Skip to main content
The Intelligence Report is the SPLC's award-winning magazine. Subscribe here for a print copy.

Edgar Steele, ‘Attorney for the Damned,’ Dies in Prison

Attorney and author Edgar J. Steele, who dove deeply into the world of anti-Semitism and racist extremism after unsuccessfully defending Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler, died Aug. 4 in a federal prison in California. He was 69, serving a 50-year term for hiring a hit man to murder his wife and her mother so he could start a relationship with another woman.

To the end, Steele and a handful of supporters claimed he was railroaded by a Jewish-controlled, corrupt federal government. Even his wife, Cyndi, blasted federal officials, refusing to believe she had been the intended target of an attempted car bombing. But in October 2013, a federal appeals court upheld Steele’s murder conspiracy conviction, rejecting claims of improper jury instructions and other judicial errors.

Edgar Steele went from a relatively normal law practice to white supremacy.
Edgar Steele went from a relatively normal law practice to defending white supremacists, then became one himself before landing in prison for attempting to have his wife murdered. It all ended in a California penitentiary, where he died in August.

Steele got a law degree in 1982 from UCLA and moved his law practice from California to North Idaho in the mid-1990s. In 1999, he was hired by Butler to defend the Aryan Nations in a civil suit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of a mother and her son who were assaulted by three guards outside the 20-acre Aryan compound near Hayden Lake. The jury didn’t buy Steele’s “free speech” defense and, in 2000, awarded the plaintiffs $6.3 million in damages, leading to the group’s bankruptcy and demolition of its buildings.

The following year, Steele represented a woman at the center of a five-day standoff that ended peacefully after the standoff became a hot button for militia and antigovernment groups. Steele started calling himself “the attorney for the damned” and bragged that he was “exceedingly politically incorrect.” He proved that in a series of anti-Semitic, antigovernment essays published on his “Conspiracy Pen Pal” blog and in speeches he delivered at various extremist gatherings.

Steele seemed to really cross the extremist Rubicon in 2002, when he wrote a kind of coming-out essay entitled “IT’S THE JEWS, STUPID!!!” There “is a conspiracy,” he wrote, and “it is being run by jews. Yes, it is being condoned by our government, which has become jewish.” He accused Jews of controlling the Federal Reserve and orchestrating the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

He later expanded his enemies list, claiming the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a “misbegotten individual” with “nonexistent ideals.” Steele wrote that the MLK national holiday really should “stand for Marchin’ Lootin’ Killin’ Day.”

In 2004, Steele published Defensive Racism: An Unapologetic Examination of Racial Differences, detailing his vision of a race war and the ultimate destruction of American society.

Cyndi Steele shared her imprisoned husband’s views in assorted public appearances and backed his legal defense fund. Upon his death, she claimed that he was murdered in prison after being “under the control of pure evil for the past four years.”