a lot of smoke, and tries to get a lot of people excited and worried about him," adds Joe Wolf, another local pastor. "Truth be told, he's hardly got any following around here." Threats, Harassment and Other Abuse
Kreis has continued his struggle with dogged persistence, however, lashing out at those who oppose him. Since 1994, when Wolf, Orbaker and other area ministers residents spearheaded a response to Kreis called Potter County United, Kreis has waged a campaign of harassment.
At two forums organized by the group, Kreis turned up with supporters and videotaped the proceedings. A participant at one forum recalls that Kreis warned of cross burnings, said he'd bring in "KKK, neo-Nazis and Skinheads" if the meetings continued, and proclaimed, "I'm recruiting your kids."
During the past five years, numerous ministers involved in Potter County United have reported threats and intimidation at the hands of Kreis. "We will be watching you," Kreis warned in an e-mail to all of the ministers, attaching a picture of himself with a gun. "You will pay the ultimate price."
In another e-mail, Kreis warned one pastor, "We're keeping an eye on you. ... [Y]ou're doing Lucifer's work ... [and] you will all pay."
In 1998, Kreis was accused of making terroristic threats against two elderly white neighbors whom he suspected of being in Potter County United. He allegedly pulled a gun on them and said he'd burn down their house.
In fact, police have lodged numerous charges against Kreis in recent years — none of which stuck in the end — for his alleged threats and harassment of those disagree with him.
Floyd Cochran, a former Aryan Nations member who now is involved in antiracism work in Pennsylvania, recalls an encounter at a local gas station. "I was sitting in my car, and he came to my window and said something unkind about my mother," according to Cochran. "He said, 'Is there anything I can do to make you come out of the car and take a swing at me?'"
Cochran filed charges after another incident, when a teenager in his yard was allegedly warned by Kreis, "Tell Floyd to leave Coudersport or we're going to get him."
Kreis also had a vendetta against another former white supremacist, Sal Ganci, a one-time member of the Posse and Kreis' now defunct Messiah's Militia who left both groups and disavowed them in the Leader-Enterprise. Following a parking lot encounter with Ganci's wife and mother, when Kreis allegedly said he'd give the family's address to Skinheads, he faced another harassment suit.
None of the charges stemming from these incidents has stuck in the end, but Kreis' alleged aggression against his former family has resulted in legal intervention. His ex-wife charged that Kreis had abused their three children, and one daughter claimed that he had also sexually molested her.
In the end, two protective orders were issued against Kreis, prohibiting him from contacting, harassing or threatening any of the four.
Finding His Identity
Kreis' violent political rhetoric matches his personal comportment, with Jews usually emerging as his primary targets. "We/You Must make a stand," Kreis recently wrote on his Posse Comitatus site, "and let the world know very loudly, in a way they will understand, wake up and pay attention that His Children are NOT going to take it any longer!"
"That we are completely fed up with what these parasitic jews have done to our country over the last 200+ years and we want them OUT by whatever means necessary!"
"If they want our guns so very bad [sic] ... then let's give 'em to them LEAD FIRST!"
Kreis didn't always say such things publicly. After dropping out of high school and spending time on a naval vessel off the coast of Vietnam, he returned to his hometown of Newark, N.J., and was soon working for a Jewish developer.
Whatever anti-Semitic feelings he did harbor, he "separated ... personal beliefs from business." Besides, the main enemies, as he saw things then, were the blacks who were moving in and changing the place where he grew up.
Kreis was fired from his job in 1981, after holding Klan meetings "in a complex that was 90 percent Jewish and owned by a Jew." He then moved around with his wife and three children, finding a home near Easton, Pa., until unpaid utility bills caught up with him. His water was shut off, his house condemned, and he was forced to move to a plot bought by his brother.
Eventually Kreis' first marriage broke up, and in his mid-30s he wedded a teenager named Karley. He took custody of the children whom he'd eventually be barred from seeing, and in the early 1990s moved to his current residence in Ulysses.
During his geographical wanderings, Kreis apparently underwent an ideological shift. "In the beginning, I thought the blacks were the problem," Kreis told the Buffalo News in 1995. "I didn't understand there was an underlying cause. ... The Jew is the enemy of all races on the planet."
