Editor's note: On June 25, two months after this interview, Chris Eddy died. Her funeral service will be held today – July 6.
It’s a secret she’s kept for more than 30 years.
Now, with support from a women’s writing group, Chris Eddy is ready to tell the world.
Her husband of 27 years, Robert Eddy, was an aide-de-camp in the 1980s to Richard G. Butler, the notorious, racist founder of the Aryan Nations in north Idaho.
Eddy, a former Marine and California police officer, died suddenly in 1987, and the Aryan Nations leader attended his funeral.
But Chris Eddy, who didn’t share her husband’s racist views, buried the secret of his past with her husband – too embarrassed and ashamed to tell anyone.
“In the 30 years since then, I’ve had bad anxiety issues over this,” Chris Eddy told Hatewatch.
She loved the man but hated his beliefs.
In the 1980s, when the Aryan Nations was ground-zero for a domestic terrorism group known as The Order, Bob Eddy was the spokesman for Butler’s neo-Nazi church. Eddy was quoted in The New York Times and other media, defending the Aryan Nations and denying the racist group ever received money stolen by The Order.
He was the front man for the Aryan Nations.
His wife, Chris, was a stay-at-home mom and a devout Roman Catholic. She shielded the couple’s children from her husband’s racist ties while raising them in a modest home in Sandpoint, Idaho.
She refused to accompany her husband in the late 1970s when he spent weekends down the highway, helping build the 20-acre Aryan Nations compound near Hayden Lake, Idaho. The racist complex included a looming guard tower, a Christian Identity church, a bunkhouse, a cook shack and a printing office where The Order covertly printed counterfeit money.
Bob Eddy wasn’t part of The Order, but he was committed to the racist religion known as Christian Identity, centered around the belief that white people of European ancestry are the true Jews, the real children of God.
Hooked by Christian Identity
His first exposure to Christian Identity came in California, when he worked for the Santa Ana Police Department after spending 12 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Chris Eddy recalled. Her husband would regularly listen to radio broadcasts of Bertrand Comparet and Wesley Swift, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ Christian. They preached that Jews were direct descendants of Satan, that people of color were soulless “mud-people.”
His racial views became more extreme, his wife said, after he and other officers from the Santa Ana department were sent to Los Angeles during the Watts riots in the mid-1960s.
After Swift’s passing, Richard Butler moved from California to North Idaho, taking with him the Church of Jesus Christ Christian – the so-called religious arm of the Aryan Nations.
Chris Eddy said she believes her husband, who also was active in the John Birch Society, didn’t meet Butler until a few years after the couple moved from California to North Idaho. It was there, in the 1970s, that he began attending Posse Comitatus meetings, where mostly white, Christian gun enthusiasts shared conspiracy-minded, antigovernment, anti-Communist and antisemitic ideologies.
Chris Eddy said one day her husband told her he’d met a “pastor who was building a church,” and he was smitten with the man’s message.
Before long, Bob Eddy was spending his weekends at the Aryan Nations, eventually become a key confidant to Butler, helping organize the annual Aryan World Congress, a summertime gathering of racists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members from throughout the United States. It was from those ranks that The Order was formed in 1983.
Chris Eddy said her husband spent a lot of time with members of the domestic terrorism cell and its founder, Robert Mathews. She says her husband attempted to dissuade the group from embarking on its murderous, nationwide crime spree, but was unsuccessful.
Bob Eddy, however, continued to stand by Richard Butler as the FBI arrested and convicted members of The Order in 1984 and 1985.
Eventually, Eddy was fired from his job at a North Idaho lumber mill for wearing his Aryan Nations uniform to work. Similarly, he was kicked out of the Washington Air National Guard for twice showing up at a military installation in the neo-Nazi uniform.
For a time, Bob Eddy also traveled to Missouri where he helped another Christian Identity pastor, Dan Gayman, of the Church of Israel.
Back in Idaho, the couple’s marriage came to a sudden end on April 25, 1987, when Bob Eddy collapsed and died of a heart attack. He was behind the wheel of his pickup truck, traveling at highway speed, returning to their small home in Sandpoint, about 30 miles from the Aryan Nations compound.
