Down in the forest something stirred ... The 1986 Aryan Nations Congress at Hayden Lake, Idaho, was girding its unsullied white loins for war, against Zog (alias the US government) and other un‑right bogies. Easy to treat it and its leader, Pastor Richard Girnt Butler (left), as an unhealthy joke but that, as Simon Winchester reports, would be a serious mistake.
September 14, 1986
Simon Winchester


Down in the forest something stirred ... The 1986 Aryan Nations Congress at Hayden Lake, Idaho, was girding its unsullied white loins for war, against Zog (alias the US government) and other un-right bogies. Easy to treat it and its leader, Pastor Richard Girnt Butler (left), as an unhealthy joke but that, as Simon Winchester reports, would be a serious mistake. Photographs by Mary Ellen Mark.

It may never rank in the annals of war alongside Sarajevo or Hiroshima. But let the record state, none the less, that it was the little woodland town of Hayden Lake, Idaho, where the first shots were fired, on a recent hot summer's weekend, in the bloody confrontation that some people firmly believe will soon split America asunder--the War Against Zog.

Hayden Lake, Idaho, is to be the capital of the coming White Sovereign National State of America, a state which visitors will need a passport to enter, and from which all non-Aryan undesirables will be shipped out by (and dropped from) helicopters.

The War Against Zog will be led, and the ensuing White Sovereign National State will be headed, by a 66-year-old Hindi-speaking aero-engineer and correspondence-school pastor known as the Reverend Richard Girnt Butler, a man who drives a muck-spreader with a sticker on the back that reads: "Jesus is Coming Soon--and Boy is He Mad!"

There are those in America's more liberal circles who think Mr. Butler is rather mad, too. But evidently not the 400 men and women who gathered within his tin-and-Sheetrock "cathedral" in Hayden Lake in July for a part-ludicrous, part-frightening event known formally as the 1986 Aryan Nations Congress.

Guarded by a private army and a security system that would be the envy of the Pentagon, they all declared, time and time again, that the Reverend was indeed a worthy leader of their cause.

"Hail Victory!" they yelled, as they made the formal declaration that, under Butler's leadership, this so-called "Vacant Quarter" of north-western Americana was to be the fount from which the War Against Zog would be prosecuted. "Love America!" "Kill the Jews!" "Down with Niggers!" they yelled, as they voted that Aryan supremacy be made certain for all eternity, and a good while more besides. "Death!" they sang in demented unison, "Death to the Armies of Zog!"

In this context, Zog is an acronym for the Zionist Occupational Government in America--R. Reagan, prop. The men and women of Hayden Lake, and their brothers and sisters beyond, are now at formal war with it. They see it as a regime in thrall to the Jewish bankers, to the forces of Zion and to the elders of Israel.

No matter that Ronald Reagan is a good Irish boy from Iowa. To the followers of Pastor Butler, he and his cronies in Washington are subservient in all they do to the consummate evils of the Jew.

The ghost of Adolf Hitler is being resurrected in America. The spectre of an all-American apartheid is being revivified. And plans are afoot to create a new nation, all-white, rurally-based, God-fearing and unpollutable by the heresies of miscegenation, here in Rambo-land among the bighorn sheep, the bald eagles, the forests and lakes and mountain ranges of the Pacific northwest.

They are serious plans, too, laid by people far removed from the traditional American lunatic fringe. They have guns and money, a dubious but plausible case and, thanks to some peculiar features of the contemporary condition, an increasingly sympathetic audience.

Ed Hawley and Bill Albers (in KKK regalia), warriors of the right with hatred of most of humankind as their watchword. Behind them, the forest of the Vacant Quarter, their New (Jew‑free) Jerusalem.

"Politically, they can't be taken seriously," says Mira Boland, a researcher on the American far right based in Washington DC. "They don't have any respectable politician in their pocket, and none would give them the time of day. But they are recruiting fast. They are getting farmers to join. They are reaching out in a big way into the prisons. And they are beginning a campaign of terrorism--perhaps because they've been so unsuccessful in mainstream politics. That's why they are so dangerous." A coalition of the unspeakable, someone called it, readying itself for battle.