Jews are actually the biological spawn of Satan, Kreis came to believe, and people of color — soulless "mud people" — their minions. This is what he learned as he left the Klan and adopted Christian Identity as his creed.
His mentor was long-time Identity minister James Wickstrom, a man who as "national director of counter-insurgency" organized paramilitary training for the Posse Comitatus during the 1980s.
During that decade, the Posse was blamed for the deaths of at least two law enforcement officers as well as numerous other violent incidents. But by the time Kreis became Wickstrom's second-in-command, in the early 1990s, the Posse was essentially an ideological enterprise.
When Wickstrom went to Michigan to serve out his parole on a prior conviction, Kreis assumed stewardship of the remnants of the Posse. Today, he is the man responsible for assembling the hodge-podge of links and propaganda that is the "Sheriff's Posse Comitatus" website. On topics ranging from Russian politics to the Palestinian-Israel conflict to Election 2000 to Russian politics, he offers virulently anti-Semitic spins. A Match Made in Hayden
In a message to his Posse "Kinsfolk" following the $6.3 million judgment against Aryan Nations and its principals, Kreis called Morris Dees, the Center's chief trial counsel, a "piece of shit," a "parasitic jew bastard," and a "lowlife, scumbag, bottomfeeder," suggesting it was "time for PAYBACK!" Similar comments also preceded the civil suit trial.
That aggressive brand of advocacy has been paying off. Not long before the case was tried, Kreis was asked to be a keynote speaker at the three-day Aryan World Congress held at Aryan Nations in Hayden Lake, Idaho.
It was around this time that he became Aryan Nations webmaster, with Butler convinced that he was the best person to spread the "Aryan message" via the Internet. By August, Kreis was coordinating Aryan Nations activities for seven states as "Regional Ambassador for the Northeast."
One question that looms large with the expected loss of the Hayden Lake compound is the status of future Aryan World Congresses. For some time, the annual event has not been what it was in its 1980s heyday, as many leading figures — scared off, in part, by reports of rampant infiltration by police and watchdog groups — have stopped attending.
Still, it remains important symbolically, usually providing the main venue each year for white supremacists to put aside their internecine conflicts and rally around the common cause.
Kreis was ecstatic when he reported last fall that Butler had asked him to accommodate the 2001 congress. "I have been asked if I would continue to host the yearly National Congress and my answer was, of course, an astounding YES! I guarantee that, if it becomes necessary, that [sic] 'Aryan Nations National Congress 2001' WILL be held here at 'The LastOutpost' [sic]."
War and Peace
Kreis does have experience hosting a large event. Some 350 neo-Nazi Skinheads and hard-core white supremacist bands descended upon the Kreis homestead for the 1993 Aryan Summerfest, "moshing" to the music of several leading hard-core racist bands.
The National Socialist Vanguard reported at the time that several fights broke out among different racist Skinhead factions. But today, Kreis apparently wants to ensure that tensions are quelled at future gatherings on his compound, replaced by a sense of fellowship. "Our people," he writes, "will always have a place to gather in peace with their families and kinsfolk."
That may be. But it is far from clear that Kreis will manage to become anything more than what he has been — a particularly crude hatemonger with a taste for rough talk. There are other contenders for the power that once was Butler's, and still other players who would like to see Aryan Nations fade into history as other white supremacist revolutionary groups take its place.
In any event, Kries' notions of peace and kinship extend only so far. Like most of his ideological cohorts, Kreis speaks constantly of being in a state of war. Consider, for example, his advice that sympathizers "give [Jews] the holocaust that they so often talk about."
His ultimate objective was elucidated recently as he inveighed against then-candidate Al Gore and his Jewish running mate, Joseph Lieberman — and then went on to attack the Republican presidential ticket as well.
"[E]ven if Bush/Cheney get into office they will surround themselves with jews, blacks and homosexuals in their cabinet," Kreis lamented. "There really is no voting for the lesser of two evils anymore. This whole satanic system MUST be flushed and a new government of HIS children placed into power!"