“We were on the highway, with him in the truck when he had the heart attack and died,” Chris Eddy recalled. Neither she nor one of the couple’s small children were injured as the truck rolled safely to a stop.
“A nurse jumped out of one of the cars that were all piled up around us. I just said, ‘Is there any chance?’ She just looked at me and shook her head.”
Butler and an entourage of 16 Aryan Nations followers – her late husband’s friends – showed up for Bob Eddy’s service at a Sandpoint funeral home. It was conducted by a Catholic priest from the church Chris attended with the couple’s children.
“I was scared to death Butler was going to say something, really,” but the Aryan Nations leader remained silent at the funeral. Only the couple’s closest friends knew Bob Eddy had been a Butler acolyte.
From that point on, Chris Eddy put her husband and his racist connections behind her. She moved from Sandpoint, pursued a college degree in library science and spent a few years in California before finally moving back to the Pacific Northwest.
She got a job as a librarian in public schools where she worked until retiring a few years ago, never remarrying.
A few years ago, she took a writing course at a community college near her home, and soon embarked on writing her family memoir. But she left out a key component: Her secret about her husband’s involvement with the Aryan Nations.
About two years ago, while continuing her involvement with the writing group, Chris Eddy said she was “stumbling over my work when I mentioned very quietly that my husband was a member of the Aryan Nations.” Her fellow writing students were dumbstruck. “They all just looked at me and said, ‘Chris, that is your story.’”
From that moment, the cloud of torment that surrounded her secret began to lift.
She has written a forthcoming memoir, White Widow: Living with a White Supremacist. She sat down for an interview with Hatewatch:
When did you realize that the “church” your husband had become involved with was associated with Christian Identity and white supremacy views, and what was your immediate reaction?
I first realized he was involved when streams of antisemitic literature arrived in the mail. It was white Christian Identity material claiming the Jews are the bad guys. My immediate reaction was fear, just fear that it was pulling him away from me. These were not views I shared.
From your viewpoint, what triggered Bob’s ultimate involvement with the Aryan Nations? Was there a gradual progression from the John Birch Society, to Posse Comitatus, to Christian Identity and the Aryan Nations?
I can see it as an arc. I believe that during his childhood his parents, as far as I understand it, were quite racist and so it started there. His father died when he was young, but his mother, in later years, she would say the ‘n-word.’ I also think the uniforms had a very psychological impact on Bob. He had uniforms in the military, when he was a police officer, to the Air Guard and then in the Aryan Nation uniform. For him, the uniform meant family, a guiding force. The uniform meant control over so much in his life and in the world. He lived it. Without a uniform, he was lost.
How and why, in your view, did Richard Butler attract such people as your late husband, not only in North Idaho, but throughout the United States and elsewhere?
I think that to begin with, Butler held himself out to be a man of God. I believe that the people, the young men that he drew in, were looking for guidance from someone who could give them the answers very quickly to any problems they had in life. Butler espoused the Aryan Nations, the Christian Identity racist message, telling them that this is the only way, the one true way to God. Butler made God into something that just gave the people that followed him instant answers, blaming Jews and minorities for many of the world’s problems.
Were you ever fearful of the people who your husband affiliated with at the Aryan Nations in the 1980s, including individuals who were members of The Order?
Yes. I was afraid every time those young men stepped through the door of our home. I didn't know they were members of The Order but feared them. There was something about their presence that was commanding, demeaning. I just kept leaving the room. I didn't want to be part of any of that.
What did you tell your children at the time and how did they handle their father’s involvement in a racist organization, or were they kept in the dark?
They didn't know about these Christian Identity, racist beliefs at first, just as I didn't, but eventually we came to understand. I told my children, ‘I don't believe anything your dad believes.’ I told them that we believe in a loving God. I am sure they never believed anything their father espoused. It was more their actions. They'd roll their eyes and leave the room if he would be yelling at the news or anything.
How are your children now coping with their father’s past and your willingness to speak publicly about this?
My children are completely supportive that I'm speaking publicly about this. They are very glad that I've written a book about what their father did and believed. My children love all people worldwide and they want me to tell this story, and believe now is the time. They never have held or shared their [late] father’s racist views.
Do you wish in hindsight that you would have divorced or left Bob when you first realized he was becoming involved in a racist organization? Why did you stay by his side?
