A protégé of neo-Nazi Richard Butler is building a North Idaho compound to replace his late mentor's headquarters. But his project is already in trouble.
A neo-Nazi protégé of Aryan Nations founder Richard G. Butler is building a new compound in North Idaho where he hosts Ku Klux Klan cross burnings and anti-Semitic Christian Identity church services.
Shaun Patrick Winkler — who studied the Christian Identity message of hate under Butler until the iconic racist leader’s death in 2004 — purchased 17.3 acres of timbered property last year in the Hoodoo Mountains of Bonner County, Idaho, not far from the former site of the Aryan Nations “world headquarters” in adjoining Kootenai County. He reportedly plans to open it up for families affiliated with the Klan or Aryan Nations to move in and build residences.
Construction of the new Aryan-style compound is sending shivers down the spines of area human rights activists who applauded when Butler’s 20-acre hate compound was turned into a cow pasture more than a decade ago. The land was auctioned off after a 2000 lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center resulted in a $6.3 million judgment against the group, Butler and several of Butler’s security guards who had terrorized a woman and her teenage son.
“Here we go again,” sighed Marshall Mend, a longtime human rights activist who lives nearby, upon learning of the development. “We’ve got another group of Nazis up here in North Idaho. This is just what Butler did back in the late 1970s, and it’s not good for this region. It will cost us business. We definitely need to have people notified of what’s going on.”
But the déjà-vu fears of the human rights folks — who remember all too well how Aryan Nations badly damaged the fabric of local life as well as the region’s vital tourist economy in the 1980s and 1990s — may be premature.
Winkler’s plans for a new Aryan compound, the first mentions of which came last spring during his unsuccessful run for sheriff of Bonner County, may already have run into a debilitating buzz saw. The 33-year-old native of York, Pa., is expected to soon receive legal documents kicking him off the property. Besides logging the land without required permission and being late with his $750 monthly payments, Winkler also may have some sewage disposal issues on the property, which is being investigated by environmental health authorities.
Early this summer, however, he sounded full of pride in a brief telephone interview with the Intelligence Report in which he suggested that the new property could replace the Butler compound, which long served as an important annual gathering place for many different sectors of the American radical right. “You ought to see what we’re doing up there, so you can compare it to what Pastor Butler had going back in the day down at the Aryan Nations.”
Winkler initially agreed to give a tour of the compound to a Report writer. But when the date approached, he backed out with an odd excuse: “My pickup truck is loaded with firewood and it’s stuck in the mud, so I’m not going to be able to show you the place.” After that, Winkler would not return telephone messages.
Life at the Compound
Shaun Winkler may well have decided that publicity could only hurt his latest racist venture. Nonetheless, information about his undertaking was obtained from public records and various interviews, including one with the owner of the company that sold Winkler the property for $72,000, with a $3,000 down payment.
After buying the undeveloped timberland, which was advertised in local newspapers, in March 2011, Winkler moved three travel trailers onto the property and spent last winter there — at about the 3,500-foot level, where heavy North Idaho snow can make movement difficult.
The next spring, in early March 2012, Winkler decided to make a run for office, filing as a Republican candidate for Bonner County sheriff. News accounts of his candidacy caught the attention of a young photojournalist, Matt McKnight, who thought there might be a story in photos of a racist running for sheriff.
McKnight shot pictures of Winkler waving a campaign sign along a roadway. But he also finagled an invitation to visit Winkler’s compound, located in a rural, mountainous area southeast of the Priest River, for a family barbecue and cross burning. He ultimately made three visits to Winkler’s property.
When the pair first met, McKnight recalled, Winkler “asked me if I was Jewish because I have curly hair. He said he only allowed whites on his property — and no Jews.” But after that, he was welcomed in. Showing up for the barbecue and cross burning in early May, McKnight said he was greeted by man dressed in a KKK robe and holding a rifle. The man later identified himself as Mark Eliseuson, a Winkler associate who once built a Klan snowman in nearby Spirit Lake.
Before the cross burning, Winkler gathered his followers around a campfire where he conducted a Christian Identity-style church service and extolled the virtues of Adolf Hitler and two former prominent residents of North Idaho — white supremacists Vincent Bertollini and Randy Weaver. Like Winkler, Weaver had past ties to the Aryan Nations, unsuccessfully ran for local sheriff and then built a cabin on a mountaintop where the infamous Ruby Ridge siege occurred 20 years ago this past August. A U.S. marshal and Weaver’s wife and son were killed during the standoff with federal law enforcement officials.
Because of Ruby Ridge, Winkler said, people were urging him to build a “double-block wall” or similar brick structure to protect his compound. “I said, ‘What? We ain’t planning on having a war right here.’ People seem to think that just because we’re in the right-wing movement that we have this weird philosophy and this kind of activity is going to happen. I’m not saying it won’t.”
“I say this again today, that we need to look at the perspective of the Jews and look at what they’ve done to us to fire back,” Winkler told those gathered around his campfire. “We’re messengers, and Pastor Butler said the same thing. We don’t carry out deeds unless we feel the Holy Spirit moves us to do so. We’re generally a legal organization.”
For several minutes, he continued with his anti-Semitic tirade: “The bad, evil, rotten Jew is behind a lot of things. We look at the media, we look at society in general. We look at even our public school systems. They paint this pretty little portrait for Jews, how they were such victims of the Holocaust or, as I like to refer to it, the ‘Holo-Hoax.’ We … deny that 6 million died.”
After eating, about two dozen people, including about five small children, gathered for the cross burning – or “cross lighting,” as Winkler said he prefers to call it. Beside KKK robes, many of those in attendance wore Aryan Nations patches and indicated they lived in nearby communities. One of those attending and reportedly living on the new compound is Winkler’s younger sister, Christine Newman.