Richard Butler, who claims to have seen the light about Aryan supremacy while working during the war in the Indian city of Bangalore, began to peddle his thesis in America in 1973. He formed a group known as the Christian Identity Movement, and launched a church called Jesus Christ, Christian--an apparent tautology that indicates his belief that Christ was most certainly not a Jew.

That belief was central to Butler's theme: the Caucasian people, he preached, were the chosen people of God, and the Jews were the offspring of the devil who emerged through the genetically imperfect line of Cain. America’s Pacific north-west--the Vacant Quarter, including the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming-constituted the true Promised Land, and it was there, Butler told his tiny flock, that all true Aryans must settle and fulfil the bidding of the Lord. (A Lord who, Butler says, is "quite obviously" pure white. "God made Adam in his image, didn't he?" he remarked during a coffee-break at the Congress. "And Adam, it says in Genesis, had the ability to blush. Did you ever see a nigra blush?").

Butler blames on miscegenation the fact that the technically "pure" Aryans of Bangalore from whom he draws his inspiration are, for the most part, as black as your hat. "They were white people once, but they got caught up in these mixed marriages, and turned black."

Back in the Seventies a number of Pacific north-westerners, particularly those who would never countenance mixed marriage, were evidently in a suggestible frame of mind. They saw their own peaceful cities; like Seattle, Portland, Boise, Missoula, Cheyenne, as delightfully free from what they were led to perceive as the twin scourges of the East--blacks and Jews.

They were willing to listen to Butler's well-publicised rantings, and thousands of them came to espouse something of the laager mentality more familiar on the veld. "Don't Californicate Oregon" was a popular bumper sticker in Portland.

The movement started to flourish. The Aryan Nation, the secular arm of Butler's mission, was formed. A headquarters was built--a fortress-like structure of wood and corrugated iron set down in the pinewoods north of the old silver-mining town of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, in the obscure logging community of Hayden Lake. And at about the same time a whole asylumful of new groups dedicated to preserving white, non-Semitic supremacy grew up, to add the weight of their opinions to those of the old-established Ku Klux Klans and to the rump of Lincoln Rockwell's nearly-defunct American Nazi Party. Among the new, Butler-inspired, Pacific northwest-based groups was The Order.

This was a most menacing body, founded in 1982 by a violently uncontrollable man--now dead, killed in a fight with police--named Robert Mathews. Its aim was precisely that of Butler--to drive all Jews, Blacks, Red Indians, Chinese and sundry other non-Aryans from the Vacant Quarter and establish a whites-only enclave--but to achieve it through a combination of terror, extortion and violent crime.

Accordingly The Order has a dreadful record. A pair of Order members held 150 children hostage in a schoolhouse in Wyoming last May, burning nine of them horribly in a petrol bomb explosion before killing themselves; another bludgeoned to death a Jewish lawyer, his wife and two children last Christmas Eve in Seattle (the killer claiming that America was "controlled by a Jewish elite who are subverting our national principles"); yet another member was accused of murdering the host of a Denver radio talk show who had denounced the group's tactics; another murdered a Missouri state trooper; still other members were involved in armoured car robberies that netted more than $4 million, as well as in counterfeiting plots, bribery and arson attacks.

Occasionally The Order was more subtle: a trio of members came to the southern Washington town of Goldendale last winter and established a carpet cleaning business called S. T. Enterprises: only when one of the three was arrested for using a stolen credit card did it become clear that "S. T." stood for "storm trooper", and the trio's purpose was to establish an all-white community called Wolfstadt on a 2O-acre plot that their business had bought in the Goldendale suburbs. All are now in prison.

The police believe that the brief and fiery reign of The Order has been extinguished: all 24 of its known members are either dead or behind bars. But the money they and their acolytes stole is still circulating. And more had poured in--thousands of dollars from robberies, counterfeiting rackets, and donations. Police estimate that about $5 million has come from the various criminal activities of group members, and another $2 million from donations sufficient funds, as the FBI remarked, "to keep them in arms and ammunition for a good while to come".

At the Aryan Nations HQ there are hi-tech television and recording facilities; the weapons are all brand-new and pricey. A sister organisation, say police, has its own armaments "factory", to turn out additional guns, just in case.