No. I do not wish I would have left or divorced him. It's because of my deep and abiding love for him. That love meant you don't leave. I loved him until the day he died. I did not love his belief system at all, but over the years, I did find a way while he was still living to separate the man from his beliefs. In hindsight, I would certainly have handled my situation differently. I would have told him to leave, to leave our home, to be separated from him.
Did you ever, even briefly, consider adopting his belief system? Did he attempt to convert you?
As far as even briefly considering anything that he believed, I'm sorry. Absolutely not. I did not ever believe that there could possibly be a God who was not loving to all people, not ever. We argued, and I vocally told him these racist religious views of his were not right. It was bad. Then, when I saw on TV they were burning crosses at the Aryan Nations compound, it made me sick and I confronted him, but got nowhere.
Did you express your personal views about the Aryan Nations to him at any time and were you a frightened in this relationship?
After one huge Bible argument that we had, I just jumped up and said, ‘I can't do this anymore. I'm leaving. I'm going to take the kids and go.’ Bob pulled out a handgun from a nightstand and pointed it in my direction. He told me, ‘You go ahead and go out that door. The kids stay here, and you don't ever return.’
That was the only time he threatened me with physical violence. At the time, I only saw that incident as fear, but in hindsight I consider that was psychological abuse.
With your husband’s sudden passing in 1987, what did you do with his personal items — photographs, clothing, pins, patches, etc. — that were from the Aryan Nations? Explain your feelings at that time.
About a month after Bob died, I knew these items needed to be out of my home. I went to the closet and found his Aryan Nations uniform. I wrapped it in a bag and along with the belt buckle and the cap and anything that had resemblance of that insignia on it and threw it in a garbage bag and put that in the trash. He also had a lot of books and a lot of pamphlets and that special Aryan Bible. I pulled a burn barrel out into the driveway. Then I went through the house and gathered all the leaflets, pamphlets, paperbacks and books. The Turner Diaries was in this collection. I dumped all those things in the burn barrel. Then I doused it all with lighter fluid and threw a match in and watched it burn in the center of my driveway. I felt like a criminal because I'd never burned a book in my life.
You eventually decided to move away from Sandpoint and chart a new direction in your life. Did others help you, give you direction and support?
I was 46 years old. I knew that I needed to find a career and I knew that I had loved libraries all my life. There were a couple of friends who didn't want me to leave Sandpoint, but I did anyway. My adult daughter was very encouraging that I should move on. Spiritually, I prayed about it and figured out that's what I wanted to do. I did it myself, yeah. I was scared because I hadn't been in college in 29 years. I had secretarial jobs and so on, but I had not been in the workforce in oh, my gosh, 26 years.
In hindsight, are you now satisfied with the direction you took? What role, if any, does religion play in your life at this point?
I'm very satisfied with the direction I took. I would say that because of living through those years with my husband in the Aryan Nations, it has opened my mind so much more to learn about the world and humanity. I don't consider myself a religious person at all. I consider myself a very liberal Catholic. I feel that I am a spiritual person as best I can be.
Did writing a book about this provide healing and a release of the feelings you’ve harbored so many years?
I feel better now that I've done it because it's been a long, difficult process to pull up all these feelings and thoughts that I had tucked away so tightly. I feel extremely healed from the process, from writing this story. I'm not important. But I believe the story is important now with the emergence of the alt-right. I hope to impart to others the mindset and the psychological aspect of a person involved in this white nationalist, neo-Nazi extremism and hate. My purpose is to show what happens behind the doors of a person who is a white supremacist, what happens inside their home, what happens to the children. The children suffered tremendously from his beliefs and his actions.
What would you tell a young person today if they suddenly discovered their spouse or partner was involved in a racist, hate-group and they didn’t share those views?
I would tell them that you can't change your spouse or partner’s religious beliefs wrapped around hate. I thought I could change Bob. You cannot change this person. They're going to have to come to their own conclusions. Staying with them is likely not a healthy thing to do. I do believe that hate is a stronger emotion at times than love. For a spouse combating hate with love, they may need a spiritual or psychological assist from the outside. If there is any kind of physical threat or emotional threat, really, if the person is threatening you, then leave.