Shadow over paradise

JOHN HOWSE November 10 1986

Shadow over paradise

JOHN HOWSE November 10 1986

Shadow over paradise


The warm autumn sunlight dissolves the fog along the shoreline of Hayden Lake. The mist clears to reveal Coeur d’Alene’s newly opened $83.4-million 18-storey hotel tower enclosed by one of the world’s longest floating wooden boardwalks and a bright armada of pleasure boats. On nearby Sherman Street, strewn with leaves and reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting, Stephen Meyer unlocks the doors of The Bookseller, whose well-stocked shelves reflect the sophisticated side of the lakeside tourist haven in northern Idaho. “Idaho is what America was” reads a belt buckle in a store window. It is perhaps a nostalgic cliché, but the feeling is deep-rooted.

And it explains why, after a series of bombings sent a wave of terror through this cozy community two months ago, many citizens concluded that the devil himself had at last arrived in paradise—in the form of the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, Aryan Nations.

The wide-open spaces of Idaho are home to a full range of denominations—there are 32 different churches serving the Coeur d’Alene community of 25,000 alone—but none is as extreme as the Rev. Richard Butler’s Aryan Nations. The church’s main tenet, the goal of an all-white society, is taught through a mixture of biblical scripture, ancient Teutonic myth and Adolf Hitler’s personal declaration of his beliefs, Mein Kampf. It is a mixed brew, strangely out of place in this tranquil town 200 km south of the British Columbia border where tourists can still sit down to a bowl of fresh country gravy with homemade buttermilk biscuits for under two dollars, and where young couples can be married in the Hitching Post Lakeside Chapel for $62. But according to Butler’s plans, once he and his 35-member local congregation are liberated from the racial equality laws of the Zionist Occupied Government, or ZOG, as they call the United States, they will make Idaho the home of an independent Aryan Nation, to be called the North West Mountain Republic.

Butler’s vision also calls for his nation to extend to the surrounding mountain states of Montana, Washington and Oregon—and possibly even

into parts of British Columbia and Alberta. But the renegade preacher and the members of his small but zealous sect may have a long struggle ahead to achieve their promised land. The reaction of Coeur d’Alene’s citizens—still rooted in the freedom of the Frontier West—to Butler’s white supremacist philosophy has been increasingly outspoken in the wake of three bomb blasts that rocked the city in late Sep-

tember. Those explosions damaged the federal building—housing the local offices of the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and two federal senators’ constituency offices—two shops, and the home of Rev. William Waasmuth, a local Roman Catholic priest. Many townspeople blame Butler for the attacks and claim that the bombings were his response to local hostility toward his teachings. “People here are safer than in most places,” said Larry Broadbent, undersheriff for Kootenai County. “It will be terribly hard for this community to ever think positively about the Aryan Nations.”

Sixteen kilometres north of town, at the Aryan Nations’ 20-acre headquarters perched on a rural hilltop, Butler denies charges that his group has been responsible for the violence. Still, the Order, an organization formed by

members of the Aryan Nations, has declared a holy war against the United States and has been implicated in murders, bank robberies, counterfeiting and arson. And in connection with the Coeur d’Alene bombings, charges have been laid against three men, all affiliated to the Aryan Nations. But the 66-year-old Butler claimed, “The bombings were designed only to discredit the Aryan Nation movement.” The leathery-skinned retired aeronautical engineer added, “Someone had the thesis that we were violent because we were pro-white; to prove the thesis, they had to provide the violence.” Butler is courteous but matter-offact as he displays a Nazi battle flag, a picture of Hitler and a large Nazi party banner bearing a black swastika against a red background. They hang in the Aryan meeting hall along with the flags of other nations, including Canada’s old flag, the Red Ensign, and the B.C. provincial flag. In the adjacent church, Butler preaches on Sundays to his small congregation. Behind the altar is a large stained-glass version of “America,” the heraldic symbol of the Aryan Nations—composed of depictions of the crown of God, the shield of Christian faith, a two-edged sword and the Nazi-style cross of Jacob in red, white and blue. “A country without God doesn’t have a prayer,”

said Butler, who wears a shoulder patch of the symbol on his blue blazer. “And nowhere does it say all peoples will be called into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Past the barbed wire fence of Butler’s compound, a former dairy farm, a german shepherd dog plays with children under the tall pines that surround the rundown cluster of farmhouse, church, offices, meeting hall and visitors’ bunkhouses. There is also a single guard tower, bearing a sign: “Whites only, Welcome Aryan Warriors.” The tower is more suggestive than sinister and, says Butler, doubles as a woodshed. But it is used for its real purpose during the annual Aryan Nations congress with its 400-strong attendance from across North America, when sect members man the tower to guard against any potential security problems.

A crowded trailer adjacent to the church contains pamphlets, newsletters and books—part of Butler’s inventory of about 200 publications. He proselytizes by mailing out thousands of titles once a month. Popular titles include Did Six Million Really Die? by Richard Harwood, which claims that the Holocaust was a hoax, Butler’s own The Aryan Warrior and an obscure 40-year-old pamphlet called The Hitler We Loved and Why. “Few peo-

ple comprehend what we are trying to get across,” Butler told Maclean's. He added, “People have flooded into this region because of a genetic instinct to live, raise children and share culture with their own kind. They leave their cities that have been swamped by ghettos and barrios and now new Asian groups. This North West Mountain Republic is an idea. We occupy this land.”

Certainly the demographics of Idaho, where whites make up almost 95 per cent of the population in comparison to the U.S. national average of 83.1 per cent, seem ideal for Butler’s purposes. Because the freedoms enshrined in the U.S. Constitution protect the rights of Butler and his associates, state authorities have been reluctant to take action against the sect. But Coeur d’Alene residents say that they are determined not to see their day-to-day harmony disturbed by the racism and violence attributed to the Aryan Nations. Waasmuth, for one, alleges that Butler’s followers have been harassing minority children adopted by white families. The priest, whose home sustained $3,000 in damages in the September bombings, formed the 175-member Kootenai County Task Force on Human Rights in response. According to Waasmuth, the Coeur d’Alene community “wishes

the Aryans weren’t around.” He added: “People have a right to live where they want to live and say what they want to say, but not to promote violence.”

In the wake of the September bombings, Idaho Gov. John Evans offered to send National Guard patrols to

Coeur d’Alene in the event of further violence. But those who actively oppose the Aryan Nations claim that more government action is necessary to prevent the further spread of Butler’s network. In Caroline, Alta., timber mill operator Terry Long is already in the process of establishing a small congregation of 60

members, not all of them from Caroline. Indeed, Broadbent is preparing a seminar for a fivestate conference on how to handle white-supremacy groups. And for year-round residents of Coeur d’Alene, the presence of Butler’s small congregation is a continuing source of concern. “I can’t believe this is happening here,” said Milton Smith, a black student at the town’s North Idaho College. “People don’t know how scared I was when the bombings occurred.”

For his part, Duane Hagadone, owner of the booming new lakeis side resort, claims that tourists £ will not give up some of the best

1 freshwater fishing in the West

2 because of the Aryan Nations =j presence. During the summer 8 tourist season, he says, his luxury hotel was full. Local realtor Jeannie Scott says that Butler’s sect has had little influence. But because of the recent violence,

she added, “property values have depreciated.” Until the issue of Butler and his Aryan community is resolved, real estate prices may be the least of the problems threatening this idyllic haven in backcountry, U.S.A.

—JOHN HOWSE in Coeur d’Alene