The group's impressive arsenal of weaponry has not been captured. Several new far-right organisations have been formed--the Christian Defense League, the Posse Comitatus, The Covenant The Sword And The Arm Of The Lord, the Christian Patriots' Defense League. And the ideas that spawned The Order are still very much alive--as was amply demonstrated during the three-day weekend meeting at Hayden Lake.

Dr. Goebbels would have been proud of them but has Ed Hawley told his little son what happened to the Hitlerjugend?

They had come, by bus and car and plane and train, from all over America members of all the various supremacist movements Pastor Butler has been able to muster. (A recent survey has put the total membership of such organisations at around 10,000--most of them belonging to the various splinter groups of the Klan, about 3000 following the general precepts of The Order.)

Some were there as observers--a man at Spokane airport, dressed in blue combat suit, high black leather boots, a two-way radio, a forage cap and sporting the insignia of both a swastika and a hammer-and-sickle, said from beneath his beguilingly tiny moustache that he was from the Denver chapter of the "White Americans' Anti-Communist League". He planned to attend "to see if our brothers wish to associate ourselves with the Aryan Nation". (They did, and later, equipped with Heckler & Koch machine pistols, took up duties as Butler's bodyguards.)

A singularly unlovely, rather spotty, pair had come out from Britain, claiming to represent the National Front. One, Mr. Dave Blezzard, was about to relate his mission when his colleague, a very large Liverpudlian, stepped in with, "We don't talk to the bastard press," and marched smartly away. The Idaho police and FBI, who filmed everyone entering and leaving the estate, were surprised that the pair had been allowed in. "Surely the Immigration Service has files on people like them," said one sergeant. "Why let them in here to stir up trouble?"

About 50 Canadians managed to sneak across the nearby frontier to attend. One, an Albertan, a rotund, bespectacled midget with slicked-down hair, tried to convince his listeners that the world's troubles all stemmed from the arguments between Welsh Jews and King Henry VII, and that the origins of the Second World War were rooted in the concept of "honest money". Even the most faithful tended to edge away, bored or bewildered, after a few minutes.

The kinds of remarks that the audience seemed to appreciate most during its three-day "hamburger-and-hate-fest", as one paper put it, are best reported unadorned. Each of these was greeted with wild cheering, polite applause, or chants of "Hail Victory!" Each remark was made by people like the men and women pictured on these pages (pictured only with the greatest difficulty, amid threats of our being shot or expelled from the site, permission being granted only after lengthy prior questioning over the phone to make sure that none of us was Jewish or black).

These, then, are the kind of sentiments popular at the Hayden Lake Congress this summer:

"The White Youth of this nation shall utilise every method and option available to neutralise and quite possibly engage in the wholesale extermination of all subhuman non-Aryan peoples from the face of the north American continent."

"Men, women and children, without exception or appeal, who are of non-Aryan blood shall be terminated or expelled."

"Best way of getting rid of these people is to fly them out on helicopters and then kick them out of the door.”

"A hearty welcome to our boys over from London, England. We need the support of all Teutonic Unity Groups over there in Europe."

"You know what I think of desegregation? It leads to the mongrelisation of the race. A white girl having sex with a nigger's the worst crime of all. It makes us lose our seed to an animal, and it must be punished."

"The violence of our movement may have produced some of our problems." This, an almost heretical remark, silenced the audience. It was made by a Michigan pastor; Robert Miles, an ex-KKK man whose credentials included six years in prison for burning school buses in an anti-integration protest. "The issue we have to face is where we can move to, and protect our land and our seed line. We have to think seriously about changing the mesmerism some of the right wing have with guns. But we can understand guns, and why our people use them. They are under threat."

The campers--for many of them pitched tents under the pine trees by the church--bought souvenirs (china KKK men very popular at $4.95 plus tax) and books by the ton. Best liked were Thies Christopherson's Auschwitz, which "proved" that the 6 million victims of the Holocaust had all starved themselves to death, and The Negro-Serpent, Beast and Devil by Philip Jones (BA) which made an uncompromising case for the black being "a lower form of being."

