The Aryan Nations, long a top neo-Nazi group, is homeless, split, accused of blackmail, and in jeopardy of irrelevance
Last October, leaders of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations, the famous Idaho hate group whose founder was forced to sell its headquarters compound after being ordered to pay millions of dollars in damages, announced that they were about to release a brand new videotape.
The title of their new film? "Out of the Ashes."
It was an upbeat name, to be sure. But six months after the announcement by Harold Ray Redfeairn and August Kreis, there is no videotape. The audiotape that was supposed to accompany it hasn't been produced, either.
In fact, the hoped-for renaissance of the group whose members rained death and destruction on northern Idaho for more than a quarter of a century seems more dubious than ever.
The compound that long served as the group's home is gone, sold off to satisfy creditors in a lawsuit.
The founder of the group is in a war of words with Redfeairn and Kreis, the men he named to succeed him, that seems to have grown out of a dispute over a follower's girlfriend.
In March, Redfeairn and Kreis' security chief announced that he was an informer and had evidence of an Aryan plot to blackmail a cable television company. A few days later, someone shot a leg off Kreis' dog, prompting a series of furious threats.
The capper may have come April 20, a high holy day on the Aryan calendar because it is Adolf Hitler's birthday.
Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler held a Pennsylvania rally attended by about a dozen followers, while his erstwhile deputies, Redfeairn and Kreis, attended their own tiny celebration in Narvon, Pa., just an hour's drive away.
Aryan Nations has come back from the near-dead before. There is a real threat that it may be reconstituted in diluted form on Kreis' land near Ulysses, Pa. But it seems quite clear that this group will never again be what it once was.
The Troubles Begin
For Aryan Nations, it has been a rocky few years.
In September 2000, an Idaho jury rendered a $6.3 million verdict against the group, its leader Butler and several security guards.
The civil suit, brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of a woman and her son who were attacked and terrorized by Aryan Nations security guards, ultimately resulted in the 2001 sale of the 20-acre compound that had been the group's headquarters.
Butler left the Hayden Lake, Idaho, compound he'd built in the early 1970s, moving into a nearby home donated by a millionaire supporter.
He gave Sunday sermons to a tiny group in his new living room, even as the compound was sold off to a California entrepreneur who would soon donate it for use as a peace park.
At the time, Butler, who is now 84, had a designated heir. But last August, California racist Neuman Britton died, and Butler traveled to Pennsylvania to preside over a memorial service attended by 50 people.
At the gathering, Butler cut off Kreis' ponytail — something that Kreis said signified going into battle.
In late September, Butler announced that Redfeairn, of Dayton, Ohio, would be his heir, with the title of national director, while Kreis would become minister of propaganda.
Butler said that a young follower in Idaho, Shaun Winkler, would be youth corps director, while Butler himself would remain as "spiritual leader."
Despite the group's new center of gravity to the east — where Redfeairn and Kreis both live, and where Kreis offered his Pennsylvania land as a new gathering place — Butler emphasized that headquarters would remain in Idaho.
Aryan vs. Aryan
But it was not to be that simple. Last November, Redfeairn announced that Winkler had been discharged from Aryan Nations.
Winkler apparently had sent an insulting E-mail to Kreis that complained about Kreis and Redfeairn's treatment of Winkler's girlfriend, Candice "Nikki" Hansen.
Butler would later tell a reporter that the dispute was over who could be Aryan Nations members. Still another source, an insider, said the real dispute was over Hansen's alleged Native American blood.
In any event, Butler shot a message back, saying Winkler would stay.
On Jan. 28, Redfeairn and Kreis announced that both Butler and Winkler had been kicked out — Butler had "surrounded himself by idiots," they fumed — and that they intended to purge Aryan Nations of "weirdos, winos and clowns."
Butler fired back, saying the pair had "weaseled their way in" to take over the group. Anyway, Butler added, he'd already fired them — a week before.
A day later, apparently seeking to defuse Butler's criticism, Redfeairn said he would resign in March, handing power to a triumvirate of Kreis, friend Charles Juba (at whose Narvon, Pa., home Redfeairn and Kreis celebrated Hitler's birthday) and a third officer to be named later.
But March came and went without Redfeairn's resignation or any other apparent change in his faction's leadership.
At the same time, Redfeairn welcomed a new member — James Wickstrom, a white supremacist now living in Michigan. Wickstrom is a veteran activist who, expert observers agree, could inject new life into Aryan Nations.
It remains unclear what Wickstrom's role will really be.
As the leadership dispute continued — with competing websites and white supremacist groups lining up on one or the other side — a newspaper article appeared in the Buffalo News that seemed to spell trouble for Redfeairn's faction.
Michael L. Reid, who said he was a Christian fundamentalist opposed to Aryan Nations, said he had been named security chief and had been privy to a Kreis plot to extort money from Adelphia Communications, a cable TV firm near his home.
Kreis' plan, Reid told the paper, was to ask $250,000-$500,000 from Adelphia in return for a promise to move Aryan Nations elsewhere.
The intended target of the plot, Adelphia's founder, said he never was approached. But Kreis did acknowledge that he had brought in Reid, undoubtedly hurting his credibility among fellow white supremacists.
"The biggest hurt for me is he infiltrated my family," Kreis complained. "My children loved him. How do I explain this to my five children?"
Kreis and Redfeairn, who served five years in prison for shooting and critically wounding a police officer, have said they intend to turn Kreis' land into the new Aryan Nations compound.
Redfeairn says he intends to move there this spring, while Kreis claims "three or four" others are also planning to move in.
Locals are deeply worried about that possibility. But at press time, there were no signs of white supremacists moving to the area, a rough and isolated part of the country that is 98% white.
What's more, there were many signs that locals would not welcome the neo-Nazis. Last fall, for instance, 650 residents signed a full-page ad in the local newspaper supporting tolerance after Butler's visit.
For his part, Butler didn't seem to be doing well, either.
On Hitler's birthday, despite being hospitalized for chest pains a week earlier, Butler held a rally in York, Pa., presumably to show he was still top dog and could still draw a big crowd — even in the state that seemed to have been captured by rivals Redfeairn and Kreis.
(Aryan Nations state chapters, to the extent that they are still active, are split between the rival factions. But these chapters overall are weakening as members drift off.)
Winkler predicted 350 racists would attend. In the event, there were perhaps a dozen, facing some 40 anti-racists and about 200 police.
What's more, according to The York Dispatch, the airline lost Butler's luggage on his trip in. The rental car company at the airport denied that it had any reservation for him. Winkler was stuck in Minnesota with a broken-down car, unable to make it.
Even Butler's brief speech, when he finally made it, was drowned out by the shouts of a street preacher and the roar of police helicopters overhead.
A black cab driver at the airport who refused to carry the old hatemeister may have summed it up best. "That's craziness," said driver Johnny Lovejoy.