“Winkler told me there had been other cross burnings there, and I saw evidence of that — burned pieces of wood,” McKnight told the Report. “He told me it was something they do, I think he said, on a monthly basis. He said a lot of his followers weren’t there that evening because they live some distance away, in other cities throughout the Northwest.”
Winkler said he was the leader of a klavern, or local chapter, of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan – the same Klan faction that Butler had cozy ties with for three decades and which was founded in 1975 by David Duke.
Building the ‘Vision’
Winkler showed the photojournalist a two-story log cabin he was building on the property, while living in one of the nearby travel trailers. A second trailer is used for cooking and storage and a third houses another family, McKnight said. Winkler’s wife, Shealyn, said there is a makeshift outdoor shower that “works just fine.”
Shealyn Winkler told McKnight that she had had a “vision” encouraging the building of a compound around the same time she married Winkler. “I’ve had this vision for five years, and God gave it to me … not only to prepare for myself and my family and generations to come, but I also want a place for other people that aren’t preparing.”
But conditions at the property reportedly have prompted state child welfare workers to contact the Winklers. “Just because we live out in the woods doesn’t mean we’re dirty, scummy people, and people are under that impression,’’ Winkler said in discussing his contact with CPS with McKnight. “With the CPS situation, it’s because of our religious and political views, and, again, we don’t see anything wrong with our position.”
McKnight said Winkler indicated that he “wants to first finish building his cabin, then, in the future, open up his property to other families and individuals affiliated with the Klan or the Aryan Nations to live on the compound, build their own cabins and live that lifestyle.”
“We’re in the early stages of the game plan, I guess you would say,” Winkler told McKnight this spring. “We started our root cellar down there, well, it’s just a hole there right now. We started setting up our house. The big thing is going to be food because there’s going to be massive food shortages.”
When he had finished his work, McKnight took his photos to the Bonner County Daily Bee, the local newspaper in Sandpoint, which published a story in early May about the racist sheriff candidate who burns crosses on his property. Reporter Cameron Rasmusson said the newspaper took heat from many readers who claimed such news coverage was bad for the region’s reputation.
The news story pointed out that Winkler was participating in candidates’ forums throughout the county, insisting his KKK ties “would not impact his performance as sheriff or make him susceptible to racial profiling. Instead, he would focus on tough stances regarding drugs and sex offenders.”
“Most people don’t know that we don’t just oppose the Jews and the Negroes,” Winkler was quoted as saying in the article. “We also oppose sexual predators and drugs of any kind.” Winkler said he believes perpetrators of sex crimes “should be hung immediately.” At one point in his campaign, Winkler said “I have no hate toward anyone,” only to go on to discuss “why I hate the Jews.”
The story hardly did Winkler any good. Less than two weeks after hosting the May cross burning, he finished dead last in the three-way race for sheriff, winning just 182 votes in the largely rural county near the U.S.-Canadian border.
Trouble in Mind
Despite Winkler’s headline-making involvement in racist activities for more than a decade in North Idaho, the president of the land company who sold him property said he didn’t know anything about Winkler or his views.
“I was involved in selling the property to Shaun and Shealyn Winkler,” Rick Dinning, president of Tungsten Holdings Inc., based in Libby, Mont., told the Report when public documents led to his doorstep. But, he added, “I didn’t know [Winkler] had any past ties with the Aryan Nations or this white supremacy stuff.”
Dinning, who lives in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, said he met with the Winklers in a Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, restaurant, and signed paperwork selling the property on March 12, 2011. That deed of trust, filed in Bonner County, is a public record with the Winklers’ signatures affixed.
Dinning held the initial promissory note for $69,000, but sold the note on April 28, 2011, to retired Kalispell, Mont., attorney Thomas R. Bostock and his wife, Linda. (The Bostocks didn’t return telephone calls seeking comment.) That note, used as loan collateral, was repurchased by Dinning’s Tungsten Holdings in April, Dinning said.
Dinning told the Report that he would soon begin a foreclosure action against Winkler because he had logged the property, in violation of the purchase agreement, and was delinquent in making his monthly payments.
Meanwhile, Dick Martindale, of the Idaho Panhandle Health District, said health and building code officials were investigating why Winkler didn’t obtain a required “building location permit” before starting construction of the cabin on his property. Although there is no building code in Bonner County, Idaho, state law requires such a site permit along with an approved sewage disposal system, Martindale said.
Despite all that, human rights activists are concerned about Winkler and his plans, both because they could bring back North Idaho’s reputation for harboring white supremacists and because of Winkler himself. It’s not hard to understand why.
Five days after losing the election this spring, Winkler and several followers were in Coeur d’Alene, in adjoining Kootenai County, picketing outside Atilano’s Mexican restaurant, when a melee broke out with counter-protesters. Every on-duty Coeur d’Alene police officer was called to the scene, backed up by six Kootenai County sheriff’s deputies and four Idaho State Police troopers, police reports say.
One of the counter-protesters, identified in police reports as Malissa McCaffery, told officers she was verbally confronted by Winkler, who called her a “retarded Hispanic c---” who “needed to leave his town because she was not welcome, and that she wasn’t dead yet.”
Winkler, who has a prior criminal record, was briefly detained by officers, who recommended that the city file formal charges. But the city prosecutor declined to prosecute, investigators told the Report.
In nearby Sandpoint, a worried Brenda Hammond, president of the Bonner Human Rights Task Force, said her organization “is not surprised to hear that one of Richard Butler’s former supporters is once again coming out of the woods and going public with his racist views.”
“The task force agrees that the best way to deal with these elements in our society is to bring them out into the light,” she told the Report. “We don’t need to sensationalize their actions, but we definitely need to respond — lest our silence be interpreted as acceptance.”