There was some outside opposition, though it was notably muted. In any case the American Civil Liberties Union had gone to court to protect the free-speech rights of Pastor Butler's group, so those organising the protests had a dual problem--the ambiguity of their case, and the latent degree of sympathy for the Aryan cause in local states which are, overwhelmingly, white and Christian.

Not a black could be seen for a hundred miles around Hayden Lake. But there were Jewish lobbyists, from the Anti-Defamation League of the B'nai B'rith, based at a nearby hotel and passing out elegantly printed tracts on The Identity Churches-A Theology of Hate and Propaganda of the Deed--The Far Right's Desperate Revolution. Their message was not carried, so far as I could see, on any of the television stations that covered the congress.

The congress itself would have been widely ignored but for an act of shrewd press management by its organisers--an indication, indeed, of an efficiency that some perceive as the real reason why this group is potentially very dangerous.

The press had been forbidden to cover the congress in any detail, except for the opening news conference. (Our peculiarly intimate access had been granted largely because we were British and, as Deborah, the press lady, said, "because those of our members who are wanted by the Feds don't need to worry if their pictures only appear in Britain"). But then, late on Sunday night, the cameras were allowed in to film the end-of-rally cross-burning ceremony. The event was, as expected, all mad mumbo-jumbo but, to the unblinking eye of television, made "a good two minutes". It was carried on nearly all the networks, and the entire nation knew the details of the Hayden Lake Congress by Monday dinner-time.

"And OK, so we get condemned by most people," said Robert Miles, the bus-burning pastor. "But if one in a thousand viewers says, hey, right on, what a neat idea--let's turn the Pacific north-west into an Aryan homeland and declare war on these Jew-lovers in Washington, then that's just fine. That's 10,000 new supporters--more money, more noise, more likelihood we'll win. Television is just playing right into our hands."

Two other factors are working in the Aryan's favour. The first is that many black militants, like the Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan, are now as keen to have a black homeland for their members as Butler is to have a white homeland. There is talk of a concordat between the groups, to be announced later this year, a sort of "you have Detroit for your niggers, and we'll have the north-west for our Aryans", as Miles puts it.

And secondly, the hapless farmers of the mid-west, whose livelihood is being ruined by the disastrous economics of traditional farming, are corning in their scores to sympathise with the broad aims of the Aryan movement. "All we have had to do," said one of the Aryan leadership, "is to convince a man who has been on the wrong end of a foreclosure sale that he is the victim of a conspiracy by Jewish bankers. He loses his farm, one that his family has maybe had for a hundred years, courtesy of someone at the bank, someone called Goldstein or Greenberg. He's not going to be too terribly happy with the Jews for that, is he? And that's where we move in."

Knowing how to hate, if not to spell: a proud bigot from Detroit at Hayden Lake.

Aryan wives: die Frauen Butler and Robert Miles; the widow (by police bullets) Mathews.

From the White Students' Union came Greg Withrow, baring a decorative mark of Cain.

Right is might… ? He guards the promise of a heaven that only eyes like his can see.

'The past is another country'--and a congenial one to Slim Deardorff, Montana pistoleer.

Fritz van Glann, with girlfriend and wounds, inflicted not by Zog but by his own crashed car.

Hayden Lake is an insignificant country town that played host this year, as for the last four years, to an event that once was no more than a dreary little sideshow in the sometimes amusing, sometimes horrific gallery of marvels we call America. "Master race, Huh!" said one Jew encountered in the Idaho capital two years ago, who was asked to comment on what he had seen. "All I see is just a bunch of fat old men. They look like a bunch of wimps to me."

But now the Aryans have money, plans, an unwittingly collusive American press, a growing army of supporters, a political climate that favours some aspects of their cause, and an arsenal of weapons. They have a leader with as little grace and charm as the little Austrian housepainter had 60 years ago. And they have the total and guaranteed freedom to utter their message as and where they see fit.

And that makes a potent combination--and one that may place Hayden Lake, Idaho, on more maps than its founders ever dreamed. "It serves as a warning to society," said one leading Jewish organisation, "about what might happen if bigotry ever is allowed to triumph in the country. Hayden Lake, and all that went on there this summer, is a signal of the new terrorism of hatred. It must be stopped before it gets out of control."*